Last Whispers, Oratorio for Vanished Voices, Collapsing Universes and a Falling Tree is an immersive installation of new work by artist Lena Herzog (concept and direction) built on her themes of ritual and gesture, as well as her exploration of loss and dislocation.

Last Whispers is a project about a mass extinction. Every two weeks, the world loses a language. At an unprecedented speed, faster than the extinction of some species, our linguistic diversity—the very means by which we know ourselves—is eroding. Today, more than half of the world population speaks only 30 of the 7,000 languages remaining on earth. It is estimated that at least half of the currently spoken languages will have died by the end of this century. Some estimates project a much greater speed of this disappearance. By definition, it occurs in silence, since silence is the very form of this extinction.

Every community that loses its language feels as if it is happening to it alone. In fact, it is happening to the majority of world’s languages. Most of us, in the Western world barely hear an echo of this vanishing chorus. We want the world to hear it and feel its loss. The Oratorio is comprised of voices speaking and singing in the languages that are extinct or endangered. You can hear excerpts here.

Human Figure. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

In collaboration with the Endangered Languages Archive at SOAS University of London, Herzog’s team (researchers Theresa Schwartzman and Eveling Villa) culled together an extensive source library of hundreds of voice recordings from all over the planet. Based on this diverse material of spoken words, songs and stories from extinct and endangered languages, Herzog and the composers Marco Capalbo and Mark Mangini created an experiential soundscape with a rich aural and spectral quality as well as an accompanying video (by Lena Herzog, Amanda Tasse, Tomas Van Houtryve and Aziz Lechgar) so that we can hear and feel this vanishing chorus and experience these distant worlds gathered into one piece.

Last Whispers is an invocation of the languages that have gone extinct and an incantation of those that are endangered.

Last Whispers’ main collaborator and resource on the project has been The Endangered Languages Documentation Programme of The Department of Linguistics, SOAS, University of London headed by the Programme Director, Mandana Seyfeddinipur. Composition and sound design by Marco Capalbo and Mark Mangini.

Last Whispers, Oratorio for Vanished Voices, Collapsing Universes and a Falling Tree premieres at the British Museum in conjunction with the Bloomsbury Festival on Friday 21st of October 2016 and runs through Sunday 23rd October 2016. More info here.

Sound system provided by Meyer Sound/Autograph.