River Voice ‘Sounding’ St George’s

River Voice Choir Sounding St George’s 15.02.14

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 Listening when singing is essential for choirs & involves variable levels of know you’re in tune with your vocal group (i.e. soprano, alto, tenor, bass), making sure you’re in tempo and occasionally (once you know the piece well enough!) listening to the whole sound. River Voice are a choir with a particular awareness of listening, many of their members are blind or have visual impairments which has egendered a heightened awareness of listening in the sighted choir members too.

I met River Voice during the Tania Holland/Jon Hering Lachrymose project at Turner Contemporary and had the pleasure of singing with them at xmas. I’d already had some interesting conversations with various members in rehearsals about sound & perception, discovering that Carla had already tried vOICe a little on her old Nokia phone.

I invited them to workshop the process of ‘Sounding’ that’s evolving through Trans:space. In my previous blog ‘Filtering Perception’ I described a workshop with Artlink Central where we attempted to develop a language to sonify objects. The aim of the River Voice workshop was to find sounds that might interpret or translate the architecture as well as the ‘sense of the place’ it’s surfaces, it’s volume & resonance and our embodiment of it as a whole.  I was also curioous to see how different it would be working with a group completely new to ‘sounding’ and if any common sonic vocabulary would emerge.

We were situated in the centre of a partially carpeted, large brick built, high wood raftered building with an arched roof space. To get us focused we began by singing tones and tuning in to each other. We followed this with a 360º/deep listening exercise and some vocalising of the immediate soundscape within and without the building to limber up our improvising voices. The choir’s normal focus is rehearsing their next concert repertoire so some lively discussion followed about how to move your focus around when listening, the meditative sensation of deeply listening, the complexity of multi-sensory perception & synaesthesia; this moved on to how we might sonify a sensory experience as well as actual physical matter. This required us to re-tune; out of the soundscape, in to the resonance of the space and to devise sounds that could express our sensory experience of being there. Some people described a sense of stillness, being a still small point in a vast space, perhaps like being on a beach with the tide far out. That this stillness was a kind of silence. For others listening & embodying made them want to make a sound that would travel up and out into the volume of space meeting it’s largeness and transcending the physical architecture akin to a swelling organ. We discussed how preconceptions might affect our perception. The following track includes some of that discussion and ends with us vocalising a description of both the sense of stillness and vastness opening out, exploring pitch, intonation and harmonics. It begins with one small hum that swells along the line as each person picks it up, and throngs and alters along the way.  We had a tea break and then made a second sounding evolved from the first, heard here in the following track.



St George’s Centre is the regular rehearsal space for River Voice so they have a degree of familiarity with it. We extended that familiarity in the second part of the workshop by vocalising in two different areas of the building; the original gated and domed ‘choir’ or alter area and the side ‘corridors’ – long narrow wooden floored, stone walled walkways that are adjoined to the main space by a series of arches, in order to explore how this might alter our vocal interpretations and to play vocally with the resonance of each new space. The following clip is the DoHng’ng’ng’ng’ng sound devised for the ‘alter’ space.


Finally we devised a partially gated almost compressed sound B – aaaaahr that travelled in an upwards curve, for the space under the arches.. finally triggering the choir back in to default song mode and a rendition of the Beach Boys Barbara Ann. The filter of memory in perception is seemingly never far away as our brain works to process and categorise our immediate experience of a place..


By the way, in addition to the ambient sounds of the building plus the wind and traffic outside, you’ll hear the odd scratch, snuffle, rattle & chink of the 3 working guide dogs.

Thanks River Voice..

One Response to “River Voice ‘Sounding’ St George’s”

  1. Mike Snarr Says:

    I attended the river voice quire workshop with Jane on the15th. During the workshop the participants were asked to sit in silence and listen to the sounds of the building and environment. During the listening I was getting annoyed with the two chaps that were setting out the tea as they clattered in and out of the kitchen disturbing our listening. I had to make a contentious effort to remind myself that that was exactly what we were supposed to be listening to. Within a few seconds my quietness and listening had become a meditation on my environment that the noise was disturbing and my perception of what the sounds of that environment should be had rail-roaded over what the sounds of the place actually were.