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Chelsea Whispers and Other Listening Inaccuracies


Chelsea Whispers and Other Listening Inaccuracies.

Maryclare Foá PhD

Drawing: Recording and Discovery

At Melbourne’s Drawing Out 2010, I proposed that sound can be a material to draw through and interact with place.  As a practical component of my presentation, conference participants took part in a collaborative Driftsinging through The Old Melbourne Goal, exploring a vocal interaction with place. I propose for UAL’s Drawing Out 2012 another sounding of place, but this time focusing on the problems of recording and discovery through word of mouth.

In the process of recording, the problematic issue of perceiving the world, from one point of view carries the possibility of all manner of mistakes. Just as the visual can be mistakenly interpreted; so the meaning of sound can also evade the listener. Debating a recent conference with colleagues, we realized we had heard the speaker differently, interpreting the focus variably as Deep drawing: intensity of drawing; De-drawing: omitting drawing from the work, and de drawing: of drawing. No doubt the speaker would identify the correct interpretation, yet more than mistaken interpretations, our mis-hearings might also evidence in the variability of reception, a contribution of concepts and discoveries, to the process of recording an event. 

Following a short presentation relating numerous visual and spoken misinterpretations, and in which I propose to employ a listening device (a portable foxhole radio), to experiment with and example the problem of hearing sound waves, I will invite conference participants to collaborate in a practical sound drawing workshop. I will also invite conference participants to contribute to the Chelsea Whispering workshop a chosen text responding to this site of multilayered histories. And as further evidence of the process of recording and discovery I propose to document the workshop proceedings and to make available the recording for display during the final conference day.

The practical workshop will consist of a number of choreographed positionings in which participants will pass whispers from one to another around the Chelsea quadrant. This hushed sounding of place might be interpreted as a drawing mapping place, and interacting with the material of place, while also revealing the problematic and unstable issue of interpretation and recording. Yet the unpredictable process of sounding in place, listening and interpreting, also allows for the serendipity of contributed concepts and discoveries, in which the whispers will be discovered in multiple translations and reinterpretations.  

The Drawing Out Committee responded to this Chelsea Whispers abstract (above) as follows “...your proposed paper has been accepted for online publication (openly accessible and licensed under creative commons license attribution, non commercial) through the conference web site but not for presentation at the conference.”


A Reconfiguring Of The Abstract. Drawing: Writing And Recording

A Paper for virtual space

The sound of the inner voice and the danger of a single viewpoint


Altered requirements prescribe that I re-configure my initial live performance concept, into an online paper. Therefore the sonic collaborative performance, examining site and addressing how miss-hearings can revise perceptions of place, will now be changed to suite the virtual dimension in the following manner.

The process; the written word, will activate the sound of the readers inner voice, and the material; the backlit computer screen, will serve as a physical environment for the reader while at the same time the content of the text will offer the reader an imagined environment to inhabit. In this way the reader’s inner voice will be the sonic material conjured from the physical place to interact with the imagined space. It can be said therefore that this reconfigured proposal, will employ a sonic interaction (the readers inner voice), within a two dimensional environment (the imagined environment conjured through the text).

Adriana Cavarero in her text For More Than One Voice: Towards a Philosophy of Vocal Expression (Cavarero 2005)[i] addresses Derrida’s text concerning ‘the speaker who hears himself speak’ (Derrida 1973)[ii]. Cavarero understands Derrida as believing that when the speaker hears himself speaking ‘the proximity between speech and meaning disappears’ (Cavarero page 221) Cavarero addresses this idea through phenomenology realising that ‘the circuit between the voice and ear of a subject who hears himself speak – does not seem to imply any space…outside of consciousness…[and] Captured in the present of its interior time, consciousness claims to be detached from external space, and, thus from the world.’(Cavarero page 221).  I would offer that in the sound of their own voice the speaker also ‘hears’, the sonic vibrations of the bones in their own head woven through with distortions of tinnitus and sounds from outside their own body. In this way no sonic wave emitted from a body can be understood as an internal singular noise disconnected from the world.  Despite Cavarero’s assertion that the reader’s spoken experience of text and their consciousness is detached from the world, she also realises how Derrida in his concern with language and speech opens up the possibilities of various types of space within written language  ‘… that writing belongs to the order of space and that by definition the written sign is external’.(Cavarero page 222). In so far as the written word can be described as external I would also suggest that despite its own internal existence, the unspoken internal reading voice (being heard in the readers mind’s ear), while traversing the written word can be understood to be sonically travelling in an external environment. Therefore through reading the following text Memory 1, 2, 3, in which an incident is described in three different ways, the reader will experience that incident internally and sonically within their personal consciousness, and also within the external environment of the written text.

