This is fantastic and it reminded me of a book:
— James (@seebsouq) May 7, 2020
Heinrich Böll’s 1955 novella Doktor Murkes Gesammelte Schweigen/The Collected Silences of Dr. Murke, a classic of postwar German literature, was written and is set ten years after the war, at the traditional moment when the memoirs start to appear. Everything is new in the new Federal Republic, like the shiny modernist radio station Dr. Murke works in as a producer in the culture department, but neither Murke nor the authorial voice (as ever with Böll) are particularly happy about it. Everything reminds Murke of the Nazi past, most directly the talking heads he has to edit as they bullshit their way around their own compromised pasts.
Using the new technology of tape recording, though, there’s a way of getting at the truth. Murke’s boss, yet another ex-Nazi, offers us a hint when he talks about his own disenchantment, which occurred when he had to edit a four-hour speech of Hitler’s into a soundbite package for the news. This enforced close reading of the harangue frees him from its rhetorical effects and powers of persuasion. Perhaps this deconstruction might work for us, too?
There’s a difference, though. Murke’s boss had to find a way to face up to the grossly, blatantly obvious, but Murke’s challenge is more subtle – the problem is the stuff that everyone is avoiding talking about. So he starts to collect the dead air he cuts out of the broadcasts and remix it into prolonged reels of silence, to beg, borrow, and steal more silence from other programmes, and to record people around him saying nothing, somewhere between a negative version of Alan Lomax recording the blues and a foreshadowing of Andy Warhol’s screen tests.
With Johnson, though, there’s not much of an angle in recording his silences as the bastard never shuts up. Instead, though, you could collect the constant, maddening mouth-noise and remix that. The erming and noising serves a purpose, rather like Böll’s silences, filling the gaps where the truth might be. And that’s what our dear colleague has done.