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Stone Tape Theory is a durational sound-performance in which the performer mines the shifting terrain of their own memories. The work takes its name from an obscure paranormal hypothesis in which ghostly presences are explained not as discarnate souls, but as electro-magnetic “imprints” in space. Considering memory as a decaying loop of impressions which equally construct and disturb our experience of the present, the work asks: what does it means to be “haunted”? what is a haunting, if not a memory in space? And what is a memory, if not a haunting of the body?
Occupying a space in complete blackout for 6 hours per day over 5 days, the performer’s task is to continually vocalise a stream of associative memories. These utterances are simultaneously recorded onto cassette tape. This defunct audio technology- subject as it is to its own logic of temporal disintegration- becomes a means of archiving the performer's task: the unbroken and unedited summoning-forth of memories, from flesh into speech. The content can range from descriptions of wholly unremarkable events, to painstaking reconstructions of some of the most private or painful moments in the performer’s life.
As the audience find and lose and find their bearings in the darkness, spectral fragments of single narrative strands become momentarily audible before vanishing into the seething wash of sound. At periodic intervals, the space is illuminated for a fraction of a second by a single strobe flash, As one tape is played, another is erased, and re-recorded live in the space, creating a loop of increasingly layered feedback: this process continues down the chain, each successive recording burying that which proceeded it: an audio palimpsest, continually re-wound, erased, and re-recorded, generating an evolving sonic landscape of disembodied voices, progressively degrading with every replay, producing increasingly chthonic distortions.
"Some of the most interesting work not only asks a great deal of the artists, but also from those witnessing it. That’s very much the case with S-J Norman’s Stone Tape Theory, which invites the audience to enter a pitch-dark room, where an aural haunting seems to be taking place, the memory of a terrible trauma. As eye and ears adjust, you start to pick out individual words and a bright light becomes seared on the retina as if you are being struck by lightning. It’s a hallucinatory experience...at its most complex and disturbing, it feels as if you’ve wandered into someone else’s head and got stuck there. Panic is never far away. That’s just as it should be. Bravery invites and demands bravery." Lyn Gardner, The Guardian.
To read the studio/catalogue notes on Stone Tape Theory by S-J Norman for Tarnanthi Festival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Art, click here.