Through a selection of different recollections of the incident, the instability of a single viewpoint will be demonstrated, and the reader; being invited to conjure into their minds eye these versions of a truth, can construct from the information their own event with which to sonically interact. The reader’s experience of multiple truths and sonic interactions may also contribute to their reinterpretation of the Chelsea environment.

As Michel Chion in his text Audio Vision; Sound on screen, tells us ‘we see... with our ears’ (Chion 1994) [iii], through listening pictures are conjured into our mind. Chion also tells us '…sound, contrary to sight, presupposes movement from the outset.' (Chion 1994) Thus, the reading voice (the noise of the inner voice in the minds ear) dictated by the direction of the text, will travel in a certain manner through the written environment and the environment of conjured imagery. Shadowing the text this inner voice will echo various descriptions, and mimic the sense of habitation through Chelsea’s physical site, space and place. The event inaccurately documented by the author, may or may not be an imagined reality, or simply a misinterpretation of a fleeting uncanny occurrence.  Truth is not important in relation to the incident described; it is more useful that the reader be offered a scene to conjure into their mind’s eye and ear, and with which to experience variable interpretations of persons and actions within the Chelsea locality. In this way; the reader’s journey through this paper, sounded by their inner voice into their mind’s ear, and visualized by their imagination into their mind’s eye; will be an internal visual and sonic process interacting with a sequence of momentary conjured and shifting scenes within the Chelsea locality.


An Accompanying Soundtrack Contributing To The Narrative Layering Of Place.


'You wish to see, listen. Hearing is a step towards vision' Saint Bernard of Clairvaux 1090-1153.

Because this two-dimensional backlit screen might be uncomfortably mute for some who travel this reading journey alone, I will insert among the text a number of sonic suggestions to accompany the reading voice. Consider these sonic options as components of a possible accompanying soundtrack, available to be activated if required- either in harmony with the inner reading voice, or as additional sonic narrative to weave through the Chelsea space, or, as an opportunity to rest from reading and to listen to an alternative narrative during the pause. (Tyson 2002)[iv] This list of sonic events references the process of Mythogeography[v]. Invented by artist and member of the Performance Collective Rites and Sites, Phil Smith. Smith understanding the value of layered narrative of place, invented the term Mythogeography, as a process of being in and experiencing place while also contributing personal associations to a site and or place as additional layers to be woven into the his and her stories of that environment. In this way every physical site place and space is multilayered, and has the potential of additional layerings depending on the visitor, inhabitant or passerby.

A correlation between the process of drawing and the inner reading voice

Described as a “primacy”(Petherbridge 2010)[vi], a “history of experience”, a “means of searching for identity”(Plackman 1972-78)[vii], and an “instinctive activity as fundamental to human life as eating and drinking”,(Graham-Dixon 2006)[viii] drawing might be understood as humankind’s innate desire to mark or map evidence of self in relation to the other. I am here, thinking and making. This instinctive process is as “old as song” and can be described as a method of “discovery” (Berger 2007)[ix].  Perhaps marking surfaces (the method of conventional drawing) began with a toe pressed into sand, or a stick trail through mud for others to follow. Today practitioners expand the idea of drawing beyond a surface. Makers, thinkers and dreamers, now explore time based media, sound and space as materials to draw with and through; and this process is no longer confined to fine arts but occurs throughout all types of disciplines. Just as drawing itself exists within many areas of humankind’s manufacture, curator and writer on drawing Catherine de Zegher observes that definitions of the English word ‘draw’ seemingly permeate many aspects of life’.. To draw out (to extract … to outline),to draw from (to abstract), to draw in (to entice), to draw down (to deplete), to draw up (to draft into form) and so on (Foá 2006)[x]. If we understand drawing as a method of intentionally marking or moving through surface and or place, then the process of drawing is woven very deeply into our lives within industry, language, memory, dreaming and so on (Foá 2011).[xi] While investigating possible relations between the processes of writing, reading and drawing, it is interesting to note that the English language employs the word ‘draw’ for many different uses. Also significant is John Berger’s idea that drawing (from observation) is a process of discovery. With these issues in mind (multiple meanings of the word draw, and discovery through observation), I propose that as the reader of this text you are drawing and also being drawn into. Here is the correlation between the process of drawing and the inner reading voiceFirstly you are drawing by reading the words held to this backlit surface. Your eyes being led from left to right along a number of sequential lines are engaged in the process of observational drawing. You are looking and discovering more through seeing what you are looking at. And secondly your reading inner voice is drawing in sound through the environment of the text. And then it could also be argued that at the same time as you are engaged in this activity of drawing through reading this text; I (presenting this text for you to read) am drawing into you in three different ways. Firstly I draw your eyes back and forth across the page; secondly through the process of reading this text, ideas are DRAWN OUT from the surface of this screen, thirdly the text I write draws ideas into your mind’s eye and also through the activation of your inner reading voice, sounds are drawn into your minds ear. So here we are together, collaboratively drawing through this virtual environment of words.


