Some Bat-squeak Echo of Other Time – a tour guided by fiction created by Ken Cockburn.
It was innovative, inspiring, exploratory, entertaining and delightfully socially inclusive.
Combining description and fiction, Ken found a way to not only describe the appearance, but also the function of the library. The performance gave a sense of the way the library works and left the audience wanting to know more.
Audio: Performance Extract & Interviews
Listen to extracts from the final performance and interviews about the project process.
“The library is cool and smells like carpet cleaner, although all I can see is marble. I sign the Visitors’ Log: Clare Abshire, 11:15 10-26-91 Special Collections. I have never been in the Newberry Library before, and now that I’ve gotten past the dark, foreboding entrance I am excited.”
My name is Susan Humble I’m the Audience Development Officer at Artlink. Artlink have been working with venues like the National Library of Scotland for quite a few years now to develop descriptive tours of their exhibitions for people with visual impairments. The people coming along were really interested in the spaces we were going to so the project evolved to describe interesting and unusual locations around Edinburgh.
My name is Beverley Casebow and I’m the Learning and Outreach Officer at the National Library of Scotland. A couple of years ago we did a project as part of Make a Noise in Libraries Week, which is intended to promote libraries to people who are visually impaired and at that point we did a tour of the building using audio description which was quite a new thing for us. We found we were trying to use metaphors to describe different spaces in the building. This project is really an extension of that by bringing a poet on board to look at the metaphors and the different ways of describing spaces.
Good afternoon and welcome to the National Library of Scotland (NLS) and today’s performance Some Bat-squeak Echo of Other Time.
My name is Ken Cockburn I’m a poet living in Edinburgh. I was commissioned by Artlink to make a performance for the NLS. Its was really that idea of working with visually impaired people thinking of working with sound, describing the library but thinking about working with the library collection as well. The kind of books the library holds, thinking about all the fictional buildings that are held in the collection and trying to relate some of those fictional buildings, fictional rooms to the actual spaces within the library. The other thing that interested me about the library building was the sheer variety of spaces within it.
Today we will be touring the building and stopping in several places to listen to novels describing fictional buildings and rooms which resemble or resonate in some way with spaces within the library. I’ll be reading some of the extracts; I’m joined by Jenny Hulse…
We’re going to stay here for another extract and I’m going to move across to the other side of the room.
…and Lorna Irvine who will also be reading…
“He could not see her face but he could see the terracotta and salmon pink panels of her skirt…”
Our two musicians – Laura Paterson and Sally Thomas who will be accompanying us as well.
So you go from the entrance which is very public and the café social space…
We’re now sitting in the café which is full of round tables and contemporary looking orange chairs…
There’s a rather grand stair case…
“What is a women standing in the stairs, in the shadows listening to distant music a symbol of? If he were a painter, he would paint her in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirts would show off the light ones. Distant music he would call the picture, if he were a painter.”
At this point we go up to the reading rooms which are rather grand and old fashioned kind of libraries. Modern libraries are generally noisier than they used to be, it’s a way of encouraging people in to think of them as social spaces but the library here is very much a study space it is a silent space. So we move from the social buzz of the café to that contemplative room and as I say trying to find different extracts of fiction that would resonate with that space.
We are now in the main reading room and it feels weird speaking so loudly in this room, it feels like it’s meant to be quiet.
Four of the seven extracts refer to libraries…
The room is quiet and crowded, full of solid, heavy tables piled with books and surrounded by readers. Chicago autumn morning light shines through the tall windows. I approach the desk and collect a stack of call slips. I’m writing a paper for an art history class. My research topic is the Kelmscott Press Chaucer. I look up the book itself and fill out a call slip for it. But I also want to read about papermaking at Kelmscott. The catalogue is confusing. I go back to the desk to ask for help. As I explain to the woman what I am trying to find, she glances over my shoulder at someone passing behind me.
“Perhaps Mr. DeTamble can help you,”
“I turn, prepared to start explaining again, and find myself face to face with Henry.”
Partly in terms of how the extracts relate to the spaces and partly in terms of a narrative that the performance develops. There is a very nice scene set in the Great Gatsby that is set in a library….
“What do you think?”
He waved his hand toward the book-shelves.
“About that. As a matter of fact you needn’t bother to ascertain. I ascertained. They’re real.”
“Absolutely real — have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real. Pages and — Here! Lemme show you.”
We’re in the reading room which is as I said very quiet. Someone said they hadn’t experienced an atmosphere like it since they sat their last exam. It had that kind of quiet focus.
The individual pieces were mainly chosen by the musicians..
I’m Laure Paterson, I play the fiddle along with sally Thomas who is playing the flute. I thought what if it was a film what would I imagine underneath these readings? It kicked off a whole lot of things. Sally and I tried them out and some really worked. There’s a lot about the level you have to pitch it at because people are speaking over some of the music and some of it you want people to know something is coming so you interject a little bit of that beforehand and get people in the mood. It just brought us closer and closer to the event and the big story of the library which is absolutely wonderful.
The spaces within the library all have their own function on a day to day basis and I hope today’s performance enriches the experience.
Jan-Bert van den Berg
I’m Jan-Bert van den Berg; I’m the Director of Artlink. I suppose the music and singing added another layer, those layers you only get in the live performance.
