I'm going to assume that the organizers of last night's Silence and Communication event wanted their 22 readers to perform anonymously. There were no introductions to each of the two-minute pieces, and there was no way to identify the readers as they were reading (the program didn't list the readers in order). I'm pretty well-versed in the scene, and I didn't recognize about a quarter of the readers. This had its benefits and its detriments—it made the whole evening feel like more of a whole piece, but it made it hard for listeners to track down their favorite new reader.
The evening felt like nothing so much as a live literary anthology. It was based around the work of John Cage—an audio clip of Cage calling silence his favorite sound was played before the piece, like a foreword—and every reading presented ideas about silence in a different reading style. One person read a short science fiction story about a "space preserve" with "retired astronauts, disoriented, in a parking lot." Two readers shared what they claimed to be real IMs they sent to one another while sitting fifty feet apart in a downtown office building. (Topics considered: Alcohol, breasts, murder, and irony.) Someone read a short essay about Harpo Marx (Harpo's method of staring power in the face and saying nothing was powerful, he said, because "speaking truth to power is boring...everyone speaks truth to power these days.") Another reader crumpled a long sheet of paper with words written on it against the microphone for two minutes in a riff on an old Cage experiment.
The readings were presented in a lively manner, and the complicated setup—the audience stood in the middle and turned to face each performer—went off without a hitch. Silence and Communication was intended as an ambitious one-off, and co-founder Greg Bem said it was a complicated affair to put together, but I'd like to see this stand as the first episode in a high-concept quarterly reading series. Like any anthology, it was uneven, but the zippy presentation kept the wince-worthy bits down to a minimum—if you're bored by a particular reader, you know there'll be a completely different kind of performance in less than two minutes—and the booze kept the audience happy all the way through. A few folks had a bit too much from the bar—the silence was broken a couple times by the shattering of glass, followed by an embarrassed laugh that was quickly swallowed up by murmurs that then, too, dissolved into nothing.