Preparing to recall the incident: taking you to draw out.

I would now like to ‘draw you out’ into a city.Come to Vauxhall South London, past the Mi5 building, over the Bridge to the Thames’s Northern embankment, and picture this; a middle aged lady on a green bicycle riding along John Islip Street towards Chelsea college of art. She is braving the traffic and she is imagining a trail from her bicycle wheels leading four miles behind her, all the way back to Peckham. This trail is a drawing of her journey interlacing with other people’s journeys and has become in her imagination, a dense lattice contributing to a multiple collaborative ongoing intervention with place. As she turns into John Islip Street she is imagining this enormous ever moving growing multiple layered drawing when she catches sight of an unusual scene.

(sonic pause - A Blackbird singing in an autumn wood, near Canterbury,1170)

Some years have passed since this green bicycle drawing imagining, the person who initially experienced the event in question asks to remain anonymous and selects to remember the occasion in the form of a letter. Because memory can be mistaken the reader will be offered three different versions of this tale, thereby allowing for personal selection according to individual preference, towards constructing their own interpretation of the event, site and narrative of place. While following their imagined images of place and events the reader will be listening to the sound of their inner reading voice (with selected sound accompaniments as desired). Perhaps then this is some sort of sonic interaction with place – and if sound can be a drawing then this can also be a type of Drawing Out. (sonic pause: A train at night crossing an American landscape,1800).

                                               Britain the Bicycle       Foá  2012


Memory 1

Dear Stephen Spielberg

Was it you? – a few years ago – standing between two black range rovers with a clutch of tall suited men- one Saturday morning  next to Tate Britain London UK?

I was riding my bicycle across the street to the College of Art, preparing to teach a short course (practical methods to trigger creative processes). I saw you Mr Spielberg and thought – The story mandoes he know about this place? (the his and her stories from prison to hospital to college of art). Does he know about the steps of tears (leading into the Thames)-the ship bollards (either side of the road) the P.O.Ms (Prisoners of Milbank) and the deportation from this very site to Australia?  or is he only here to walk those corridors of Art?

(sonic pause; Waves lapping onto a Papuan Coral island,1983).

It flashed through my mind to call out “Picture this Mr Spielberg- the rich narrative here; ripe for storyboarding motion and dream” but then suddenly one of the tall men looked straight at me nodded his head and threw me a wink – it took me completely off guard- there I was, mid fifties, of unfashionable frame, stopped short by a wink.  (Are bodyguards trained to wink at strangers? Could this strategy be deployed en mass and become a method – to wink away the nuisances of the world?). 

(sonic pause; A cat purring in December,1999).

I was disarmed by the wink so suddenly catching my eye, it fixed me to the spot–one drop of one eye lid – and you Mr Spielberg; in your baseball hat and your blue jeans drifted away, while I, I was left turning slowly watching the world swim around me in a blur of winking and memories – youth, sweet energy and hearts full of hope.

(sonic pause; Cumbrian farmer calling his cows for milking, 5am July 20th 1956).

Was it you Mr Spielberg? or did I imagine in my mind’s eye a vignette playing itself out between the Chelsea quadrant and the Tate full of Art- another layer contributing to that multiple narrative of site long after Joseph Banks thought of Botany Bay and months after Fiona Banner landed her shiny silver Harrier. A middle aged woman on her bicycle, a Hollywood film director and a tall winking man; the momentary performance between these three characters was not quite an interaction more a fleeting ripple of separate journeys nudging each other as they passed in time.

(sonic pause; Afternoon call for prayer, Palestine 2012).

It could be said that this brief ripple traced a thread into a tapestry of life lines written into this place- art makers art shakers and art hangers on, soldiers wounded mending and dying, medics surgeons doctors and nurses, judges lawyers juries and wardens, the accused and imprisoned, victims and villains, and all and each one of their friends and relations- everyone’s story separate and together from one to another, time passing time.

