SOAS University of London

John Wynne

Hearing Voices
Sound Portraits from the Kalahari A project by John Wynne

29 June - 23 September 2005

This photographic sound installation by John Wynne premiered earlier this year at The Botswana National Museum and showed at the National Art Gallery of Namibia before coming here to the Brunei Gallery.

In 2003, John travelled to the Kalahari Desert to work with linguist Dr Andy Chebanne of the University of Botswana to record the speakers of several highly endangered Khoi and San 'click languages'. All the sounds you hear are derived from the voices of the people depicted in the photographs, which were taken at the time of recordings by Denise Hawrysio. The photographs themselves are the actual, physical source of the sound, using purpose-built 'flat loudspeakers', and the sounds coming from each photograph are derived from the voice of that individual.

Wynne has 'stretched' the vowels of each person's speech to one thousand times their original length to create a shifting chorus of tones which are sometimes filtered to become a single, extended note. He has also isolated the click consonants from the speech and emphasised certain resonant frequencies of those clicks so that the result is a complex, syncopated rhythm of bell-like tones based on the actual rhythms of each subject's speech patterns.

The actual words from which the sounds are derived are revealed only fleetingly, emphasising the fragility of these languages, all of which are considered by linguists to be on the verge of extinction. If you were to listen for an hour (and understood the languages), you would be able to piece together what each person decided to say when the microphone was placed in front of them. Their words are translated on the individual pages below.

Back to the Hearing Voices home page

For further information see John Wynne's website. .


John Wynne would like to thank the following for their help and support: Andy Chebanne, John McAllister, Waithaka Kamau, Denise Hawrysio, Hessel and Coby Visser, Peter Austin, Rob Munro and David Nathan of The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, David Toop, Burkhard Vogeler, John Hollingworth and the team at the Brunei Gallery, Richard Newlove of Amina Technologies UK, Angus Carlyle and Janice Hart of the London College of Communication and The University of the Arts London. And of course the speakers themselves, to whom this installation is dedicated.

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