Access/Song Without Words

Wall label for Song Without Words

Olivia Ting

Song Without Words, 2023

Multi-channel installation with hanging voile fabric, modified vintage radios

Audio technical support by Luke Dzwonczyk

Haptics designed by Lloyd May

Music conducting by Wei Cheng

ASL signing by Zahna Simon

Audio description by Social Audio Description Collective, written & narrated by Oliver Baker

An immersive multi-channel projection, Song Without Words renders the gestural continuities between piano, musical conducting and sign language to redefine the phenomenological experience of listening. Inspired by Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony No. 9, which he composed when he was deaf, Ting’s work comprises three movements (allegro, scherzo, rondo) that layer visual and audio compositions like notes in a chord. Projected on translucent panels arrayed as hanging fragments, the videos signal an environment of splintered audial and visual cues that Deaf and hard of hearing individuals inhabit daily. 

Each movement contemplates the technical and ability scripts of Ting’s performances as a pianist, conductor, signer, and listener. Referencing the vibroacoustic method that Helen Keller employed to listen to music, vintage radios introduce a haptic translation of the fourth and final movement of “Ode to Joy” from Symphony No. 9. The installation animates sound as movement, inviting gallery visitors to participate in and reflect on these choreographies and soundscapes. The instruments we listen to and with—from our fingertips to our assistive listening devices—share a special kinship.


Pick up a set of the bluetooth headphones to experience the audio track and replace them when you’re done. Each movement corresponds to a section of the installation of hanging fabric: the first nearest to the gallery entrance and the headphone stands, and the third nearest to the back of the gallery. The short films play on a consecutive loop of 12 minutes and will restart at the beginning of the first movement (titled Allegro, 1st movement). Please touch the vintage radios to experience the vibrations of the third movement.   

Please note that some of the sounds in this installation may be loud or jarring. 

Audio Described Video, Song Without Words

The following media is presented as a YouTube player embedded in Able Player.

Wall label for Sorting it Out and Lip Reading

Sorting it Out, 2023

Lip Reading, 2023

Prints on gatorboard

As schemas of the complex, rapid-fire set of decisions the artist makes to decipher oral communication, these tongue-in-cheek flowcharts render listening as a visual process that activates forking paths of meaning.

Visual description, Sorting it Out and Lip Reading

Sorting it Out, Olivia Ting, 2023

This is the first in a series of choose-your-own adventure flowcharts that satirically represents audiovisual strategies of listening from the perspective of a deaf person. It tracks the feedback loops of sense and meaning-making; how, at times, outrageous, self-deprecating, or embarrassing strategies are required to understand speakers. Please note this flowchart is sprawling; there are multiple permutations of possible scenarios.

Who's speaking? Is subject's mouth moving? If no, then next subject. If yes, what is the movement? If chewing (reassess mouth movement type) or repetitious pattern of complex lip shapes or mouth breather (reassess mouth movement type) then yes. Speaker identified.

What's being said? Challenge: gobbledygook decoding.  Strategy one (visual)  if body reading (least effective in garnering actual content, but sometimes can yield emotional clues that you can ask someone else about afterwards – If you or they remember) 

Then - is subject floridly gesticulative?  If yes, then who cares what they're saying? Much more fun just watching them. Leads to subject checkpoint - Is Target still speaking? 

Is subject floridly gesticulative?  If no, never mind. Nothing to see, nothing to understand. Find something else of interest leads to subject checkpoint. Is target still speaking? 

Strategy one (visual) second branch lip reading is subject facing you?

If yes, you stare at him or her with your X-ray, vision leads to subject checkpoint- is target still speaking? 

Lip reading- is subject facing you? If no, can you move to get a better view without moving everything in your path? If yes, move discreetly. If no end of visual options, look to audial options/ otherwise/ Learn to lipread side profiles or backs of heads. Leads to subject checkpoint- is target still speaking?

strategy two (audial)

Do you have one of those remote audio transmitting mic dongle thingies? If no, then crank your hearing aid to Max. Are you getting? -If feedback then yes. Turn it down quickly. For God's sake, you're not helping anyone. Leads to subject checkpoint-is target still speaking? 

If no speech, then yes (yay) or no end of audial options. Look to visual options.

Back to crank your hearing aid to Max. Are you getting sound distortion? If yes, hear my hair scratching my aid. If yes voice sounds like a cave. If yes. What the hell's that buzzing? Turn it back down or leave it and deal with it. Your pick. leads to subject checkpoint- is target still speaking? 

If crank your hearing aid to max, are you getting sound? Distortion is no (capiche). If yes, (yay). If no end of audial options look to visual options. Leads to subject checkpoint- is target still speaking.

strategy two (audial). Do you have one of those remote audio transmitting mic dongle thingies? If what's a thingy then crank your hearing aid to Max. Are you getting? If yes, then is there a surface where you can place your mic dongle?

If no end of options, is there a surface where you can place your mic dongle? If yes, can you reach it? If yes, do it fast before anyone asks you what it is. If no. Can someone reach it for you? If no, then end of options. If yes, do they know what a dongle is for? If no, don't ask them.

They might think they're participating in illegal activity on your behalf and report you. This leads to subject checkpoint-Is Target still speaking? 

If yes, ask nicely if they can place it for you. This leads to subject checkpoint- is targeted still speaking? Important. Make sure your subject is still the person speaking or all of this comprehension focus is moot.

 if yes. Good. Stay the course. 

If no damn. Repeat in dove. Speaker Identification Exercise.

Lip Reading, Olivia Ting, 2023

This is the second in a series of choose-your-own adventure flowcharts that pokes fun at the complex schema and strategies required to decipher spoken language through lip reading. It tracks the circuitous, obstructed, lateral, and sometimes comical pathways to understanding. Please note there are multiple permutations of possible scenarios: no one path is the same.

There are two parts to this flowchart: “Part I: Speaker Evaluation” & “Part II: Actual Lipreading.” In the first part, one is presented with binary options: “YES” or NO,” with some choices followed by multiple choice responses, or different interventions one can make to ascertain meaning. In Part II, the pathway shifts away from binaries and toward deciphering, with text that has missing vowels or consonants. Vowels or “vowel-y stuffs” are coded in bright pink, and consonants, or “lippy mouth stuffs” are coded in blue.

The flow chart opens with two questions: does the speaker have a beard - yes/no - and is the speaker’s mouth visible - yes/no? From there, the flowchart offers a range of suggestions, including but not limited to: “crank up your hearing aid and hope for the best, or politely laugh and hope what was said was not questions”; “physically rotating the speaker,” “ask the speaker to move their hand from their mouth, “slap the hand away,” or “hope for the best with a hearing aid!” If the listener can control for these variables, they can move to part II and begin the actual lipreading process. From here, the questions become more granular: “what sounds can you see?” and “what sounds can you hear?” The flowchart asks us to fill in the blanks. Over a cascading series of sequences, the blanks begin to get filled in – but what’s arrived at is still nonsensical, “Chall que tom.” Finally, “et voila”— we arrive at a successful lipreading endeavor!: “Shall we stop for a quick coffee and sandwich?”

Audio description, Sorting it Out 

Audio description, Lip Reading