Speech Talks Back


In an act of listening-as-reading, “Speech Talks Back” theorizes about and narrativizes sonic work that uses public speech—recorded speeches, conversations, interviews, and testimonials—as its primary source: Gregory Whitehead’s “As We Know” (2004), Jane Philbrick’s “Common Prayer” (2001), and Steve Reich’s “Come Out” (1966). Placing these unique works side by side, with running commentary, recontextualizes them in light of the present moment.

“Speech Talks Back” leans on two distinct forms in audio culture—critical karaoke, in which the performer discusses the song instead of singing along with it, with the song playing behind the commentary and in the span of time it takes to listen to the song; and the walking tour, in which a prerecorded tour guide leads the listener through a specific space in order to narrate a particular history. The listener will often have to decide what to focus on—my commentary/audio tour or the sonic literature itself; this conflict fuels tensions in the work about how and to whom we listen to.