I’m Martin Ahrens and I live in Edinburgh. I enjoyed the whole thing very much. I was quite surprised because I was one of the people who cam with Ken Cockburn when he was organising this, but I didn’t expect anything like this which was a tour with chat and talk and the readings. I enjoyed it hugely; I thought it was a lovely thing.
My name is Andrew Martin and I work in NLS, I work with literature and the arts in the modern collection. I thought it was great, I thought it was very enjoyable. I had absolutely no idea what to expect although I was involved in the initial chat we had a while back. It was nice for us in NLS to have an event like this and to hear voices in different places apart from the board room. It was great to have it and to move round the library. As a member of staff it was good to get a relaxed, outsider look at spaces that I normally rush through at work. I thought the excerpt from the Dubliners with the voice coming from above was really quite beautiful and the signing lovely to hear as well.
My name is Roslyn MacAskill and I’m here with my guide dog Lilly. I really really enjoyed the performance. I had no expectations, I did not know what form it would take, I was just intrigued. It was really really enjoyable and to be treated to all the readings and the music was just great. Certainly the choir at the end was a very unexpected pleasure.
Choir singing – Lets do it by Cole Porter
You’ve been listening to a special feature about Artlink’s performance “Some Bat-squeak Echo of Other Time a tour guided by fiction” which took place in and around the National Library of Scotland on Saturday the 26th of April 2014.
Artlink would like to thank
The choir Frances Cooper, Hugh Hillyard-Parker, Anne Lewis and Stuart Murray Mitchell.
Musicians Laure Paterson and Sally Thomas. Performers Jenny Hulse, Lorna Irvine and Ken Cockburn.
Some Bat-Squeak Echo of Other Time was conceived, researched and developed by Ken Cockburn.
Thank you to Audrey Niffenegger for permission to read from The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Photography by David Stinton. Audio recording and production by Inner Ear.
A special thank you to the National Library of Scotland for working with us throughout the project.
Discover what’s happening at the library by visiting www.nls.uk
Find out more about Artlink at www.artlinkedinburgh.co.uk or call 0131 229 3555.
Singing fades out with applause….
What is a library?
A library is a place to access other worlds
A library is a place not to discuss books
A library is a place full of conversations
A library is a place without financial gain
A library is a repository
A library is not a market
In a library I found a baconrind bookmark
In a library I lost myself
An ideal library has a coal fire and an armchair
An ideal library tells me who borrowed the books before me, and where they’d been
from an Artlink workshop at the National Library of Scotland
Introducing Ken Cockburn
We’re delighted to be working again with poet Ken Cockburn, this time with the National Library of Scotland. Ken is interested in the library both as a building and a collection with fictional spaces described within its books. Ken will be discussing this theme with library staff and Artlink participants. The first stage is to get to know the building through tours led by staff including book fetchers, security staff, cleaners and building manager. These tours and discussions will inform a public performance in the library weaving fictional texts and descriptive passages opening up innumerable ways to understand the library building.
As part of the project, I had a chance to explore the building with several members of staff. As a user of the building I’ve some familiarity with the public spaces and during a residency several years ago I was shown round parts of the book stacks but there was a lot of ‘undiscovered country’ still to be explored.
George Stanley, Collection Support Services Manager
The books are kept down in the stacks. The building has fifteen levels with books stored on the lower nine. The book fetchers hub has a big printer which item requests glide out of. Then it’s a case of finding them – “you get to know your way around by instinct,” says George. The fetchers clock the catalogue number, rather than author or title or subject – books are arranged by size, to save space, so anything can be next to anything else (though they do tend to be grouped by date). Paperbacks and CDs are kept in boxes, again space-saving, the former in sizes H1 (smallest) to H10 (largest). The periodicals arrive in what used to be offices, overlooking the Cowgate, to be sorted for shelving in the stacks. There, space has to be kept clear for future issues… but there’s no knowing how long a particular magazine will keep going.
Stevie Clark, Security Officer
Stevie works four 12 hour shifts, two day and two night. I wonder how he copes with alternating night and day, and he says it’s fine. On his days off he plays the guitar, practising for gigs with the library band. Today it’s the night shift, 6.30pm to 6.30am, which includes two tours of the building, the first starting about 9pm, once the building is closed to the public and the rest of the staff have gone home. He’s mainly checking for dripping pipes and leaks from the sprinkler system, rather than fire or flood – these will show up on the screens in the security room. These are some notes I made when I got home just before midnight, while Stevie wasn’t even halfway through his shift.
Going through the stacks I noticed Mutiny on the Bounty, all MacDiarmid’s first editions, boxes and boxes of Douglas Young’s papers, centuries worth of Papal bulls and indulgences; then there are the moveable strong-boxes, with the really important manuscripts – Mary Queen of Scot’s last letter, The Brus, the Glenriddell manuscript of Burns’ poems… complete darkness and books either side, echoes where there are empty shelves.
The sound of the lights coming on in the reading room… all the empty chairs and the open space of the tabletops… siderooms piled with redundant furniture… plantrooms full of dials and switches, pipes covered in silver insulation, sprinklers and stopcocks… backstage backstage, as it were, beyond the stacks and the staff offices… the sound of footsteps in the darkness… a window overlooking the Cowgate, a good vantage point for the Saturday night shenanigans below.