the development of HEARING THINGS - Aaron Williamson

shinkansen (
Mon, 19 Oct 1998 10:27:41 -0400

Aaron Williamson: HEARING THINGS (The Oracle)

DEAF 98 - The Dutch Electronic Arts Festival, Rotterdam, The Netherlands:
Premiere: 17 November - 29 November 1998

South London Gallery - 65 Peckham Road, London SE5 8UH .
Open Process Session with Aaron Williamson: Saturday 31st October 1998 at
Free entry. Reserve in advance on 0171 703 6120
Aaron Williamson is a renowned performance artist, choreographer and
writer, currently working with SHINKANSEN arts production and research unit
on the development of HEARING THINGS (The Oracle) - a performance
installation and instant publication incorporating performance work into
the belly of electronic media.
HEARING THINGS (The Oracle) is in development at the South London Gallery
from 26th - 31st October 1998. The Open Process Session on the final day of
the residency provides a unique opportunity for the public to engage with
the development of this new work. Aaron Williamson will reflect on the
creative and technical processes at play during the making of the project
at the South London Gallery.

The South London Gallery residency preceeds the premiere of HEARING THINGS
(The Oracle) at DEAF 98 - The Dutch Electronic Arts Festival in Rotterdam
from 17th - 29th November 1998.
HEARING THINGS (The Oracle) will subsequently tour to venues in Britain and
Europe across 1999/2000 including South London Gallery, Dartington College
of Arts (Devon) and TOOT 99, (Hull).

HEARING THINGS (The Oracle) is an installation and performance that
explores the creation, capture, transformation and disintegration of

In Greek antiquity, an Oracle - such as the one at Delphi - would be
founded on the site where a vaporous subterranean spring emanates from the
earth. The medium of the Pythia would receive 'oracles' from the Gods in
the form of non-verbal, frenzied gibberish and incoherent disclaimings.
These oracles would be verbally interpreted to give guidance on matters of
the day.

In the space of Williamson's installation, an electronic Oracle - based on
computer speech recognition software that receives signals from microphones
in the space - will recognise and (mis)interpret any sound or voices as
speech, translating them into a continuous stream of text. A vaporous
spring emanates from a raised platform onto which visitors are lured by an
inviting, overhead microphone. The visitors may trigger nonsensical and
creative mishearings, stimulating the Oracle to produce unexpected
accidental phrases out of the unknowing computer set-up.

The results, which are then projected onto a large glass screen suspended
over the platform, are both amusing and curiously affecting as the computer
endlessly generates phrases and statements, desperately trying to make
sense of the most inauspicious stimulation.

The computer lacks the necessary ability to differentiate between sounds
and spoken language, and is hardly equipped for its attempts at
verbalisation. Despite its inability to enter into a real dialogue, or even
a mirrored monologue with the visitors, they may start to 'consult' the
Oracle by asking questions and investigating the replies.

At certain times, Aaron Williamson comes into the installation space and
fuels the Oracle - the text output of the computer - through his
extraordinary and unnerving physical performance work. Williamson is
profoundly deaf and has, over past ten years, developed a strong physical
approach to realising text through wordless, visceral vocalising and
body-heavy movements. The unhearing, yet understanding performance artist
makes himself the voice, the Pythia of the hearing, yet completely
in-cognizant, muttering sound-to-text translation computer.

Similarly, if visitors follow their own sounds, verbal comments and
questions through different stages of machinic translation and
transmutation, and from one field of limited expression to the next, they
may discover the poetic richness of accidental interpretation and
transgressive expression of the Oracle.

Hearing Things is a co-production between shinkansen (London), DEAF 98
(Rotterdam) and Hull Time Based Arts (Hull) for TOOT 99 in association with
South London Gallery. Financial assistance from the Arts Council of England
Combined Arts Department.