Unsound Method (after Conrad)

Publication, Musical Score & Performance

Images: © Tim Etchells

Unsound Method (after Conrad), responds to Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness and comprises several discrete works: two versions of the novel (available as epub edition and limited edition print publication), a musical score for violin and trumpet, and a performance of the score by Simon Tong (trumpet) and Aisha Orazbayeva (violin).

The versions of Heart of DarknessUnsound Method I & II – respond to (and alter) the text of Conrad’s book. In each, Etchells has redacted the text so that only particular sets of words from the original manuscript remain.

In the first – Unsound Method I – the pages are redacted in white and only words associated with light – day, bright, sun, morning and so on – remain visible, carving out a poem which was always present in the material of the original novel. In the second version of the work – Unsound Method II – the pages of Heart of Darkness are again redacted, this time in black, and leaving only words associated with darkness – night, gloom, shadow, black and so on – as visible traces on the page.

In the second phase of Unsound Method, Etchells developed a musical composition in which the sequence and positioning of the same words – day, bright, sun, white, night, gloom, shadow, black and so on – in Conrad’s novel, were used to generate a score for trumpet (playing the sequence of words associated with darkness) and violin (playing the sequence of words associated with light).
Unsound Method (after Conrad) was commissioned by Artangel for The Space, as part of the 2012 project A Room For London.


“The manager came out. He did me the honor to take me under the arm and lead me aside. ‘He is very
low, very low,’ he said [speaking of Kurtz]. He considered it necessary to sigh, but neglected to be
consistently sorrowful. ‘We have done all we could for him—haven’t we? But there is no disguising the
fact, Mr. Kurtz has done more harm than good to the Company. He did not see the time was not ripe
for vigorous action. Cautiously, cautiously—that’s my principle. We must be cautious yet. The district is
closed to us for a time. Deplorable! Upon the whole, the trade will suffer. I don’t deny there is a
remarkable quantity of ivory—mostly fossil. We must save it, at all events—but look how precarious
the position is—and why? Because the method is unsound.’ ‘Do you,’ said I, looking at the shore, ‘call it
“unsound method”?’ ‘Without doubt,’ he exclaimed, hotly. ‘Don’t you?’… ‘No method at all,’ I murmured
after a while. ‘Exactly,’ he exulted. ‘I anticipated this. Shows a complete want of judgment. It is my duty to point it out in the proper quarter.’ ‘Oh,’ said I, ‘that fellow—what’s his name?—the brickmaker, will make a readable report for you.’ He appeared confounded for a moment. It seemed to me I had never
breathed an atmosphere so vile, and I turned mentally to Kurtz for relief—positively for relief.
‘Nevertheless I think Mr. Kurtz is a remarkable man,’ I said with emphasis. He started, dropped on me
a cold heavy glance, said very quietly, ‘He was,’ and turned his back on me. My hour of favor was over;
I found myself lumped along with Kurtz as a partisan of methods for which the time was not ripe: I was
unsound! Ah! but it was something to have at least a choice of nightmares.”
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad