A Broadcast / Looping Pieces

Tim Etchells

The score for the performance A Broadcast / Looping Pieces has its origins in the series of series of notebooks in which I collected short texts; ideas, notes, lists and phrases of my own linguistic invention alongside fragments from overheard conversations, movies, newspapers and books prior to 2001. Effectively a scrapbook of fragments that interested me for one undefined reason or another, these were materials flagged for later use or investigation, oddities and half-thoughts, accumulated in haphazard fashion.

Sometime in 2001 meanwhile, I switched from keeping a physical notebook to a ‘Notes’ Word file on my laptop, which served pretty much the same function whilst allowing for a simple cut-and-paste-in of materials from websites, emails or other electronic documents. Making my notes directly digital also afforded an easier trajectory for texts I was intent on working with in my writing projects, since they could simply be copied and pasted straight into place. The stages of my previous process – handwriting notes from a printed or digital source in order to later key them into the computer for work – was happily simplified: cut;, paste.

In late 2013, aware that much of the contents of my computer ‘Notes’ file typically remains unused and unseen by anyone but me, I started work on a performance project called A Broadcast / Looping Pieces, with the idea of exploring this material that I have collected over the years.

The form for this work is a kind of rolling improvisation, always inspired, fuelled or made-in-reaction to materials in the notebook, which becomes in this context a kind of random generator, stepping-off point and non-structural score for the performance. For the work I have printed reams and reams of text from the notebook, pasting fragments onto a ‘index cards’ which allow me to easily shuffle, make my way through and select short texts from and with which to improvise. Selecting fragments in this way during the moment of performance I speak them aloud – often repeating and looping, shifting emphasis and intonation in ways that expand, reduce, remove and multiply the space for possible interpretation of the texts. In the act of jumping from work with one fragment to work with another I also ‘compose’ from the cards, joining and juxtaposing materials with each other in different combinations, even as the rhythms, textures, semantics and performative dynamics of the text are in any case changing as the performance progresses.

The cards are the basis of the work but I’m also radically reworking and rewriting the text in live improvisation – sometimes letting new word choices appear at random through my high speed delivery and sometimes allowing tiredness or slippages of attention to produce mistakes, slips of the tongue, and free , all of which play a part in the construction and development of the performance.

I chose the index cards as a physical form/home for the fragmented and playful score that characterises Broadcast for largely pragmatic reasons; they were robust, easy to handle and shuffle, easy to carry in one hand, and not too bulky. They had a surface area that could accommodate a moderate amount of text, making it easy, in the performance situation, to survey a range of options at a glance; but at the same time the cards were not too large either, so as to contain too much text in which the eye might get lost whilst scanning options.

In many ways the index cards represent a kind of retrograde mutation in the form of my text; as functional and necessary items they are nonetheless props, and return the writing to an analogue (printed) schema after a fourteen-year spell as digital native. Interestingly, the index cards are of course no index at all, as they don’t refer to any actual or viable frame of conceptual or semantic organisation; rather, their form floats the spectre of organisation whilst providing only a system of division and subdivision. Containing fragments for reorganisation, the cards are simply larger and endlessly re-deployable fragments themselves, building blocks for a performance that can be constituted in any sequence and over variable duration.