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Exploring voice to create an alternative language

Emma Smith at 4 Days 2013, Arnolfini Justin Yockney

13 November 2014

During November, Bristol academics are working with artist Emma Smith to host a series of events which explore the power of the voice to connect us to one another.

It’s part of a larger project called 5Hz – a collaboration to create a form of speech based on social bonding, using neuroscientific and psychological research into speech rhythm.

The project is led by artist Emma Smith in collaboration with Dr Nina Kazanina from the School of Experimental Psychology and Dr Emma Hornby from the Department of Music, both at the University of Bristol and Dr Laurence White from Plymouth University, and explores neural patterns associated with speech perception and how language might have sounded if human connection had been prioritised over the communication of information.

Over the course of the four weekends in November, the public is invited to a series of events at the Arnolfini as part of the research, exploring subjects such as speech perception, language evolution and music.  The research will lead to the development of artwork and an interactive installation which will be exhibited at the Arnolfini in March 2015.

Nina Kazanina will co-host the second of four labs: ‘Beyond the Word’ on 16 November.  This event will explore the effect voices have on the brains of other people, focusing on the brain mechanisms that underlie perception of the human voice and a practical demonstration showing how to use the voice to the fullest potential.

Guest speakers will include scientists Dr Maria Chait from the UCL Ear Institute, Dr Andriy Myachykov from Northumbria University and, and author and voice therapist Christina Shewell.

On 29 November, Emma Hornby will co-host the forth lab: ‘Voice for Social Action’.  Music and the power of the human voice has been used down the centuries to unite people in action – from religion to protest movements.    This event will explore the role of the voice in promoting social solidarity and harmony.

Theologist Dr Jonathon Arnold and ethnomusicologist Dr Caroline Bithell will speak at the event and there will be a live performance from the University of Bristol’s Schola Cantorum, directed by Emma Hornby.

The events are preceded by language evolution workshops led by Laurence White and Emma Smith in the morning, where members of the public can help to evolve a new language.

All events are free, and there is no requirement to attend all the labs.  Further information can be found on the Centre for Public Engagement website or at

Further information

5Hz is produced by Arnolfini in collaboration with the University of Bristol, Plymouth University and the support of the Wellcome Trust.  The 5Hz events programme is also supported by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2014.

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