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Peak Performances Presents Lena Herzog's Immersive Oratorio And Adjacent Panels On Endangered Languages

Peak Performances presents Lena Herzog's Last Whispers, an immersive AV experience dedicated to vanishing languages, accompanied by panel discussions on select days, October 16-20 at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University. Trained in linguistics and philosophy, Herzog, also as an acclaimed photographer, has taken an ongoing interest in indigenous languages, which are disappearing at an astonishing rate. By 2050, half of roughly 7,000 languages spoken around the world will fall silent. Herzog's "haunting and singular" (The New Yorker critic Alex Ross) immersive oratorio-situated at the intersection of installation art, music, and film-features spoken and sung recordings of more than 40 endangered or lost languages.

Through sound design and composition by Marco Capalbo and Mark Mangini, these languages combine with the interpreted frequencies of collapsing stars captured by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational­Wave Observatory. Herzog considers the culturally formative capacity of language and the intimacy of its use-in turn evoking losses both personal and global. Languages swell into an enveloping chorus around a multifaceted film element including drone footage and original 3D animation mapping extinct and endangered languages' locations.

As Le Monde describes, Last Whispers investigates the space "between contrary elements of nature and culture, earth and the cosmos, the past and future." Herzog tells the publication[1], "When I considered these languages, I thought about their end, but oddly also their beginnings. The biggest challenge was being constantly attuned to both the micro-the inflection of the voice-as well as the cosmic dimension-the disappearance of a culture-yet I had a feeling of completing a circle. You cannot separate thought from language. Language is our first creative act and the voice is its base unit."

Of the work's three-part structure, Herzog tells BOMB: "[This is] a choral piece. Like a good oratorio, it should have arias, and for that we will use the singing voices...and we will also have the spoken word and chorus. And the second half [uses the recordings to illuminate] what happens to the languages, which is this dislocation and interruption. The second part is a highly postmodern piece. In the finale...we pick up what has been lovingly scattered...The idea with the finale was that the voices need to wrap around us. We need to be completely absorbed, and the room needs to be filled with them. And then end on an exhale."

ACP Executive Director Jedediah Wheeler says, "Language is culture-verbal or non verbal. Its loss is profoundly disturbing. Last Whispers is an artist's lament that inspired the current PEAK season. I am deeply grateful for Lena Herzog's passionate commitment to the preservation of world culture and languages that make us uniquely different."

Multiple panels and open discussions are planned to take place over the course of the installation's time at the Alexander Kasser Theater. They will feature Montclair State University professors and undergraduate students (Wednesday, October 16); Herzog in conversation with Jedediah Wheeler (October 17); Mary Linn, Curator of Cultural and Linguistic Revitalization at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (October 18); and Ross Perlin, co-director of the Endangered Language Alliance, speaking with activists, scholars, and artists invested in protecting and revitalizing native languages in our region.

Languages featured in Last Whispers include: Ahom, Ainu, Ayoreo, Bathari, Central Balsas Nahuatal, Chamacoco (Ishir Ibitoso), Dalabon, Duoxu, Enxlet Norte, Great Andamanese, Ikaan, Ingrian, Ixcatec, JuǀʼHoan, Kotiria (Wanano), Koyukon, Laklãnõ Xokleng, Light Warlpiri, Los Capomos Mayo, Mani Manx, Mbya Guarani, Nǁng, Nafsan (South Efate), Nivkh, Olekha, Ongota, Paunaka, Pite Saami, Qaqet, Sadu, Selk'nam (Ona), Selkup, Sumtu (Sone Tu), Surel, Tehuelche, Trung (Dulong), Warlpiri, Yanesha, Yauyos Quechua, and Yoloxóchitl Mixtec.

Last Whispers: Concept/Directed/Produced by Lena Herzog; Sound Design and Composition: Mark Mangini and Marco Capalbo; Animation: Amanda Tasse; Photography and Video: Tomas Van Houtryve, Lena Herzog, and Aziz Lechgar; Research: Theresa Schwartzman and Eveling Villa; Editor: Sean Scannell; Typography and Design: Maggie Morris.

The United Nations General Assembly has designated 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Just prior to Peak Performances' presentation of the oratorio, Film at Lincoln Center will, for the Convergence section of the 57th New York Film Festival (which runs October 10-13), feature a striking 8-minute virtual reality version of Last Whispers.

About the artists

Lena Herzog (concept & direction) is a multimedia artist. She studied Philosophy and Linguistics (Philology), 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; 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.

Performance and Panel Schedule and Ticketing

Last Whispers will take place Wednesday, October 16 at 3pm; Thursday, October 17-Saturday, October 19 at 7:30pm; and in back-to-back presentations Sunday, October 20 at 1:30pm and 3pm at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University (1 Normal Ave, Montclair, NJ). Panel discussions will accompany select presentations of the oratorio, which runs 48 minutes. Tickets are affordably priced at $30, and can be purchased at or 973.655.5112. Tickets are always free for Montclair State students. Because of the unique nature of this series - including rich panel discussions and an experience that lends itself to repeated viewing - audiences are invited to attend one or more events for the price of a single ticket. For more information, please contact the box office.

