DIAL-A-DIVA was a 24 hour global telephonic singing event that took place twice. On the first occasion, 2005 the hub was in Glasgow (CCA Gallery) and then in Stavanger Norway in as part of the Stavanger2008 European Cultural Capital events.
The piece was experienced as either a performer, a phone listener or a visitor to the DIAL-A-DIVA call centre.
The phonecast started with performers in New Zealand, at the date line, then carried on with performances from Australasia, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, arriving back at the date line 24 hours later. The programme of vocal performances included poetry, opera, choral works, rap, and songs of many types. In the Stavanger iteration DIAL-A-DIVA had over 200 performers and 36,000 listeners from all around the world.
At the turn of the last century there is a curious ox-bow lake in broadcasting history – the theatrophone. The Theatrophone or Electrophone as it was sometimes called was the highlight of the World Exhibition in Paris in 1881 where it connected listeners via telephone to the Paris Opera house and theatres. The idea took off in various forms – transmitting theatre and opera performances in London, Lisbon, Antwerp, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago. There were also services set up for news, sports, religious worship and language learning in the Hungary, Russia the UK and the US.
As telephony was in it’s infancy it was not widespread, it was the rich who were able to subscribe to these services, having a telephone in their own homes. However there were coin operated public phone booths where those that perhaps couldn’t afford a ticket to enter the performance could listen in via the phone.
I first read about the Theatrophone in a biography of the writer Marcel Proust, who living in Paris, spent most of his time in a darkened room with cork lining to keep sound out writing his masterwork ‘In Search of Lost Time’. He did however let some sound in as he was a théâtrophone subscriber. Proust listened to Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (sung by Scottish soprano Mary Garden) down the telephone.
The era of the theatrophone ended in the 1920s with the spread of radio broadcasting. In today’s telephony culture besides having a chat on the phone, we experience outsourced distant call centres bringing customer services to clients as if they were down the road, the latest hits as ring tones while synthesised voices attempting to communicate train times. We listen to music on hold whether we like it or not and we broadcast in intimate detail our lives down the phone and the train carriage simultaneously for all to hear. Occasionally, at a concert, you see the phones lifted towards the band, not to take a picture but to let one not present participate in the event, for a highly compressed moment at least. Now, of course there is VoIP, free computer to computer calling, keeping long distant relationships alive and extended families in contact with babies all over the world being held up to web cams to wave at distant relatives. DIAL-A-DIVA celebrates it all.
Many, many thanks to all those who worked so hard and especially those who hosted DIAL-A-DIVA events all over the world.
Zoë Irvine, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Addendum. It is worth noting that DIAL-A-DIVA first came into the world prior to social media as we know it. To find performers for the first iteration email was the main tool, even phone calls, web searches and myspace (though largely only populated by European and N. American users) was the way. By the second staging Myspace was a bit more widespread but it still took making personal contact, searching out potential performers from far and wide.