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The Master's Voice (2001 - )

Go to Gallery Page The Master's Voice
Related EntriesPublished ResourcesAudio Visual Gallery
Outdoor Installation and Permanent Installation
Location: Canberra City Walk, ACT, Australia
Installation by Sonia Leber & David Chesworth

The Master's Voice is Canberra's first permanent soundscape artwork, commissioned by ACT Government Public Art Program. It was created by artists Sonia Leber and David Chesworth in association with h2O architects.

A low wall snakes along the edge of a small park at the eastern end of City Walk, and into this wall the artists have inserted a rhythmic series of stainless steel grids from which sounds emanate, creating an unanticipated 'sonic event space' along the urban park walkway. Each new visit reveals different aspects of the changing soundscape.

'The Master's Voice' is a playful and engaging artwork created from the personalised, intimate vocalisations of people talking to their animals. People walking past the wall trigger these unexpected calls and commands - but with the sounds of the animals edited out, the voices seem to be calling out directly to the passersby: beckoning, controlling, coaxing. The addressee has been changed and visitors find themselves implicated in the work.

There are many curious and wonderfully inventive ways that people have developed to communicate with animals, especially with working animals and pets. 'The Master's Voice' includes many field recordings made by the artists at a variety of locations including farms, parks, training schools, zoos, veterinary practices and animal shows.

Leber and Chesworth are interested in the juxtaposition of these personalised, intimate vocalisations in an urban, public space surrounded by commercial and government buildings. In this place - called 'Civic' no less - the work is not so much about the nature of the park but about the relationship of 'citizens' to their 'civic spaces'.

Visual Elements

The visual design is a resourceful enhancement of the existing site conditions. The stainless steel inserts are flush-mounted in rhythmic stages along the wall and pathway, responding to the interplay of existing elements: the curvature of the wall and pathway and the change in level between the pathway and walkway on either side of the wall. The rhythmic spacing of the inserts along the wall accompanies the journey of the pedestrians along the path, further emphasising the curvature of the wall.

The top of the stainless steel inserts sets up a horizontal datum, which loosely corresponds to the level of the upper walkway. The folded junction in the inserts between the wall and ground articulates the changes in level.

Technical Details

Eight loudspeakers are positioned at intervals at a low height along the wall, corresponding to eight of the stainless steel inserts. By using multiple loudspeakers, the overall volume is kept quite low. The aim is to provide an intimate, close-proximity listening experience for pedestrians near the wall, with the volume falling away as people move away from the wall.

The system uses two Digital Soundstores to deliver sound to eight individual weather-resistant loudspeakers housed within the wall behind stainless steel panels. Two motion sensors allow the work to be triggered by the movement of people approaching the wall.

The soundscape operates daily during daylight hours. It is only heard when sensors are triggered by visitors walking past the wall; otherwise the system is silent, awaiting new passersby.

NAWIC 2002 Award for Outstanding Achievement in Design

"The work ... trips up passers-by, induces double-takes, private puzzled glances ... It addresses us directly... these calls are full of questions, invitations to conversation, spaces for exchange; there's this urge for an interchange...

"The 'sensible' inflections of speech get stretched into wild glisses and warbling melisma; syllables shorten into abstract sonic punctuation ... these candid, charged interspecies moments emerge from inconspicuous slots in a mallscape; their sonic shapes stand out against the 'public' murmur of social verbosity."
Mitchell Whitelaw, RealTime No.46, Sydney, December 2001

stop it
tell me, tell me
who's that?
can you sit down?
listen to me
don't be so slack
can you talk?
good boy walk on
what's this?
just walking
what are you doing?
don't be frightened
whoa whoa
stand still
what's the matter with you today?

Related Entries for The Master's Voice



Works by Same Artist

Top of Page
Published Resources

Newspaper Articles

  • Whitelaw, Mitchell, 'Sit, Ubu, Sit. Good Dog', Real Time, no. 46, December, 2001. [ Details... ]

Radio Interviews

  • James, Bruce, The Masterís Voice, Interview on Arts Today, ABC Radio National, 1 November, 2001. [ Details... ]

Prepared by: Iain Mott
Created: 25 August 2003
Modified: 8 September 2003

Published by The University of Melbourne
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: i.mott@unimelb.edu.au
Prepared by: Acknowledgements
Updated: 18 January 2007

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