Panel Discussions Accompanying Last Whispers:

Wednesday, October 16 - 3pm, Pre-Show - Celebrating Language Across Cultures

Thursday, October 17 - 7:30pm, Post-Show - Lena Herzog - Her Advocacy and Artistry

Friday, October 18 - 7:30pm, Pre-show - Global Responses to Language Loss

Saturday, October 19 - 7:30pm, Pre-show - Loud & Clear: Linguistic Diversity on the Brink

Additional Panel Information:

Wednesday, October 16, 3pm, Pre-Show
Celebrating Language Across Cultures

A public discourse between Montclair State University professors and students, prompted by questions posed by moderator Dr. Lois Oppenheim (Chair, Dept of Modern Languages & Literature at Montclair State University). Panel features participants: Dr. Daniel Mengara (Prof. of French - Dept of Modern Languages & Literatures), Dr. Teresa Fiore (Prof. of Italian, Inserra Endowed Chair - Dept of Modern Languages & Literatures), Dr. Maisa Taha (Prof. of Linguistic and Cultural Anthropology - Dept of Anthropology), Zoe Aguiar (MSU Undergrad - Japanese Minor; identifies as Hispanic), Bryan Checo (MSU Undergrad - Italian Minor; identifies as Hispanic, Taino heritage), and Andy Sweeney (MSU Undergrad - German Major; in process of converting to Judaism and studying Arabic Culture).

Thursday, October 17, 7:30 pm, Post-show
Lena Herzog - Her Advocacy and Artistry

Director Lena Herzog will discuss her research on lost languages, and the creation process of Last Whispers. After the immersive oratorio, Herzog will be joined by Jedediah Wheeler in a First Impressions exchange with the audience.

Friday, October 17, 7:30pm, Pre-show
Global Responses to Language Loss

An important discussion about what is being done to preserve endangered languages, introduced by Jedediah Wheeler and led by Mary S. Linn, Curator of Cultural and Linguistic Revitalization at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The immersive oratorio follows this conversation.

Mary S. Linn is Curator of Cultural and Linguistic Revitalization at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Her primary research is in effective grassroots strategies in language and cultural sustainability, especially in small language communities. Before coming to the Smithsonian, she initiated the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, a yearly two-day event that brings in over 2,000 youth who are learning their Native languages, and she was the founding curator of the Native American Languages Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Currently, she is the program director of Sustaining Minoritized Languages of Europe, which is conducting research in motivation and continuity in revitalization efforts in six site in Western Europe. For thirty years, she has been active in training in community members in linguistics, language teaching, and archiving. She was a co-founder and instructor for the Oklahoma Native Languages Association, a co-founder of the Sino-Tibetan Language Research Methodology Workshop, and teaches for the Collaborative Language Research Institute. Linn also serves on the Smithsonian Recovering Voices Mother Tongue Language Film Festival, on the steering committee of the National Breath of Life Institute, and for the international Endangered Languages Project.

Saturday, October 19, 7:30pm, Pre-show
Loud & Clear: Linguistic Diversity on the Brink

Ross Perlin, Co-director of the Endangered Language Alliance, brings together speakers invested in protecting and revitalizing native languages in our region, including Chief Vincent Mann (Turtle Clan Chief of the Ramapough Lenape Nation), Gloria "Tadii" Angeles, Dr. George A. Kiraz, Sasha LaPointe, Karen Mosko, and Ibrahima Kellitigue Traore. This timely discussion occurs prior to the immersive oratorio.

Ross Perlin, Co-Director, Endangered Language Alliance (New York, USA)

Ross Perlin serves as Co-Director of the Endangered Language Alliance, a New York-based non-profit that works to document and describe underdescribed and endangered languages, educating a larger public and collaborating with communities. Ross has a PhD in linguistics from the University of Bern (Switzerland), where he focused on endangered Himalayan languages, and teaches linguistics at Columbia.

Chief Vincent Mann, Turtle Clan Chief of the Ramapough Lenape Nation

For the last 8 years, Chief Mann has held the title Turtle Clan Chief of the Ramapough Lenape Nation, which encompasses Passaic County NJ, as well as Warwick and surrounding areas in NY. He received the Russ Berrie Foundation's highest award for being an unsung hero for his efforts, together with his community, to fight back after the Ford toxic dumping. Working with the NYU Institute of Environmental Medicine, he helped create a community health survey, and he has been at the forefront of protecting the drinking water used by four million people, as well as working in the area surrounding the Ringwood Mines Superfund site, formerly as a member of the Citizen Advisory Group. He also serves on the Legacy Council of the Highlands Coalition.

