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Margaret Trail's sounds of un-sense

Philipa Rothfield, K'ting Extended Play


Margaret Trail Margaret Trail
photo Peter Rosetzsky
Margaret Trail is an adept performer of sounds. She can manipulate meanings, extracting sense from nonsense and vice-versa. Trail evokes the memory of sense. Sentences seem sensible, or at least they feel like they might have been once. Sounds are uttered, spluttered, stuttered. These too were once sensible sounds. They would have quietly sat between words minding their own business. Trail hovers above meaning, diving down into the abyss, rummaging amongst the sounds of sense.

K-ting! opens with a diatribe about the werewolf, magic words, signs, symptoms. An anachronistic story is offered against a dark background, the performer dressed in black. The setting for this performance might appear occult but it also looks like stand-up comedy—a single person speaking non-stop under a spotlight. It is not at all clear whether these words are funny or scary. If they seem funny, it’s not because of their content. It’s because of their playfulness, their surreal juxtapositions. And if they seem scary, it’s not because anyone is actually scared.

There are 3 quasi-acts to this show, parts of which have been shown before. Some consist of simply spoken narrative such as the werewolf section. Other parts embody those funny sounds that don’t make sense but that accompany sense-making. Here, Trail works with these sounds, taking away their everyday accompaniments to displace their normality. A laugh about an absent joke repeatedly punctuates a story.

Trail also uses technological means to either replay recorded sounds—such as a dog howling or glass shattering—or to play sounds to herself in the headphones which she then responds to. This latter mode gave the audience only half the story, allowing us to witness the oddness of a one-person dialogue. It also made palpable the fact that speech incorporates a mixture of references involving presence and absence. We hear a tale recounted of Trail meeting someone in a bar who describes himself as a fireman. What is a fireman? Someone who likes to smash things. Trail says she herself likes to smash things…sounds of smashing glass. She then calls herself supermodel Margaret. Someone else is fireman Sam; she can be supermodel Margaret.

What is it to describe yourself to someone in a manner beyond verification? Of course, we see Trail. We don’t see the conversation in the bar, we hear about it. It is repeated for us as stories are. Perhaps we continually make references in our speaking to that which is beyond verification. In the 1950s, the logical positivist philosophers claimed that if something could not be found to be either true or false, it did not make sense. After K-ting! one might be led to wonder how much sense is permeated by unsense (nonsense?). Speech is more complex, and sense more fluid than one might suppose.

After K-ting!, I emerged sense-dizzy, experiencing the most ordinary remarks as odd. Trail’s work isn’t a poetry of sound. It is a disorientation of sense. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with language, it’s just that it isn’t as normal as it seems. Madness lurks in the most innocuous of phrases.


K-ting! Extended play, writer/performer/ recorder Margaret Trail, lighting/technical production Dori Dragon, La Mama, Melbourne, Feb 28-March 11

RealTime issue #42 April-May 2001 pg. 28

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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