Narrative Vibrations, 2017

Human voice is immaterial and leaves no trace.

Perceiving its origin then seems impossible.

And yet the impalpable wind leaves its signature

on the mountains’ side.

(Jean Abitbol, «Odyssey of the Voice»)


From politics and science to myths and beliefs, the art of Kader Attia is questioning a variety of fields. While avoiding getting lost in the production of blind certainties, Attia’s ongoing research of „Repair“ causes to conclude, that determinism, even in the appearance of the most unpredictable automatism, has always been the secret of existence.

While humans believe they invent, they are endlessly discovering what has existed within the universe forever, through space and time. Sound is space and thus sculptural. It belongs to an order of things that has existed before and will exist beyond humanity.

As Prof. Jean Abitbol, the famous French Ear, Nose & Throat specialist and speech pathologist wrote in ‘Odyssey of Voice’: «Long before mankind, long before voice, there was the Big Bang that took the universe out of its silence.»

‘Narrative Vibrations’ is a journey between the form and the meaning of sound, from acoustic sciences to the emotion of poetry, translating the voice and its core social position in the Arab culture into material images and sculptures.

Attia drew inspiration from one of the fathers of acoustics, the German composer and physicist Ernst Chladni (1756-1827).

Based on Chladni’s discoveries, Attia artistically investigates the social power of the voice in Arab cultures: from transgender people, who try to change their voices, to the iconic singers. The voice’s political stake is at the center of this corpus of work, as much as political means to live together in the same society with our differences.

Attia’s initiatory journey leads the visitor through two corridors. In the first one, a wall is punctuated by the wide bibliography that has fuelled this work, collages, drawings and album covers, from the sciences of acoustic to the art of singing, as well as two filmed interviews with ethno-musicologists and an Arab-Andalusian music expert. The second corridor shows a condensed summary of the artist’s in-depth research on the visual and sculptural materialization of sound through the fundamental question of its meaning: the voice produces meaning through prosody. Beyond being just a natural music organ, it also transmits emotions with words.

The two corridors give access to a black room in the center. Here couscous semolina, placed on circular trays, connected to soundtracks of films or concert recordings from Arab postcolonial golden age divas (the ones Attia grew up listening to), is moved by electromagnetic waves provoked by songs and music, drawing natural and universal forms. These sound sculptures visualize the great discovery Ernst Chladni made in the eighteenth century: that some frequencies produce patterns that also exist in Nature, from the vegetal to the animal.

While the voices are discordant, high or deep, they nevertheless show an evident unity, revealing the agency of nature before and beyond human being.


The singers featured in the audio/video installation are:

– Meriem Fekkai

– Simone Tamar

– Noura

– Oum Kalthoum

– Asmahan El Atrach

– Warda Djazaria

– Reinette l’Oranaise

– Sabah

– Parisa