Research seminar

Wednesday 1 June 2016, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Dr Zeynep Bulut (King’s College London)

Feedback Loops: Walks, Talks, Avatars.

This talk will explore the emergence of voice in feedback. I will look at sound artist and composer Christina Kubisch’s Electrical Walks (2004-­), media artist and scholar Atau Tanaka’s locative media project, Net_Dérive (2006), and a new treatment for auditory verbal hallucinations, Avatar Therapy, designed and developed by the Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience at King’s College London in collaboration with the Speech and Phonetic Center at University College London.

Kubisch conceives her electrical walks to map and interact with the electromagnetic fields in cities, some of which include shopping malls, security doors, ATMs and subways. The kinetic wireless headphones that she has developed pick and turn electromagnetic vibrations into audible sounds. Provided with the headphone and a map, participants wander around the electromagnetic fields. In collaboration with Petra Gemeinboeck and Ali Momeni, Tanaka probes the human body and urban environment similarly. Net_Dérive uses mobile phones and GPS sensors. Participants are given headphones and a mobile phone with a GPS sensor and built-­‐‑in camera, and move around the city taking pictures and following the vocal instructions of the GPS. The server tracks the movements and creates an audiovisual stream based on the information of the movements and images. The phone shows a graphical display of this information. Connected to headphones, it also mediates the audio information, which includes the vocal instructions and the noises generated throughout the walk. I suggest that both works create a network of “speaking things,” while situating and mobilizing the participants to hear the resonances between human body and its environment.

The last example is avatar voices, generated for the Avatar Therapy. The therapy is designed and developed for patients who have severe schizophrenia and auditory verbal hallucinations often deriving from traumatic and abusive experiences. Based on a special software program, Avatar Therapy provides a catalogue of voices and faces, among which the patient chooses his/her avatar face and matches it with a voice. The face helps the patients containing the voice and reassuring it as a visible external entity. The avatar voice is essentially the therapist’s voice; yet as computerized and modified, it is still heard as a stranger’s voice, which first persecutes then gradually approves the patient.

I look at these cases together, as both sound art and schizophrenia tend to loudly hear speech sounds in noises. This tendency leads to generating inner voices, which possibly appear with concrete names and bodies, not simply speaking within the hearing body but also speaking to/with/at the hearing body, as seen in the cases of Avatar therapy. I argue that the forced split between internal and external voices ironically aligns hearing voice with the affordances of other sonorous bodies, urging us to encounter the network of speaking things emerging in feedback.


Zeynep Bulut is a Lecturer in Music at King’s College London. Prior to joining the Music Department at King’s, she was a Research Fellow at the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry (2011-­‐‑2013). She received her Ph.D. in Critical Studies/Experimental Practices in Music from the University of California at San Diego in 2011. Situated in the fields of experimental music, voice and sound studies, her scholarly and creative work examines the emergence, embodiment and mediation of voice as skin. She is currently working on her first monograph, entitled Skin-­‐‑Voice: Sound, Surface, Embodiment. Her articles have appeared in various volumes and journals including Perspectives of New Music, Postmodern Culture, and Music and Politics (forthcoming). 

Location: I/D003