First there is experience. Then we attach a story to it.
The Library of Babel is a vast library of words. Some combine to make stories of consequence, others are nonsensical.
The library is complete. Yet searching it is futile.
Using dense collage and splintered narrative, “The Library of Babel” is a new audio-visual performance by People Like Us, a journey through cinema and sound where the actors are set adrift from their story, left with pure experience.
The title is inspired by a 1941 Jorge Luis Borges short story, exploring themes related to the complex interplay of infinity, knowledge, and the cosmic fabric, presented through the metaphor of a vast, seemingly infinite library. In the story, the librarians are isolated, focussed on an almost religious or existential quest, struggling to find meaningful texts amidst an overwhelming number of nonsensical or irrelevant books. The library itself has no goals or intentions; a canvas onto which searchers project their quests for meaning. The narrative delves into the angst and crises of those that explore its depths, raising questions about our ability to manage, navigate, and find meaning from vast amounts of information.
In this new work by People Like Us, traditional storytelling gets a modern twist through the amalgamation of audio-visual collage and intricate editing techniques. The digital narrative reconfigures, decomposes, redirects, and recombines images with sounds that are often already ingrained in audience’s collective consciousness due to their prior associations within the selected materials. Initially, they sail on a journey of previous associations and memories. However, the extensive fusion of source materials evolve them into a unified whole, severing past affiliations and pioneering uncharted territory that transcends memory to become a singular, immersive experience. Rather than adhering to a linear progression of events, the thematic narrative unfolds in layered complexities, offering a fragmented but coherent tale achieved through a blend of various sources and an ‘exquisite corpse’ approach.
Using collage as a medium democratises the content, making it resonant not just for aficionados of art, film, or music, but for a broad cross-section of the community. The technique is a universal entry point that appeals to both young and old, presenting elements that can communicate varied messages about film, music, culture, or society. Alternatively, the collage can stand alone as an extraordinary experience devoid of an overt narrative. Indeed, the aim is to use storytelling as a tool to transcend the preconceived notions and internal stories that audiences may bring with them.
The Library of Babel is an incredible work. Beautiful and dreamlike as ever but I particularly enjoyed the pace of this one as well – it felt like there was a bit more breathing space which allowed me to appreciate it all the more. And because there were fewer references that I instantly recognised (maybe I just don’t watch enough films!) I found myself intellectualising it less, (ie thinking about the original texts and the juxtapositions between them) and enjoying the images in and of themselves instead … Gone, Gone Beyond was amazing and certainly psychedelic – blew me away as an experience – but Babel felt more emotionally affecting and yes definitely immersive … I felt the same way about the music as the visuals, with less familiar reference points to digest it felt more about the immediate experience and less about semiotics – Tom Mugridge, November 2023
After the fact: here’s a clip, courtesy of Robin Rimbaud:
Cafe OTO is delighted to host a very-special 70th birthday residency with pioneering composer, Carl Stone! Featuring avant-garde electronics, forensic sampling, and live computing unveiling a strange musical language, these will be his first London performances in five years.
Dubbed the King of Sampling by the Village Voice, and one of the pioneers of live computer music. Carl Stone started originally with tape recorders and turntables in 1972. In 1986 he adapted his performance to include live computing, which he continues to this day. In addition to solo performance, he often collaborates with other musicians in ensembles that merge and blend musical reality. Pitchfork called Stone’s music “like a dance party in a room made of funhouse mirrors” and the New York Times called it “a powerful stimulant with lingering euphoric effects”.
Now in his 70th year, Carl Stone’s plan for his Cafe OTO residency will feature his solo work, plus collaborators helping him explore acoustic resonance, media bombardment, Irony, elegance, economy and wit. Guests include Robin Rimbaud (Scanner), Vicki Bennett (People Like Us), Miki Yui (Realistic Monk), Kazuhisa Uchihashi and Silvia Kastel, plus panel discussions, interviews and DJ time!
THE WIRE 40: An Evening with People Like Us @The Cube Microplex (01/07)
Perhaps better known for her audio work, the opening night of The Wire’s 40th birthday celebrations focused on Vicki Bennett’s (aka People Like Us) films.
The evening started with an overview of the artist’s work including maximalist explosions of old industrial documentaries, tongue in cheek pop culture mashups, and recent immersive experiences. For me the extracts of longer works didn’t work so well, never having enough time to fully get into what was going on, but many of the short films were brilliant – from the hilarious mashup of The Hills Are Alive from Sound of Music and This Is The End from Apocalypse Now (The Sound of the End of Music), to the really quite moving combination of depictions of the moon in early experimental and comedy films, with music by Ergo Phizmiz (Moon). What was surprising and delightful was the lack of any cynicism – throughout, Bennett celebrated films from commercials to classics, with an obvious love of the moving image, and the people who made them.
The night really started to come alive with the Q&A with Bennett. The way she talked about her work confirmed her genuine joy in working with existing material. ‘Films want to be friends,’ she replied to questions about how she got things to fit so well together. ‘You do one thing for a long time and magic happens.’
