SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London

Hearing Voices

Sound Portraits from the Kalahari A project by John Wynne
29 June - 23 September 2005

Hearing Voices is a gallery installation by sound artist John Wynne which innovatively combines photography and sound to address issues of portraiture, identity and technology in a cross-cultural context. Wynne travelled to the Kalahari Desert in Botswana to record the voices of 8 speakers of highly endangered Khoisan 'click-languages'. Large-scale photographs of the subjects taken by Denise Hawrysio have been mounted on special 'flat loudspeakers' so that the images themselves are the actual, physical source of the sounds, all of which have been derived from the voices of the people depicted. The result is a shifting, immersive environment in which the original speech is revealed momentarily amidst a chorus of clicks and vowels, traversing the boundaries between language and music, speech and abstract sound.

"Through his research and practise in Botswana, recording click language speech by individuals who collaborate as performers at the beginning of a process, Wynne constructs an experience that flickers on the boundaries between speech and sound, and the various levels of meaning that can be derived from human communications. Simultaneously, the work alerts the perceiver to the beauty of language and its potential as a plastic medium, to specifics and generalities, to political and economic realities, and to the troubled, yet fruitful connections that can be nurtured in spite of an intimidating geographical, linguistic, cultural, and technological divide."

David Toop, Foreword to Hearing Voices

The exhibition will be accompanied by a CD-ROM produced in conjunction with the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project,

, featuring Wynne's original field recordings, information about click-languages and the issues surrounding language endangerment as well as exclusive recordings of two click-language choirs.

Sound artist John Wynne's work moves in several directions. He is engaged in an ongoing series of 'sonic portraits' based on recordings made during his travels in Africa. This body of work, which includes Upcountry, an electro-acoustic composition about Kenyan master musician William Ingosi Mwoshi, has been heard in concert halls and on the radio throughout Europe and North America. He was commissioned by BBC Radio to create a 'composed documentary' using the materials he recorded in Botswana: this piece, "a capricious sound world where aural objects shift and surprise" (Resonance Magazine), was broadcast in August of 2004. Wynne also creates large-scale multi-speaker installations using electronic sounds of his own design.

Further information on how John Wynne created the exhibition.

For further information see John Wynne's website.

Hearing Voices is co-exhibited with Endangered Voices - an exhibition exploring the themes of language endangerment