Alright, Girl? is a soundscaped binaural recording of a poetry collection by the same name written by Maria Ferguson and published by Burning Eye Books. The writings are a reflection of the author’s working class heritage whilst growing up in vastly changing urban landscape of the United Kingdom.
The text, originally published in August 2019, is performed by Maria in an hour-long listening experience for The Living Record Festival. With sound design by Chris Drohan, who combines Maria’s intimate spoken word rendition of her writing with a subtle score that adds warmth and tactility to the words, this piece takes the audience through Maria’s lived experiences with class, gender and belonging.
The text itself is deeply enjoyable to read; I often found myself hitting the rewind button to pause, go back and listen again to the momentous happenings, encounters and realizations the author introduces to us with effortless ease, slipping in beautiful metaphors that contrast the struggles of growing up with the freedom (and anxiety) of decisions that each new age carried. In pieces such as ‘Fifteen’ and ‘Thirty’, we get a closer look at how our relationships (and how we perceive our identities in relation to those whom we’ve grown up with) change with the years whilst in pieces like ‘Things I’m Scared Of’ we are comforted by the tenuous, almost faint spirit of the world we are living in right now and just how much it means to be simply be able to breathe and just be, in this time. While reading the text, Maria doesn’t attempt to be overly performative and relies on drawing the emotional intimacy from the words themselves to tug at the listener’s heart. There were then sections such as ‘Questions’, that used the binaural technology effectively to travel between the listener’s left year and right ear, almost replicating the inner self-critical voice we carry within ourselves and how being in our own head may sound like if we were to hear it from the outside.
The overall listening experience is unassuming, neither attempting to immerse the listener with overtly fleshed sound effects nor attempting to overpower the spoken narrative. Rather it serves to augment the visual imagery being crafted by the text in small, subtle and precise ways – perhaps a little too much as I would have enjoyed to be led by the soundscape more at certain points. Each section of the poetry is delivered in quick succession without too many breaks, sounds or silences, in the middle. This felt a little unnerving given the length of the performance, but did not take away from the emotional intensity of the material itself. Given the sheer amount of text the listener hears, I would have also enjoyed the presentation format along the lines of a transcribed audio, that allowed me to read the words as they were read.
For someone who only moved to the United Kingdom a few months ago; this piece gave me a glimpse into the many layers of identity and self-expression of the working class and their realities layered by circumstances and choices beyond their control. To summarize, Alright, Girl? Is a pleasant and personal listening experience – for the words might be Maria’s but the images they inspire will be from your own life.
You can hear Alright, Girl? on The Living Record Festival’s website
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 2nd February 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★