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The Non-Normative Speaking Clock

August 15, 2016


The Non-Normative Speaking Clock came out of a series of R&D sessions between digital storyteller and artist Gemma Nash and the Drake Music Innovation Lab North – a Manchester based gathering of musicians, educators, makers and creative technologists “looking to develop musical instruments, interfaces and tools that allow for expression, precision, dynamics and reliability and where access is intrinsic to the design of the instrument – not just a bolt-on for disabled people”.

Gemma wanted to collaborate with members of the Lab to develop her latest sound art: Beyond Vocal Norms – a sound journey exploring the non-normative voice, how it both interrupts our understanding of personhood and also presents a possibility of transcending vocal perfection. Creative outputs would contribute to her project and might be used to illustrate her current findings which she was due to present at the annual ‘Theorising Normalcy And The Mundane’ International Conference, July 2016, hosted by the Research Centre for Social Change at Manchester Metropolitan University. The conference aimed to “examine the concept of being human, what it means and how labels and categorisations are used to define, defend or resist ‘human’ ways of being”

“Drawing on post humanist, feminist, crip, queer and communication theories, Beyond Vocal Norms will expose the problem of speech and/or language as a principal form of human distinctiveness. Humanists have traditionally considered speech communication as a pedagogical initiation into humanity, which connects the individual with their environment.  The ‘normative voice’ is perceived as a definitive personification of human rationality, and therefore personhood.  Arguably, this approach labels voices of learning disabled people, or those with speech impairments or augmentation as subhuman.”

Gemma & I settled on the “speaking clock” – the iconic British Telecom service which began on 24 July 1936 and receives 12 million calls a year – as a classic example of the hegemony of the ‘normative voice’. My version, based on the Adafruit Wave Shield Talking Clock project, refined the one-pass script used to make the spoken time slightly less awkward-sounding and ported and adapted the Arduino code to openFrameworks v0.9.2. The result is a standalone desktop The Non-Normative Speaking Clock application (for macOS only) that uses Gemma’s voice to tell the time in a manner similar to BT’s current Timeline service.

Read more about the project on Gemma’s ‘Can we communicate beyond words?‘ post on the Drake Music blog.

A ZIP file (10MB) of The Non-Normative Speaking Clock is available for download. Like most aspects of my artistic practice and research it is freely available – although it does require your name, email and a short message to activate the download link. I’m simply curious as to whom might be interested in my outputs and why. The worst that can happen is that you’ll receive an occasional email from me about my future artistic projects, research and writing. Complete the form below and “Send” and the download link – along with a confirmatory “Your message was sent successfully. Thanks.” will then appear below.


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The short demo video below shows The Non-Normative Speaking Clock welcoming in New Year 2017.