Composing Speech: Hannah Silva explains how she built her sound/poetry piece ‘Prosthetics’’

Prosthetics is the final part of a triptych of new work. The triptych explores language – the violence of language, the impact of words beyond meaning. The section before Prosthetics is from the perspective of a ten year old boy. He takes a word, ‘Gaddafi’, and repeats it until it goes beyond its meaning to become sound and then beyond sound to become –

A gaddafi of horses, galloping, gaddafi gaddafi gaddafi.

Sometimes people say things as if they have no meaning… as if they don’t realise how shocking, insane, crazy the thing is. In Prosthetics I wanted to take those things and give them time…pull them apart…examine them…taste their meaning…take them out of their original context and consider them.

I watched a documentary years ago, it was made in the U.S and was about prosthetic limbs.It was very positive. Positive to the point that the positivity stopped being believable. I work with lines that were glossed over in the documentary:

Forty percent of those with prosthetic limbs will go back into war.

Amputation is the first step in rehabilitation. It’s a positive thing.

There was a story about a little girl who had chopped the arm off and gauged the eye out of her doll. ‘It looks like a monster now’, she said. – Her father came back from Iraq without an arm and an eye.

I start by pulling apart the statistic. I reduce it to vowel sounds, and then consonants. This produces a particular rhythm. I record layer over layer using a loop pedal. Over the top I play with the other lines. I explore ways of speaking ‘Amputation’. I reverse it ‘noitatupma’. I speak it like the word itself is being amputated…I cut it up…taste it….make the word concrete, physical…

It’s a positive thing’ is repeated. It’s a positive thing.

The story of the little girl goes over the top.

A little girl cuts the eye out and arm off her doll.

It looks like a monster now, she says.

Just like her father.

At the end I speak the full line:

Forty percent of those with prosthetic limbs will go back into war.

– over and over, pitched a semitone higher on each repetition.

It’s a positive thing.



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