How To Forget Like Daniel Kitson: Analog.Ue Reviewed

By Yohann Koshy

Analog.Ue
, Daniel Kitson, The National Theatre, 2014.

As my concentration began to wane, I opened the ‘Voice Record’ application on my iPad. The app, skeuomorphed to resemble a 1950s recording desk complete with volume meter and Edward R. Murrow-style stainless-steel microphone, listened to the lecture for me so I could consult it later at my own convenience. Another discrete outsourcing of my mental faculties to the touch-screen nymphet, another day closer to the inevitable apocalypse, designed in California, assembled in China.

But when the lecture ended, I forgot to stop the app from recording. I bagged my iPad, unaware that ‘Voice Record’ was still quietly blinking. Discovering the 4 hour, 200 MB file the following morning, I listened back. The lecture was there, as were my footsteps as I walked from campus to a pub, the waiting for my late friend, our drink and muffled conversation, the walk from the pub to the train, the train journey, the Tannoy announcing termination at Kennington, the 7 minute walk from the station to my house and the discussion with my flatmate about whether we should cook dinner or get chicken from the chicken place.

The recording cuts out as I’m listening to a wistful song, giving the whole accidental eavesdropping an appropriate denouement. All the elements of my evening seemed curiously structured, cast in the mould of beginning, middle and end. Adhering to at least two out of the three Classical Unities, the recording had dramatic flair and, perhaps for that reason, proved quite difficult to listen to. Please picture me there in the morning, on my floor-bound mattress, listening to my own covertly recorded movements on my iPad, weeping into my pillow. This will give you a rough impression of Daniel Kitson’s Analog.Ue.

In the comedian’s one-man show, he doesn’t say a single word, articulating pre-recorded narratives (“My name’s Daniel Kitson and I’m speaking to you from the past”) through a network of around forty reel-to-reel and tape recorders. The performance comprises his plugging in the many second-hand artefacts into a central table with four extension plugs. By turning on the tape recorders “in the right order and at the right time”, he relays to his audience a typically Kitson-esque triangulated narrative. There’s an elderly man recording his fading memories in the late 70s, a spinster leading a life of quiet desperation in 2013 and a self-reflexive narrative detailing his own preparation for the very production we are watching. The old man’s memoir-tape ends up in the possession of the lonely spinster via a charity shop; she is enamoured by every detail of the anonymous, romantic message it contains. By the end of the performance, we are left with a cerebral cortex of recorders, tape-players and wires arranged across the stage. Synaptic triggers of recorded memory, immanently doomed to physical disintegration. Allowing only the odd quotient of his stand-up humour (there’s only one “cunt” in the whole two hour show), Kitson (literally) constructs a moving meditation on technology, love and memory.

The audience learns near the end that once the production’s short run is over, Kitson will sell on all the recording equipment in car-boot sales and on eBay, continuing the circulation of memories-as-tape that will exist only in assorted lives, reflecting the internal circulations of his characters. This cognitive phenomenon, memories which ground the significance of existence but are nonetheless contained in degrading, fragile minds, unlocks part of Analog.Ue’s mystery. At one moment in the self-reflexive narrative, Kitson recounts his shame when he happened upon a scene of great beauty in a south London park (a boy running after something but appearing as if he was running into the setting sun), and realised his first reaction was to recount the image on-stage. Not to any friends, nor to a loved-one (we are reminded more than once that he lives alone) but to an audience, or as he calls us, a “darkened mass of fee-paying strangers”. The sadness lurking in Analog.Ue lies in this oscillation between competing desires: to liquidate individuality and to rescue the beauty of specific individual moments. His characters gain life-affirming pleasure from the crumbs of daily existence (the sunlight that mysteriously enters a basement toilet, the discovery of an uneaten hard-boiled egg) but we are constantly reminded that they will die alone, pummelled into anonymity.

Whilst the existential interconnections and meta-narrative flirt with familiar formulae, Analog.Ue’s real dramatic strength is to be found in its methodology. Kitson declares toward the beginning (via a tape of course) that he wants to physically strain himself on-stage and warns the audience about the possibility of practical error. Sometimes the recorders don’t play at the right time, on one occasion his voice drops several pitches and becomes unlistenable, and sometimes the film slide projectors he uses miss their screens. These mistakes may not be deliberate but they aren’t entirely erroneous. Just as his on-stage labour reflects that of the elderly character who’s struggling with his diegetic recording equipment, the on-stage mistakes substantiate the bleak transience that colours his narratives. As we watch him, torch in hand, lunging around with ancient recording equipment, we see resignation multiplied.

