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In March 2015 artist Emma Smith presented an interactive exhibition at Arnolfini, Bristol, that invites audiences to experience a new human language. The concept of Emma Smith’s work is to imagine an alternative evolution of voice and create a language that strengthens human connection.


5Hz is the result of a collaborative research process with psychologist Laurence White (Plymouth University), cognitive neuroscientist Nina Kazanina, and musicologist Emma Hornby (both University of Bristol). Building on this research, Emma Smith worked with Laurence White to create a language for the role of social bonding.

Throughout 2014 members of the public were invited to join in a series of public events and experiments, including live electroencephalographic (EEG)  brain recordings while listening to choral performances, language evolution workshops, and talks and workshops by eminent scientists – phoneticians, psychologists, neuroscientists – and musicologists, to contribute to the development of the artwork and this final interactive installation.

The 5Hz exhibition introduced audiences to this new vocal practice through interactive events and installations including a language school installation where visitors can try the language themselves, the presentation of the language’s visual transcription, an interactive sound library and research space, fun online experiments, and events space. There was also a programme of choral performances, workshops, activities, talks and discussions that explored aspects of human voice.

5Hz was produced by Arnolfini in collaboration with the University of Bristol, Plymouth University and with the support of the Wellcome Trust. The 5Hz events programme was also supported by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2014.

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Emma Smith

Emma Smith is an artist based in London, UK. She has a performative and participatory art practice that is research and production based, developed through the bringing together of trans-disciplinary collaborative teams. Previous exhibitions include Camden Arts Centre (2006), Whitechapel Gallery (2007 & 2008), Wysing Arts Centre (2010, 2011 & 2012), Grizedale Arts (2010-12), Artsadmin (2011, 2012 & 2013), The Showroom (2011), Tate Modern and Tate Tanks (2011 & 2012), Radar (2013), ICA (2013), Art 14 (2014), UK, with international projects in Australia, Canada, the Canadian Arctic, China, Denmark, Italy, Kenya, Latvia, Lebanon, Mauritius, Spain and Switzerland.
Smith is resident in the ACME Fire Station Residency Programme (2010-2015) and an Associate Artist of Artsadmin. 5Hz builds on Emma Smith’s collaborative, performance work ∆E=W (Change in Energy = the Work), presented at Arnolfini as part of 4 Days, a performance art series, 17–20 January 2013.

Nina Kazanina

Dr Nina Kazanina is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology of Language at the School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol. Before joining Bristol in 2007, she was an assistant professor of psycholinguistics at the University of Ottawa (2005-07). Her main research area is psychology of language, with a special interest in auditory and audio-visual processing of speech in healthy and clinical populations, and language development. Her research uses time-sensitive brain recording techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG) to elucidate processing mechanisms that enable an effortless and effective language communication among humans.

Laurence White

Dr Laurence White is a lecturer in the School of Psychology at Plymouth University. Before joining Plymouth in 2011, he was a research fellow at the University of Bristol and the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA), Trieste. His research concerns the human faculty for spoken language: how we produce and understand speech; how infants learn these skills without apparent effort; why our species developed such a powerful facility for vocal expression. Recent and ongoing research projects funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the ESRC and the British Academy, amongst others, consider particularly the rhythm and timing of spoken language.

Emma Hornby

Dr Emma Hornby is a Reader in Music at the University of Bristol, where she has been based since 2007. She works on medieval chant, focusing particularly on its transmission and on the connections between liturgical chant and theology. In the last few years, she has collaborated intensively with Rebecca Maloy (University of Colorado, Boulder), and their book Music and Meaning in Old Hispanic Lenten Chants was recently published by Boydell and Brewer. Emma is also co-editor (with J.R. Watson) of the Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology ( She is currently leading an EU-funded research project on the Old Hispanic Office, based at Bristol University. Emma is currently Chair of the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society.

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