Category Archives: Speech Stories

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Random Walk, Unmasking Talk – Ron Herrema

Ron is a composer and developer who combines algorithmic tools with a variety of materials, such as speech, field recordings, and electronic music. In so doing, he likes to apply randomness with a certain degree of control. In 2006 he composed a piece entitled “Let Freedom Ring”, which evolved into an 8-channel installation. In it, he combined voice recordings from the 2000 US Republican National Convention (culled from the Vincent Voice Library at Michigan State University) with recordings from telephone answering services:

To interweave these materials he used algorithmic techniques in the visual programming software Max/MSP, which helped him to convey his satiric intention of revealing the impossibility of choice that surrounds us politically and in everyday narratives as we interact with technology. He also folded in commercial radio adverts, and a meaningful phrase from American political discourse:


Ron explains technically how the installation worked and how he controlled the different banks of sound:

Fragments of speech were chosen to highlight various subtexts within the original recordings, which, as a semi-determinate layer, were combined with a completely indeterminate layer of sound within the algorithmic process.

The eight-channel installation was eventually rendered into a binaural recording for wider dissemination, which does not necessarily offer the same spatial dimension of the 8-channel piece, but does offer an approximation. Listen to “Let Freedom Ring” here.

Within the Sound Matters framework, he finds all the components to be integrated. For him the process of ‘Relational Playback’ is especially compositional. He imagines an interface that searches semi-randomly within multiple archives, using some kind of filtering. He says it’s like walking into a library with bits and pieces of material being thrown up to grab people’s attention, and enabling them to stop and dig deeper at any point, to listen to one as a departure for discovery.

Do you identify with Ron’s practice, research and technical development and ideas?

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Challenges of collecting and composing with spoken word and field recordings – Cathy Lane

Cathy is a composer who works with spoken word and field recordings to create installations and multichannel concert pieces. She is interested in memory and history related to places, communities and themes, and how she, as an artist, positions herself as a filter of those stories:

In the first part of her creative research process for making a new work she engages online and archival research, not necessarily sonic, through which she immerses herself in a particular context. This material is the basis for collecting recordings, which she will then work with creatively. When going through the collected material in a limited time, she finds it challenging to find all the material that she would like to use for her compositional purposes, both in her personal archive, and also when researching through sonic archives:

She would like to have dedicated software tools to compare acoustic and aesthetic qualities of environmental recordings and speech. To this end she has developed software called Deja vú ( working with programmer Oliver Bown) which finds matches between different sonic materials according to a variety of rhythmic qualities and frequency profile. She would like to develop more refined software which could also help find matches more accurately in large files of spoken word material ( maybe based on speech to text software). Cathy has created two major installations (both working with Nye Parry)  that exemplify her approach to memory and composition: The Memory Machine, an interactive installation which used random juxtapositions of speech that audiences left as reminiscences triggered by objects on display at the British Museum; and Beam, an installation that used data from the coming and goings around the port of Kochi in South India as parameters to trigger sounds associated with maritime life and the spice trade in the area:

The recordings were collected in a project with art students from Bangalore  and categorized according to overall themes. She reflects on the challenge of balancing documentary material and aesthetics, and she thinks that the process of recording and labelling needs more time to develop shared sonic sensibilities when working in a collaborative manner. Regarding the framework she thinks that the focus for her is on the relational playback, as it is where aesthetics can be developed and achieved by listening and developing sensibilities to the material, which is the only thing that a computer cannot learn.

Do you identify with Cathy’s needs? What are your own experiences, issues and needs when working with spoken word, field recordings and archives?

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Answering Machines – Clay Gold


Clay Gold​ is an artist who has many field recordings from around the world, which he has kept for years in his personal collection. His recent project, for which he is creating a multichannel soundscape with old speakers, amplifiers and telephones, involves speech from a micro-cassette found in a loft with answering machine recordings left by the same person, as if it was an audio diary.  The person who recorded these tapes 20 years ago did it from many locations, and he finds interesting how the acoustic environment is informing her voice and mood. He reflects on telecommunications as instruments and how the field recordist, in this case, is at a distance.

He thinks that sharing these recordings for other works would be difficult, because of the ethics of managing the found material. This leads him to think of the digital world, our current mobile phone messages, and the companies that manage these, and the right to own our own messages. How companies use these messages, e.g. if they are looking for key words for marketing purposes.

When he finishes his current project he would probably make another installation following the idea of answering machine messages.

Within the Sound Matters framework sonic inputs are the most important part in his creative process. When he is making a recording, the making is already a memory of it. For relational playback his collection of field recordings are triggers of that memory, and that helps him to connect recordings to arrive to the composed outputs which are key in his work. In the case of the found micro-cassette he is interested in learning machine led software listening to know where these recordings took place.

He feels that the process of meta-data involves extensive work, and it is not his main interest. He has developed a personal system for organising field recordings by type: atmospheres, habitats, species; description, and location, which are reflected on the name of the file.

Clay has a website where you can find more about his projects:

Do you identify with Clay’s practices and issues? What are your own experiences, issues and needs when working with sound in this framework?

Use the ‘reply’ button on the top to leave a comment. Many thanks!