Japanese Whispers (2000)

Collaborative performance using dozens of mobile phones

As an experiment into the way information is changed by being digitally processed and transmitted through electromagnetic space, up to 20 mobile phones are laid nose-to-toe in a circle. During the performance event, hosted at IAMAS, Japan and later at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo, calls between the phones were initiated in a variety of patterns (neighbour to neighbour or across the circle) and the ambient sounds and voices of participants were input into the mouthpieces to be propagated through the phones and mobile phone network.

The resulting feedback loop delayed and distorted the sounds through the iterative process of being digitised, transmitted, output and re-digitised, creating echoes of the room and nearby people that sounded much like chirping birds.

Japanese Whispers view from above

Cellphones are laid in a circle and calls are initiated from one phone to another in a variety of patterns with differing results.

Japanese Whispers audience interaction

The sound degrades at each step as it is transformed from analog to digital and back again, emphasising the circular nature of communication. The iterative process of the feedback loop amplifies miscommunications inherent in the transmitting of information. The performance begins with the first phone call and ends either when one of the phones drops its connection or when the batteries of the phones begin to die...

Japanese Whispers audience interaction

There were a number of concepts explored in the performance including the way in which a message is both framed and affected by its medium; the degrading of sound through digital conversion; the circular, iterative nature of communication; miscommunications inherent in the transmitting of information; the three dimensionality of sound in the ambient environment; the "location" of sound in a digital environment; the transitory nature of interaction.