Text and Technology – Beating Out Language

We were shown this by one of the Engine House partners, Jerome Fletcher – Associate Professor of Performance Writing at Falmouth University – as an example of writing ‘off the skin’ in relation to tattooing and writing ‘on the skin.’

A digitally-treated drum kit plays pre-recorded text on each strike of each drum, with each drum ‘skin’ able to deliver particular sequences of words. The title of the piece refers to the etymology of the word ‘tattoo’ – a Dutch phrase ‘doo den tap toe‘ which means ‘turn off the taps’. It was beaten out by drummers in garrison towns as an instruction to stop serving alcohol to the soldies in the barracks, and is where we get the phrase ‘military tattoo’ from.

There are also sections of text from anthropologist James Leach, whose work in Papua New Guinea reveals the drum is thought of as a man, with a voice, and decorated with human features: it’s given to a boy when he becomes a man and dies with him as part of his funeral rites.

I love the overlaps of concept, history, etymology, performance, language and meaning in this piece: makes me wonder how else text might be ‘performed’ and who the ‘writer’ can be.