This is a Voice combines film clips, video art, aural recordings and scientific texts exploring the workings and origins of the human voice. Centuries-old journals and contemporary artworks are placed alongside scientific specimens such as a larynx in a jar and medical illustrations of the voice box.
The show is grouped into five sections: Voice is the Original Instrument considers research which suggests our voices evolved for the purpose of song and social bonding; Melodic Contours considers how rhythm and intonation affect meaning; Strains of the Voice, how our voices can be manipulated with training and exercises and Egophony, how voices are used to classify and analyse people (footage from police interviews is displayed alongside a film looking at the effects of gender transition on the voice). Unlocated Voices examines the effect of disembodied voices and includes a look at a pioneering therapy technique where people who hear voices are encouraged to interact with a digital avatar representing that voice.
This is a Voice at Wellcome Library London, courtesy of Wellcome Images. Lead image (top): Leon Chew, courtesy of Plaid London
It’s a disparate collection of items – some, such as Francis Barraud’s His Master’s Voice painting and a clip from The Wizard of Oz feel a little out of place – but the show is at times a fascinating exploration of the workings of the voice and how our voices are linked to our identity. An interactive piece by electronic musician Matthew Herbert invites visitors to add their voice to a chorus of singers in a mini recording studio, while a piece by Imogen Stidworthy recreates the sound of a ‘castrato’ using footage of a young male treble, a female soprano and a countertenor singing simultaneously. Another installation by Marcus Coates, Dawn Chorus, shows a group of adults using their voices to recreate birdsong in everyday settings.
The exhibition was designed by London studio Plaid. With much of the show made up of aural rather than visual pieces, Plaid director Brian Studak says the emphasis was on heightening visitors’ awareness of sound and giving them new ways to experience it in the gallery. In one section, voices can be heard coming from a cubbyhole in the corner of the room, while other clips are played out through parabolic microphones (glass domes which direct sounds downwards to visitors standing underneath).
Marcus Coates’ Dawn Chorus. Image courtesy of Wellcome Images
While some installations are effectively closed off – Stidworthy’s is housed in a round structure, surrounding viewers with song – the show is designed to feel as open as possible. Visitors can hear snippets from various installations as they walk around the space, drawing them forward, but each installation can be heard in isolation when standing up close.