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Last Conversation Piece By Juan Munoz-sm

artSpeaks Audio Tour:

Lost in Translation (2016)

A mobile web-based audio tour cum sound art piece debuted at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden for Sound Scene IX. Sound Scene, an annual festival dedicated to the celebration of sound expressed as art and educational tool, is organized by the DC Listening Lounge.

Project Description

I'm fascinated by the idea of encoded meanings, garbled translations, mishearings, prosodic effects, and other psychoacoustic and linguistic phenomena that contribute to miscommunication and confusion. Regardless the language we speak, our learned grammars and syntaxes serve as common rules by which we transmit verbal information. Layered on top of this stream of meaning are the paralinguistic effects of body language and the highly personal shifting tone and tenor of an individuals voice.


But what happens when we don't recognize the language used to encode a message or when body language contradicts what our ears are hearing? The resulting mix of confusion, concern, and panic that result are often directly proportional to the criticality of the encounter. If we mishear the statement of a friend, we laugh about it. If we misconstrue the tone of a boss's orders we fret over how and/or whether there's risk in remedying the situation before acting. If we're traveling through strange territories and foreign language and customs prevent one from catching the last train out of Dodge our adrenaline surges.


Our species is innately wired to detect and attempt to decode the verbal and physical signals we perceive. When our innate need to make sense out of perceived patterns gets the best of us, the resulting condition is called "apophenia".


With Lost in Translation, I explore the encoding of text extracted from a piece of classic English literature. The encoded data is transmuted into sounds which stand in for the meaning and tenor of the original. Using only a very few lines from a longer work, the original narrative is compressed but still able, if decoded, to convey the plot and key aspects of character relationships.


The original texts are altered algorithmically using the following tools:

      • Morse Code MIDI & Text Generator

      • P22 Music Text Composition Generator

      • From Text To Speech

      • Google Voice


Selections of artworks from the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden serve as physical stand-ins for the characters represented in the storyline. The sounds contained in each tour stop were selected as compliments to the physicality and materials represented in the museum's sculptures.


It is theoretically possible to decode the texts represented in all three tour stops.


Stop 1: Voice From the Beyond


Needle Tower, Kenneth Snelson


A signal buried in the noise, encoded for transmission from the world beyond. A harsh truth received loud and clear.


A signal buried in the noise. A message of brutal truths.





Stop 2: Allegory of Fratricide

King and Queen, Henry Moore


A foreshadowing of betrayal and doom. Listening without hearing.


Guilt swells, ignorance is maintained.


Stop 3: Last Words











Last Conversation Piece, Juan Muñoz


A tale told and retold until meaning and purpose are stripped away. A failure to learn from the past.


Lacking affect, meaning is ambiguous.


Final acts


  • Google Voice, text-to-midi translator, Morse code-to-midi translator, P22 music text composition generator, text-to-speech voice generator

  • Audio files, images, museum data

  • Duda mobile web site builder

  • Mobile device

All art object images © Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Last Conversation Piece By Juan Munoz-sm
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