FTA Respirations Notebooks



March 4, 2022

MANUAL: learning to read, again

Deep in a library bustling with all kinds of readers, a performer silently approaches. She proffers a pair of headphones and invites me to sit down beside her. Together, we leaf through an illustrated book, a hand-crafted manual that uses image to guide us through a series of simple actions: read aloud, trade handwritten notes, turn the page…

The soundscape playing in the headphones modulates the space around me in strange ways. Other duos engage in the same activity nearby, like an echo. All at once, the performer disappears, and we who witnessed the experience meet each other’s eyes, united in the shared moment.

After roaming the streets of Toronto, Calgary, and Birmingham with Listening Choir, which guided walking audiences with loudspeakers they carried, Christopher Willes and Adam Kinner now turn to Montreal libraries to continue their reflections on public space. Developed in collaboration with dramaturge and performer Hanna Sybille Müller, the performance piece MANUAL seeks not to disturb or physically transform the library. Rather, the multidisciplinary artist duo wants to invigorate the primary function of this familiar place, disrupting experience by highlighting the sensory nature of reading.

Manual © Christopher Willes + Adam Kinner


Is it possible to hear a book? What images are born of silence? How is material space transformed by words? MANUAL challenges the listening, attention, and physicality it takes to engage in the act of reading. Recorded binaurally to capture three-dimensional subtleties, the soundtrack destabilizes the senses with synthesized sounds that come off as real. The titular manual, a patchwork of various readings and analogous images, is a continuous flow recalling social media feeds. Page after page, the eye is drawn to some detail, word or colour, in iconographic contiguity.  

Transcending individual experience, MANUAL is about the intimacy shared between performer and spectator in the reading encounter. The book becomes a vector of interaction, instilling a level of presence that is essential to listening to others. Willes and Kinner have designed a manual for slowing down and relearning how to spend time together after two years of social distancing.

The project is still in the conceptualization phase, though an initial in situ showing took place at the BAnQ-Grande Bibliothèque in August 2021. The next few months will be devoted to acoustic experimentation and fabricating the manual. From one title to title, the choice of works gathered is informed by similarity among images, creating a chain of often incongruous associations. Much like in a library, where a book can jump out without warning, and change everything.


An associate artist and producer at Public Recordings (Toronto), Christopher Willes is a musician and dramaturge based simultaneously in Tkaronto/Toronto and Tio’tia:ke/Montréal. His multidisciplinary art explores the science of perception and the practice of listening through long-term collaborative processes.

American-born Adam Kinner works collaboratively in dance and music in Tio’tia:ke/Montréal. At the interstices of performance, sound design and visual art, his artistic research takes a variety of forms, from concerts to in situ works.