Irritation and David McIntosh’s “Portside Walk”

The fire hydrant on West Waterfront Road

When I saw the route that Adrienne prescribed for my podplay, I was delighted. The progression of spaces, and the variety of sensations a body might encounter negotiating the play’s vector were quite exciting to me. On walking it the first time, I found it to be so rich in structural conflict that I felt it would be irritating to have a narrative added to my ears on this journey.

I went with that impulse and imagined an irritating person talking to me non-stop as I walked. Someone you might meet in a bar, and perhaps were trying to escape from. A man whose endless narratives just might contain something important you or he needed to hear. That the tangents of his stories might eventually come together in some illusive moment of recognition.

I wrote some text, got a friend to walk with me, and recorded different versions of it. Some of myself reading it, others of my friend repeating lines that I yelled to him while walking the actual route. Experimenting. I dumped these onto an ipod and started walking the route regularly. It was then that I realised I had a problem with the form. It irritated me.

I never walk around with headphones. They give me a headache and they act as a shield or a mask separating myself from the world around me. It’s not just that I fear death from inattention, I also feel uneasy about the imposition of pre recorded words or music on an environment. It’s an easy use of technology that graces you with a self-arranged sense of privilege. I can be here and look around me, but I am separate. For others to engage me, they will have to interrupt my progress, which doesn’t include the aural immediacy of our actual shared existence. It’s an act of individual colonialisation. An intimate, exclusive imposition on the world around you.

As a form, a Podplay purports to take its audience into the world and encourage them to engage with the here and now, but its realisation in performance creates an unresolvable contradiction. The form removes you from the here and now by asking you to engage in a scripted intimacy with the voice transmitted to your head. Irritating.

I think this irritating contradiction is the forms greatest strength. How does the listener negotiate the intimacy of the transmission and stay present in the world. The agenda in your ear requires your body act as the conduit to the world that the voice speaks of, while simultaneously removing your sense of it. How much are you going to resist or give in to this scripted intimacy? How present can you be? For me, the site of the podplay performance becomes the body of the listener negotiating all these contradictions. That negotiation and struggle, recognition and denial, becomes the content of the work.

I like to be irritated. Deeply irritated. If art doesn’t irritate me on some level, I am bored. If not angry. Very very angry. All of which is better than entertained. I find it insulting to be entertained. I did David Leddy’s podplay “SUSURRUS” in Glasgow’s botanic gardens. It really irritated me. I full-on despised the whole thing till 30 minutes into it I found myself streaming with tears. My body had to acknowledge the beauty and love in the twisted constructs of the world around me. It was a deep irritation. I happened to run into Mr. Leddy at a bar later that night and I was able to tell him how deeply I hated his work and all the tangental reasons for my deep irritation. He remarked that I had brought a lot of baggage to his work. But of course that is unavoidable when the site of performance is your body.

I hope your body finds my work at least a bit irritating, even though Mr. Murphy found some beauty in it and gave me three lovely songs.

I deeply enjoyed the irritations of making it.

David McIntosh is a writer, singer, and the artistic producer of battery opera. In 1995 he co-founded battery opera with Lee Su-Feh, whom he began collaborating with shortly after he was run over while on his bicycle somewhere between Kuantan and Kota Baru.

Subscribe to his, and more podplays, until September 30th, 2011 HERE.

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