Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

LAST WHISPERS ORATORIO Opens Friday June 14 At Ford Theatres

pixeltracker

Ford Theatres presents an immersive experience: Last Whispers - Oratorio for Vanishing Voices, Collapsing Universes and a Falling Tree, on Friday, June 14 at 8:00pm. Last Whispers is simultaneously a spatially-designed sound composition and a film -- an invocation of languages that have gone extinct and an incantation of those that are endangered.

At an unprecedented speed, faster than the extinction of some species, our linguistic diversity the very means by which we know ourselves as a diverse human family is eroding. Today, a majority of the world's 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. In fact, a language dies every two weeks.

The presentation of Last Whispers at the Ford includes a film projection and a choral pre-recorded composition with immersive sound design in 7.1 surround sound, resulting in a 46-minute visceral experience. The audience will be enveloped in a chorus of extinct and endangered languages, both spoken and sung, composed from the historical recordings (speech, recitatives, incantations, songs and ritual chants), punctuated by the sound of interpreted (made audible) gravitational waves of the collapsing stars and supernovae recorded by LIGO The Listening Ear (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory supported by the National Science Foundation and Operated by Caltech and MIT). The film consists of original animation, drone footage, and stills, all in black-and-white, poetically linked to the soundscape.

A virtual reality seven-minute interpretation of the experience called Last Whispers VR: An Immersive Oratorio created by Lena Herzog and produced by the pioneers of VR at Emblematic Group will be presented the following day, on June 15, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), details forthcoming.

Dedicated to the mass extinction of languages, Last Whispers is by artist Lena Herzog, built on her frequent themes of ritual and gesture, as well as her exploration of loss and dislocation with sound created by award-winning sound designers Mark Mangini and Marco Capalbo.

As part of the evening on June 14, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County will present a conversation about languages and native voices between Lena Herzog and W. Richard West, Jr., president and CEO of the Autry Museum of the American West, moderated by Paul Holdengr ber, founding executive director, Onassis L.A. Last Whispers is part of the IGNITE @ the FORD! series and is presented in association with LACMA and the Natural History Museum.

Olga Garay-English said, Last Whispers beautifully illuminates the crux of this global modernized world we find ourselves in and the challenges indigenous people face. Language plays a central role in our daily lives; it is at the core of our very identity, our culture, the stories we tell our children. The United Nation's General Assembly and UNESCO have declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages. It is estimated that 40 percent of the world's 6,700 languages are in danger of disappearing the majority belonging to indigenous peoples.

Herzog said, While we are drowning in the noise of our own voices, uttered within dominant cultures and languages, we are surrounded by an ocean filled with the silence of others and barely hear an echo of the vanishing chorus. We must hear it and feel its loss. By definition, this loss occurs in silence, since silence is the very form of this extinction. Last Whispers is an invocation of that which has gone extinct and an incantation of those that are endangered.

With the support of the Endangered Languages Documentation Program at SOAS University of London, along with the Smithsonian, the Rosetta Project, and over a dozen other world archives, and with the generous help of the Simons Foundation, Herzog and her team created Last Whispers from the world's greatest linguistic archives. They gathered an extensive source library of hundreds of voice recordings from around the globe. The original sound composition is made up of spoken and sung vocal recordings of endangered and extinct languages collected from these world language archives. The work is scored as an immersive piece of music, which is why it is called an immersive oratorio.

Last Whispers premiered at the British Museum in 2016 at the Living and Dying gallery, next to the hall exhibiting the Rosetta Stone. Its curator, David Sheldon, called the show informative, beautiful and heartbreaking. Most recently, it was exhibited at The Kennedy Center, co-presented by the Smithsonian, and at the recent South by Southwest Festival.

Following Los Angeles, Last Whispers embarks on a worldwide tour, traveling to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC; George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York; PEAK Performances in Montclair, New Jersey; and Theatre du Ch telet in Paris.

How can one address an extinction the form of which is silence? By making what has gone silent alive and present to the audience. Both binaural and 8.1 (octophonic) sound projection used in the two mixes are perceived by the human ear as a distinct and genuine 360-degree immersive soundscape. Such immersive sound environments prompt the brain to perceive these voices as present.

