Critique: Olivia Webb

Olivia Webb Choir Of The Self 2016

 Critique Olivia Webb

May 19, 2016, 11am

Audio Foundation

3 Poynton Terrace


For this exhibition OLIVIA invites listeners/viewers to interact with the some of the artworks, so please feel free and encouraged sound your own voice!

The Choir of the Self is the latest iteration of the on-going sound and performance series, Scale. This new work builds upon the preceding iteration of the series which explored WEBB’s experience of the congregation at St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral in Auckland, taking form as a multi-channel sound installation.1 In this busy central city church, people from different cultural groups negotiate their culture and their individual musical traditions and histories through a Catholic, Western music framework. WEBB studied examples of musical scales from four different music traditions present in the congregation: the Indian Bhairavi Rāga; the Indonesian Pelog Gamelan scale; the Chinese Qing Shang hexatonic scale; and the Korean p’yŏngjo pentatonic scale. She made recordings of herself singing these scales and a Western C-Major scale which play through individual speakers as a multi-channel sound installation. The scales are coupled with a Gregorian chant sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit) transposed into the four non-Western musical scale systems represented in each speaker. The result is a homophonic rendition of a traditionally monophonic chant; a chance based composition that includes many tight tone clusters and non-traditional harmonies.

This new exhibition brings to the forefront a polyphony of experiences – transposed, transcribed and performed as new works for the sung voice. Through this on-going exploration the sung voice is heard to express meaning beyond spoken communication; thus revealing the complexity of the everyday negotiation of our ‘self’ in space.

As an ongoing project, Scale considers an experience familiar to us all: the negotiation of the ‘self’ in social space. In his book, A Voice and Nothing More, Mladen Dolar describes this ubiquitous use of the voice in everyday communication, stating:

“We use our voices, and we listen to voices, at every moment; all our social life is mediated by the voice…. We constantly inhabit the universe of voices, we are continuously bombarded by voices…. There are the voices of other people, the voices of music, the voices of media, our own voice intermingled with the lot. All those voices are shouting, whispering, crying, caressing, threatening, imploring, seducing, commanding, pleading, praying, hypnotizing, confessing, terrorizing, declaring . . .– we can immediately see a difficulty into which any treatment of the voice runs: namely, that the vocabulary is inadequate. …[S]inging takes the distraction of the voice seriously, and turns the tables on the signifier; it reverses the hierarchy – let the voice take the upper hand, let the voice be the bearer of what cannot be expressed with words.”2

NB: This exhibition aligns with the latest release of the Writing Around Sound journal3, produced by the CSSA. This May 2016 issue includes a short essay by OLIVIA WEBB about the themes in this exhibition.


  1.  For more info on Scale please see:
  2.  Dolar, M. (2006). A Voice and Nothing More. pp. 13-30. United States of America: MIT Press Books.
  3. See:


OLIVIA WEBB lives in Wellington, New Zealand where she teaches singing and is studying toward her PhD. She has performed and exhibited internationally as an artist and vocalist, and enjoys singing early polyphonic music with her local choir each week.

Her sound oriented art practice draws on experiences had as a classical choral singer, utilising performance and multi-channel sound installation to explore our experience of space; both architectural and social. Her focus centres on the human voice, particularly through a cappella song, as a way of revealing and ushering forth silent traditions and experiences embodied in space and place.

The Choir of the Self
Opens Thursday 5 May, 5.30pm, with refreshments provided by Liberty Brewing!
Gallery open 12 – 4pm, Tuesday – Saturday.
Closes Saturday 28 June 4.00pm.

text sourced from


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