Survey by Qualaroo

Emma Smith: 5Hz Project

5Hz is a collaborative project that will imagine an evolution of voice for the purpose of social bonding, based on biomedical and psychological research into vocal rhythm.

In the recent history of human evolution the voice has primarily been used for spoken language. However, beyond 100,000 years ago, how our ancestors used their power of voice remains a mystery. A possibility suggested by some current research is that the voice originally evolved for the purpose of song. Led by artist Emma Smith, psychologist and phonetician Laurence White, cognitive neuroscientist and psycholinguist Nina Kazanina and musicologist Emma Hornby, the project explores the power of the voice to connect us to one another.

5Hz will evolve a new means of communication that imagines how we might sound had we prioritised human connection over the communication of explicit information in our development.

Supported by the Wellcome Trust, 5Hz involves a one-year participatory research process, leading to public workshops and events in autumn 2014 and an exhibition at Arnolfini in March 2015.

The public will be invited to join in a series of public events and experiments throughout 2014, including live brain recordings while listening to choral performances, language evolution workshops, and talks and workshops by eminent scientists – phoneticians, psychologists, neuroscientists – and musicologists, contributing to the development of the artwork and final interactive installation.

If you are aged 18 to 25 years, you can take part in this electroencephalographic (EEG) scanning. Please note, you must be a native English speaker to take part in the live laboratory. If you would like to attend the workshop as a viewer, please let us know and we may be able to arrange a space for you to sit in and witness the work.

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

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), The Showroom (2011), Tate Modern and Tate Tanks (2011 & 2012), and Radar (2013) UK, with international projects in Australia, Canada, the Canadian Arctic, China, Italy, Kenya, Latvia, Lebanon, Mauritius and Spain. 

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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