Guardian Article

Experiments in listening: hearing one voice above the many

The cocktail party syndrome – whereby we struggle to hear a single voice against a wall of ambient sound – is not just limited to drinks parties. Edward Wickham of vocal group the Clerks tells Stephen Moss what their listening experiments have revealed …

Read the full article here. Published in The Guardian on Tuesday 1 October 2013.

A tone-deaf, railway-modelling enthusiast speaks out

When I was at school (an increasingly astonishing number of years ago) I found it very difficult to make the (to my mind wholly arbitrary) choice between the arts and sciences. Enthusiasm abounded for both, so I ended up taking A levels in Physics and Maths as well as German and Music. What eventually made the decision much easier, of course, was the eventual discovery of a total absence of any particular scientific talents beyond the very basic level of going “Ooh, look! Something’s happened. Cool. Let’s see if we can blow it up”. This is why my subsequent scientific pursuits have been confined to watching Brian Cox on the telly, much in the same way that many former fellow students of my acquaintance abandoned their music careers in order to actually earn some money, which then enabled them to afford far more visits to the opera than they would ever have gained as performers.

Until now.

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… and the view from the Alto section

Tales from Babel is as far removed from any other project I’ve been involved in with the Clerks, or any other group for that matter! It’s been fascinating to be involved with the piece from its initial performances as ‘Roger go to Yellow Three’ to a longer, continuous work. We’ve had great fun rehearsing the music, trying desperately not to be too musical in places (fortunately more difficult than we might have imagined..), and we’ve hugely enjoyed discovering our individual characters in the piece.  The greatest challenge for me has certainly been trying to avoid the Lombard Effect (trying to maintain the same dynamic, even if others are singing more loudly). With open minds and quite a lot of laughter (!), I feel that we’ve managed to achieve what Christopher Fox has written for us, and it’s been a real joy to see how each performance changes as we get to know the music better and better, and further understand the scientific ideas behind it.

Ruth Kiang (aka Frances), Alto in The Clerks