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Sonia Leber and David Chesworth

5000 Calls
Sydney Olympic Park commission, 2000-ongoing
24 channel audio, 80 speakers, programmed sound files

The work has subsequently been installed in Cardiff (2002) and Ljubljana (2003)
listen to excerpt (4')

About the Work
5000 Calls is a large-scale multi-channel sound installation installed throughout the Urban Forest, an extensive 4.5 hectare loose grid of eucalyptus trees surrounding the Stadium Australia in Sydney.

The ever-changing soundscape utilises 5000 human vocalisations uncovered from everyday life: the sighs, gasps and groans of work, pleasure, sport, song and struggle. 5000 Calls particularly utilises the charged vocalisations of people in extreme physical states.

The 'sense' of speech has been removed from these everyday recordings to reveal a soundscape of human effort.

We have long been fascinated with the acoustic texture and the dynamic range of the human voice - beyond the speech content - its rhythms, sounds, shape, tone and frequency. We are particularly fascinated with the many 'proto-linguistic' vocalisations that people make. These are the sounds we make prior to - or instead of - articulating through language, where meanings are made without recourse to semantics or syntax. Where communication is through the 'shape' of speech, rather than speech content.

The imposing architectural edifice of the Stadium Australia dominates the site for the work. Around the exterior of the stadium, the tree-filled Urban Forest functions as a threshold, traversed by crowds of up to 100,000 people at a time, often in excited, anticipatory states.

The artwork is designed as an ever-changing 'crowd system', constantly changing over time. It reflects the many types of acoustic phenomena which arise from large crowds, in a changing chorus of sound created from a large numbers of individual sources.

A customised computer program allows the different calls to interact with each other at different times, heard through the 80 speakers discreetly placed around the site. The work is supple and shifting as the different vocalisations intersect in different ways, in different densities and patterns of distribution.

As you move through the Urban Forest you hear short fragments of many voices captured while performing numerous tasks - from the calls of weightlifters, gymnasts, footballers and cricketers to fragments of Vietnamese river chants and the singing of Aboriginal children. The charged atmosphere of the Maori haka is there, along with the voices of stockmen herding cattle and the slow breathing of a dancer. The soundscape portrays a sonic inscription of the body: stressing, straining, singing, exclaiming.

Commissioned by the Sydney Olympic Park Public Art Program to be part of the permanent built environment, it can be heard daily during daylight hours.

NAWIC 2000 Arup Award for Achievement in Design

Philippe Régnier, The Art Newspaper No. 105, London, July 2000

‘Public art too often devolves into compromised cliché as vested interests ‘negotiate’ the outcome. 5000 Calls survives this process and demonstrates a role for new media arts in this area.’
Paul Brown, RealTime No. 36, Sydney, April 2000

‘5000 Calls...comes as a complete surprise both in its functioning and in what it says about the inclusive possibilities for the creation of public art in highly visible venues...
It utterly transgresses presumptions of the monumental generally associated with privileged outdoor sites... 5000 Calls literally haunts the site, blurring the delineation of public and private, presence and absence, celebration and distress.’
Alex Gawronski, Real Time No. 40, Sydney, December 2000

‘5000 Calls is at once the most evocative and evasive of all the works here.’
Felicity Fenner, Art in America, May 2001

Grrr! Ahh! O-o-o!
Mmm... Sshh!
Oh! Oi!
Unnh! Oof!
Ow! Gahhhh!
Hey! N-n-no!
aaaaaaah...! AAAHHH!
mm, nuh!
Oo, oo-!
Gah! ah!
Oooo! aah!
pah! shhh!
eeerr! ooh...