Crowning the evening was a new work, with live performance by Bennett, Ergo Phizmiz and Gwilly Edmondez. It fulfilled the promise teased in the earlier clips, and showed the excellence of Bennett’s work when allowed the space to stretch out, by turns joyous and strange and beguiling. It seemed almost like a celebration of her own career, with clips returning to repeated motifs from earlier work; corridors and cameras, doorways and dreams. As a final encapsulation of the magic Bennett talked of we saw a satanic ritual mixed with a Dadaist poetry exercise; art as a demonic summoning, drawing something from the ether and binding it to yourself.
For this evening Bennett has put together a programme of her rarely-seen short films from the current century. The films will be followed by a discussion between the artist and Wire Deputy Editor Emily Bick, and then the premiere live performance to a new specially-made film score by PLU by the trio of Bennett, Gwilly Edmondez and Ergo Phizmiz.
Emily Bick is Deputy Editor at The Wire magazine.
Gwilly Edmondez is a performer whose primary aesthetic is Wild Pop, active both solo and in numerous collaborations. As Gustav Thomas he is one half of the duo YEAH YOU with Elvin Brandhi. Originally from Wales, he is mostly based in the North East where he has been on the staff of the music department of Newcastle University since 2004.
Ergo Phizmiz is a composer, writer, collagist, radio playwright, opera designer and director, who has created a vast body of work across media since 2000. They are currently designing moving images for The Rake’s Progress at the Royal Academy of Music, and working on the opera Adapting Don Quixote as a PhD at the University of Bristol.
The Wire 40 @ The Cube is a weekend of events marking The Wire magazine’s 40th anniversary. Other Wire 40 events are happening in London, Brighton, Manchester, Glasgow and streaming online during the month of July. See The Wire for more details.
The Mirror is created by first navigating hundreds of preexisting feature length movies, searching for conceptual/actual subject matter pertaining to reflection and projection. The initial idea was to depict the camera as a torch that shines light down dark corridors and as an eye that watches people when they are alone, and then through navigating all the footage to see what new stories emerge. The selected source material was then edited into thousands of snippets which are labelled and the descriptions examined to find similarities and crossovers that might be emerging in descriptions/storylines. A conceptually related soundtrack was then composed in relation to edits on the movie timeline, also created by editing and recombining from sections of hundreds of preexisting songs, as well as sounds from the movies. This is an exercise in editing and juxtaposition, also an investigation, an “operation” working with the premise that if you cut into something and isolate it from its “finished” guise you discover new stories and information relevant to the present and future. Published material is often seen as “finished”, the end of the story, not available for comment, a sealed up museum-like product, isolated on an island, away from ideas and reflections. By use of collage, one can unthread, rewind and redirect content to discover what other stories may be hidden, allowing an active dialogue both with the external content, and also challenge the routine ways in which we may be limiting our own creativity by our own fixed (isolated) ways of thinking. Recombining these hundreds of movie storylines into new combinations can create results that are more than the sum of the parts and beyond our usual pattern of creating stories alone, we are carving new pathways for our minds to (re)explore. — Vicki Bennett
For more information on the working methods and philosophical approach of People Like Us please read: ++ This conversation between Vicki Bennett and Peter Jaeger conducted over the course of Summer 2015. It was published in filling Station Issue 63. Download as a pdf. ++ This conversation between Vicki Bennett and Kenneth Goldsmith in Found Footage Magazine. Buy your copy here. ++ The Mirror can be considered a sister project to our 360 a/v Cinechamber installation “Gone, Gone Beyond”, which you can read about here. ++ Read an interview about “Gone, Gone Beyond” conducted by Hearty White here.
We are pleased to announce a new audiovisual immersive cinema performance by People Like Us called The Mirror, performed (and screened in Theatrical form if in the US) from March 2018 worldwide.
