To create Pin Drop, Saulwick began by working with interviews she’d recorded, transcribing and sorting them – finding “clusters” of related themes and “stories that just jump out at you”. The primary relationship was always the relationship between live performance and sound; and sound always at the heart of a process in which Saulwick as performer interacts with the eleven pre- recorded voices.
“There’s a very fluid relationship between the live and the pre-recorded, constantly shifting from one to the other,” Saulwick says. “And then the voices are also embedded in quite a dense sound environment or score. A kind of sound-world gets built up, which eventually a story emerges out of, but the sound leads us into the story as opposed to being like a soundtrack.”
True story: Woken by the sound of footsteps in the attic above
her room, many years ago, Saulwick lay in her bed, frozen. It was late
at night in an old, ramshackle house. Her housemate was away.
The steps came down the stairs and stopped outside her room.
Stories like this have a tendency to immediately bring up more stories. Working for the past few
years with Melbourne Playback Theatre – an improvisational company that literally ‘plays back’ real stories told by audience members – Saulwick has been fascinated by how one story leads to another, exposing the differences and commonalities of emotional responses and experience.
“We love to hear each other’s stories and we really like hearing
stories from ‘real people’,” she says. “It’s not the voice of authority,
it’s not an expert, it’s not an actor or writer or playwright. [At
Playback] it’s just someone who gets up and tells a story.”
“So I was interested in trying to bring in that quality of just listening to stories that everyone has. And bringing that into a kind of contemporary performance language, into a different kind of aesthetic.”
Working with several collaborators – including Peter Knight (sound
design), Michelle Heaven (movement) and Ben Cobham (lighting) – has,
says Saulwick, extended the original idea and made it “more itself”.
“All of these languages, like the body, text and sound, are shifting in
terms of major and minor,” she says, so that the ‘primary communicator’
in any given moment may be visual, aural, or even the imaginary.
“Sometimes we allow people to go into a listening space… [but] rather than just giving them
blackness, there might just be a light moving through the space and we might see a body coming in or out of it…” This is the space, says Saulwick, “where imagination can kick in”.
All she could think was that she had to get to the pile of clothes in the corner and hide underneath. But her body had ‘gone to jelly’. She could only drag herself, crawl across the space to the corner. The adrenaline had flooded her body and it just didn’t work. She heard the footsteps moving away, down another set of stairs. Then she heard the front door opening and someone else being let in.
Saulwick hopes Pin Drop is “a little bit edgy or a little bit scary” but is less interested in “horror”
than in what we do with the idea of a threat, be it large or small.
“You start to talk to people about this stuff and you say ‘Would you walk down a street late at night by yourself?’ And there’s a variety of answers but regardless of whether people would or wouldn’t, everyone has their own personal ritual: Oh yeah, I walk with my head down not up, or I try and walk more like a bloke, or I talk on my telephone, or I hold my keys in this particular way – and everyone has a technique, it’s like a way of holding this feeling that is just very deep and natural, instinctive I suppose…”
Now two sets of footsteps ascended the stairs to the landing. Then she heard her bedroom door being pushed open.
The end to this story is “ultimately benign”, says Saulwick. But for all of us there’s a moment, she says, when our common sense is disrupted, where the sense of ‘don’t be silly, it’s just a noise’ is “fundamentally short-circuited” and no longer has any authority. What’s interesting is what we do after that moment, regardless of whether or not the situation is truly threatening.
“How does that affect the choices you make and how you live?” she
says. “Because the strange thing about this stuff is that everyone’s
just getting on with their lives, we’re not thinking about it all the
time, but somewhere, we all live with it as well. Everyone navigates
this stuff in very personal