Review: 'Global Voices' | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: ‘Global Voices’

Kia Hunt reviews a wonderful event at the University of Birmingham, a creative celebration of interpreters and improvisation

Recorded audio of simultaneous interpreters in action at conferences, live improvising jazz musicians, and a choir singing in the six official languages of the United Nations - all at the same time? It doesn’t sound like it could ever work well, but, somehow, Franklin Heather managed to pull it off in his multilingual choral project Global Voices.

representing and, most importantly, celebrating the role of simultaneous interpreters through the medium of music

Held at The Bramall Music Building on 28th March, Franklin’s final year project intertwined his love of languages with his passion for improvisation in order to successfully achieve its objective of representing and, most importantly, celebrating the role of simultaneous interpreters through the medium of music.

The event began in a cacophony of voices; audio playing through the speakers highlighted the difficulty of interpretation as speeches in multiple languages overlapped and intersected each other. Then, to the audience’s surprise, the choir began to sing - hidden away at the back behind the crowd, they added another layer of disorder to the atmosphere, further highlighting the chaotic confusion that an interpreter must face in their role.

Towards the final piece, the atmosphere became more celebratory; the music was faster, freer, and more elated

As the ensemble moved through their six pieces (which include the reading aloud and singing of UN articles, testimonials from ICRC interpreters, and even the declaration of human rights!) the babble of the audio became less frequent, the singers made their way towards the front, and the focus of the music clarified little by little. Towards the final piece, the atmosphere became more celebratory; the music was faster, freer, and more elated. A particular highlight for me was a small section where the English soprano and Mandarin baritone sung in harmony, it created such a surprisingly lovely sound and truly represented two languages interpreting for each other and working together.

This progression from a chaotic beginning to clarity, and then to celebration, was commented on by Louise Askew, an ICRC interpreter and member of the special guest panel that was invited to hold an open discussion after the event. According to her, interpreters often find that, to begin with, everything is happening all at once and there is too much to understand. Then, slowly but surely they reach what she calls “that sweet spot” of understanding. She was ecstatic that this project had succeeded in interpreting, through the medium of music, exactly what goes on inside the mind of an interpreter. Other special guest Jennifer Bell (director, composer, and acapella expert) was also nothing but enthusiastic about Franklin’s work.  She praised him for bringing “functional interpretation into an aesthetic context”, in other words, taking something with a practical, political purpose, and celebrating it as something beautiful.

a special, fascinating experience

And beautiful it was! It was such a special, fascinating experience to watch the improvising musicians communicate and collaborate spontaneously, just as interpreters do in their field. As Louise so aptly noted; just as an interpreter brings themselves and their understanding to a translation, these musicians brought themselves and their identities to the music.

Interpreters are the anonymous voices that build bridges between the different cultures of our world; they deserve to be celebrated. And Global Voices was, simply put, the perfect dedication to them.

(If you'd like to read about this event in Spanish, look out for the translation of this article in May's issue of The UoB Linguist Magazine)

Article by Kia Hunt



Published

14th April 2017 at 5:28 pm



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