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What is the sound of two heads reading?
On Tuesday, in a hushed sixth-floor reading room in New York University’s Bobst Library packed with students cramming for final exams, the answer might have seemed to be: nothing much.
But for three pairs of readers scattered among the laptop-laden tables, wearing special headphones hooked up to iPod Nanos and shuffling through a pile of suspiciously literary books, the act of reading was transformed into a strange — and sometimes very loud — drama of turning pages, pointing fingers and eerily drifting thoughts.
“The first thing you notice is that for a place dedicated to silence, there’s not really that much silence at all,” a British-accented voice whispered into the readers’ ears. “After a while you start to think that it might be better considered as a place dedicated to the collection of sounds.”
The readers, who had signed up in advance, were both the audience and the stars of “The Quiet Volume,” a 55-minute stealth performance piece by the British artists Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells being staged through Sunday by Performance Space 122 as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. (The piece, which also comes in a Spanish-language version, is also running at the Schomburg Center in Harlem.)
“The whole thing made you think about the nature of your sensory experience while reading, the relationship between the voice in your head and the words on the page,” said Jessica Harris, a graduate student who had just finished performing the piece with a friend.