By Sean Alday
Paul Rome and Roarke Menzies showed up at brunch with a box with air holes. Inside it were two kittens.
“These are for you.” Paul said.
This is a good way to bribe a writer into plugging your next project. I pulled some salvia and a valium out of a tin box and put the salvia under my tongue. Then I listened to them tell me about their new literary performance: Calypso. I put the valium on a napkin.
I turned my focus to the kittens. Thirty minutes later a waitress refilled my coffee. I turned on a recording device and asked about things that they have enjoyed working on.
Paul: “We had a difference of opinion during the first Bushwick Starr show on the lighting and about how to leave the stage. I thought to myself, ‘Who is this guy running sound? Changing the ending in my script?’
“In that instance he turned out to be completely right.
“I really enjoy the Bushwick Starr.” He was growling like a chain-smoking Ira Glass, “My other favorite performance was a solo reading I did in the den of the Northeast Kingdom.”
What about you?
Roarke: “I really enjoyed playing at the Storefront Gallery last March. It was one of the first shows we did together… The Kingdom was really fun too. With Storefront, it was nice because we brought in our things from home and made aesthetic choices about the set.
“With some shows you [Paul] jokingly describe yourself as a diva because you don’t like performing when people are having side conversations. But it’s important to us. We’re really careful about how we frame our work.”
Paul: “As a storyteller, the main rule is you can’t lose the audience for a moment. But the audience also can’t come in late. They’ll lose the narrative if they miss the beginning.”
Who else is doing something similar to what you guys are doing?
Paul: “No one.. to our knowledge. But we are definitely doing something like someone before us. That would be Joe Frank. He primarily does radio, he has an excellent voice. It’s a very low voice doing these twisted monologues that often turn into philosophical rants… He’s my hero.”
Then I picked up the blue pill, spit the salvia into my napkin and swallowed it with some coffee. I said something like let’s go and threw my coffee cup into an open trash can across the room, between a sitting man and a standing woman.
We walked to my home while a squid-like salamander crawled behind us eating bugs. I’ve noticed that Paul and Roarke have a mutual admiration for each other, as though they were brothers unsure of who was older.
“Have you two ever kicked each other’s asses?” I asked.
No answer. Maybe I wasn’t talking loud enough but I didn’t push the point. I took a drag off of my electronic cigarette. Roarke looks at it funny and I knew that he was about to ask me how it works. To head that off, I said: “Paul is a lanky guy, I think he could kick your ass Roarke.”
“Shenanigans.” Roarke says.
Paul then mentions that he drinks scotch. I will hide the scotch when we get to my place. At this point, I want them to tell me about the project that got me interested in their work.
Roarke: “While making The You Trilogy we bonded over intent listening while working together. We went over tracks repeatedly while we worked together trying to pick each element apart to get it right. That dedication, or obsession some may say, to very quiet intensive listening is at the heart of our compatibility as collaborators.”
Paul: “I like the recorded medium because there’s a slight chance that you’ll listen to it twice.”
Roarke: “One thing that I’ve noticed is that a live performance creates the setting for close listening. Playing a recorded studio piece requires the listener to create that space for themselves. Sometimes it takes a listening party; it’s like being in a book club.”
Paul: “It’s work to pay attention to it [referring to the audio pieces]. I do think it’s similar to reading dense novels on your own, when you get past a certain age, there is too much going on in your life. Book clubs can be nice. They make it easier to consume these things that writers and storytellers do.”
Roarke: “That’s fair I guess.”
Paul: “It’s definitely fair.”
You [Roarke] mentioned something about the way that we normally hear and receive audio performances. I understand hearing music through earbuds, computer speakers, etc. But we also have loud car speakers and atmosphere music. Are we as a culture desensitized to audio and atmosphere music?
Roarke: “Furniture music. That’s the term coined by Erik Satie. I have to give him a lot of credit. Furniture music seems to be ignorable but it affects you in a subtle way. It seems like it’s meant to be ignored.
“You notice that when music isn’t playing in a social setting, people feel awkward. I’m not sure why that is.”
We arrive at my apartment building.
What will be the future of your performances?
Roarke: “Hopefully, Paul won’t run out of ideas. Ambitiously, we’d like to do a new performance each year. In a similar vein as this production. We talked about doing a joint record.
“A fantasy would be to have a radio show.”
Paul: “Our rampant perfectionism would make a true radio show difficult. But we riff on that concept often.
“We’ll continue performing and creating new work. The joint record would be fun.”
I will now recommend not missing it, they put on a fun show.