Shh

Solo performer and backing track


In this piece I intervene in a radio broadcast by repeating a single vocal sound to change the meaning of a phrase. I made this by cropping together all the occurrences of the ‘Hit Music’ identifier on British commercial radio station CapitalFM during a typical hour-long broadcast to make a 1-minute audio track, then saying ‘shh’ every time the identifier appears in order to blur the two sounds and create the phrase ‘shit music’. The piece was originally conceived as a video work with a close-up shot of my lips producing the sound, but is now often performed live.

The meaning of this piece is ambiguous: the audience could infer that I am saying pop music is shit, or alternatively that my own performance is shit. When performed alongside other pieces in a concert setting it could look like I am trying to say that the other music in the concert is shit. I prefer to maintain this ambiguity: if the audience are questioning what I mean then I consider them to be active, rather than passive, listeners.

The vocal sound ‘shh’ is ordinarily used to tell people to be quiet. Classical concert audiences are conventionally supposed to sit quietly during a performance, and people might tell each other to ‘shh’ if they fail to abide by this convention. This sound is thus a by-product of musical performances, an aspect of the ‘extramusical’ which is foregrounded in this piece. The only live musical action that takes place in the performance is the synchronisation of the ‘shh’ sound with the beginning of the phrase ‘Hit Music’ on the audio track.

Traditional score-reading produces a synchronised sound-image of written music, and I see performing acts of synchronisation as an expansion of this traditional practice. The pre-recorded track serves the purpose of an audio score that is used to indicate when the ‘shh’ sound should be made. In my performance I follow this audio track in the same way that a score of written musical notes would be followed. What I realised from Shh was that the score, in this case a backing track, can be the source of aesthetic experience in the performance. The score is the primary musical material, and my reading of the score through the synchronisation of the ‘shh’ sound serves as the reason to play it.


Performances
27 October 2014, Birmingham Conservatoire
30 October 2014, Bastard Assignments, London
5 March 2015, Library of Birmingham
28 July 2015, Del Rex, Berlin
30 April 2016, Nexus Art Cafe, Manchester
17 January 2018, Nonclassical, London
10 May 2018, IKLECTIK, London
17 June 2018, Pumphouse, Aldeburgh
3 December 2018, Royal Northern College of Music
11 December 2019, An Siopa Gan Ainm, Cork