Master
Visuelle Kommunikation

Christine Müller

Something Between My Mouth and My Ear

In the act of oral communication, many things are happening simultaneously. Sensual perception, language processing, and memory work together in an attempt to convey or assign meaning. Besides the controversy of explaining why humans can communicate and understand each other, or if we have to accept that we just feel that we can communicate in spite of constant misinterpretations, this thesis project is interested in the material side of spoken language, the bodily manifestations of our voice and the concomitant gestures and facial expressions. Until recently, little attention has been paid to the material part of language and beyond, while at the same time the use of terms such as “voice” and “spoken language” were frequently used in the philosophy of language and philosophic and linguistic discussions. Instead, spoken language was intellectualized for the greater part of the 20th century. Initiated by contemporary art movements such as Fluxus, Media Art, Performance Art, and the Performing Arts, in which artists use their bodies and technical devices in an innovative way, cultural sciences are defining a new paradigm through a “performative orientation”.

Apart from all differences, philosophy, linguistics, and cultural studies seem to agree that the voice, or oral communication respectively, is an ephemeral phenomenon. Ephemeral can be described as short-term existence, without tangible beginning or end. While its disappearance is expected, the exact moment of its disappearing is not forseeable and cannot be controlled. In consequence, ephemeral processes cannot be observed repeatedly. Aiming to raise perceivers’ awareness of this ephemeral aspect of the communicative act and its nature of multi-layered production and perception processes, I studied in what aspects of voice the ephemeral manifests itself by using computer-generated voices. This strategy of a negation and exhaustion of the bodily features of the voice as such that accompany, but transgress the lexical sense of the spoken language, reveals the potential of human voices. Synthetic voices do not originate from a body. They are able to convey the informative part of a message, whereas they are not able to sigh, laugh, quaver, or bawl. They do not breath in and out while they “speak” and they never mumble. In short, as perceivers we do not receive any information about emotional states or an attitude towards the information conveyed. Interestingly, specific, nonlinguistic information gets delivered by them, too, and provokes virtual images in our imagination, even producing physical reactions. This interference of sensual perception is further explored in experiments that question what happens if ephemeral instances of uttering are repeated. Since the ephemeral is defined as non-repeatable, the attempt of doing so constitutes a paradox. This paradox situation is thereupon analyzed not only from the point of view of the speaker, who produces these utterings again and again, but also from that of the perceiver, since the receiver likewise changes the perceived through the very act of listening.