Animation and imagery in Last Whispers is precise and abstract at the same time. The locations of the languages are marked with pulsing dots, anchored by GPS onto the contours of the continents and countries. Yet the real topography of the globe is substituted by a digital quilt blanket sewn from satellite photographs of catastrophic climate events, reflecting one of the reasons for human migrations and dislocations, including those that are linguistic.

The trajectory of these vanishing voices begins far away, like a distant echo. This chorus comes closer and closer and then envelops the visitor. The others become familiar and real until the visitor falls into being with them at the last exhale.

In collaboration with VR pioneer Nonny de la Pen a and her company Emblematic Group, artist Lena Herzog has been working on an immersive VR interpretation of the Last Whispers oratorio. The VR version has three parts, each one a stand-alone experience that embodies three distinct expressions, viscerally answering the question: How does one tell when extinction takes place when the form of that extinction is silence? Created using Epic Games' Unreal Engine, each language in the experience is anchored within the 3-D space to a beacon of light that represents the geographical location on the globe where that language originated.

The first piece, Last Whispers VR: An Immersive Oratorio, is the first VR of its kind that transports participants into a virtual landscape composed of the fabric of vanishing voices, accompanied by original animation. The piece had its world premiere in 360-degree video at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, as part of the official selection of The Sundance Institute's New Frontier program. Last Whispers VR: An Immersive Oratorio will have its Los Angeles premiere on June 15 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), specific details to be announced.

Mandana Seyfeddinipur, Program Director of Endangered Languages Documentation, Department of Linguistics SOAS, University of London, said, The key factor is intergenerational transmission: whether children learn and speak it. It is the children what their parents and grandparents share with them and how they use the language in their daily lives who make the difference. Once the line of intergenerational transmission is broken, it is hard to bring a language back to young people, whose daily lives are absorbed in the majority language. Often it is these children, who can no longer speak to their grandparents, who come back later in life searching for their roots, trying to learn the language and understand their cultural heritage.

Lena Herzog said in Bomb Magazine, I don't want to live in a world where there's just one type of apple to eat. We will be monochromatic. We will be monolingual. We will have twenty to thirty languages that this entire world speaks. The various-ness of the human mind, the knowledge embedded in the languages and cultures that are going extinct at a staggering level will go. It has implications not just for those languages, those cultures, and those people that are experiencing profound marginalization.

It has also deep implications for us, the dominant cultures. Culturally, we become provincial while our financial capital, military, and ways of communication in our dominant culture pervade the world. We become oblivious to everyone else because we're just so successful in permeating ourselves.

I created the initial library from the libraries of world archives of endangered and extinct languages, with their permission of course. I kept listening to these languages for a year and a half. Some of these recordings would strike me as mysterious and beautiful. Some of them were just so human, it almost felt like I could understand them, the emotion in them, the tone just the voice would catch.

Last Whispers is a choral piece. Like a good oratorio, it should have arias, and for that we will use the singing voices: Ingrian, Batari, Ombata, Koyakon. And the second half is actually illuminating what happens to the languages, which is this dislocation and interruption. The second part is a highly postmodern piece. In the finale, which is sound-designed by Mark Mangini, we lovingly pick up what has been scattered.

Lena Herzog (concept and direction) is a multimedia artist. She studied philosophy and linguistics (philology), and began working primarily in the field of photography and print making since 1997. Herzog is the author of six books of photography; her work has been widely published and reviewed by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, among many others. She is a regular contributing artist to Harper's Magazine. Her work has been collected and exhibited in major museums and institutions around the world.

Marco Capalbo (sound designer and composer) has directed film, theatre, opera and music. His most recent documentary film Stravinsky in Hollywood was produced for Arte in 2014. Stage productions include: John Eaton's opera The Curious Case of Benjamin Button at Symphony Space, New York and Karlheinz Stockhausen's Helicopter String Quartet for the opening of Red Bull's Hangar-7 at Salzburg Airport. Compositions include: recently (2013), Le Greygnour Bien: a Pendant to Rodney Graham's Three Musicians (2015) and In the Vast Wave of the World's Breath (2014).

