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my name was Liam – Our Broken Voice / subtlemob in Berlin

Ostbahnhof

Scene of the performance.

Saturday evening I participated in a 30-minute theatre event in Berlin, where my name was Liam.

“Our Broken Voice” was a project where participants registered and then downloaded a 30-minute mp3 based on their gender and on their birthdate, creating four characters who would then converge on a public space and then carry out a sequence of behaviors, as directed by the instructions in their ears.

The instructions for me were fairly simple: carry a small folding umbrella, start the mp3 at 8:00, and, as the instructions noted, “you’re in a public place wearing headphones, keep your eyes open. Please stay safe and considerate. Remember that cars can still hit you and police can still arrest you.”

"Liam" near Ostbahnhof

A “Liam” listening and participating in Our Broken Voice.

It was this point that concerned my friend, who participated with me. She was Clare and she did not have an umbrella. She had a notebook and a pen.

We converged on our appointed meeting spot, the Ostbahnhof (east train station), shortly before 8pm, found a place to rest, and waited until 8 to start. From there we separated as Clare had different instructions from Liam.

My impression from the fragment of the story that I listened to is that Liam was looking for a lost love – a girl that he wanted to know better – as it happened, I believe it was Clare, and some how, when it came time for Liam to follow a girl, I ended up following my friend. Seriously, it was completely random—I was instructed to go onto a platform, and as I was riding the escalator up to platform 2/3, I realized that she was two or three people ahead of me on the escalator. I then watched her write in a notebook.

"Liam" watching "Clare" on Platform 1

About half way in to the performance, Liam ends up watching a girl writing in a notebook on the train platform.

The other two characters were referred to in the audio that I heard – one was Alex, a guy who was carrying a book. I have no idea what happened to the book by the end of the performance. The other was Grace, who was carrying a magazine – I do know that at one point the magazines were all dropped on the floor of the train station.

No idea why.

I was also handed a piece of paper – this one was torn from a small magazine, but I don’t know why.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve participated in something like this: back in 2008 I participated in the Berlin mp3 experiment, a version of Improv Everywhere’s mp3 experiment, in when a huge number of us converged on Alexanderplatz and followed the instructions uttered by Steve.

Strangely, although smaller, I had a similar problem with Our Broken Voice as I did with the Berlin mp3 experiment: the audio was written for a different city with a different dynamic. In the case of the Berlin mp3 experiment, the audio for a different city and different dynamic problem was compounded by the fact that the German translation was shit which led to confusion on the part of many people as to what we should actually be doing.

In the case of Our Broken Voice there wasn’t a translation problem: it was only in English.

What was a huge problem is that it was written for a different train station with a different layout, so it was a bit confusing when we were told to go down to the platforms, when, in fact, at Ostbahnhof the platforms are upstairs. Further, there wasn’t a coffee shop at Ostbahnhof that matched the one that was described in our headphones, along with a variety of other minor quirks.

That said, the quirks were mostly minor and easily overcome – although when we were told to wander past the shops along the concourse, pausing before each shop, looking in at the customers and then move along, all the shops were already closed. The shops were closed because it was Saturday evening after 8; I believe that the vast majority of the shops close at 6 on Saturdays.

After the half hour was up, I rejoined my friend (I’d lost track of her, as I was supposed to) and we decided to visit the Computerspielemuseum (Computer Games Museum) where we could collect (so to speak) a prize for participation – that part was a grand disappointment: we got microscopically small stickers (impossible to separate the backing) that said “my name was”…. We also learned that the event was part of something called Playpublik, an event celebrating playing in urban settings.

It would have been better not knowing this and had we been left wondering who put this on and why.

Ignorance can be bliss.

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