5000 Calls is built up around 5000 voice fragments recorded by the artists in real world situations, such as...

Sound Sources

AUCTION / Cyclic appeals of auctioneers

BREATHING EQUIPMENT / Assisted breathing using aqualung, hospital respirator

CATTLE HERDING / Male and female stockmen / Central Queensland

CHILDBIRTH / Mothers' labour at the moment of birth

CHILD IN BATH / Imitating aeroplanes, cars and ships

DANCING / Tentative breathing while rehearsing a new work

DEAFBLIND SIGNING / Spontaneous vocalisations while communicating in sign language

DEFENCE FORCES / Parade calls, artillery drill, commando unit

DIGGING A WELL / Hollering calls of a work chant / Bangladesh

DOG OBEDIENCE SCHOOL / Short commands to animals; sounds of encouragement

FIRST BREATH / Kane Myers and Honor Enright-Miller / Recorded by their fathers

HEALING SOUNDS / Taoist healing sounds for lung, kidney, liver, heart and spleen

HOTEL / Overheard adult laughter and play / Kings Cross

MARKETPLACE / Intoned, rhythmic invitations to come and buy / Victoria Market

MORNING PRAYERS / Holy man chanting Hindu mantras on the Ganges / Varanasi, India

MOURNING / Woman mourning outside hospital / Kampot, Cambodia

PAINTING A PORTRAIT / Sounds of thinking, gasps and laughter

PROTEST / Students protest against uranium mining; Rally for Aboriginal land rights

REHABILITATION HOSPITAL / Stroke patients and their therapists

RENOVATING A KITCHEN / Sounds of thinking during heavy labour

SHEEP MUSTER / Vocal signals and whistles to sheep dogs

STREET CALLS / Calls from the streets of Brooklyn, Sydney and New Delhi

STUDENT PARTY / Late-night shouts heard over the fence

TIDAL WAVE DESCRIPTION / Survivors imitating the sound of the tsunami / Papua New Guinea

YOGA / Slow meditative breathing and chanting

Sports Sources

ATHLETICS / Track & Field at Australian Institute of Sport (AIS)

AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE / Grand Final crowd, Essendon v Carlton

BASEBALL / U/14’s Grand Final

BASKETBALL / Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Women's and Men's teams

BEACH VOLLEYBALL / Women's World Open, Italy v US at Melbourne Park

CRICKET / International Ashes series, Sheffield Shield and suburban matches

DRAGON BOAT RACING / Footscray Canoe Club on Maribyrnong River

GRADE ONE THREE-LEGGED RACE / Caulfield South Primary sports day

GYMNASTICS / Coach's calls / Australian Institute of Sport, Welsh Institute of Sport

HOCKEY / Welsh Women's Hockey Team, Cardiff

KICK BOXING / Fitzroy Stars Aboriginal Community Youth Club gym

LAWN BOWLS / Doncaster Bowling Club

NETBALL / AIS Netball team

RUGBY LEAGUE / Sydney City Roosters in training: rob the nest, defence shuttle drill

RODEO / Yeehah's from the crowd / Melbourne Park

ROWING / AIS Women's Pairs, Women's 8s, cox's calls

RUGBY UNION / Australian schoolboy’s state teams championships

SKATEBOARDING / Teenage skateboarders

SOCCER / U/12s, U/8 coach losing her voice, Falcons women’s team

SOCCER WORLD CUP QUALIFIER / Australia v Iran, 1997

TENNIS / Australian Open 1999

VOLLEYBALL / AIS Women's and Men's teams

WATERPOLO / State selection trials for Victorian Women's team

WEIGHTLIFTING / Kenyan call to give strength / Oceania team

WRESTLING / Freestyle and Greco-Roman / Oceania team in training

Song Sources

ABORIGINAL / Children from Darlington Public School, Sydney

ARABIC / Highly ornamented melodic lines / Ghazi Nassouh

BUDDHIST / Deep-voiced harmonic chanting / Dalai Lama's Guyto Monks of Tibet

BULGARIAN / Exclamatory calls in song to a female leader hiding in the hills / Silvia Entcheva

