Collected Voice Recordings
This project is still somewhat unformed. I anticipate that it will take me a long time to gather the voices and produce a finished work. I intend to work on it as time is available. It isn’t necessarily going to be finished within a semester.
The primary purpose is simply to explore the formation of identity through voices. I am also interested in the way people assign value to words. I think that people are very invested in the words that they value. When you ask someone to pick one thing to read, I think that it gives you significant insights about who they are and what is important to them. I also think that when you remove personal presence, image and data so that all that remains is a voice and a text, you are still left with a powerful impression of the identity of the speaker. I would like to gather all of those identities together into a collection that can be easily accessed and experienced.
The Development of the Idea
During a studio visit with Katarina Burin, we discussed the curation of collections as a form of art. Sometimes simply bringing things together creates meaning. This idea started sort of sitting on the edges of my thoughts. Then during Creative Concepts, we talked about the definition of art. Later we talked about the social value of art. This added a little more focus to my ideas. I started to think about how we ascribe value to social actions and how that could be explored in art. Then the subject of my postcard project came up again and it made me think about family connections. Listening to so much “sound art” and experimental music this semester started me thinking about the power of sounds. While I have little interest in music, thinking about how sounds create memory is interesting. We also had a studio class discussion about nostalgia. It made me think of the things that I remember about “home” when I am away. I am always sort of overwhelmed when I come back to Alabama, because the closer I get to where I grew up, the more people sound like me. No matter how much I may actually dislike my own accent, the familiarity of it is soothing. All of these thoughts kind of bounced around together and led me to the desire to record the voices of my family. This expanded onward to a desire to record voices in general.
So, I did. I am. I will. I have been asking friends and family to make recordings of themselves reading a text of their choice for whatever duration they wish. Once I have recorded the people I know, I hope to expand and get more people to record.
I picked reading for a couple of reasons. The first is simply that people are sometimes uncomfortable if you ask them to just talk. Also, many people dislike the sound of their own voice. Asking them to do something that highlights voice might be uncomfortable. The book provides a different focus. I also thought that the things people select to read would be very interesting. When I posed the first requests, the majority of the focus was on the text selection. People seemed excited to share something they care about.
I considered removing the element of choice from the equation. If I wanted to focus entirely on voice, I could have everyone read the same things. I didn’t do that because I felt that even if everyone read the same things, it wouldn’t remove judgements about how they read the material. I also thought that being asked to read a designated text would limit the expressiveness of the voice. Not everyone reads aloud well enough to read an unknown text fluidly.
I also considered making recordings based on an interview system. I could ask the participants a question and simply record their answer. This was a very tempting idea. In some ways, I liked it better. I decide not to do it for familiar reasons. I didn’t think people would be quite as comfortable. I also knew that it would limit my ability to get recordings. I would need to be there in person for it to work well. I could send the question in writing and ask for a verbal response, but I didn’t think people would do that. If they are uncomfortable, I think the project will lose a lot of its meaning.
What am I going to do with this?
I am going to create a collection. Then I will analyze it. Then I will display it.
After I have the recordings, I am going to analyze the data. I would like to create visualizations showing the locations of the people as well as their connections to me. Then I will consider the types of materials selected and organize them by genre and length. I may also ask the participants for demographic information to further investigate patterns in the recordings. What I analyze is going to depend very much on how many recordings I make. I will analyze it to inform my own thinking, but I don’t think I will display the analysis. I think doing that would take away from the primary focus.
I would like to display these with some kind of large scale tactile display. I don’t think I want it to simply be a computer screen, unless I can design it with a nice graphic interface. It would be nice to have large buttons to push that simply list the name of the reader.