“A feat of research and craft, this new work is a spellbinding inquiry into editing and juxtaposition; a collage one can unthread allowing the viewer to discover hidden stories through familiar images. The soundtrack is performed live, made up from hundreds of preexisting songs, as well as particular sounds from the original film clips.” — Flatpack Film Festival
”With The Mirror Bennett has proven herself an alchemist of popular music, able to push her source material into fresh and engaging places.” — The Wire
”Because of the use of familiar pop sounds, “The Mirror” is often grandiose. Like an epic film only with highs, never letting the listener down or letting him doubt the power of pop. Even, of course, when the coordinates are twisted, mixed, over or underrepresented. Each moment feels like something that could only happen in a parallel universe. Although that may sound naïve, it’s just a lost thought of reaction to the beautiful collages of People Like Us in “The Mirror”. This mirror doesn’t reflect an image of ourselves or an image of pop. But an image on the way memories drift and are being constant rebuilt. An unfinished collage.” — Boomkat
“Bennett celebrates the song stylists, the crooners, the sirens and interpreters of melody, and all the psychedelic in-between. The songs she pulls from seem to stem between 30’s ballroom and 70’s soft disco, here presented like being in a deep REM-state, dreaming of being at the drive-in, in warped Panavision. Essential.” toneshift.net
3/4 March 2023 – The Mirror at TUSK NORTH, Newcastle 18 February 2023 – The Mirror at Electric Spring Festival, University of Huddersfield 29 November 2022 – The Mirror at Ubu@50 at Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb 26 November 2022 – The Mirror at BBMix Festival, Paris 19 November 2022 – The Mirror at Keroxen, Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Spain 5 November 2022 – The Mirror at Intangible Festival, Lleida, Spain 20 October 2022 – The Mirror at Stimul Festival, Prague 9 July – 4 September 2022 – Theatrical screening at Cover Versions curated by Anthony and Graham Dolphin, Exeter Phoenix 3 June 2022 – Open Ears Festival, Kitchener, Canada 21 May 2022 – Live again! At Index Festival, Braga, Portugal April – May 2022 – theatrical screening at Cover Versions curated by Anthony and Graham Dolphin, The Athenaeum, Sunderland Feb – April 2022 – part of gallery exhibition MIND MAPS: The Art of Vicki Bennett – solo exhibition Walla Walla USA 4 December 2021 – Keroxen, Tenerife (postponed – pandemic) 29 April – 2 May 2021 – Online screening of The Mirror, Oscillation Festival, Brussels 21 November 2020 – BBMix Festival 2020, Paris (postponed – pandemic) 6 November 2020 – MAAT, Lisbon – virtual performance of The Mirror 28 July 2020 – 4 August 2020 – Virtual screening (pandemic rescheduling), Le Nouveau Musée National de Monaco 5 March 2020 – Theatrical Screening (not a concert) WFMU Benefit, Monty Hall, Jersey City 28 September 2019 – Theatrical Screening (not a concert), Radius Gallery Santa Cruz, CA 15 September 2019 – Theatrical Screening (not a concert), 21C Museum Hotel, Lexington, KY (introduced by Hearty White) 22 June 2019 – Iklectik Art Lab, London 14 June 2019 – The Mirror and Objects in the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, Culture Lab, Newcastle 9 May 2019 – Venice Biennale at HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails by Kenneth Goldsmith after the opening reception 23 – 28, April 2019 –Theatrical Screening, AFO Olomouc, Czech Republic 6 April 2019 – Theatrical Screening (not live), Other Cinema, ATA, Valencia St, San Francisco 27 March 2019 – Musikbrauerei, Berlin 9 February 2019 – Theatrical Screening (not live) – The Voix de Ville 2019 / ARTxFM, Columbia Theatre, Louisville Kentucky 30 November 2018 – Theatrical Screening (not live, we do not perform in concerts in the US) Recombinant Festival, Gray Area, San Francisco 15 November 2018 – Cinecity Film Festival, Fabrica, Brighton 10 November 2018 – Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo Norway 2 November 2018 – Spill Festival, Ipswich 20 October 2018 – 100 Years of Copyright Festival, HKW, Berlin 19 & 20 September 2018 – Theatrical Screening (not live) – Spectacle Theater, Brooklyn 17 September 2018 – Theatrical Screening (not live) – Bryce’s Show on WFMU 26 July 2018 – MACBA, Barcelona 19 July 2018 – LEV Festival, Arenas Movedizas, Gijón 11 July 2018 – Cafe OTO, London 12 May 2018 – Splice Festival, Rich Mix, London 21 April 2018 – Flatpack Festival, Birmingham 20 April 2018 – Cafe OTO, London 17 April 2018 – Belfast Film Festival, Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast 13 April 2018 – UK Premiere: FACT, Liverpool 18 March 2018 – World Premiere: Athens Greek Film Archive Foundation (as part of Shadow Libraries: UbuWeb in Athens, organised and produced by the Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens)
If you are a festival organiser with a budget and are interested in booking this or anything else, please get in touch by way of our Contact Form. If you are in a country requiring a work visa to perform we can in very special circumstances make this work into a theatrical screening, but generally this is only available as a performance with the artist present and you will need to gain necessary papers for us to agree.
The audiovisual work Citation City, which we have been creating for the whole of this year, will be previewed at London’s Cafe Oto on Tuesday 9 December 2014. This will be a work-in-progress performance – to give you a taster of what will be World Premiered at transmediale 2015 in January. We’re very pleased to be sharing the evening with Jennifer Walshe,Sharon Gal & Andie Brown. We recommend buying tickets in advance due to venue size, guestlists are at a bare minimum.
Here’s a full length video of possibly the best performance of Notations so far.
This time around by Jason Willett, People Like Us & M.C.Schmidt
at Monty Hall, WFMU – 13 September 2014
View the rehearsal to this same show here: vimeo.com/peoplelikeus/montyrehearsal