Bhanu Kapil from Boulder, CO reading 1999

11May07

This Bhanu Kapil recording made me think more about the phenomenon of laughter as a crowd response as well as false starts or re-voicings within an audio text. In this clip, Kapil’s volume and emphasis shifts radically at a few points. One of the effects this has on the audience is that they laugh: Bhanu Kapil excerpt #1

What does/can laughter mean in the context of a live reading? What does the appearance of laughter say about the immediate environment of the performance? How does the existence of laughter at a reading shape (feed back into) the author’s performance of the work? I have found that crowd laughter sometimes corresponds to some sort of excess (the most obvious excess being thematic: something is funny at the level of content BUT ALSO things such as excessive volume, large shifts in reading style, etc.)

Immediately after the clip I’ve included above ends, Kapil begins to read from a different piece and then stops and adjusts her voice. Everyone in the crowd notices this adjustment and laughs and Kapil herself briefly laughs while reading. This moment is so interesting to me because it seems to document the way a crowd’s response influences the reader’s performance, making it momentarily lighter and how the author re-adjusts her performance style to accent a more serious, intense reading voice to match the content of the work. Bhanu Kapil excerpt #2

Maybe it’s not so much a binary between playfulness/humor connected to crowd laughter vs. “seriousness” of an authorial presence in relation to the content of the work. It’s tough to intepret moments like this in a fixed way. One simple way of explaining this shift is that Kapil is clearing her throat or getting back into the rhythm/feel of reading after stopping. I can’t quite put my finger on why this moment interests me so much. I feel like it points to a kind of dynamic between audience, text, and author/performer that is fairly fluid instead of the idea of the writer sticking to the script and not responding to their environment in a significant way. I much prefer reading moments such as these when thinking about these issues instead of really overtly performative work that is highly conscious of the listening/performing environment. It reminds me that these weird, interesting social dynamics, interchanges, etc. are always present to some degree even when they might seem insignificant or invisible.

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