The Sounds of These Words

The Sounds of These Words (1990 4 minutes) ▶︎

Commissioned as part of Television Interventions a Fields & Frames Production for Channel 4 Television

The television series of TV Interventions, 19:4:90, was a different matter all together. Inspired by David Hall’s 7 TV Pieces of 1971, Steve Partridge came up with the idea of making short works to celebrate Glasgow as Europe’s Cultural Capital in 1990. In the same way as the TV Pieces appeared on Scottish Television in 1971, these would crop up within the stream of programming and be repeated as many times as possible. Channel 4 seemed the obvious place. Although Jeremy Isaacs had left for the delights of Covent Garden, Mike Bolland, whom he had appointed originally as commissioning editor for youth, now held high position. I had worked with Mike whilst at the BBC and knew that he was still a bit of a renegade. The fact that he was also Scottish helped no doubt. We were greatly encouraged when Mike agreed to the principles of the idea and the commission went ahead. Unfortunately Mike left soon after and the project was taken over by Waldemar Januszczak, the arts commissioning editor. Whilst the individual works received no interference, Waldemar insisted that the series be introduced overall and each work prefaced by a graphic to be used for all the Glasgow celebration programmes. Imagine our glee when Waldemar’s introduction ‘fell’ off the air and had to be re-scheduled.

The Sounds of These Words was Partridge’s four minute intervention. For this new work SP used another TV convention – the talking head – one of the most ubiquitous images on television. Here some of the statements made by the woman are displayed on the screen as text which is then animated and manipulated. An extreme close-up of the mouth speaking is slowed down, almost to a stop, and then speeded up to a fast rate so that the appreciation of the lips forming the words is heightened. The play between the spoken word, the animated text and the act of speaking are brought together with an assured and telling touch. The English language is capable of great subtlety and we have many and various way of expressing what we wish to say compared with other languages. We measure our words carefully not always just to be truthful (or not) but to shape them according to how we think they may be received. For me The Sounds of These Words brings these questions into sharp focus.” – Anna Ridley

“Many strands unite in The Sounds of These Words, 1990, a piece made – and shown – for tv broadcast as another kind of ‘intervention’, but which demands repeated viewing. Its portrait head is ‘a speaking likeness’ in the realist tradition, but streams of text and sampled sound are used to digitally rescore the typographic revolution of the early modernists, from Marinetti to Cage and concept art, for the age of audiovisual technology and semiotics. The facts that the speaker is audibly a Scot gives the work a precise location and context (it was made for the Glasgow Festival of that year by an artist long resident in Scotland). The fact that the speaker is a woman is also central to the meaning of the video, splitting the logic of the male maker’s gaze and passing the work into the diverse and gendered community of viewers who are its audience.” – Al Rees

Installed in the exhibition Current | Contemporary Art from Scotland, Shanghai Mingsheng Art Museum, 2016-2017 
Article in Videographic Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 9, April 1990