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'This is a Voice' is a noisy exploration of what makes us human

The Wellcome Collection's latest exhibition is a cacophonous exploration of the human voice in all its forms.

Visitors enter 'This is a Voice' through an anechoic chamber – a corridor coated with a material that absorbs all sound. After this muted start, the exhibition erupts with all manner of voices, from humans mimicking birdsong to the disturbing sounds of 'accent removal therapy'. Across five sections, the exhibition explores the human voice in all its guises and focuses on the ability that the voice has to convey emotion even without words.

This is an exhibition that's best consumed through the ears, and the curators here have stripped back the accompanying information to let the audio take centre stage. The result is completely absorbing. At one point visitors wind their way into what feels like the inner workings of the ear to hear an installation about castrati – young opera-singing boys who used to be castrated before puberty to preserve the high pitch of their voice.

Another installation features the audio and video of 19 singers impersonating the sound of birdsong. Except the birdsong was slowed down until at the same pitch as a human voice. The resulting human recording is played back 16 times faster and sounds uncannily like a dawn chorus of birds.

These experimental installations are interspersed with artefacts that explore the voice from a scientific angle. This includes illustrations by Victorian medical artists and the preserved larynx of an eighteenth-century singer who died of tuberculosis at the age of 36. A sprinkling of archaic medical devices and DIY experiments such as Joseph Faber's Victorian 'talking machine' sketch an outline of the strange history of scientific inquiries into the origins of the voice.

But 'This is a Voice' isn't really about the science of the voice, or even about its history. The exhibition is a celebration of how the voice is deeply connected to every aspect of life and identity. It is a detailed exploration of sounds that are often messy, incoherent and pre-verbal.

Walking through the exhibition, sounds merge into each other and it's not always clear which audio is linked to which video or visual. This backdrop lends a sense of coherence to the whole production as each installation has its moment and then fades into the background hubbub of the exhibition.

At the end of the exhibition, visitors are invited to step into a recording booth and hold a note for as long as possible. That recording will then be added to ever-expanding chorus of voices played in the exhibition space and the Royal Opera Houses's Stage Door in Covent Garden.

'This is a Voice' takes on a topic that is impossible to pin down and, accordingly, it doesn't try to. This sprawling exhibition takes visitors on a journey through endless soundscapes that, like so many voices, are often both beautiful and painful to behold.

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