“Hearing in Tongues” from the Tate Infrequency Podcast Series

Listen to this on the Tate website

“A radio art series for the Tate” made by Sarah Washington in 2008.  Listening to these choppy conversations, I could imagine these aural collages coming from a malfunctioning recording device used by a robot (or alien) observing humanity.

In eight podcasts, Sarah Washington turns the act of conversation into an aural collage with her manipulation of language and ambient noise.  Along with electronic trickery, she uses different languages besides English.  Including German and Spanish (I think) speakers into these works and having them dominate most of the talking, this could force a listener uneducated in these languages to consider the barriers that prevent people from understanding each other.  I’m sure those who speak German and/or Spanish but not English would probably feel the same way.  Of course, we should not forget the people who do not even speak those three.

 Interestingly, Washington uses male voices most of the time, and female voices rarely.  Also, I think Washington uses the same conversation over and over, but filters it differently with each episode.  If I am right, she obviously did it to keep her series from veering towards the predictable.  Not all of them have manipulation, so you really learn to appreciate the sound and rhythm of language.  The series also has the listener concentrate on the banal, such as breathing, voice inflections, volume change, and even emotional tone.  By making everything distorted and in different languages, Washington turns pieces of conversation into something mysterious and wonderful.  Occasionally, Washington isolates skips caused by machines and I think I even heard laser sounds.

Well, that’s what it sounded to me.

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