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O – JocJonJosch in London, 2017

6 Sep 2017

Imagine a room, a space – ground floor behind red brick walls, urban, canalside, east end London – unfinished, unfurnished, somewhere between its past and its future. It’s 6pm, late summer, but raining. Blackout drapes, thick brown paper and electrical tape blot all but the most dogged hints of light. Swallowed by darkness around the walls is sentient organic matter. I know it to be twelve naked human beings; I am one of them. You, however, are less aware… but you are about to enter.

Imagine from the street outside, a door opens. You are ushered through it, alone. You walk tentatively a few paces to the heart of the room; the door clicks shut behind you. All around you is dark. You are apprehensive and hope your eyes will quickly become accustomed to the gloom. You know that people are hiding within its depths, awaiting you, and now gradually you sense their presence. You understand that their eyes can already see more than your own. Trepidation increases.

Perhaps you hear the gentlest scrape of a bare foot on a bare floor. Perhaps you hear a breath. Perhaps you see an ill-defined shape pass the infinitesimal glint of light that had been your sole focus. Figures are moving all around you, towards you, closing in, slowly, slowly, slowly. You do not move. No-one ever moves, not even when they hear the first long, deep, hiss of air being hauled down by the diaphragm into human lungs. The breath is held. You hold yours too. Then…

– O – – O – – O – – –

– O – – O – – O – – –
O – – O – – O – – –

The repetition of three rounded ‘O‘ sounds, all from a single breath, all as if the name ‘j O c j O n j O s c h’ were being intoned over and over again, denuded of consonants. First one voice, then another, from a different angle, a different proximity, in a different pitch, a different style; then another; and another. Twelve voices in total, but you don’t perceive numbers, you merely absorb a din of primal noises, the repetition of a single vowel in triplicate. Unrefined rawness, unseen nakedness…

O – – O – – O – – – – O – – O – – O – – –
– O – – O – – O – – – – O – – O – – O – – –
– O – – O – – O – – –

The cacophony begins to subside…

– O – – O – – O – – –

Gradually the overlapping unharmonious sounds start to thin. As the monotone voices dwindle, so your senses discern figures disengaging from your presence. Featureless forms fall silent and withdraw once more to the farthest recesses. The multitude of Os turn to a few, then a couple, and finally a lone vocalisation. Eventually, that last breath chokes silent and you are once more alone, fleetingly uncertain, till a door behind you opens. Freedom is at hand. You take your leave…

You have experienced ‘O‘ – a performance by JocJonJosch for Lost Senses 2017.

     ‘In past works the Anglo-Swiss collective have used their bodies to test the limits of collective and individual identity. For LOST SENSES they will work with sound and the body to devise a vocal performance based on a corruption of the collective name “jocjonjosch”. By a process of reduction and repetition, the utterances that occur will render the original name meaningless at the same time as evoking a sense of familiar humanness.’


The venue was Guest Projects, Sunbury House, in east London. Our only rehearsals were set for 5:30pm the day before the actual performance. Upon arrival, I found many familiar faces: the artists Jocelyn Marchington, Jonathan Brantschen, Joschi Herczeg; Delia, one of their close collaborators whom I’d met at ‘Existere’, my first performance with JocJonJosch; Chris, Cy, Martin, Martin, and Stan – fellow veterans of many such performances; plus two who didn’t return for the main show. We were twelve in total.

As is often the case at rehearsals for a new performance, we were participating in the development of a work, rather than practising a fully formed piece. We were exploring the space, understanding how audience members and performers may enter and exit, considering movement, timing, distances, and above all: sound. We practised our ‘O‘ sounds together – harmonious, discordant, overlapping, loud, soft. We immersed and grew in anticipation of the next day’s live action.


With the event due to commence at 6pm on 30 August, we started arriving from 4pm onwards for one last run-through. JocJonJosch, Delia, Chris, Cy, Martin, Martin, Stan and I were joined by Esther, and our long-time performance friends, Chas and Glynis. Only two of JocJonJosch would be participating at any given time, which meant up to a dozen of us would be engaging with audience members as they entered our space, each one alone and abandoned to our mercy.

Delia led us through a series of physical and vocal warm-ups – lots of sss, sch and fff repetitions on a single breath. Meanwhile, Guest Projects staff taped the final layer of blackout materials into place. The artists had decided that audience members should exit by the same doorway through which they had entered, and that one staff member would wait to open the door for them when the performance ended. Also lurking in the murk was Ernst, who would sit soundlessly in a corner, blindly writing notes.

With just a minute or two until our 6pm start, we retreated behind a long black curtain, stripped naked and then returned to the darkness. We stood silently around the walls, awaiting our guests. How would they respond? Would they stand their ground, or flee in panic? Move around or be still? Speak, engage or even join in? The total event time was to be two hours, with individual audience members experiencing us for about five minutes each. The first brave soul entered, and we commenced.

Most people would remain perfectly still and silent – only one person towards the end decided to join in our chant but without proper training he achieved only a succession of single ‘O’ sounds rather than repeated triple salvos: – O – – O – – O – – -. Another person was alone in giving a round applause before leaving. Some audience members strode in purposefully whilst others lost confidence and had to be taken in by the arm. Most deported themselves with detached calmness.

If there was little variation in the behaviours of audience members, the same couldn’t be said of participants. We adhered faithfully to the performance plan, but introduced our own stamps of humanity – without contrivance, it appeared we each discovered a signature ‘O’ tone. Some emerged as soft wisps of air, whilst others punched forward; some remained steady, whilst others tapered to a choke; we had squeals and booms, seals and chimps, orgasms and ruptures. Me? I was a breathy baritone primate.

Our eyes steadily became atuned to the dark but as twilight became night outside so the few tiny slivers of light from the windows dimmed, and once more we were almost as blind as our guests. We could be within a metre of a fellow performer yet have only the vaguest sense of an obfuscated presence nearby. At one point I collided with Stan as we circled a newcomer – a reflex “sorry” was the only utterance of the evening. My occasional pausing encounters with Esther were more of an indulgent treat.

I’d estimated we had perhaps 25 people pass through our sound room by the time we finished at 8pm. It had been enjoyable to perform and share the experience with good friends. Afterwards our minds were aflame with ‘what if’ ideas for how the performance could evolve further but ultimately that’s the sole domain of the artists. Joschi said, “it will take a while to process“. For now, however, as always, they did not lack gratitude, giving us each a signed print and buying the first round at the Cat and Mutton pub.

JocJonJosch continue the discipline of not creating any permanent photographic, film, or sound record of most performances, so truly you had to be there. I’m very fortunate to have been there, with them and for them, many a time: Existere in London, 2011; Ouroboros in Sion, 2013; Ouroboros in London, 2014; Footfall in London, 2016; Footfall in London, 2017; Footfall in Martigny, 2017. Community and camaraderie have built around these artists: believing, belonging, bonding – a body of bodies.

O – – O – – O – – –

From → Art

One Comment
  1. As good as ever……..

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