Participatory Art Based Research and Artistic Research that Participates
Research format Creating a Media Device, response by Sylvi Kretzschmar
Megaphones have a pistol grip. The speaker uses it to target people and spaces, to address the speech in aligned acoustics. You need to pull a trigger while you are talking in order to “shoot” an oration. The megaphone as an object might be an icon/earcon of political resistance, protest and civil rights movements, but at the same time it is an apparatus of command and instruction, an instrument or gadget made to give orders and to fill the air with sounds of warnings and directives. Against this background, it may sound unlikely, but the invention and experimental testing of the Megaphone Choir as a research process of Creating a Media Device arose from the following question:
What could a political speech be like that is involved in the political process, emerging from it, instead of initiating it, directing or controlling it?
The term ‘PA’ (Public Address) refers to sound systems consisting of amplifiers, loudspeakers and microphones. According to my thesis, public address systems are assembly methods and assembly techniques. Media devices of voice enhancement are entities that choreograph physical operations of an assembly. Public address systems are involved in determining not only what or who is represented within the assembly but also for what or whom the assembly stands (what the gathering as such represents for an audience outside of the assembly). In my research, I investigate how public address systems influence the performance of an assembly and its power to act. In this context, I use the term ‘public address’ system not only for sound technology such as loudspeaker systems or megaphones but also for body techniques (Mauss 2010: 199-220), the public (raised) voice as a medium (Göttert, 1998), rhetorical conventions, fashions or schools, choral speaking (for example, slogans chanted in demonstrations or the Human Mic used in the Occupy Wall Street movement [Kretzschmar 2014]), as well as for acoustically conceived architectures and formations of assemblies. Amplification* (of voices) is not only the central concept of my media history research on public address systems. I would also describe the way in which my art-based research was involved in the political disputes surrounding the so-called ‘Esso Houses’ in the district of St. Pauli (Hamburg), which is severely affected by gentrification, as a form of amplification.
*amplification: multiplication, potentiation, reinforcement, recruitment, backup, boost, gain, enhancement, strengthener, intensification.
An all-female choir “armed” with megaphones speaks and sings interview-statements of residents, tenants and neighbours of the Esso Houses, located on Hamburg’s Reeperbahn. Some of the interviewees were people already fighting against their impending displacement (for example as members of the Initiative Esso Häuser1). Others would never have spoken in front of a larger audience. The Megaphone Choir is, in the literal sense, amplification and reinforcement of these voices. It assembles acoustically the knowledge of the interviewees as citizen experts (Alltagsexpert*innen) of their district. As a public address system specifically invented for this context, the Megaphone Choir operates in a mode of radical advocacy for absent speakers. Statements of the interviewees are repeated and reproduced in a spatial and musical composition on site. The members of the Megaphone Choir played a decisive role in the invention, testing and modification of this public address system. As a heterogeneous alliance of women, they brought different agendas and motivations (for example, their concern as residents or neighbours of the houses, their political engagement in Hamburg’s Recht auf Stadt2 movement) as well as a diverse artistic expertise (some were professional dancers, performers or choreographers while others had experience performing in choirs) into a rehearsal process that enabled a transdisciplinary research process together with artists and activists. The creation process of the Megaphone Choir as a specific media device for strengthening the protest against gentrification in St. Pauli consisted of two distinguishable research phases: development/invention and experimental testing/modification. In the following, I would like to specify that both phases cannot solely be described as a designed participation within an artistic research process. This process of Creating a Media Device not only involves citizen experts and non-academic methods of knowledge production. It is also artistic research that participates. Knowledge is decisively produced at points where the research project and the artistic work are able to participate in a process they neither initiate nor conduct or control.
1. Development Phase
The invention of the Megaphone Choir is based on an emancipatory workshop practice on public speech/ political speech/speaking in political assemblies, which I shared with various activist groups 3 in Hamburg (including initiatives from Hamburg’s Recht auf Stadt network). My involvement in these workshops started in 2010 prior to the existence of the research programme Assembly and Participation and was further developed in 2012-2015 (in a synergetic interaction with my research in the PhD programme).
Political groups that collectively develop their ideas, intentions, and formal languages (i.e. hierarchy-critical, grassroots-democratic, and most of them working with consensus-based decision-making processes) were confronted with the fact that it always seemed to be the same few people who publicly „raised“ their voices and represented the groups’ political stance to the outside world. The external impact thus contradicted the self-image and practice of the respective initiatives. The aim to change that was the common starting point of the workshops. The participants had their own concerns and, in most cases, concrete upcoming projects such as public events, meetings or demonstrations. The workshops I4 offered were specifically intended to prepare speeches for these planned assemblies and events. I refer to this research with the workshop participants as citizen experts for fear of public appearance and speech (and its overcoming!) as joint “discomfort research” (Unbehagenforschung). It initiated and informed my media-historical research on public address systems.
The Megaphone Choir is clearly aware of the hesitation and struggle for public speech and fear to address a large audience. In radical non-eloquence this specific public address system transforms stuttering, misspeaking and searching for the right words from a weakness into a (musical, sonic and poetic) strength.
