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Golan Levin, Zach Lieberman, Jaap Blonk, Joan La Barbara, “Messa di Voce,” 2003

Golan Levin and Zach Lieberman are media designers, programers and artists with a history of projects visualising data, real-time animation and sound. “Messa di voce” 1 is an interactive audio-visual voice performance in which two voice acrobats, Blonk and La Barbara, create unusual sounds with their voices, while interacting with twelve different modules of Levin’s and Lieberman’s software application.

In their performance the two voice artists move about a stage exerting their voice-art while on a screen behind them colourful shapes and amorphous structures emerge and react to their voices in real-time. In some modules the artists can also physically interact with these virtual shapes, push them aside or catch them. The modules explore different symbolic, tactile and audio-visual effects in a close relationship to the onomatopoetic quality of the sounds produced.
Blonk and La Barbera engage in a playful dialogue with one another as well as with the visualised feedback of their own voices. The direct relationship between physical motion, the sound of their voices and visual feedback appears surreal and lucid at the same time.

Areas: transformation, physical world, biofeedback, the body, dialogical, communication,

Three of the twelve modules of Messa di Voce by Levin, Lieberman and voice artists Blonk, & La Barbara

Diane Ackerman compares music to speech and writes that music is a direct emotional language, while speech is a rational one, with no direct relationship to the original objects, ideas and feelings it describes (Ackerman, 1990, 173). If we look at the animated visuals with which the artists interact we see that they have a gestural quality, an isomorphic relationship between volume and pitch of the voice, position of the artist on the stage and dynamic, shape and colour of the visuals. They create a dialogue between their sounding voice and the resulting visuals, which both reinforce each other when they interact creating a loop of action and reaction. This gestural quality of the visuals is not natural but entirely the result of a conscious design process. Every aspect of the appearance and the behaviour of the visuals has been deeply designed and implemented into the software.
The result is a primordial and magical process allowing the audience to experience the transformation of sounds into animated visual shapes. It appears as if a new sensorial modality had been discovered that gives an additional perspective into the meaning of language.
Semantic typography and concrete poetry have historically explored the relationship between the appearance of the written word and its meaning. “Messa di Voce” explores the reverse, the relationship between speech, or the spoken word and its appearance. This is a fundamentally new concept that cannot be overestimated.
The interaction stimulates multiple senses. Firstly there is the feedback loop between hearing, speaking, physical movement of the body and the visuals that create a synchronous and simultaneous interaction with only the voice as an interface but in the different media transforming each other. Additionally we have the artists interacting and communicating with each other via voice and visuals. The virtual, augmented world complements the immediate, physical world in a very natural way in this performance setting. The dialogue between the artists and their visuals involves the whole body, the voice and it is unencumbered.

Transformation and spatiality in “Messa di Voce”

Here, There: Transformation and Spatiality: The sound of the human voice is transformed into visuals that can be interacted with in spatial dimensions. The screen is so large it allows for spatial interaction. It is not a telematic application and thus involves no remote location or “there.”

The twelve different visual modules of “Messa di Voce” are a local transformation that does not involve a remote location. The augmented visuals leave the screen behind and appear spatial as the artists use their bodies and physical space to interact with them, though unencumbered as the visuals are augmented only. The transformation process transforms audio (grey line), the human voice, into visuals in real-time (brown line). The process is a synchronous and simultaneous (bio-)feedback-loop as the artists react immediately to, or interact with the visual feedback. In that respect it is reminiscent of a musical instrument where physical motion and mastery of the body becomes a skill. Here mastery of the voice together with the software application is the instrument. 50% of the feedback loop are the result of human reaction - and the diagram only displays the one-directional, technical side.


1. Videos of the different modules can be viewed on the project website at


2. Diane Ackerman (1991), "A Natural History Of The Senses,"

last update: 1/7/02008 0:53

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