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Skype reading–right now

Notes during and at the close, immediately after, my Skype appearance on Friday, June 4th, at

“The Importance of Independents,” Los Angeles, 7:30 pm

w Harold Abramowitz / Teresa Carmody / Alexandra Chasin / Gina Frangello / Davis Schneiderman / Mathew Timmons
a reading at w o r d s p a c e
3191 Casitas Avenue, #156 / Los Angeles, 90039

I’ve deliberately not done any significant editing to the document, in hopes that the immediacy of the entry might compensate for its roughness. I’m initiating a Skype reading series for Lake Forest College next year, and well, I find the whole thing fascinating. I would be very interested in hearing from others about their experiences reading at-a-distance.


As I write this, I am listening to Mathew Timmons read a piece called “The New Phrenology” at the Les Figues/OV Books/&NOW Books event in LA.

A family emergency kept me from attending, and so I am participating via Skype; in a few minutes, I will read a bit from my about-to-be-released novel Drain, and then, after a break, will read to the projection of a Google Earth collaboration I’ve done with Teresa Carmody and Alexandra Chasin, both of whom are in attendance.

Timmons’ sound is fading in and out, and he can see me now—looking out at him from a computer screen—oh, applause, and wait, shit, it’s my turn to read.

Ok, no way to see if my jokes are going over…there seems to be a time delay of a second or two, and they’ve projected me onto the wall, which I can see from the computer station, but my back is effectively to the audience.

I hold up the cover of Drain, and launch into a section about a machine that takes shit and turns it back into food (the reverse of an art machine someone once told me about, from the Netherlands, I believe). No sense of audience at all—I’m reading to a projection of myself and it’s like that scene in the second Matrix movie where Neo and Trinity go at it: they look alike and it some sort of Baudrillardian replication.

I pause to explain about the shit machine and laugh comes back from a distance, like the echo of an echo. My audio is not fed back in, so there’s no monitor.

I practiced with Teresa and Alexandra earlier, but I have no sense of levels. I hold the ms. in different positions over my tiny netbook—how to read and watch the screen to make eye contact with the projection of myself at the same time…?

I finally place the ms. behind and just above the screen, so it seems as if I am staring straight ahead and reading perhaps from a teleprompter. I try to glance down at the small video window of me from this end—but of course that changes what I look like to the audience when I am reading straight on. There is no way for me to gauge my expression in either the small video window or the projection in LA.

I want to use my hands—I am, in fact, making wild gestures, but they happen only off camera. I try to move a hand closer into the screen, which is now covered increasingly with spit…is that spit, or leftover sand from when I taught class at the Montauk lighthouse beach a few weeks ago on the tip of Long Island (yes, we did “From Mountauk Point”…)?

Ok—now for a crowd-pleaser: my short poem “That Thing’ll Never Fly” about The Spruce Goose airplane. The poem repeats that name at the start of each line, with my screaming it in an irregular cadence. No way to draw anything from the audience, although Teresa banters with me before the poem about the location of the Spruce Goose boat: formerly in LA, now in Seattle…

Next up: Gina Frangello—reading from Slut Lullabies. I can’t make out too much—sounds like an AM radio fading in an out in time to a solar flare.

Now: break—Alexandra turns me around to face the room and a few people wave. I see Vanessa Place on a couch. Gina comes over to talk…we are reading together a few times this summer around the Midwest…but she stays only a minute to let me “see the room,” although I sense this is code for “it’s weird to talk to the computer screen a live event” and now I am simply staring at the room, watching a woman eat what appears to be corn chips as she looks at me, or rather, doesn’t, out of the corner of her eye.

I’ve managed to get both the wordpress blog draft screen and Skype on the two sides of the netbook, so I can type and read, sort of. The entire experience might be something out of a J.G. Ballard novel—I’m living on the concrete island, or trapped in the high-rise, maybe on the middle floors, attending one of the parties that characterize the clan maneuvers each evening before the turf battles takes over during each long night.

I imagine myself with a bloodied Alsatian.

A woman sits in front of me, and gestures to the woman who was eating chips. Along with a third person, they engage in an animated conversation—although I can’t hear the particulars—and the woman formerly eating chips now moves into a symphony of sips from a plastic cup. Each sip seems to be in a sort of polished slow motion—now punctuated by the increasing silence of the interface, a system failure?—someone apologizes, and now the sound comes back in—”oh my god”—and the women’s cup lingers on her lips for what seems to be twenty slow seconds, and now, another chip. A series of spotlights, or maybe spaced-apart track lighting overhead hangs above each of the three women (see image) and in the glary brack I can read the future of Los Angeles the future of corn chips the long skein of days until the oceans rise and cover everything in a veneer of destruction as yet unspecified, but suggested, in the distancing mechanisms of the digital interface. Take that, Ballard.

The woman with her back to me looks back at me—quickly—and it is clear that I am a creepy presence, a digital eye. Should I perhaps carve something into my face with a knife? Oh, chip women gets up and there’s an empty bucket chair. I miss her. The other two continue their conversation; it sounds to me like the amplified noise of a distant nebula.

