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Audio is the new video (I): McBurney's theatrical podcast on #HF16

Simon McBurney is a real theatre nerd. He is excessively interested in mathematics and physics, and enjoys nothing more in theatre than building technical illusions. In addition, he is a popular actor and director, who, when he has a performance at London's Barbican Centre, visits Kate Bush, who humbly comes to congratulate him on his work. This year, after visits in 2007, 2010 and 2012, once again a guest at the Holland Festival with the project 'The Encounter'. That work is best described as a live performed podcast, a radio play with images. Above all, it is also a massive, yet totally individual spectacle. But then again, it is best enjoyed in a full large hall.

A picture may say more than a thousand words, but that is nothing compared to how many words a single scent can say: after all, a marihuacake produced the seven-part novel cycle 'In Search of The Lost Time' a century ago. Sound, like smell a rather one-sidedly used medium in our time, is at least as strong in evoking stories and memories as smell or taste can be. If you then also create images to go with it, that's great.

The stage looks like a sizeable living room studio: recording equipment, microphones, computers, and a back wall that looks something like the iconic wall that fans will recognise from David Bowie's Station to Station.

On the cover of david Bowie's album Station to Station, we see him as he enters a soundproof room. This element returns in the setting of Simon McBurney's The Encounter
The cover of David Bowie's album Station to Station shows him entering a soundproof room. This element returns in the setting of Simon McBurney's The Encounter

In Simon MacBurney's show The Encounter, it does not seem to be about the image. After all: we all get headphones on, and on stage we will see little more than Simon McBurney speaking lines, sitting at the buttons, and occasionally walking to a different spot. The story is going to play out in - but mostly between - our ears.

But what happens there, and how McBrurney manages it: extraordinarily exciting. His earlier work also drew on his fascination with mathematics and physics. Nine years ago, he showed this with the performance A Disappearing Number, in which the number 0 played a rather central role, but which also regularly literally tilted the image of the stage. Then it was mirrors, in 2012 it was 3D Graphics in his adaptation of Boelgakows Master & Margarita. At Die Zauberflöte the same year, it was his peerless play with fiction, real and time that thrilled audiences.

The philosophy of time is now completely central to The Encounter. Visually, at first glance, there is little to experience, but that is pretence: you need your eyes to experience how much sound is able to transport you to another reality. Some lyrics are playback, some sounds are live, some sounds and lyrics were recorded months ago in his living room and some sound will be heard tomorrow, because he is recording it now. And however clearly McBurney as actor, sound man, effects maker and narrator shows you how it works: your ears will tell you something else.

And what those tell you is about the circular nature of time. A concept that we in the West kind of lose sight of, with our idea that time always moves in a straight line from A to B. The idea that every end is a beginning, and that what was, might as well still be, is something we have stored away with poets and other primitives.

The performance is meditative without being floaty. It is definitely fascinating to witness how your ears can play a game with you, and how you come to see reality differently by listening to it differently. It seems like a gimmick, but it is a deep insight: audio really is the new video.

And time is indeed spinning in circles from time to time.

Good to know
The Encounter can be seen at the Holland Festival, from 9 to 12 June. Booking.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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