Harry Josephine Giles on Droning…

Flint & Pitch Presents:

Critically acclaimed spoken word performance Drone to tour across Scotland 

with one unique London date in 2019.


How can anxious people live in systems of such astonishing destruction?

A live jam of sound, visuals and poetry, telling the story of a military drone’s life and fears.

 The Drone is part weapons system, part office worker and part tense background hum.

Using bleak humour and tender fury, Drone sees the unmanned aerial vehicle as the technology of a neurotic century: surveilled and surveilling.


Written by Forward-shortlisted poet Harry Josephine Giles, Drone is performed by them with international sound artist Neil Simpson (Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo) and digital artist Jamie Wardrop (Beats, The Dwelling Place). Directed by Rob Jones (Egg, Super Awesome World) and produced by Stephanie Katie Hunter (Old Boy, Spring Awakening, and On The Verge)Drone will appear at the following:

11th – 13th April – The Tron, Glasgow
2nd May – Camden’s People Theatre, London
9th May – Sound Archive, Orkney
10th May – Gable End Theatre, Hoy
4th/5th June – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

I was going to say that I know your work best as poetry, but that isn’t entirely true, but… how does this production relate to your work as a poet, and what enciouraged you to develop it as a longer and more theatrical production?

“Drone” was written first as a short poetry book, but when I started performing it I began dreaming about different ways it could live on the stage. I tried it out with some very weird found sound and video, and it seemed to work, and everything expanded from there. To be a bit more theoretical about it: I’m interested in how working in multiple media can expand the reach of poetry — aesthetic reach and audience reach.
That is, if poetry feels like a noise music gig, maybe people who like noise music gigs will find something in poetry? Or, more importantly still, maybe noise music and its audiences can change the meaning of the poetry itself in a way that can surprise me as well. So I write poetry-making machiens that live on Twitter, and I make poems that go on stickers on lampposts, and with Drone I wanted to work with a musician and a videographer. Particularly for Drone, it’s a piece that is about 21st century technology, about the dread and possibility of the total surveillance remote violence world we live in, so it needed to have a technological feel as poetry — Neil Simpson’s meditative electronics and Jamie Wardrop’s hallucinatory visuals give it that.
What process led to your selection of collaborators?
When I knew I wanted electronic and droney music, I looked through artists whose work I knew and liked. This is actually a story of how the grassroots of the arts works: I’d programmed Neil Simpson once for Anatomy, the performance art cabaret I co-direct, and listened to his music since then, so I wrote and asked if he’d be interested in experimenting.
We played around together, and our art and personalities seemed to fit, so away we go! Later, when we were getting funding in to finish development on the show, we went through the same processes for videographers we admired. Each new collaborator has meant expanding the ownership of the direction of the project: I initiated it, but it’s now very much a team effort, and the show shouild feel like a band with three artists jamming together. Rob Jones as Director and Stephanie Katie Hunter as producer have also been crucial to support that process and tie it together.
I am imagining that there is a political slant to the piece – well, the title is a clue – but I am aware that your activism is wide-ranging and it would be simplistic to ask just about the politics of the drone itself… does your work connect to your political activism, and in what ways has this manifested both in the process and the content?
I’ve been saying for a long time that my work is about how politics feels: what does it feel like to live in this world at this time? I’m not an activist, I’m just an active participant in my life. You can’t be awake and paying attention right now (or any time) and not be consumed by a dread, rage and desire fundamentally shaped by the social and economic currents of politics. Any work that’s evading being consciously political is evading responsibility. At the same time, the older I get the more I refuse to be obvious, the more I refuse to let my politics be easily identified, because if they can see you then they can get you.
So drone is about what it might feel like to be a military drone, who is also an office worker, who is also me. I began writing it when I was doing work I didn’t fully believe in that was even more complicit in enormous flows of global capital than I am now, and I began writing it when I hadn’t fully admitted I was trans and, as we say, had Shit To Work Out. So she, the drone, is anxious, angry, broken, bad, responsible and failing. She is part human, part machine and all horror. She is responsible for murder, and she wants to change the world for the better. She has a therapist. She likes rhinos. She is the same political object that I am.
Now – I am falling back on my classic dramaturgy question: how effective is performance as a location for political or social engagement?
Terrible, which is a good thing.
Don’t you think that naming a piece of art as “political” has become a way of directing more capital towards it? Political is so trendy. There’s nothing you can say that’s radical enough to make people stop giving you money: you’d have to actually kill someone. And even worse, we don’t just have to be political, you have to be engaging. Artists flatter themselves that they can somehow become the managers of politics, a specialised separate profession that directs people’s political energies. Imagine what the rabble would do if they didn’t have art to engage them in appropriate political engagement.
Do you see drone within any particular tradition of performance? Are there other artists working in a similar situation?
I’m influenced by work that’s strongly centred on poetic text interpreted through multiple live artforms, and work that wants to stimulate a lot of senses at once. That’s as much Greek tragedy or Shakespearean comedy as contemporary performance practice. Kieran Hurley’s Beats is an important show for me (I even nicked his videographer). Torycore taught me a lot about noise and making both poetry and music into a show. Hanna Silva’s multilayered performatice sound poetry blows me away and makes me want to multiply my voice into a million bees. Kiki & Herb made me want to be a vicious, cruel, hurt cabaret diva. G.L.O.S.S. made me want to be a punk. Mountains make me want to walk up mountains.

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