Mark Mangini (sound designer and composer) won an Oscar in 2016 as sound designer for the film Mad Max: Fury Road and has been nominated previously for sound design for several films. He has spent his 40-year career in Hollywood imagining and composing altered sonic realities for motion pictures. He is a frequent lecturer, an outspoken proponent for sound as art and is a guitarist and a songwriter with compositions for Sex, Lies and Videotape, Star Trek IV and others. He is a current governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as a member of SAG, SMPTE and ASCAP.

W. Richard West, Jr. (preshow talk) serves as the President and CEO of the Autry Museum of the American West, and is Director Emeritus and Founding Director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian. He is a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and a member of the Southern Cheyenne Society of Peace Chiefs. West currently is a member of the Board of Directors of ICOM-US and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, and previously served on the Boards of the Ford Foundation, Stanford University and the Kaiser Family Foundation. He also was Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Alliance of Museums (1998 2000) and Vice President of the International Council of Museums (2007 2010).

Paul Holdengr ber (moderator, preshow talk) is known for probing his guests to step far beyond talking points and orchestrating unexpected onstage pairings. Holdengr ber is the founding executive director of The Onassis Foundation LA. He founded and directed LIVE from the New York Public Library for 14 years, where he interviewed and hosted more than 650 programs. He has spoken to everyone from Patti Smith to Zadie Smith, Ricky Jay to Jay-Z, Toni Morrison to Anish Kapoor, Werner Herzog to Mike Tyson, to name a few. Prior to joining The New York Public Library, Holdengr ber founded and served as the director of the Institute for Art and Cultures at LACMA. In 2014, the French government awarded him the Officier des Arts et des Lettres in recognition of his cultural contributions. He was decorated with the Austrian Cross of Science and Art by the Austrian President. He holds a Bachelor's Degree from the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Belgium and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Princeton University.

This event is part of IGNITE @ the FORD!, a series comprised of world-renowned contemporary artists whose work is thought-provoking and reflects the world in which we live. Proceeds from IGNITE @ the FORD! events benefit the Ford Theatre Foundation. Tickets are available online at FordTheatres.org and by phone (323) 461-3673. Ford Theatres are at 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood, CA 90068.

At 1,200 seats, the Ford Theatres creates an intimate concert experience that is a favorite among Angelenos. Each season, the Ford hosts music, dance, theatre, film and family events reflective of the communities that comprise Los Angeles County. The Ford is owned by the County of Los Angeles and operated in partnership with the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Ford Theatre Foundation. Nestled in a canyon of a County regional park in the Cahuenga Pass, the Ford Theatres has a rich history dating back to 1920.

The 2019 Season at the Ford Theatres is made possible through the support of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Additional support provided by Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, along with ABC7; City National Bank; Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles; Discover Hollywood; Edison International; First 5 LA; Fusicology; Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown Charity Fund; The Garland Hotel; Heirloom LA; the Hilton Garden Inn; Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Community Foundation; The James Irvine Foundation; KCET/PBS SoCal; KCRW; LAArtsOnline.com; Metro; the Millennium Biltmore; Million Dollar Round Table; Motev; The National Endowment for the Arts; NBC Universal; The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation; Sidney Stern Memorial Trust; Univision; Whole Foods; and Yelp.com.

About the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Located on the Pacific Rim, LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection of nearly 140,000 objects that illuminate 6,000 years of artistic expression across the globe. Committed to showcasing a multitude of art histories, LACMA exhibits and interprets works of art from new and unexpected points of view that are informed by the region's rich cultural heritage and diverse population. LACMA's spirit of experimentation is reflected in its work with artists, technologists, and thought leaders as well as in its regional, national, and global partnerships to share collections and programs, create pioneering initiatives, and engage new audiences.


The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) include the Natural History Museum, La Brea Tar Pits and the William S. Hart Museum. They operate under the collective vision to inspire wonder, discovery and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds. The museums hold one of the world's most extensive and valuable collections of natural and cultural history more than 35 million objects. Using these collections for groundbreaking research, the museums also incorporate them into on- and offsite nature and culture exploration in LA neighborhoods, and a slate of community science programs. This creates an indoor-outdoor visitor experience that explores the past, present and future.
LAST WHISPERS ORATORIO Opens Friday June 14 At Ford Theatres


Related Articles View More Los Angeles Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

More Hot Stories For You