In Which Mr Brown and Mr Eng confront the Void
The performance began nearly a fortnight prior to the scheduled date with the delivery of an unmarked package. Contained within was a very small metal box of sturdy construction, a set of antennae with their cabling, and a single mimeographed sheet covered with a finely-printed grid of arcane measurements and equations. Holding the small box aloft in my palm, I turned to Mr. Eng and announced with pride, “Pirate radio!”
“Huh,” said Mr. Eng after a pause, thoughtfully stroking his chin. Huh, indeed.
Construction of the full transmitter apparatus proceeded in the usual manner, involving a length of coaxial cable, a broom handle thrust out of a hole in the facade, a loosely-wedged 2×4, and copious application of packing tape. It wasn’t long before we had our pyramidal antennae cluster perched innocently if precariously above the thoroughfare. But what unholy forces had been unshackled with the seemingly simple geometry of that antenna? What dark cries was it echoing across the invisible either?
Obtaining an optimally blank frequency was a matter of some days labor, which involved pacing back and forth on the busy boulevard, listening with rapt attention to the white noise blasting from a hand-held radio. This research was augmented with a further evening of driving up and down the surrounding neighborhoods while evaluating the tonal qualities of each half-tuned gap in the radio spectrum. Elaborate charts and graphs were made, though I little guessed at what dark lines of force they truly charted.
The venue’s event propaganda made repeated, emphatic efforts to describe the broadcast nature of the event, and went to extravagant lengths to highlight the hostile nature of the alleged lecture environment. Yet we suspected our efforts to communicate the reality of the situation would ultimately be in vain. So we arrived at a solution for those unfortunates who would never hear nor heed our warnings — “Refugee Paks.”
Towards the assembly of these “paks,” Mr. Eng and I spent weary days trawling through the the ruinous leftovers of long-abandoned overstock, the indescribable gelatinous sheddings of global capitalism’s hind-portions.
We apportioned the resulting accursed share of misfit housewares and sack lunch rejects into a individual units of cultural excess, physical instantiations of the injustice and woe excreted from the totalizing organism of exchange value. And as we compiled the Refugee Paks, we credited Bank of America, and chuckled naively at the cleverness of our insouciant gestures.
Could we have known that in their desperation and confusion, they would actually use those terrible snack objects as nutrition for their cramped, freezing bodies? Could we have known they would actually drink the chubby?
Maybe, if we had been honest with ourselves. If we had allowed ourselves to fully conceive of how bad things would get, how violent their desire would be to fill the void, a need so desperate that they would willingly insert expired cheese food into themselves just to fill the hole left by art. But we hid from the truth, unable to confront the full gibbering madness of where it inevitably led.
As expected, none of the subsequent repetitions of the venue’s propaganda mentioned the radio transmission. Nor did it mention the venue’s lack of heat, light, or walls. We tried to tell them. We told them to use their radios. We told them to stay in their cars. We told them not to come!
But they came.
They came without radios. They came without flashlights. They came without jackets. They came without cheese plates. They came looking for seats and lights and plumbing and sound systems. They came looking for the bathroom. They came looking for an art world that had abandoned them to their sad, sordid fate.
And when the horde of refugees had torn their way through the paper-sacked snacks and beer, when the radios and ponchos were long-since stolen away, when the confused paparazzi clawed at the glass crying out for a satisfaction that would never come, when they pressed in from all sides and there was nothing we could do to help, and we hadn’t even started yet…
That is when the art happened.
It died just as quickly, the way art does. A little jolt of pain and confusion, an eddy of trauma and disappointment, some desultory attempts to haul something out of the ruin, and the inevitable fall of shadow, silence, and erasure.
But though already dead, the rotting corpse of art only further awakened the insensate lust of the horde, their hope and desire deliquescing into a furious hunger.
Lecture! Shelter! Chairs! Toilet!
As the gibbering tribes of the lost pressed in from all sides, my immediate sensations are incapable of analysis. We could see their lips moving as they muttered regret to their key fobs, as they tapped pleas for deliverance into cellphones.
Where are we! What is happening! Where is the cheese plate? Where is the wine??
Mr Eng would later report that I howled at the screen, “I can’t see you out there, but I can FEEL you!” This moment was not recorded on any extant documentation. Perhaps it didn’t happen. In any case, it was clear that there was no escape. We had no choice but accept our fate.
We began the transmission.
Though my memories of that time are vague and jumbled, I remember repeatedly shouting at Mr Eng with urgency and desperation: “Dave! Dave!! Hey Dave!!”
Why was a yelling at him? What assistance did I require? What deliverance could I have been seeking? Was I merely echoing the calls of the milling refugees who blocked our escape? I will never know, for Mr. Eng heard me not, immersed as he was in his own frantic labors, his ears protected from my entreating cries.
The live broadcast lasted approximately 2.5 hours. The audio recording of the broadcast is somewhat complete, and of fairly good quality. The resulting transcription of the broadcast text is thorough.
Overall, the Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival Episode Of Paranoid Machines (Los Angeles 1946-1981), Broadcasting From Machine Project was a yeoman effort which would have benefited from greater emphasis on effect over affect. 3 1/2 stars.