Olivia Webb – The Choir of the Self (5/05/16 – 28/05/16)

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We are very pleased to be showing Olivia Webb’s The Choir of the Self this May in the AF gallery.

This new exhibition brings to the forefront a polyphony of experiences, transposed, transcribed and performed as new works for the sung voice in which meaning beyond spoken communication is expressed.

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. In this new multi-channel sound installation, Webb considers her experience of the congregation at St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral in Auckland where people from different cultural background negotiate their culture and their individual musical traditions and histories through a framework of Catholic (Western) music.1 After 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, Webb made recordings of herself singing these scales and a Western C-Major scale which are presented through individual speakers. 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.

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 journal, produced by the CSSA.3

This May 2016 issue includes a short essay by Olivia addressing some of the themes present in this exhibition.


  1.  For more info on Scale please see: http://auricle.org.nz/scale-by-olivia-webb/Scalehttp://www.tetuhi.org.nz/exhibitions/exhibitiondetails.php?id=170


  2.  Dolar, M. (2006). A Voice and Nothing More. pp. 13-30. United States of America: MIT Press Books.
  3. See: http://auricle.org.nz/writing-around-sound/


Olivia Webb lives in Wellington where she teaches singing while studying toward a 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 her experiences 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.


Olivia Webb, ‘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.