Talking Thinking – Rough Notes

22 December 2009

[Quite sketchy this… grasping for something].

Thinking about the recent Forced Entertainment rehearsals (which I just blogged about over at The Guardian). Perhaps because there were some new-comers to the rehearsal process, and perhaps because we were working quickly – trying to stay quite a lot on our feet – I was super aware of the general procedure for the start-of-the-day – how to get things started, where to begin – which at this point always seems to involve a kind of rolling talking session, generally beginning with a monologue from me (apologies for that), but increasingly an informal and meandering discussion, quite spiky and concerted in its own drifting way. The start point for this talking always seems to be an attempt to recall the progress of the work undertaken the day before (literally – “So, what did we do yesterday?”) and to roughly map any conclusions that we might have drawn from it. I know that usually I’ve not attempted to think through the rehearsal material much before we start work in the morning, so the talk is pretty much ‘thinking aloud’ – indeed mostly we start from a very hazy or clumsy anecdotal account of what we actually did or tried.

[Sidenote. The material from day before has been circulating/digesting of course…. just that none of us have grappled with it much on a conscious level. The morning-talking is wake up time too… getting us all back into what we’re up against, and a kind of limbering up I guess, flexing, starting to move in (mental) space.]

To some extent this ‘start of the day talking’ works like panning the water, or sifting residues too.. an attempt simply to figure what has remained from the day before, however apparently arbitrary or disorganised that remainder might be. Complex events took place but by now, a good 18 hours later, these events are ready to be condensed into a story, into a version, into an idea… I guess there’s some simple trust that ‘what remains’ will be useful, and a trust that the process by which some things might be remembered and others forgotten (even temporarily) might be a useful one.

Trusting this kind of osmosis or self-selection in the material I hardly ever take notes at this stage of the rehearsals, and rarely write anything down from the days work. In this way I rely absolutely on the fact that we’re video-recording everything – every improvisation, every run through – so that if or when any of us might need it there are really super-detailed ‘notes’ on what has taken place. In any case, the important thing is that I’m not bothering myself with keeping track of everything – I know it’s all on the tapes. Instead I’m more thinking about the shapes of the work, the smell or texture of it, following my nose through the material. Also, what I can say (going back to the Kleist) is that usually when we start talking in the morning I have no idea what we should  do for the day, little or no idea of an agenda, not even much idea of what to ‘say’. I’m not planning rehearsals – most days I don’t even start thinking till I’m in the room. And yet somehow through the morning talking this kind of agenda does become clear. Some priorities emerge. And a way of addressing (or approaching!) these priorities also becomes clear or clear enough.

What’s interesting is that once you step your thoughts out into spoken language they are solidifying, taking form one word at a time, in some unretractable way. Like the quantum notion of a reality that is constantly condensing/collapsing many-possibilities into one, where the reality we are in is understood to be produced moment by moment by narrowing infinite possibility into singular actuality, and then again and then again and then again, always narrowing, fixing, a moment at a time. I guess this kind of process operates literally in language too, at the level of sentences and word choices and somehow especially in speech (a temporal act, the process of which is real-time and relatively exposed – as opposed to writing for example where you can always edit, add and erase from the record invisibly). And what’s interesting to me is that when speaking you’re constantly building a road – in words and through time – a road which already hints at a direction – the future is already contained a little bit by what’s been said already, and by the rules of comprehensible speech. The more you’ve said the more structure and apparatus is determining (opening and closing) possibilities for what’s next) and there’s something about this tightening of the present, via the squeezing of thought into language, that really ups the pressure and (perhaps) brings you to things you cannot come to in silent thinking. It’s a version of the talking cure of course – it already had me thinking of psychoanalysis, the idea that you can talk your way to something that is otherwise unavailable. By the way, I’m not implying that as soon as you start talking and step into the flow of language it’s all a done deal – you can of course always change direction, contradict and so on.. but even something like contradiction is a negotiation or manoeuvre that’s only possible because of earlier choices..

Trying to talk something through. Trying to define questions. Trying to map possible approaches.
The possibility in these discussions also to try to pause the flow of the talking and re-start it in another place. (Never innocent, and not strictly possible of course.. but sometimes worth a go).

Trying to hold steady on a thought that’s coming, or a direction that’s forming, even when other people are pulling you onto something else.
(For balance – letting go of what you were fixing on in favour of an idea or a question that someone else is pitching into the discussion)
(Entertaining options. Staying loose. Not letting anything solidify too quickly).

Not taking too long on all this. 45 mins max then we should be moving.


I notice that I’m very often checking out in the discussions during the last fifteen minutes or so. In this period it’s maybe too complicated to follow – more opinions. But I’m also looking for a way to make what we’re talking about concrete. I’m not looking for a very complicated intellectual synthesis of the whole discussion (impossible) or for an ‘answer’ to the questions (also impossible) – in fact I’m just looking for a small thing –  a single improvisational starting point that I can propose and which I hope somehow might kick us towards the goal. Often the sense is, to be clear, that this starting point might be woefully simple, just a hook that other things might come to hang on, an occasion that people might find to drag in what we’ve been talking about. What’s also true I think, and again to be clear, is that the discussion can be very clear and very abstract at the same time and the proposal for what we do next will have to be entirely concrete. Often there’s a sense, in proposing some improv, or a return to some combination of material we worked on yesterday, that I have to say “well, that’s all very well..” (meaning the discussion) or “we are all very clever” (again, nodding back to the discussion) *but*… and the but is, of course, that no matter how great or impoverished our theoretical grasp on what we’re doing might be, we still (in the end) simply have to do something in the room. And this doing something of course involves a shift to another kind of energy, another kind of thinking – through doing in fact.