In conversation with Rike Scheffler and Jochen Roller

Translated from German by Chester Underhill.


Daniela Seel: When you look around, you can see something’s already getting underway here…

Jochen Roller: You think so?

DS: Yeah, I think so, compared to the last time I was here…

JR: Great. That was the idea.

DS: Tell us what’s going on here.

JR: We’ve been here since Thursday. For both of us, our main objective was to really transform the space. When we came in, it was constructed to be a classic setting for readings. Do you know how we came up with the room-within-a-room?

Rike Scheffler: Yes. As a kind of beginning there was speed-dating, which was meant to create pairs, and for that me and Jochen skyped, and I think you spoke about my “Honey, I’m home” video with the loop poems-

JR: That was later.

RS: Hm. That’s where the idea began for me, how we designed the space in the sense that, like you said, you found my interactions with physicality interesting and the arrangement of speech as a kind of composition, verbal composition.

JR: And of spatial installation.

RS: Exactly, and of spatial installation. And then I knew, like you said, that movement within context interests you most of all, and that it was about spatial design. And that’s where your idea about the choreography of viewers’ movements came from, a spectating movement. And that was the idea behind the design of the room, which represented a kind of shift of focus: away from classic lecture settings, moving towards the people who come as players, as lead players, whose movements we choreograph and who move about freely, opening up the room to them, and through that also setting off and triggering prepared sounds.

JR: From the text mostly.

© Daniela Seel

DS: With movement detectors? Or what do you mean by triggering?

RS: Depending on how you move around the space, you’ll come across contact microphones, that react to bodies. And let’s see whether it works, but the idea is also that this creates a kind of live composition between people in the room. If they notice, if they’re moving around, that they’re creating a sound, a sound is being triggered, and what happens if different people react or attune to each other simultaneously or jointly. It was also important, like we said, that the sounds and text develop from the layout of the space, that was also a guiding principal. And the room-within-a-room as a space for speech, which is contextually integral as well as semi-permeable. You can take a look inside, you can move around, you can take on an outsider’s perspective, you can stand inside… but transitions are created, which you can observe, actively if you wish. It’s a shared space in which everything happens, where you can position yourself and relationships develop within the space.

JR: It’s relatively new at the moment, it’s only been here since Thursday. The original idea was actually to use back room and we spoke about how the two rooms could be linked together, but it turned out that it made more sense that the performance space – here would have been a kind of foyer – be in this foyer. That’s why we bought this cool material that we can hang in the space at the back. Both sheets of gauze are completely closed. That means that people come in and see this window at the entrance, here is the bar, now there’s a small thing here which we’re still getting ready, where we to freeze words in ice. But the main installation is still this room-within-a-room, where you can watch people set off triggers on the foam (everything will be covered in foam) and through that they can hold a reading themselves, so to say. You could also assume a classic onlooker’s perspective and simply listen in. Or you could even be a ‘reader’ yourself through your movement within the room.

© Daniela Seel

DS: And the foam serves to absorb the sound of footsteps?

JR: No, this idea came from acoustic foam. It’s made of cone-shaped pyramids and when you walk over it, you pretty much lose your balance. We found that really interesting. We’re just taking what we can buy within budget. If you go in to a shop and ask for pyramid foam and you have a budget of 800 euros, this is the kind you are given.

RS: We were originally thinking about using memory foam.

JR: Exactly, and that was even more expensive… But we’re pretty happy with it because you can recline on it really nicely, that wouldn’t have been so good with the pyramid foam. Now it’s really a kind of playground.

RS: And at the same time it’s a bit like an echo chamber, which is reinforced with the triggers. When you move through the space your movements change according to the way in which you are moving, your consciousness changes and through this the text gains a level of physicality. Those are actually also the posts we developed within the space, differing physical states of the text. On the one hand, sound that you help to create is immaterial, also in the sense of context, the material that we discovered, and in the frozen words there are, as we call them, key phrases. These are phrases that come from the work within the space, that Jochen and I adopted. What do you call these – countersunk screws, and other great terms. We collected them. And then it came to the process of description and labelling, attempting speech.

DS: Does that mean the whole text was created this week?

RS: Almost. Everything in exterior space has been collected over the past few days. The collaborative work began on the day of the speed-dating and with the following exchange. And after we’d developed an idea for the space, I prepared a text in advance, which have been used in turn, where some of the pieces of set are used as material.

JR: And that appears in the text now too.

RS: Exactly. But newly assigned each time, also with the descriptive proper nouns, that are actually the products of entirely different contexts, we noticed that, because we lack the botanical knowledge, for example, new open spaces arise from this give of attribution. That we freely and maybe also poetically, in the most broad sense of the word, to make these attributions.

© Daniela Seel

DS: Will you both be physically present?

JR: At the bar. Well, behind the bar. Right?

RS: I think so. We tried at first to make ourselves invisible. Now we have to see where we can re-introduce ourselves in to the setting. But the main thing is firstly the idea of being able to initiate the reading yourself.

JR: That’s also part of the instructions. We don’t need to write anything if we’re behind the bar; you can simply tell people that they are the reading. That’s all we need to be there for. Not just to serve.

RS: Yes, that’s right. In order to give out the information.

DS: You said earlier that the the composition of the space should choreograph visitor’s movements. That you work with something particular that was specified to you. How would you describe the relationship between that which was stipulated to you, that which you staged, to the people who come in to the space, those who actively choose to enter?

JR: First we hung up the speakers and today we laid out the contact microphones, and I think it’s about finding links where there could be several different possibilities for movement. At one point we tried putting the speakers on the floor, so people would move about without shoes on, and you can set of the speakers either with your foot or your hand. And depending on which part of your body you set them off with, you create another kind of movement which goes either up or down. And the idea is now to emphasise the speakers by hanging them up. So the sound either comes from either above or below.

© Daniela Seel

RS: As well as that, in the room-within-a-room through the gauze curtain there are no given directions, there’s no ‘entrance this way’ or ‘exit this way.’ There are loosely hung curtains, you can go in or out wherever you wish, and that’s also how we came up with the texts in the interior space. We say that through different combinations there are many opportunities for the text which can be created, and we tried to simply do everything we could. To make it fun, and accessible from all sides, and malleable from all sides too- through movement. As soon as I hung the curtains, I became very conscious of the way in which I moved around outside, instead of saying ‘I can really enter from all sides.’

JR: Yes, I always do that too. But I think it all depends now on the big opening.

RS: I think so too. And that’s exactly the process that we still have ahead of us, seeing (also on the ‘try out’ morning) how people move around in here, how far do we actually want to take the idea, to what extent do we just let it happen?

DS: You keep saying ‘sounds,’ is there a musical component or is it mostly just text?

JR: It’s actually just texts inside, but there’ll be a kind of musical backbone produced by the speakers outside, which will be present all evening.

RS: There’ll also be a movement in and out. There’s the sound from outside that permeates the inner space, and then there’s what I call the ‘speech room,’ which is permeated by speech from the outer space. That results in the overall sound within the space.

DS: That all seems pretty straight-forward I would say, from the vision to the conception and execution. How precisely did you develop that?

RS: After the idea became clear that we wanted the movement of the audience, the people in the room, to be our main focus, and to create the impression that you’re shaping the reading as a participant or maybe even helping to develop the concept, this can have all different kinds of results. And then it goes really quickly, and has had particular consequences; it has to be a kind of playground, that’s the central point. And on that basis you also need to think about how people move around the room. Do you facilitate this offstage, or do you want to create a space where visitors are immediately plunged right in. Then there’s the idea of the semi-permeable wall, which makes it feel like a shared space, but also offers the possibility of conducting proceedings in different positions. It all developed very organically.

© Daniela Seel

DS: How would you describe your collaborative work, if everything pretty much just developed organically?

JR: I think we’re both used to working in specific contexts, and this contact is also really specific. Being told that you have seven days, €800 and people will be arriving on Wednesday… What’s most important, in my opinion, is that you find something you have in common, and you have a strong desire to make something. In this respect, I would call the collaboration pragmatic. But of course it’s also inspiring. I find this kind of format, bad as it may sound, to be really helpful, because you know that all you can do is make ideas a reality.

RS: When we came to Lettrétage, we spent the first day examining different ideas we came up with during the talks; which of them could actually put in to practice, which were simply too much, and what could actually take place within the spaces? Straight forward is probably the right word. It became apparent really, really quickly what interested both of us, and then it was simply a case of making everything.

DS: What have you taken away from the experience? Because it’s a really punctual collaboration. On Thursday everything needs to be cleared away. It would be possible for you to go on tour with such a mobile project, although maybe not. What do you want to do?

JR: For me, it’s been a lot about the learning process. I don’t really have much of an interest in the material product, going on to show it elsewhere. For me it’s about the talks that you have when you work on something collaboratively. New insights into speech and choreography, new perspectives. On the other hand, there are lots of practical things to learn, soldering or drilling for example. That was my experience.

RS: It was the same for me. And of course the kind of talks you have when you’re coming from such different fields are always fun, it widens your horizons to learn about these differences- and it’s fun too. I found it really interesting to hear Jochen speak about movement. Or not speak, just do. The idea of the playground stuck in my head for quite a while, that’s why I was really happy it all worked out.

DS: And in terms of the audience, what are you hoping they take away from it all? Perhaps not just in terms of this project, but generally with all your artistic endeavours.

JR: I don’t really know what the audience are like here, I’ve never been to an event here. That’s why I feel so anxious, mostly about how they use the space.

RS: Me too.

JR: I haven’t really got any idea. I think it’s a good space, where people want to stay a while, whether that’s in the outer or inner space. But of course, the main act is in the inner room. And that only works collaboratively. If four people went in there now and pressed all the microphones, then you wouldn’t hear anything. And I’m really looking forward to that.

RS: Absolutely.

JR: And just checking that out. I’m looking at your saying for the first time.

RS: Exactly. At first just looking at how people communicate according to the poetic set pieces we’ve prepared, how people relate to the piece. I think what’s cool about it is that it’s all based on communication. And at the same time, when someone looks or listens to the left or to the right, that’s also interesting. What happens with the text when it’s used differently, how it changes and the kind of friction that’s created between different passages of text and the sounds in the room and people’s movements onstage and off. Questions like these. I’m just really curious. I hope a literary audience comes in and tries it out.

© Daniela Seel

JR: Do you have any concerns?

RS: Yes.

DS: My experience has also been this; if you want them to move, then they don’t do it, because they’ve been so polarised by what they’re listening to and want to concentrate, and not miss any of the literature, and as soon as you try to get them to move or experience more of the space, they push against it. If it happens like that, that they listen without becoming active participants, I think softly putting pressure on this kind of literary audience is a really good trial arrangement.

JR: I think it’s cool how we can just say ‘the reading is going on inside.’ We don’t need to say anything else. And then they go in, and then –

RS: And then the reading happens. Exactly. And for me that was one of the decisive ideas, because I’m conscious of it and have experienced readings in many different settings where people don’t actively wish to get involved. And that was one of the reasons we made the room-within-a-room and also why we chose to not to have any kinds of divisions, no back room. This was achieved through staging it in a room where there’s this kind of fusion and where the act of playing or reading takes centre stage. Otherwise it would have been spatial relationships: front room, social space, bar is the main act. And that’s not what we wanted. We wanted the words and sounds and the act of playing to be the central focus.