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  • Writer's pictureDouglas McCausland

[re]Glossolalia // Wave 1 (Released) // Thoughts on Speech and Space

The opening for the Trading Zone Exhibition at the Talbot Rice Gallery took place on the evening of May 25, and was very successful! In the days immediately following the release of the first wave of material, I took a couple days to rest - as I had not done so for several weeks. However, I have since been working on the documentation and recordings that were taken from that evening, and have begun posting them to both SoundCloud and YouTube - more on that below.

Following the first round of performances on that evening, the installation has continued to run in the space now for approximately 5 days - as fragmented sounds, glitchy speech, and echoes from that first performance reverberating through the space. In the coming days, I will be making the first round of updates to the installation, marking the first step towards its continued development. This round of updates will be somewhat minimal, but serves to start the slow development of the work towards its final performance on the evening of June 20, 2018 in the Georgian Gallery at Talbot Rice. Also in the coming days, I will be taking a couple of important steps in regards to documenting the piece, such as:

  • Recording a number of impulse responses at various points in the gallery, for documentation purposes - and to allow for possibilities in regards to future “releases” of the work in ambisonic / binaural format.

  • Recording a walkthrough of the installation and the gallery in first-person, with true binaural audio recorded with in-ear binaural microphones.

  • Researching performance and recording of multichannel audio in a number of formats.

In the meantime, as I said previously, I have released the first wave of material for [re]Glossolalia to both SoundCloud and YouTube. The YouTube video was taken during the second performance in the stairwell at the gallery, and the audio is a mixture of audio taken with a microphone and audio which was recorded within Max/MSP. The link to that video can be found here:

Meanwhile, the audio recording can be listened to without video here:


In a previous post, I addressed the extremes of gesture and fragmentation in this piece - a musical aspect of the piece which is explored thoroughly in the releases above. One aspect I also briefly talked about was: "The desired intelligibility of speech in various excerpts - as opposed to its complete obliteration in others, and [the exploration of] that threshold in between, maintaining enough of speech patterns to allow for source-recognition, but not enough to allow for syntax to be understood." While these first performances were very successful, I have begun to reflect on aspects of the piece "in action" - with the above quote being one of the biggest. The most common constructive commentary I received was that the intelligibility of the speech contained in the performances was sometimes lost due to the reverberance of the space, the processing done to the speech, and the lo-fi nature of its original recording. I completely understand this critique, but also must admit that my original intention in this first performance was for the speech to not always be intelligible. Considering that the piece is going to continue to develop, I am trying to use the corruption of speech and its retained intelligibility as a core compositional element. As such, the processing performed on the speech and the lo-fi nature of its original recording were intentional compositional choices made with the intention of continuing to reveal and develop this as a compositional device over the duration of the piece in the coming weeks. However, what I did not have control of is the reverberance of the performance space, the primary entrance stairwell at the Talbot Rice Gallery. While in some cases this worked to my advantage, in others it did not. Considering that the space has a lot of hard reflective surfaces to diffuse sound, my performances filled the space quite effectively - allowing people to hear quite well regardless of their location in the stairwell. Additionally, it seems the proportions of the stairwell boosted certain bass frequencies, giving some of the extreme gestural aspects of the piece an additional punch. Where the stairwell did not work in my favor however, was the way in which it provided everything with a long reverb tail - sometimes rendering speech that was intended to be intelligible, unintelligible. In the second performance, I tried to mitigate this by applying a slight EQ boost to the speech around 5KHz - to boost the consonants, but this only helped marginally if at all. While this did not destroy the intended effect of the piece, it is certainly a factor to consider moving forward - especially as I prepare for the final performance in the Georgian Gallery (a space which if possible, has an even longer acoustic reverb).

Oddly however, I have not experienced the same feelings about the acoustics of the space in regards to the installation portion of the work. This has led me to consider and develop my own thoughts on some of the differences in audio perception as a listener between performed works and installations - as well as the various stages in-between. As a listener at a performance, most people remain stationary, listening intently in a focused manner. While the setting of these performances, a stairwell landing, promoted a slightly different listening aesthetic, encouraging listeners to move about the space and find a location that suited them, the context in which they were listening was still attentive, critical, and "moment dependent". In this context, the additional reverb, reflections, and spatial nuances applied by the acoustics naturally were not always desirable or beneficial - especially when concerning the intelligibility of speech as a core compositional facet. However, in the context of an installation, the listener has more agency in regards to their interaction with the sound. They are not only encouraged to move, it is in a way a compulsion to move around the space as a listener - to explore exactly how the sound fits in the space, how the space effects it, how these entities interact to create a new context and sonic environment. This does not mean that the listening required for an installation is any less critical, but since the resulting context is different, the perception is different. In the context of the installation, the natural tendencies of the space lend an incredible amount of nuance to the piece. For example, with a speaker placed at the top of the elevator shaft (pointed down), as the listener ascends in the elevator, the sonic result essentially achieves an increase in presence, increased intelligibility of speech, and fuller frequency - while the "wetness" of the reverb consequently decreases. These effects are also present in the stairwell, as the listener ascends from the first pair of speakers to the second above - the act of transitioning through the space allows them a different perceptual experience, one that is central to the piece.

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