whisper pitch

date 2012
location performance space, carriageworks
medium bricks,charcoal, sound, projection
dimensions variable
photographer ian hobbs
collection performance space

article by ann finegan

das platform interview

real time magazine

university of sydney



real time

It’d be as if I didn’t exist any more if I were not to speak

catalogue essay

Robyn Backen’s Whisper Pitch is a site-specific installation for the foyer of Carriageworks. Drawing on her architectural research into resonant structures and whispering walls, Whisper Pitch makes reference to visual, structural and material elements within the environment and draws them into conversation with parabolic forms, of the kind found in churches, cathedrals mosques and other places of worship and contemplation.

Amid the ambient noise and bustle of public buildings, whispering walls offered the possibility for discretion and secrecy in the open. The spoken word of one person reflects and travels in a straight line to the opposite side of the parabola or elliptoid, so it is as if the words are spoken directly into the ear of another. Backen’s gently performative installation invites public activation and, as with much of her work, is infused with current technological apparatus and the possibility for mass communication within the boundaries of a private act.

Bec Dean – Co-director Performance Space, Carriageworks


Whisper Pitch further develops her fascination with systems of communication and possible poetic engagement. Backen manipulates both old and new technologies from a concern for both conceptual and material references. This work derives its conceptual framework from her Morse code generating fibre optic light artworks. In place of the light generating message Backen embeds both encoded visual language and sound generating messages from the disembodied telephonic communication.

Underscoring the everyday are echoes from the 16th century Gol Gumbaz, a mausoleum in central India recently visited by Backen. A magnificent whispering space, which boasts the second largest dome in the world.

Whisper Pitch is structurally sound but ephemeral in nature; the two mirror-like brick structures reflect voices of the viewers and echoes of a fugue from within the walls—one side of a conversation.

The layers of the fugue might be: eavesdropped telephone conversations on public transport; the temporal messages of the heart whispered between the walls of the grand 15th century palazzo in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita; homage to Glen Gould; or just one side of a found conversation.


Ghost image: Marcello Mastroianni (Fellini – La Dolce Vita) Ghost image - Marcello Mastroianni (Fellini – La Dolce Vita)

Whispers: Anouk Aimee - Italian, Ursula Yovich – Burarra, Ece Altunc - Turkish, Marlena Rosenthal - English (American), Lili Shi - Manderin, Chun-Wei Liao - Melody Manderin, Laura Gutierrez - Mexican, Gulnara, Shayakhmetova - Russian

The important other bricklayers:

John and Robbie, Bethany O’Donnell, Edvardo Wolfe-Alegria, Stephen Jones, Ian Hobbs, Neil Mackenzie and Stephen Maher

Australia Council Fellowship

Sydney College of the Arts, The University of Sydney