Saturday, October 6, 2007

Pedagogical Noise-Making: Nuit Blanche 2.0

Mildly intoxicated and terribly excited to take part in one of the finer points of this year's Nuit Blanche schedule, this girl anxiously queued up to participate in Misha Glouberman's participatory noise choir - appropriately entitled "Terrible Noises, Beautiful People" part of Mercer Union's special programming for the evening.

After a brief introduction, Glouberman requested that the participants (the crowds ranged from 9 to 99 depending on the hour) face him in a loose circle around the large space he blocked off inside the 35 Lisgar (Mercer's empty neighbour).
Poised with cue cards requesting various sounds from the participants (make an "ugly" sound was met with growls and barks, for example) the charismatic artist-turned-master-conductor allowed the audience to do whatever they felt necessary within the parameters of vocal noise.

Glouberman followed these exercises with instructions for us to start making sounds ourselves explaining that one person should start with any sound they chose, followed by another, which would in turn replace it. He cautioned that the new noises should be adopted gradually, with the group purposefully staggering the times at which they began making it. The room fell silent for a moment. People looked around at each other, hoping that somebody would start. I then broke into what I think was a "g".

The entire room followed suit, clutching to my note before somebody on the other side of the room began to whistle. This continued for quite some time, one sound following the last, with the audience honestly intrigued by what was coming out of their mouths.

As with any project of an experimental nature, there are a million ways in which this could have gone awry. Glouberman relied heavily on the enthusiasm and competence of the audience. Shyness also weighed in as a negative factor, with some observers feeling content to stay in the back of the room to merely watch. Reportedly, other groups made louder sounds when the "ugly" card was shown, as though volume was decisively preferred over novelty.

In spite of the risks and unpredictable outcomes, the beautiful moments far outweighed the downfalls.
"I'm learning as I go along, as well," Glouberman concedes, "There are just as many surprises for me as there are for the first timers... It's very exciting to see what people come up with."

And just as our own beauty may be understandably called into question, the noises we ended up conjuring at Glouberman's instruction weren't entirely terrible either. The results were both cringe-inducing and glorifying, hitting moments of beauty and sinking to levels of aural crassnesss.

I don't mind admitting, however, that the process was an incredibly powerful experience. But you know, not in the way that a questionable televangelist uses the expression. Random sounds at 4 in the morning never sounded so good.

**Image 1 courtesy of Mercer Union, 2 & 3 courtesy of Molly Crealock.**