Hanna Tuulikki’s SING SIGN: a close duet, was originally commissioned for our 2015 edition, and combined live performances in Fountain Close, just off the Royal Mile, with a two-screen film installation presented at Gladstone’s Land. In revisiting the work, Tuulikki will also present a special live performance on-line, with her collaborator Daniel Padden – looking to the performative possibilities of the digital technology which has become such a critical tool for us all in recent months.
Originally devised for one of Edinburgh's historic 'closes', SING SIGN: a close duet reflects on the multiple ways in which we communicate, exploring the body in relation to the city. Taking its cue from Baroque social dance, at its heart is a vocal and gestural suite, performed live and for a two-channel film. Facing one another, my collaborator Daniel Padden and I enact an encounter: a dialogue conducted entirely through wordless song and gesture.
Borrowing the structure of a 'hocket' – a musical device where the melody is spilt between two voices – the vocal score adopts the rhythmic pattern of a map of the Royal Mile, to divide the parts. The resulting music is ordered, yet, like the city, it's asymmetrical; non-lexical sounds bounce back-and-forth like a baroque game of syncopated table tennis. As the notes of one voice coincide with rests in the other, the act of spoken conversation is given musical form. The choreographic score takes a different approach, translating street names into silent hand gestures drawn from British Sign Language. Moving in unison, our synchronised signs become poetry-in-motion, transforming words into dance.
Performing the vocal hocket is difficult; like walking a musical tightrope, if one person trips, we both fall and it collapses. To make things easier, we sing within a shared pitch range – I stretch out of my comfort zone into my lower register, Daniel extends his voice to his higher register – undermining normative gendered voices. Muscle memory also helps, as do small gestures – the nod of a head, or an intake of breath – signalling intention. To stay balanced, we learn to communicate beyond words.
Revisiting SING SIGN in this strange period of physical distancing, the work reminds me just how much I miss the intimacy of real life interactions. Of course, we can all connect remotely, but in online video calls where faces freeze and sounds distort, the nuance of exchange is so often lost. As we prepare for an online performance, I remember that the origin of the word ‘hocket’ comes from the French for ‘hiccup’ or 'sudden interruption’. I wonder how technology might impact on our interaction. Daniel and I will both perform from our own homes, not face-to-face, but screen to screen. Will our exchange be interrupted by failed internet signal, or audio delay? Will we be able to read each other's subtle signals? I decide to keep an open mind and embrace the medium as part of the work. Hopefully we'll be able to stay balanced on the tightrope! Hanna Tuulikki
Image: Hanna Tuulikki, SING SIGN: a close duet (film still), 2015. Courtesy of the artist.
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