In the workshops we experimented with the interplay of amplification in the sound-technical sense and as mutual reinforcement in the assembled appearance of speakers (for example through choreographed forms of speaking while walking with a microphone circling from person to person during the Euromayday parade in 2012). Experiments carried out in the workshops tested adaptations of the Human Mic and have decisively shaped the development of the Megaphone Choir as a media device.
The creation of the Megaphone Choir is based on knowledge generated in these workshops, which were not designed to make people participate in my research or artwork. Rather, my research process took part in these workshops.
2. Phase of testing
The phase of testing the Megaphone Choir and its performative strategies and potentials took place in the form of performances in urban space and on theatre stages (see PABR-Format Testing in Performance).
The layering of female voices amplified by megaphones produces a specific and never-heard sound that generates resonances of the surrounding buildings, evoking distant and close echo effects. This specific sound and its associated mode of choreography of the movable PA system (consisting of 12 to 14 women with megaphones) were developed in performances that practiced a test of the media device Megaphone Choir and the participation in an existing protest movement at the same time. The Megaphone Choir performed at press conferences, gatherings, activities and rallies of the “Esso-Houses-we-are-not-an-object initiative” (Initiative-Esso-Häuser-Wir-sind-kein-Objekt). Founded in 2011, the initiative has been working to preserve affordable residential and commercial space in St. Pauli. Tenants struggled for years to keep their flats, shops and nightclubs. They were supported by the Recht auf Stadt network Hamburg, by the fan base of the football club FC St.Pauli, by neighbourhood initiatives like SOS St.Pauli and by the GWA St. Pauli. The Megaphone Choir initiated performance formats that made the audience co-researchers in experimenting with choreographies of common listening. The assembled were not only moved by the choir of 12 women with megaphones, but also behaved according to various “roles” assigned to them performatively (as theatre audience, protesters, participants in a funeral service or amplifiers of the political content of a public assembly). This benefited not only my research on public address systems but also the protest movement, which was strengthened and shaped by the Megaphone Choir performances over years.
The potential of PABR lies in the expertise of performing arts and live art to shape relationships between research (as research in/for society) and the public. In my experience, this creates a fundamental shift in the participatory potential of such research processes, which not only enable and shape participation, but also participate in social developments and processes themselves (see also formats such as Intervention into the Real).
Addendum: Improbable Assembly/Phantom Speech
As a performative gathering practice, the Megaphone Choir assembles voices and statements of people who might have never met each other. It transports past acts of speech into a presence of the assembly and from another place (or other places) to the assembly space as a concrete auditorium. In the Megaphone Choir performance Echo Houses Echo – A Requiem, an improbable assembly is created by amplifying voices of a vanished place.
2 Recht auf Stadt is a Hamburg-based network founded in 2009, which today includes around 40 initiatives and alliances that “stand for affordable housing, non-commercial spaces, socialisation of property, a new democratic urban planning, and the preservation of public greens; for the right to the city for all inhabitants – with or without papers.” (http://www.rechtaufstadt.net, accessed 10 July 2020).
3 The participants were members of Initiative Esso Häuser, Gängeviertel Hamburg, members of the Initiative Lux und Konsorten, the preparatory groups of the Hamburg Euromayday parades 2012 and 2013, the Medi-Büro Hamburg as well as the w3- werkstatt für internationale kultur und politik e.v., the activist group nine to five and others.
4 Some workshops I designed together with Petra Barz. She is active in the fields of adult education and moderation and provides trainings with a focus on discrimination, diversity and participation. From my experience as a performance artist and musician, I imparted voice training, techniques for preparing content for free speech in front of an audience, and innovative performative strategies of public speech. The workshops were conceived as joint research, in which the participants (and I) learned from each other.
Göttert, Karl-Heinz (1998): Geschichte der Stimme. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag.
Göttert, Karl-Heinz (2000): „Zur Medialität der Stimme und ihrem historischen Wandel“, in: Kopperschmidt, Josef (Ed.): Rhetorische Anthropologie, München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, pp. 153-170.
Kretzschmar, Sylvi (2014): „VERSTÄRKUNG – Public Address Systems als Choreografien politischer Versammlungen“, in: Burri, Regula Valerié/Evert, Kerstin/Peters, Sybille/Pilkington, Esther/Ziemer, Gesa (eds): Versammlung und Teilhabe. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, pp. 143-171.
Kretzschmar, Sylvi (2015): „VOR ORT LAUTSPRECHEN. Choreografien der Verstärkung im urbanen Raum“, in Bäcker, Marianne/Schütte, Mechthild (eds.) Tanz Raum Urbanität. Leipzig: Henschel Verlag, pp. 197-208.
Kretzschmar, Sylvi/Wildner, Kathrin (2016): „Amplification and Assembly“, in Schäfer, Martin Jörg/ Tsianos, Vassilis S. (eds.) The Art of Being Many. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, pp. 169-181.
LaBelle, Brandon (2010): Sounds as Hinge From Esemplacticism: Truth is a Compromise. Berlin: TAG/Club Transmediale (Exhibition catalogue).
Mauss, Marcel (2010): „Die Techniken des Körpers. Vortrag vor der Societé de Psycholgie 1934“, in: Mauss, Marcel (ed.) Soziologie und Anthropologie. Bd. 2: Gabentausch – Todesvorstellung – Körpertechniken. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 199-220.