By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
The pun in the title,The Quiet Volume, involves both loudness of sound and another word for book. You sit next to someone, each wearing headphones, in the Literature Room of the Free Library. There are three books piled in front of each person: Blindness by Saramago, The Notebook, the Proof, and Third Lie by Kristof, and When We Were Orphans by Ishiguro. Between the two small stacks is another book of photographs of devastated cities.
A voice whispers into your ears, noting how good it is to be in a place "dedicated to silence," and then lists all the sounds one hears in a library: feet walking, fingers on keyboards, pages turning, pens dropped.
The murmuring voice continues, directing me to a passage in one of the books; it reads to me as I silently read the page. This creates an odd dislocation as the voice in my ears merges, incompletely, with the voice in my mind, my " reading voice." The peculiar intimacy of reading--just you and the page--has been violated, intruded upon, but so softly, so gently.
The hour becomes odder as the voice makes me aware of the act of reading combined with the content of the passage you're reading. This manipulation that was so interesting at first becomes wearing and irritating: just let me read in peace. Sometimes the voice becomes unintelligible; this is also annoying. And why, I wonder, are there slight discrepancies between the text I'm reading and the voice reading it to me: "removed" rather than "extracted."
The intertextuality is very clever, as the passages one is directed to in the three books seem to echo each other; the photographs become illustrations of the fictions.
The Quiet Volume is an experiment in hyperconsciousness of reading as a mental and visual process, of reading as a private act that is always semi-public in a library, of the lingering whisper of the voices (Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells, the co-creators) even after the ‘show’ is over, combined with the snippets of the three books I have never before read. I am unsettled and fascinated by this experience.