- Theatre Noise: The Sound of Performance Edited by Lynne Kendrick and David Roesner
This book begins by acknowledging the simple binary of hearing and seeing implicit in the history and practice of theater, a binary that also motivated some of the founding texts in the field of sound studies, such as R. Murray Schafer’s The Soundscape, first published in 1977. Theatre Noise: The Sound of Performance seeks to move beyond this binary by questioning the concept and phenomenon of “noise” and its ramifications in live theatrical performance. Editors Lynne Kendrick and David Roesner note that noise is often defined “ex negativo,” as [End Page 265] that which it is not: not sound, not music, neither signal, nor logos (xv). Drawing from musicology, film theory, the philosophy and sociology of sound and voice, and phenomenologies of listening, their interdisciplinary project seeks to locate within the sonic encounter of the theater event an investigation of the possible meanings and performative implications of “certain aspects of theatre noise, including those that might be excessive, unwanted or unintended, not meant or not meaningful” (xvi). French philosopher Michel Serres’s words resound (he is quoted and referenced several times) throughout this anthology: “There is noise in the subject, there is noise in the object. There is noise in the observed, there is noise in the observer. In the transmitter and in the receiver, in the entire space of the channel… It is in being and in knowing. It is in the real, and in the sign, already” (Genesis 61, qtd. 12). As a basis from which to question what sound design, production, and reception do and have done in theater, this statement’s resonance is put to provocative use in this book.
In their introduction, Kendrick and Roesner make the case for theater as “a unique habitat for noise” (xv), a location that highlights the “friction between signal and receiver, between sound and meaning, between eye and ear, between silence and utterance, between hearing and listening” (xv). Theater noise emphasizes the process of experiencing a performance, the chiasmic relationship between what is listened to and how it is heard. Noise is not unique to theater, but Kendrick and Roesner argue that theater provides an especially potent place to question what noise—in its actual acoustic sense and as metaphor—is and does.
The book contains eighteen chapters written mostly by European and French Canadian theatre designers, directors, performers, musicians, and researchers from a variety of academic disciplines, arranged not by theme or topic but rather like an “audio patch bay where a diverse range of inputs and outputs are interconnected in multiple ways with coloured cable” (xvii) or like using the “shuffle” function on one’s playlist. While perhaps conceptually clever, this method of arrangement may not immediately engage the reader interested only in a specific subtopic, such as voice or silence. However, in the book’s introduction Kendrick and Roesner offer something like a roadmap to the many connections possible in the book. They make a conscious effort to frame the project as a provocation to further thought, research, and experimentation, doing so through contradictions, overlaps, loops, and polyrhythms. When ideas presented in one essay return in a different context, becoming the background noise from which a new chapter’s signal may emerge, the book’s method and topic come together. Themes addressed in the book include silence; the materiality, embodiment, and vocality of theater noise; semiotic aspects of theater noise; relations between theater noise and both sight and site; and audiences [End Page 266] and the act of listening in the theater. The chapters give penetrating treatments to material ranging from issues of technology in the history of theatrical sound (Larrue, Collins, Vautrin, Roesner, and Bovet) to differing conceptions of voice and its possibilities in the theater (Lagaay, Myers, Verstraete, Dunbar, and Kendrick).
For the reader for whom the topic might be a new area of scholarship, the first chapter, written by Ross Brown, offers a brief but excellent overview of...