The London Word Festival 2011

The London Word Festival 2011

Independently reviewed by Rob Fred Parker for Litro.


Today, the London Word Festival launches its richly diverse programme which promises to explore the written and spoken word through a variety of artistic mediums.  Based in the East end, the festival was founded in 2007, and aims to provide an alternative to existing formulaic literary events by taking away the barrier between audience and performers. The festival assumes an interdisciplinary approach, aiming to stimulate discussion through accessible and inclusive events.

This year’s programme has two strands running through its array of events. Libraries and public reading forms the first, represented by shows such as No Furniture So Charming, a discussion on the future of the library as communal cornerstone; The Goodbye Library, a delve through the Dewey decimal devised by musician Emmy the Great and poet Jack Underwood; and Books vs. Cigarettes, which, inspired by George Orwell, discusses the virtues of each pursuit, with contributors including Robin Ince and Stuart Evers.

Text and technology forms the second tangent, comprised of events such as Man / Machine, a show about exploring communication through robotics and automation; the King James Bible Bash, which promises to ‘explore the narrative of the bible through the eyes of contemporary pop culture and secular ideas’; and Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic celebrates the art of the underground zine, promising an exhibition of original artwork, performance and comedy.

On Monday, I was fortunate enough to receive a preview of the festival’s signature show, The Quiet Volume, at the beautiful Bishopsgate Institute Library. This site-specific performance for two is described by creators Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells as Autoteatre: theatre in which the participant is, at turns, both actor and audience.  At a time in which current reading habits, marred by perpetual distractions, are reportedly causing us to lose the ability to read attentively, and with the threat of closure looming ominously over our libraries, The Quiet Volume reconnects us with the transcendental nature of reading, firmly reasserting the library as sanctuary.

My partner and I are seated at a table decorated with a seemingly random pile of books, and receive directions in the form of hushed messages from iPods, as well as written prompts from a notebook. The Quiet Volume effectively discusses with the participants how, whilst reading, a person is physically present in a library, but in a way simultaneously absent, the mind carried away and by the text.

We read carefully selected exerts of each of the books in front of us, and these glimpses piece together to form a wider message about the sensory experience of reading. A sonorous and intricately crafted soundtrack at times transmits delicately textured readings of the texts, and at others builds an aural blanket which is engrossing and wholly absorbing. The shape and form of every word is allowed to resonate, and the participants are asked to examine the texts in great detail until immersed entirely by the page. Over its 50 minutes, The Quiet Volume certainly achieves this aim, and forms an intimate and emotive experience which mustn’t be missed.

And, to sample the festival’s Text and Technology strand, I visited Richmix Café to visit none other than Cybraphon, the BAFTA winning ‘autonomous emotional robot indie band’.  Built by Edinburgh arts collective FOUND, Cybraphon consists of a series of robotic instruments housed inside an antique cabinet, powered by 70 motorised beaters. In a parody of today’s fame-obsessed musicians, Cybraphon’s music alters drastically depending in which mood it is in, which veers according to its publicity. Cybraphon Googles itself, visits Twitter and Facebook, and looks up blogs every 15 seconds to see what people have to say about it, it’s outlook ranging between desolation and delirium in response. During my visit, Cybraphon swings between dismay and rapture, at its happiest creating a shuffling robotic-racket with its mix of instruments and found objects, which includes a keyboard, bells, light bulbs and a vinyl record.

Visit Cybraphon for a singularly bizarre and brilliant experience. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get to hear a brand new piece of music composed for the Word Festival, featuring Aidan Moffat, formally of seminal indie act Arab Strap, reading choice exerts of J. G. Ballard’s Studio 5, The Stars. But remember to Tweet and blog about this most sensitive of musicians first to receive a warm welcome.

Experience The Quiet Volume at;

Bishopsgate Institute Library on Friday 8th April, then from the 11th through to the 15th.

Hackney Central Library on April the 16th, 18th-21st and 23rd.

Senate House Library 26-28th April,  30th April and 3rd and 4th May.

Cybraphon is installed at Richmix until Wednesday 20th April.

The London Word Festival continues until 5th May, so expect more reviews and interviews here at Litro as the festival progresses. Check out the full festival programme at the official site:

Rob Fred Parker

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