NONSENSUS

TRANSCRIBING THE UNTRANSCRIBABLE

I am still Stuart Farnsworth. You may remember a foolhardy notion of mine, to knock upon the doors of two thousand Maindee homes, thrusting three questions into the face of anyone who answered and were willing to participate. I called it the Nonsensus  and I am now reliving this Sisyphean endeavour through a pair of squeaky headphones and countless WAV files.

For more months than I care to remember, I have been transcribing audio recordings made as I took the Nonsensus to the streets of Maindee's Victoria Ward. I am a two-fingered typist and the transcription process is taking over twice as long as the house visitations. Some have asked, "Farnsworth, why not use a free, internet-based, digital technology to transcribe the recordings for you? Or, if you can't afford that, find a three-fingered typist?" But these well-intentioned suggestions miss the point. It is important for me to revisit the recorded Nonsensus exchanges as it allows me to gauge the tone of the project, how it changed as it unfolded and to hear in my own voice the sound of an advancing psychological breakdown.

As I revisit these encounters, I am transported back to a particular place and a specific time. Some I remember vividly while others have been forgotten and are as fresh and revelatory to me now as when I recorded them during the summer. As I am nearing the completion of this transcription process, I feel it an opportune time to inform you of some of my findings and relay some of these experiences as I remember them.

During the transcription process, I have been concerned with how to transcribe the untranscribable. I transcribe each and every "um", "er" and "ah" and utilise ellipses to indicate hesitation or a trailing off of thought.  A contributor's laughter is signalled with Ha! Ha! Ha! even though this proves unsatisfactory in conveying any difference between a chuckle, a chortle or a guffaw. During today's transcription process, I listened to three recordings of contributors who were undoubtedly under the influence of marijuana. Is it important to convey to the reader of the transcription that the subject was high or simply leave the monosyllabic replies to speak for themselves? I decided to document just the spoken part of these engagements but feel it is a shame that the reader is denied the nuance of body language, facial tics, and bulging, blood-shot eyes. I had no such concerns when transcribing an earlier exchange, with a lady in Duckpool Road who answered the door still brushing her teeth and proceeded to answer the Nonsensus with her mouth full of toothpaste.

Further, although initially cautious about approaching the vernacular, I quickly realised it was important to reflect Newport's colloquial charm. Consequently, the transcription documents no longer look as though they have been self-harming, having added "innit", "yer" and "fuckiiiiiin'" to the Microsoft Word dictionary.

So, these were some of my thinkings on how to present the transcriptions but what of the content, the exchanges themselves? There are many that have returned great reward but two especially illustrate what I was hoping this phase of the project would achieve.

A gentleman of Summerhill Avenue was disturbed from his work when I knocked in the name of Nonsensus. He pondered and deliberated at great length over the questions posed, so much so that at one point I felt what I thought was guilt for the rigorous soul-searching he was undertaking. Little did I know that what I was actually experiencing was a high quality, bona fide XX. XX is Farnsworthian code for an 'excellent exchange' and although I had authored the phrase, I had yet to actually experience the phenomenon. The Nonsensus routinely operates on the "three simple questions" system but an XX can break free of that system and quickly develop to become a conversation, a self-help style therapy session or, in very rare instances, the foundation for friendship. This is what every fact-finding facilitator hopes to experience when out in the field. Truth be told, once I realised I was in the grip of an actual XX, I stopped listening to the contributor and only heard his final answer when listening the recording some months later. But, more significantly, also on that recording was this ...

"That's just made me feel a lot better actually. Thanks very much, mate. In chatting to you, you start getting ... the wheels start spinning and stuff, I'm glad you knocked! Thank you!"

 

There, did you read that? He called me 'mate'.

 

The second exchange took place on Christchurch Road. It was the day's first Nonsensus visit and I was chatting to a gentleman on his doorstep. As we were talking, his wife came down the stairs wearing her dressing gown, showed faint interest in the conversation her husband was having and went about her business inside their home. The exchange was routine, nothing out of the ordinary and I continued making my house calls, heading down Christchurch Road. Twenty minutes later, a car pulled up and out jumped the wife of the day's first contributor. She did not look pleased.

 

"I thought, hang on a minute. Who's this guy going around with a tape recorder and a clipboard? You got no ID! You could be anybody!"

 

She continued to chastise me with comparisons to the Yorkshire Ripper, about vulnerable people being visited by artists pretending to be someone they weren't and about my generally being "odd". But, compliments aside, what really pleased me about this encounter was that it illustrated what I hoped would happen during the Nonsensus house visits - that contributors would be left pondering their Nonsensus experience long after Farnsworth had fled the scene. I didn't once imagine that someone might actually go to the effort to track me down to tell me - yes, I continued to think about your visit even after you had left.

 

Thanks for listening.

 

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