The latest project in Anneke Kampman’s practice shows off her versatile work in typically multifaceted fashion: a theatre production of a play about Daphne Oram, co-founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and the first woman to design and build an electronic musical instrument. Kampman describes this work, for which she has composed and will perform a live score in various theatres in May and June 2017, as “effecting actors with sound”. This sentiment goes to the root of her work whether the ‘actors’ are audience members, collaborators or performers. Her work moves through genres including performance, video, opera and music, they feature sound, language and the voice as central components. These three vital elements help her to think through what is considered an ‘authentic’ voice within her own performative practice and also how we perform ourselves in everyday interactions.
Through her knowledge and experience of music and sound, Kampman critically deconstructs the voice to reveal the nuances and politically charged elements within it. A desire to emancipate one’s body through voice can also be seen in her performances as a way to free herself from capitalistic demands to fit into a marketable mould. Her range of references, particularly from sound theorists such as Maggie Nelson, Donna Haraway or Terre Thaemlitz, provide her with a platform to explore and experiment with both her voice and the voices of others. The works she produces carry a genuine sense of exploration and thoughtfulness into the subject.
Works that interrogate and deconstruct the political and cultural codes of voice and language include Where Blips of Light Called Players Disintegrate, 2016, performed at Jerwood Space, London with Molly Palmer and Gery Georgieva in which Kampman explored the writing of Donna Haraway. Haraway points to the idea of objectivity coming from a male scientific perspective and formulates alternative strategies for how we might conduct scientific investigations that acknowledge the subjectivity of an author. In Kampman’s work, the three performers stand in a triangular formation facing each other and the audience, with microphones held up to their mouths and elbows perpendicular to the ground, each hum a different note all the while adjusting slightly to each other to create oscillations and patterns, which flow into a narrative. Each syllable is sung by a different performer, three voices making one, before the voices split again and reform throughout the performance. Offering a multiplicity of perspectives and sounds rather than one authoritative narrator, Kampman complicates the voice and narrative. Throughout the performance different rhythms and pauses are used to create a sense of time and velocity, the audience bodily experiences these timbres through the anticipation built up by the narrative and delivery.
The use of multiple voices or registers is common in Kampman’s practice and comes, in part, from her experiences studying singing at university. The encouragement to sing more ‘neutrally’ – without regional inflection or fluctuation in tone – and deny an authenticity of voice and the control of one’s body are also core facets in her work. It is also one of the reasons she collaborates regularly with artists and performers such as Palmer and Georgieva, or groups such as The Florence Lawrence Chorus, to hear, as she says, “the sounds I’ve made come from someone else.”
Voice and its cultural position, and in particular how technology has the propensity to alter a voice, are also themes that permeate Kampman’s practice. In the video work What The Voice Wants, 2016, she explores the practice of spiritual mediums in the United States in the late nineteenth century, their channelling and transmission of voices from another plane and the newly disembodied voice provided through the advent of the telephone. The video is primarily of the artist’s face uttering a series of vocal sounds while a text is subtitled along the bottom of the image, offering the audience a translation of the sounds as a narrative. The sound in the work is created by the artist recording herself singing and then cutting the video up to only include the most explosive elements. The sounds reference the hissing and spitting noises that one might expect from a possessed subject, made famous in films such as The Exorcist where the female body is the subject of death, desire or evil and must be emancipated, thus returning the voice to its original state.
The political act of altering a voice, through the development of the self, auto-tune or performing a role is one that shapes and defines us in a similar way to body shape, skin colour, nationality or any other number of indicators. Kampman has a heightened awareness of the voice and exploits this to create works that question our sense of self, always probing what sounds mean, how they can be manipulated and why they are often unseen codes within society. To be sure we should all be aware of the sounds we make, why we make them and who gets to hear them.