In Edward Herring’s Love Under the Sign of Teletrex, the listener is placed into the ears of a smart device ecosystem/surveillance system called Teletrex, as they eavesdrop into the lives of seven people talking about their relationships.
The description of this piece states that there are four separate narratives running through the work. One follows Larry leaving messages for their ex. Another follows Chris and Lillian struggling in a waning relationship. A third follows George and Henry as they come to terms with being in an open relationship and what that means, and Branwen is telling Will that she loves him for the first time. I say “according to the introduction” because without that cue it is actually fairly easy to confuse characters. Only about half of them are mentioned by name, which led me on a first blind listen-through to think that Larry’s ex was the same person saying “I love you” at the end of the piece. In a strange way I'm wondering if this would have given an interconnectedness between the storylines that would have been interesting in and of itself.
The piece misses some potential and that stems from a slight lack of focus in its message. It is simultaneously attempting to show the unnerving reality of smart devices being able to listen in on our most intimate moments, and simultaneously attempts to delve into the tensions and special instances of those intimate moments. It is not necessarily too much to take on to look at both this technological/social aspect in the same work, but focussing on four different interpersonal dramas means that the listener doesn’t really get the amount of dedicated time with each to fully explore the issues raised. Meanwhile, the very relevant matter of the issue of privacy in the age of smart devices quickly becomes sidelined and doesn’t really get enough attention.
Love Under the Sign of Teletrex would have benefitted from only focussing on one or two relationships, spending more time with them and with the smart device system itself to do all the topics justice. Alternatively, it could have chosen to focus on either the many relationships that the writers have so well constructed, or on the issue of smart devices being able to listen in on those private conversations.
It is important to caveat this statement by saying that those four interpersonal dramas are indeed masterfully written and performed. Each character felt very real and each situation felt both believable and lived-in. A stand-out moment for me is when Larry reminisces about walking around an abandoned lot, drinking cheap cider and marvelling about the beauty of the grass poking through the concrete. This little monologue provides a nice change of pace to the rest of the piece and when contrasted with his morally dubious actions later in the timeline, easily makes him the most complex character of the seven presented to the listener.
The audio effects are also impressive. The soundscape created successfully places the listener into a slightly otherworldly, technological, quasi-voyeuristic position. This is a piece definitely best listened to with headphones; the rapid beating pulse between each ear is very effective at disorientating the listener and almost dissociating themselves into the piece itself, and the panning between the characters when having a conversation does give the effect of placing the listener right within the scene. Sadly, there is no indication of whom the sound designer/composer was for this work, although you have to imagine they are one of the people listed as “producers”.
Whilst it may initially seem like I’m being a little harsh on Love Under the Sign of Teletrex, I actually really enjoyed the experience. I think my criticism largely stems from a feeling that this piece could have made two individual, slightly shorter, slightly more engaging works in their own rights. One could explore the depths and diversities of interpersonal relationships, and the other could focus on the intrusiveness of smart device systems such as the fictional Teletrex.
The fundamental thing that brings me to this conclusion is that I feel I learnt only half the story by listening to the piece, learning the rest from the written description. It’s a case of them telling, not showing us, the full story; the cardinal sin of creative writing and one that becomes all the more obvious in an audio-only medium such as this.
Beyond this, Herring’s work is a very effective and unsettling work that effectively puts the listener into this strange technological system listening in on the characters in incredibly personal moments. The effectiveness with which it manages this feat of soundscaping and so eloquently maps the interpersonal troubles of its characters largely compensates for a little lack of polish in the audio presentation and a general feeling of fuzziness when it comes to the central themes of the work as a whole.
Read our interview with Edward Herring here.
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