Ok—I’m told that the room can hear my typing—as the keystrokes interfere with the intermission music blasted from the same computer system (I’m making glitch music here people!), but I stop.

It does not occur to me to mute the microphone on my input.

Teresa starts the second part of the program, and comments that this is a subdued crowd. I can’t hear the response, but it has something to do with my Skype face. Teresa notes, that now, as I have been again turned away from the room, only she can see my screen. “You think you are being watched,” she says, “you are.”

Next is Harold Abromowitz for Les Figues. We’ve corresponded a bit, but have not met. Have we now? I’ve seen him read as one might watch a reality program, and he sees me watching him, but that’s one step beyond meeting someone in Second Life.

A student project from this past semester: a set of students—maybe 10—in white harlequin masks, reading a script about choice and privacy while playing chatroulette. Their goal is to get through the script and not have the partner hit “next”—and in 45 minutes and probably 80 partners (at least 10 of which are masturbating penises), they make it through about 4 times.

Alexandra Chasin’s solo reading gives a bigother.com shout out: she reads her “a sentence about a sentence I love” with a projection of the “Days of Our Lives” logo, and also notes that Gina was interviewed on the site.

The Google Earth collaboration—The Ways of the New World—with Alexandra and Teresa, a version of which will appear in Mandorla. We read 10 sets of texts, in three iterations each, timed to a series of geo-located texts superimposed upon each other. In other words, text one appears in three forms, each an operated shift from the last, and each of increasingly length and complexity. My sections all involve the substitution of words with the soft ‘a’ assonant sound (as in “can” with a series of “Xs” as long as the word, which finds me screaming things like “XXX” or “XXXXXXXXXX” into the computer in my basement.

10 minutes later, we finish, and Teresa and Alexandra visit me as the reading disperses; “it was great,” they say, “except you kept cutting in and out,” they tell me, “and this is the only time we’ve had that tech glitch.”

All deliberate, I reply, before fixing for a final moment the precise outlines of the reading room just as the peripheral vision attaches to the scene of a highway motorcrash.

7 thoughts on “Skype reading–right now

  1. 10 minutes later, we finish, and Teresa and Alexandra visit me as the reading disperses; “it was great,” they say, “except you kept cutting in and out,” they tell me, “and this is the only time we’ve had that tech glitch.”

    I have to say, I’ve not yet seen a Skype reading where that hasn’t happened, to the point where I consider such technical problems to be the defining character of Skype—the same way that “the lingering of sound” is the defining character of “reverb.”

  2. Adam–sure, but I imagine this will improve. Remember the first voice recognition software? Horrible. That’s gotten much better, as has word processing and all sorts of other things.

    Many sites are starting to do live web readings as well, of course, but I like the live audience-in-a-room model.


    1. Davis,

      I should clarify that I don’t consider Skype’s patchiness a flaw, but rather simply part of it’s character. It only becomes a flaw if one tries using the technology as though that patchiness weren’t there; i.e., for transparent communication purposes. A hammer makes a poor saw.

      That said, I see most people trying to use Skype for the purposes of transparent communication. But in those cases I consider the usage flawed, not the technology.

      I don’t agree that voice-recognition technology or word processing have gotten better, per se—they’ve only gotten better for certain purposes. But they’ve also lost functionality along the way. E.g., ten years ago I did some writing that depended on how inaccurate voice recognition software was—I wanted it to misunderstand me, see what it would think I was saying. Today it’s harder to do that kind of writing.

      (And don’t get me started on word processing!)

      Technology only ever changes. It never gets any better or worse, except in specific contexts. “The medium is the message,” etc.

      As for the “audience-in-a-room” model—someday we’ll understand that technology, but at the moment I think it’s still far beyond us. It’s very advanced tech! Robert Wilson has written and spoken convincingly about this. As he put it, “Very few people know how to stand on a stage.” He’s right! (Wilson of course is speaking primarily about actors, but it’s true for almost everyone. I know it’s true for me.)


  3. Don’t get me wrong, I meant “better” only in the sense, taken, that the tech does more of what it purports to do. I use my old viavoice program precisely as you suggest–to get the errors, which, for me, are not errors.

    Word Processing trains us to think and write in a certain way, as does my great enemy, PowerPoint, so I’ll take back that comment.

    I don’t think the tech is far beyond us though. I am interested in forcing these sorts of confrontations–and hope to do so with the Skype reading series I hope to curate though. Let’s use and misuse and see what interesting things emerge.

    I don’t think we are really on different screens here.

    1. No, you’re right, we’re not on different screens. In fact, I’m using your computer RIGHT NOW.

      My interest in technology (at least from an artistic perspective) is usually directly proportional to how noisy it is. Once the powers that be clean it up, I tend to lose interest.

      …Except for with cell phones. I really hate cell phones. I wish one could actually make and receive calls with them.


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