CAMBODIAN / Buddhist group chanting in village

CHILEAN / Love songs with quivering vocalisations / Hernan Flores

CHINESE / Call to lover on a nearby mountain / Dong Xiao-Meng

DERVISH / Chanting / North Sudan

GAELIC / Slow airs in the Sean-nós singing style / Maurice Scanlon

GEORGIAN / Working songs, healing songs, rain call / Nino Tsitsishvili, Joseph Jordania

GREEK ORTHODOX / Call and response from the Easter Service / Father Dimitropoulos

INDIAN AND SRI LANKAN / Improvisations on traditional ragas / Narmatha Ravichandhira

ISLAMIC / Melismatic call to prayer / Belal Assaad, Preston Mosque

JEWISH / Song for Yom Kippur / Rabbi Lubofsky, St Kilda Synagogue

KIRIBATI / Micronesian chant accompanying a war-like stick dance / Banaba Island

MAORI / Menacing vocal display of the Haka / Michael Tuffery

PAPUA NEW GUINEAN / Funeral song celebrating life / Olive Tau Davis

RUSSIAN / Song asking the frost to spare the life of a man and his horse / Zulya Kamalova

SLOVENIAN / Songs about separation and returning home / Dusan Kobal

SOUTH AFRICAN / Joyful, rousing work chants / Valanga Khoza

TATAR / Love songs with birds, berries, nightingales and butterflies / Zulya Kamalova

TUVALUAN / 'Speech/song' of Polynesian calls to ancestors, challenge calls / Keleta Avene

VIETNAMESE / Boat person's river chants / Dang Kim Hien

WELSH / Song calling out the names of all that can be seen from the hilltop / Julie Murphy

WEST AFRICAN / Fertility song, harvest workers' song / Epizo Bangoura

Technical Processes

The recording process involved us travelling to over 100 varied locations to make unique recordings of everyday activities. It was important for us to capture each voice in 'close up' with as much proximity as possible.

To achieve this we often used radio microphones which we attached to people involved in a wide a range of pursuits, such as athletes leaping high into the air during the high jump, soccer players weaving their way across a sports field and stroke patients at a rehabilitation hospital, struggling to re-learn how to walk.

We digitised these large chunks of location recordings, for the painstaking process of isolating the short expressive vocalisations that we were looking for – vocalisations which often occur in-between the words (gasps, sighs, different weights of breath) and the involuntary vocalisations made as a result of physical action.

We used a number of techniques to then further refine these short moments, isolating the individual voices from the often noisy and complex acoustic environments of the original recordings.

It was important for us not to tamper with the original qualities of the voices for this is what makes them so compelling. We tried to remove only the extraneous sounds, to bring the listener right up close to the soundmakers, revealing an almost uncanny sense of clarity.

The core of the delivery system is a PC workstation where each of the 5000 individual vocalisations is stored as an individual sound file. Selected sound files can be instantly accessed and sent to particular loudspeakers to form part of the combination of ‘crowd events’ at any particular time.

The system is programmed to firstly select and then deliver particular groups of sound to the 80 loudspeakers discreetly distributed through the 4.5 hectare site. To help achieve this, 24 individual channels of cabling – totalling some 5 km – were built into the site.

The system was designed in conjunction with Resonant Designs, the company involved in developing the specialist software. Krypton Audio Server [c. Isotope] allows complex programming of the order and distribution of sound files. This combines with AutoMate [c. Isotope] which allows programming of the delivery of the sound groups.

Much of the programming occurred on site, where we made careful adjustments over several week-long periods while listening to our own developing real-time crowd of voices.

5000 Calls Cardiff
- 5000 Calls Ljubljana

The Way You Move Me
Almost Always Everywhere Apparent (II)
We, The Masters
Field Formation
Now and Forever
Rewards of Silence
Landing Place
Almost Always Everywhere Apparent
Oceanic Endless
Reiterations (Elizabeth Street)
Gordon Assumption
The Persuaders
The Master's Voice
5000 Calls
David Chesworth's Music (external link)