Anyone who’s been confused or annoyed by my obsessive chatter over the last few days about recently released 12-part radio-play Functioning As A Machine That Hates U2 deserves some kind of explanation. It’s a messy, rambling 86 minute journey through a set of found texts, commentary on the band and Eamon Dunphy’s stunningly bad biography UNFORGETTABLE FIRE: THE STORY OF U2, with side jaunts into the world of crowd-sourced script lifted from Facebook and a subplot based on why Rachel Roberts deserved to win the Cardinal Pell Award for her Theology 101 course (she didn’t, by the way). I don’t think any of the participants would consider it among their best work*, and the most common response to the work from listeners has been the word ‘confused’ in different forms. SO: why am I (and a lot of the other contributors) so excited about the piece?
The reason has to do with the way this piece came together. This is a truly international collaboration – five different ensembles came together to record the different strands of the script, based in four different cities on three different continents. From the Sipat Lawin Ensemble in the Philippines, to Lloyd Allison-Young in the USA, to Applespiel, Nickamc, Max Barker and The Landlords in Australia, and then there’s me currently in the UK (owing to crimes); we pulled this thing together from all over. And that’s exciting.
See, as theatre-makers, we have one of the most infrastructure heavy artforms. I mean, at its simplest theatre is just a person performing and people watching, but that’s a nice abstraction that virtually never plays out well in real life. In practice, theatre demands a huge amount of money, time and physical structures to make possible. Which is prohibitive when (a) you’re poor as fuck, (b) the kind of art you want to make is not always appealing to funding bodies or large groups of paying audiences and (c) when your creative networks are scattered throughout the world working their asses off on a million other projects. If I want to plan a project with someone, we need to be looking at our diaries a year in advance. Which sort of puts the knife in doing things spontaneously and for the fuck of it.
So the FunctioningAsAMachineThatHatesU2 model:
1. Write a script.
2. Split it up creatively between your different comrades.
3. Each of them records their section as a radio play and uploads it to the internet.
4. Combine, mix together and go.
Now, this is clearly nothing new – you could point to a thousand precedents for this kind of project, and so could I. From what I understand, it’s weird for musical collaborators to even meet each other in person these days, just to fileshare and get the fuck on with it. I’m not trying to turn into an exhibition of hubris and claim we’ve invented anything new here. The reason it’s exciting is that this is the first time it’s happened to me. This is really happening, and it’s happening here and now, and it’s happening to us.
So even if no-one ever listened to this thing, I’d be pretty fucking psyched. As a kind of crazy bonus, there have in fact been more than 300 downloads of the piece over the last 48 hours, and we’ve heard anecdotal reports that some people have even listened to the thing. You guys rule, just quietly. But the thing itself is not the main thing.
And it’ll never be the main thing. I remember once at a Q&A after a Hadleyplay, someone made the inevitable suggestion that Hadley’s script would work better as a film, and Hadley flipped right back and said ‘No. I write for live performance.’ Well, me too. A radio-play is never going to be able to do for an audience what a sophisticated and coherent combination of design, direction and acting can. But as an alternative means of getting work out there, tested, extending collaborations, building networks, engaging with new audiences, providing a lasting record of a work and enabling a right of reply to awful books like Eamon Dunphy’s UNFORGETTABLE FIRE: THE STORY OF U2, it’s better than nothing.
Now you know (and knowing’s half the battle), so feel free to do something useful with your time, like listening to Nickamc’s mash-up of Katy Perry and the Ghostbusters Theme.
*weirdest, on the other hand…