What we are up to

New installation at the Bluecoat

12/09/11 Live
by Nathan Jones

The Uncanny Valley is a new work by Holly Pester and Nathan Jones using the public address system at the Bluecoat to explore the tensions between poetic, authoritative and intimate voices, as part of their 2011 Chapter and Verse literature festival.  This work culminates in our Overlap EVP event on 16th October. Here Holly Pester discusses the strange voices that ask her to get bread...

We are spoken to all day everyday by anonymous voices. The bin says ‘thank you', the truck tells you it's reversing, and the train station warns us about unattended bags between announcing platforms. Sometimes it's machine voices programmed to sound cheerful and polite, sometimes it's human voices spoken by bored workers. It's getting hard to tell the difference. A computer voice is uncannily real; a real voice is eerily artificial. The ‘uncanny valley' is the space where the ambiguity of real and unreal becomes abhorrent, like a life-like robot with a sinister glitch. But while we're out and about, unintentionally entertaining these voices in our head, they all sound like the generic speech of public address. And then we check our voicemail and there's a message from a loved one reminding us to pick up some bread. All these hailing voices mingle and we realise there's a vague space between the speech of the loud speaker and the intimate spaces of conversation.

Just as there's an uncanny valley between computer and human voices, there's a vague connectivity between public and private language, between ‘I love you, buy some bread' and ‘The person stood next to you could be a terrorist, watch their bag'.

What would it do to set up a public address system that interchanged these ambiguities in familiar and unfamiliar modes of speech? Mixing the artificial with the real, and the public with the private. Where would the moments of the uncanny reveal themselves? If an artificial announcement in a public building told you, ‘you're lovely', would it be touching or sinister?

The Uncanny Valley will be live at the Bluecoat between 12th-16th October 2011

Electronic Voice Phenomina
is a showcase of artists using and mimicing electronic processing in vocal performance. Feat. Mark Leahy, Holly Pester, Emma Bennet, Soriah and new work from Nathan Jones and Tom Rea Smith. 8pm, Sunday 16th October, tickets £5 from the Bluecoat.