Public Engagement

 Bloomsbury Festival, 22 October 2016

Beyond Words event in the UCL Front Quad. This event was part of Bloomsbury Festival 2016.
‘Beyond Words’ in the UCL Front Quad. This event was part of Bloomsbury Festival 2016.

A collaboration between speech scientists Outi Tuomainen and Valerie Hazan  and sound artist Thor McIntyre-Burnie (ASWARM) resulted in the creation of a sound installation entitled Clang Bang Swoosh Boom which was exhibited at the Bloomsbury Festival as part of the Beyond Words day of events based at UCL. Our installation aimed to focus attention on how we adapt our speech to communicate effectively in an increasingly noisy world. It also highlighted how noisy environments particularly affect communication in children and older adults.

The team: sound artist Thor McIntyre-Burnie and speech scientists Outi Tuomainen and Valerie Hazan
Getting the final touches right on the Clang Bang Swoosh Boom installation

The sound materials used in the installation were extracted from the speech corpora collected within our ESRC-funded projects on speech communication in adverse conditions in children and adults. Each of four audio channels within the installation played the voice of either a child, young or older adult. In our speech corpora, they had been recorded while carrying out the diapix task and describing the same picture to their conversational partner who was hearing distorted speech. Further audio channels were added that periodically added environmental noises or other voices emanating from some of the objects in the installation.

Audio mixer showing the multiple channels with individual voices describing the same picture and environmental noises.

A short example of an audio mix with the voices of two girls, one young and one older woman describing one of our ‘street’ scenes to their conversational partner who is having difficulty hearing them. 

The diapix picture they were describing in the recordings. The diapixUK set of pictures were created by Dr Rachel Baker.

In the example above, you can hear all four voices mixed together;  in the sound installation itself, each voice was heard through one of the horns, additional voices came through transducers placed under the white seats, and environmental sounds were played out of two further speakers. The spatial separation enabled members of the public to walk around the installation in order to tune into one particular voice as well as to sit in the white seats and get the full sensation of hearing multiple voices and noises coming from the 6 speakers as well as the seats themselves! The pictures from the diapix ‘spot the difference’ task used in the recordings were around the room and audience members were invited to guess which picture the four voices were describing.

Beyond Words was attended by several thousand people and a steady stream of members of the public of all ages came to experience our sound installation. Outi, Valerie and Thor were on hand to discuss the work and the science behind it with the audience. A leaflet describing ‘The Science behind Clang Bang Swoosh Boom‘, with a short biography of members of our team was also distributed.


Members of the public experiencing our installation at the Bloomsbury Festival


Close up of one of the sound horns


Credits: The speech recordings used in this sound installation were collected as part of ESRC-funded projects  ES/L007002/1 and RES-062-23-3106. We received a public engagement grant from UCL Culture towards the costs of creating this installation. This installation also included Aswarm works created with support from Nutkhut.