The Unbearable Lightness of Words
An interactive digital sound installation; sound cinema (stereo, 2022)
Intention of Composer
If we could measure the weight of words – be it positive or negative - and that measurement was audible, how would we react to one another? The Unbearable Lightness of Words is an interactive, web-based sound installation exploring the effect of violent language on emotional well-being in a South Korean context. South Korea has suffered the highest suicide rate amongst OECD countries for many years, and 2021 saw a further increase in the number of fatalities as a consequence of the pandemic. It is in this environment that our tragic family tale of verbal abuse plays out. Listeners are able to interact with the installation by responding to each character’s use of words. This interaction occurs across twelve online listening zones, each containing a scene from the story. The zones contain one or two fixed “sound objects” representing the characters, while a further object is controlled by the listener, which can be moved towards or away from the character sound objects to affect the sonic texture the listener experiences through adjustments in filtering, reverberation and pitch. The distinctive sound produced by the character sound objects features not only spoken words, but also music and effects that demonstrate what is happening inside the characters’ minds and how internal family relationships, such as the father/daughter relationship, affect their outlook. The sound captures are made up of field recordings , sequences from whole tone scales  and a Korean traditional rhythm known as utmori . The Unbearable Lightness of Words invites listeners on an immersive audio journey into the psyches of characters born out of the collective memory and experience of being a South Korean and the cultural baggage that entails. The Unbearable Lightness of Words has been made possible through the support of the Arts Council of Korea in 2022.