The degradation of tape and ephemerality of memory isn’t particularly untrammelled terrain.  William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops famously embraced this, completed on the morning of September 11 2001 and played on his apartment rooftop as he watched downtown New York turn to ash. Its critical success and quasi-mythological status owes itself partly to this fortuitous completion date, the melancholic disintegrating loop that plays for hours a cipher for the attack, the shock, the Patriot Act, Hurricane Katrina and any other post-9/11 phenomena you want to throw its way. But Disintegration Loops is ultimately a failure because it’s not really disintegrating, it’s an MP3 file.

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It’s been two months since I finished writing that last paragraph. I had exhausted my thoughts on Analog.Ue but the article was clearly unfinished. The swerve toward Basinski is thematically apposite but also pretty dishonest since I hardly know anything about him. Analog.Ue has also faded from my memory much quicker than I thought it would – so much for that gushing introduction. I really felt deeply moved by it at the time, but two months later and it hardly enters my thoughts; I only happened upon this Word document late at night, veering sideways through unfinished others.

One moment from Analog.Ue that I do recall, when I really think about it, is a throwaway joke. There’s a moment when Kitson is explaining (in his meta-narrative) about a friend’s friend who’s having a look around his house, a house he describes as messily populated with souvenirs, photos, ephemera. When the friend’s friend comes down to the kitchen, Kitson has finished making his tea and asks him what he thought of his house. The friend’s friend pauses and replies, “It’s very Kitson-esque”. Kitson doesn’t know whether to take this as a compliment or not, so hands him his cup of tea and tells him to go fuck himself.

It’s an understandable reaction to an essentialising comment; hearing yourself compartmentalised like that would be pretty uncomfortable. Although to be one day “–esqued” must be every artist’s secret fantasy – joining the likes of Pinter and Kafka for inimitable style and import – for Kitson, being “–esqued” face-to-face by a friend’s friend does not constitute an immortalisation but a fossilisation. It’s an inhumane thing to say, even if entirely apt. For if Analog.Ue’s manicured narratives tell us anything, it’s that the fleeting irreducibility of daily existence has to matter. They are Kitson’s flares, tracing some kind of fluorescent path against a dark, impersonal night.

By elaborating these minutiae and pin-pointing them in fragile, ever-dissolving networks of human interactions, replete with coincidence and humour, Analog.Ue desperately tries to affirm the significance of unremarkable, individual lives. It may all sound a bit precious, a theatrical instantiation of the kind of ‘hysterical realism’ for which turn-of-the-millennium writers were rightly chided, but we forgive Kitson on account of Analog.Ue’s complexity, humour and sheer physical audacity. This is why Kitson’s memories-as-tape must continue circulating, and must eventually degrade: it is physiologically demanded by his narratives. Inversely, it explains why that digital recording I accidentally took of myself was so disconcerting, for it showed my supposedly mercurial agency, my freedom of movement and freedom of choice for what it really is: entirely predictable, infinitely frozen, utterly petrified. But we should end now, in spontaneous dignity: this has all gotten far too Kitson-esque.

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Comments
2 Responses to “How To Forget Like Daniel Kitson: Analog.Ue Reviewed”
  1. Anon says:

    Good review, but by forcing me to google nymphet I feel you’ve pushed me one step closer to the sex offenders’ register.

  2. Kitty Kat 42 says:

    It’s 12:29 pm on Friday April 11th 2014, Daniel Kitson is sitting at his desk reading an article on his computer. He takes a sip from his cup of tea thinking, ‘If only he knew this Yohann Koshy…if only he could envision that moment of terrible ecstasy he must have felt when listening to his boring, predictable life, then maybe, just maybe, he,Daniel Kitson, might be able to tear his eyes away from the monotonous blur of the computer screen and understand the complex emotional patterns of his fellow human beings’. Kitson thinks about it for a little longer and then gets up to make a piece of toast with jam and peanut butter on it

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