(sonic pause; The Radio 4 midnight shipping news heard on the bridge of an ice breaker, travelling from the Arctic into the North Sea-September 1981)

Would that these lives could each hear one another- a sharing of visions a mixing of minds– perhaps more listening and talking between times and peoples might go some way towards shifting our everyday plod and satiate our desire to be surprised beyond ordinary thinking, to change our view point and to alter our stance- perhaps then we might all wink with youthful energy have our hearts full of hope and be working our dreams.

(sonic pause; Hurricane winds over the west coast of Scotland,1987).

Was it you Mr Spielberg is it you in this story? Will you picture for us this layering of lives? 

(sonic pause; Benedictine Monks - Solesmes Abbey France singing plainsong 1600).


 Memory 2

Dear Phenste Bergspiel

A few years ago – Was it?  You standing with a clutch of two black rovers between range Saturday men, one tall suited Tate morning London next UK?

Britain my bicycle was riding the street across the College of teach Art, to short to preparing (a course) processes practical methods creative.

 (sonic pause: A polar bear charging across the landing strip - Resolute Bay 1986)

I trigger you Mr Bergspiel does he know about The thought man from hospital of art? this story place and college prison – I saw (the heris stories).

The steps of tears to either side of the road does he know about leading the ship bollards into the Thames from Australia? or is he only here to walk those Art P.O.Ms and the Prisoners of very Milbank galleries? this site of - (the deportation.)

(sonic pause; Beethoven’s 5th Symphony; New York Philharmonic Lincoln Centre 1976).

… mind flashed ripe rich Mr Bergspiel- this motion for Picture and through the dream” but then suddenly storyboarding call at me straight narrative out here the tall man threw one of me completely his nodded head looking mid fifties there, I was frame(d) off guard and a wink wink stopped it took me short, by unfashionable bodyguards. Could strangers en mass wink and become the nuisances of the world at a trained method ……..etcetera, etcetera .

(sonic pause; A ferry- on a windy day - approaching Robben Island 1985).


 Memory 3

Dear Mid fifties on a bicycle

Was it you of unfashionable frame? – a few years ago – skidding to a halt, nearly falling over the handlebars in the middle of the road – we saw your scarves (almost Isadora) all red and orange and little gold tassles–- we were on the pavement between two black range rovers; me with my clutch of tall suited men- the road between you and us wasn’t quite wide enough - the boys came in closer to shield me - one Saturday morning  next to Tate Britain London UK.

(sonic pause; Football crowd roaring a goal-the world cup match Mexico 1987)

It flashed through my mind when you turned into the road to call out to my boys “watchout to the left  – strange and unbalanced coming this way” – but Max my tallest most beloved was already standing between you and me – like a brick wall – I whispered to him “let her have your left shooter” and saw his eye drop straight at you –– Max can stop a cavalry at fifty paces – it works every time -you were floored before you even knew what had happened - and I – I just lifted off the pavement - circled the boys a couple of times and flew away –

(sonic pause-; Nina Simone singing My Baby Just Cares for Me, lower Manhattan1958) and

fade to close

The author thanks you ( the reader) for your collaboration in this investigation of a written and imagined environment, and hopes that you might have experienced a number of reinterpretations of place and space, through your internal sonic reflections.


[i] Adriana Cavarero For More Than One Voice: Towards a Philosophy of Vocal Expression, Stanford University Press, California 2005

[ii] Jacque Derrida, Speech and Phenomena, trans David Allison, Evaston: Northwestern University Press 1973 page 80

[iii] Michel Chion, Audio Vision; Sound on Screen, Chichester, New York, Columbia University Press, 1994, p.9

[iv] The list of sonic suggestions offered as accompanying soundtrack to the reader’s inner voice is inspired by Keith Tyson’s The Yellow Collider, a wall drawing consisting of pieces of text describing objects and places in time to conjure images into the viewers mind’s eye. The Yellow Collider was exhibited in Tyson’s 2002 South London Gallery Exhibition Supercollider named after the CERN particle accelerator.

[v] Phil Smith Mythogeography , Axminster, Triarchy Press, 2010.

[vi] Deanna Petherbridge, The Primacy of Drawing; histories and theories of practice, Yale University Press: 2010

[viii] Andrew Graham-Dixon, The Secret of Drawing series of four TV programs; 1) The Line of enquiry, 2) Storylines, 3) All in the Mind, 4) Drawing by Design. BBC October 2006. YouTube

[ix] John Berger, Berger on Drawing, Cork, Occasional Press: 2007. p. 3 &109.

[x] Transcribed by the author from notes and audio recordings made during the conference With A Single Mark, Tate Britain, 19 May 2006.

[xi] This paragraph is an extract from an online review for Studio International (by this papers author aka M.K.Palomar) of the exhibition The 43 Uses of Drawing held at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum September 2011.


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