An analogue precursor to the humanoid robots of today, Euphonia was the distinctly creepy work of the 19th century Austrian inventor Joseph Faber. The ‘fabulous talking machine’ consisted of several different mechanisms and instruments: a piano, a bellows, a mechanical replica of the human throat and vocal organs, and a disembodied female head, which reportedly spoke English, French and German with a ‘sepulchral’ voice when one of the piano keys was played.
Though of the same name, artist Emma Smith’s upcoming solo-exhibition at Bluecoat promises to explore everything that Faber’s piano-based automaton failed to achieve: the natural musicality and nuanced reciprocity of genuine human communication. A system of exchange that relies upon much more than just language.
For Euphonia, Smith will transform Bluecoat’s gallery into a sonic chamber of collective singing; an interactive sound work based on the music of social communication. The project explores the unconscious interlocking rhythms, pitch and tone that underpins all verbal interaction, and which the artist has been closely examining in partnership with a team of world experts on psychology, music and the human brain. The research has resulted in a new form of musical scoring, created by Smith especially for the show.
Euphonia will first and foremost, however, be an indirect portrait of Bluecoat itself, and the voices of those that most often pass through its doors, as Smith is developing the piece based on a series of public experiments and workshops with the people and communities that visit the arts centre on a daily basis (including Liverpool’s Choir With No Name set up for people affected by homelessness and marginalisation, and 20 Stories High – an award winning youth theatre group).
At the heart of Smith’s performance based social practice lies an interest in the influence of the subconscious on all forms of human connectivity; expressed through a vast multitude of nuanced resonances, molecular activity, energetics and tacit behaviour. Visitors to Euphonia should prepare to be immersed in an ephemeral experience that will echo and resound in the mind for weeks to come.
An events programme accompanying the exhibition will share the research behind the making of Euphonia, and offer members of the public the opportunity to undertake their own vocal experiments and add their voices to the show.