Chief Mann is also working to rebuild a church founded by Samuel Defreese, a Ramapough, and now listed on the National Historic Registry as a Historic Native American Church - one of the two churches the Ramapough communities attend. He has been a guest speaker at Ramapo College in the Enviromental Masters Program on pipelines and enviromental justice and the University of Dayton in Ohio on the effects of toxic dumping on his people. As an advocate for cultural and enviromental issues, he continues to this day to offer up prayers for humanity and for our natural environment.

Gloria "Tadii" Angeles, Indigenous Cuicateca Migrant (Oaxaca, Mexico)

An activist for the last 14 years, Gloria has been working for her community of origin in defense of its territory, with responsibility in particular for a community radio project.

Dr. George A. Kiraz, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Advanced Society, Princeton; Director of the Beth Mardutho Syriac Institute

Dr. George A. Kiraz is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and the Director of the Beth Mardutho Syriac Institute where he offers summer Syriac courses. He specializes in Syriac and the Digital Humanities. His most recent book is titled The Syriac Orthodox in North America (1895-1995).

Sasha LaPointe

Sasha LaPointe is from the Upper Skagit and Nooksack Indian Tribe. Native to the Pacific Northwest, she draws inspiration from her coastal heritage as well as from her life in the city of Seattle. She writes with a focus on trauma and resilience, ranging topics from PTSD, sexual violence, the work her great grandmother did for the Coast Salish language revitalization, to loud basement punk shows and what it means to grow up mixed heritage. Her work has appeared in Hunger Mountain, The Rumpus Literary Journal, Indian Country Today, Luna Luna Magazine, The Yellow Medicine Review, The Portland Review, AS/Us Journal, THE Magazine, and Aborted Society Online Zine. She has recently graduated with an MFA through The Institute of American Indian Arts with a focus on creative nonfiction and poetry.

Karen Mosko, Lunaape language keeper (Munsee-Delaware Nation, Canada)

Karen is from Nalahii (Munsee-Delaware Nation) in Ontario, Canada. She has been teaching the langauge for over 10 years in various locations, including at Munsee, at Ramapough, at the Endangered Language Alliance, and elsewhere. She is blessed to be led by her ancestors to teach her language. Since first speaking language at the first class she attended in 2004, she has known that her purpose in life is to revitalize her language.

Ibrahima Kellitigue Traore, N'ko Language Activist

Ibrahima Kellitigue Traore promotes literacy in N'ko, a modern writing system that unites a diverse range of West African Maninka languages and dialects which are spoken by 55 million people across much of West Africa. Born and raised in Guinea and now living in Montclair with his wife and two children, Ibrahima speaks French, English, Arabic, and three other West African language varieties (Jula, Bambara, Wassalon), in addition to his native Maninka. He has been a volunteer teacher of N'ko in the Bronx and Queens, and at an after-school program for elementary children in the Montclair Public Schools. He has also shared N'ko via podcast, at an a first-ever U.S. celebration of N'ko, and at the University of Pennsylvania and at Columbia University, developed the website, and worked on an N'ko keyboard, font, and texting app - work featured in the New York Times.


Last Whispers was created in collaboration with The Endangered Languages Institute, SOAS, University of London. It is co-presented by The Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, UNESCO.

Programs in Peak Performances' 2019-20 season are made possible in part by funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

About Peak Performances

Under the artistic direction of ACP's Executive Director, Jedediah Wheeler, PEAK Performances has achieved international recognition for presenting and producing innovative works in dance, music theater and opera. With a celebrated emphasis on interdisciplinary work, PEAK hosted 75 World and American Premieres since 2005. Notable among the artists whose work has been seen on the Alexander Kasser Theater stage are Richard Alston, David Rousseve, Bill T Jones, Camille A. Brown, Wayne MacGregor, Robyn Orlin, Romeo Castelucci, Crystal Pite, Liz Gerring, Faye Driscoll, Angelica Liddell, Jan Fabre, Emma Dante, and Pam Tanowitz.

Robert Wilson conceived and directed The Life of Clementine Hunter for the Kasser stage and has also directed Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape with himself in the title role. Writer, director, designer, and choreographer David Gordon revived his production of Robert Brustein's seminal musical, Schlemiel the First. PEAK-commissioned works notably include Dog Days by David T. Little and Royce Vavrek; Spinning by Maya Beiser, Julia Wolfe and Laurie Olinder; Leonora and Alejandro by Stacy Klein for Double Edge Theater; and My Coma Dreams by Fred Hersch.

Companies who have made their American debuts with PEAK include Gandini Juggling (UK), Via Katlehong (South Africa), Inbal Oshman (Israel), Charlotte Vincent (UK) and Raphaelle Boitel (France). By bringing together artists of uncommon imagination with diverse audiences of adventuresome spirit, PEAK promotes a greater appreciation of human possibility.

Peak Performances is a program of the Office of Arts + Cultural Programming at Montclair State University and has been honored by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts with an Arts Citation of Excellence and Designation of Major Impact. Programs in this season are made possible in part by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

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