The Palaver Transcription

The Palaver Transcription


As the text turns on what Edmond Jabes calls "the impossibility of writing", the video hinges on the impossibility of touching, the unfathomable distance of desire. The desire to speak and to touch informs this digressive narrative with every frame and syllable. A narrator invokes "a voice in the shape of a window" while conferring the invocation upon a third person, 'corse' (corpse). The voice has its shape, the corpse its voice, and the interlocutors face each other in an unseen space, like analyst and analysant, dual facets of the same persona: alive and dead. The internal monologue of the presumed narrator is externalised in the corpse of a suicide, addressing his own self, whose stories obsessively revolve around his sensual desires: to touch, to speak. In a series of anecdotes we glimpse the life of a solitary figure, a writer whose overwhelming desire – to see through a voice – remains unquenched, and whose perspective on that desire ("I open the window I confront the sky") is through death.

"The word 'palaver' is trans-lingual, its meaning implying idle speech, nonsense, a fuss over nothing. Yet in the word's etymology we find 'dialogue' – from Portuguese palavra, 'word, talk' (originally between Portuguese traders and West Africans), which in turn is derived from Latin parabola, 'parable, speech, comparison,' and Greek parabolé, literally 'a throwing beside, a juxtaposition'. Transcription is, in this context, a "writing over, writing across, re-writing." The Palaver Transcription allows these manifold layers of meanings to surface and explores the variety of nuances that emerge in the work's transformation from text to text-with-images to audio and finally to video.

The Palaver was originally a text made up of a single, unpunctuated sentence running headlong into a complex narrative, in which anecdotal, philosophical and psychological elements interweave. It evolved into a serial work in a collaboration with Andrew Bick, where the text was cut up into 50 blocks, each linked to a corresponding image. The images are details from larger photos onto which Bick added blue felt-tip markings, usually loops, as visual reference points that served as quasi-punctuation marks, contrasting with the absence of punctuation in the text. The text+image blocks were individually printed on 50 laminated cards, forming a kind of storyboard effect for a hypothetical film. This "storyboard" version of The Palaver functioned as an installation at the Life/Live exhibition at M.A.M., Paris: the cards were attached randomly to a black velvet cloth draped over a table, while a computer voice (with its own "rules" of punctuation) read out the text on a loop. Subsequently The Palaver appeared as a book (Book Works, 1998), in which each page comprised the same text+image block as in the cards series but the order was now fixed to the linearity of the text.

Following its publication, I made an audio version on CD (published by Book Works, 1999, in a limited edition). The audio CD introduced 'harmonics' into the work by means of a layered reading of the text (male, female and synthesized voices), together with sound effects relating specifically to imagery in the photos as well as the text, and some musical fragments. Though originally designed to be heard on its own, with the book serving as a "score" for the work, the audio version now forms the soundtrack to The Palaver Transcription. The video thereby expands that sense of 'harmonics' into the visual sphere, presenting a kind of chamber opera in which the work's various elements are continually brought into play. As in a poem, no single element survives without a relationship to every other part of the work, so that the book remains a tactile part of it, like a key prop in a movie. The video attempts to expose an ambiguous region between foreground and background, as well as between the visual and the aural. It challenges us to divide our attention between its parts while simultaneously focusing on the whole, as if continuously calling on a shift in our sensory priorities, drawing our imagination into that nebulous region between memory and oblivion." – Gad Hollander