Pick a word. Repeat it. Repeat it many times. Repeat it and maybe the sound loses all sense. Repeat it and maybe the sound morphs into another word. How does the meaning change with your tone of voice, with your posture, with the expression in your face? Are your actions reinforcing or contradicting your words?
The Machine by Orion Maxted is a contraption built to test all those possibilities, to play with the mystery of the human language. It follows an order, trying many variations one after another. Sometimes it goes slow, as if it were thinking deeply. Sometimes it goes fast, as if it were about to discover something big.
After entering the room we are blinded by lights that force us to look away. Then the performance begins and we discover what the key parts are of the machine: four actors. They work in synchronization as a single unit to give life to the experiment.
What follows is sixty minutes of an unpredictable and wild ride. There is no plot to follow. Phrases come and phrases go, defining micro situations of about a minute or two each. You never know what is going next.
The phrases evolve in little steps. The way they change are through sound variations, by changing the verb conjugation, by replacing one word in the phrase, or dropping a complete part to replace it with another one. The machine tries several attempts before settling with one and repeating the cycle again.
Communication is not just words. The actors are able to display an impressive array of facial expressions and body language. This way five, ten, fifteen repetitions stop being repetitive, each one having its own character, each one being a step in the transformation of the phrase. It is dynamic, the body language can take the lead and make the words adjust to it, deciding new situations.
Sometimes they pose philosophical questions, or strong political statements. Other times the machine is just silly. The audience members laugh. I turn around to spot several faces with a big smile. Not everything is defined and there are several moments of transition. I turn to my neighbour and find an expression of expectancy, waiting to see where the dialogue will lead to.
In total the machine tells many stories. It tries to be anything, anything like a salesman, a singer, a congressman, an evil corporation, a cat, a dog, a lover. It goes around making promises, apologizing, screaming, being quiet, being mad, happy, indifferent, seductive, curious. It even tries to remember an impossible human past.
In total the machine was a worthy and very enjoyable performance. You may even get some ideas of word games to play around with your friends, to keep playing and exploring the possibilities of language.