The Talking Machine

Paul Devens

Paul Devens lives and works in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Devensʼ research-based practice covers sound in conjunction with designed space and links to social and historic backgrounds. His work addresses questions of value, preconception and code in our civil society. Outcomes of his practice include site-specific installations, architectonic interventions, music performances and CD and vinyl releases.


Installed in Atelier Clerici during the Salone del Mobile 2017, The Talking Machine uses references from the pioneering stage of modern technology in todayʼs axis of time. The sound installation addresses the basic problematics of our current intertwinement and dependency of communication technology.

A make-shift robotic arm is scanning, randomly, a surface covered with audiotape strands. The audio head, attached to this arm and moving according to a chaotic choreography, stops every now and then to play-back a recording of a voice, reading aloud Rudolf Lothar’s The Talking Machine: A Technical-Aesthetic Essay. Writer and critic Lothar originally wrote the essay in 1924, reflecting on the public being confronted with the illusion of an authentic human (voice) represented by a machine, through an idiom that is defined by the relationship between noise and signals.

“Everything flows, Herclitus says, and in light of our modern worldview we may add: everything flows in waves. Whatever happens in the world, whatever we call life or history, whatever occurs as a natural phenomenon – everything transpires in the shape of waves.” – Rudolf Lothar.

The use of audio tape as a medium for The Talking Machine originates from old technology, referring to a pre-digital age where forms of diffusion, broadcasting and propaganda were more tactile, serving agendas for reasons of commerce and administration not dissimilar to now.

The Talking Machine offers an illogical order of sounds, words, and movements in an ever-changing order to its audience.

Fictional Journal, Issue 02. Propaganda presents sound installation The Talking Machine by Paul Devens at Atelier Clerici (Palazzo Clerici, Via Clerici 5, Milan, Italy) during Milan Design Week from 4–9 April 2017.

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