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When There Is Only Us: An interview with Duncan Speakman

In this interview, Circumstance Director Duncan Speakman talks about his new immersive work, his inspirations and what happens when live performance meets sci fi.

As part of BFI's Sci Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder programme and the Neural Geometry Weekend of events at Arnolfini, performance company Circumstance present a new work entitled When There Is Only Us that explores the real and fictional possibilities of terraforming.

In this interview Company Director Duncan Speakman speaks to Assistant Marketing Manager Holly McGrane about the piece and a new direction for Circumstance.

HM: What was your initial inspiration for making When There is Only Us?

DS: Music has always been a starting point in the work we make but normally we present it on headphones, on experimental technology platforms and out in public spaces – out in the streets. We wanted to do something where the music becomes the centre of the work and is the main focus. We wanted to create something big and loud and intense in one room.

I can’t remember where the terraforming idea started. Tom Abba mentioned it as a concept and we started thinking about the richness of ethical issues it introduced - issues around the environment and histories of colonialism in particular. It’s a really fascinating area.

HM: What can people expect from the performance?

DS: The best way I can describe it is that it’s like a sound track to a film that hasn’t been made. Elements of that film happen in the space around you, other elements are in your own mind. It is a totally visceral and immersive experience.

HM: As you say, the immersive soundscape is a focus of the piece and during the performance the music-making process is very visible on stage. How do you imagine audiences will interpret being able to witness this traditionally ‘backstage’ process?

DS: When we first started developing the idea we referred to it as a concert. But we didn’t want to have front facing musicians on stage but equally we didn’t want an orchestral pit where the musicians are hidden away, playing the score underneath. From the feedback sessions people commented that the electronic musicians seemed to be pilots or controllers in a futuristic world. That’s certainly not something we had expected but we are quite happy for that reading to be open.

HM: What has it been like to create performance work in the sci fi canon?

DS: We like science fiction and we don’t feel there is enough sci fi in performance works. It allows a way of looking at and commenting on contemporary situations by creating a slightly alternative vision.

HM: So do you think that sci fi creates a safe distance from reality so that we can comment freely?

DS: Is it a safe distance? I don’t know. It’s not the idea of working with fantasy – it’s a believable future. With fantasy they are working in imagined places where as in sci fi we are working in our known universe but in places we haven’t mapped yet and are undiscovered, whether that be places in space or time.

HM: The Neural Geometry weekend looks at the role of the human mind in science fiction and the psychological landscapes that pervade the genre. Has this been a relevant theme in When There is Only Us?

DS: That aspect of the work can be felt most in the minds of the audience. What we are normally doing in our work is placing people in public spaces and real city environments. Then we reframe those environments and allow people to see them differently. In this work we are putting the audience in a dark space and creating a series of cinematic images and moments. The audience has to internally visualise those moments and place themselves in them.

HM: You’ve mentioned how this performance differs dramatically from your previous works. What does When There is Only Us represent for your company and where will it go from here?

DS: It’s a really important piece for Circumstance. We have turned our normal approach inside out, in a way. Going forward we are interested in continuing the research we have started around the project and doing more collaborative work with sci fi writers and scientists around terraforming.


Circumstance: When There is Only Us comes to Arnolfini on Saturday 13 December and is part of BFI's Sci Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder - a nationwide programme of Sci-Fi film and TV classics, special events and out of this world experiences, running throughout autumn 2014. #BFISciFi

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Wednesday 25 September 2019 to Saturday 28 September 2019, 10:00 to 18:00

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