2017, video with sound, 0’47” duration
A sore throat renders my voice alien, and its use as a marker of identity is thrown into question.
In one of the most affecting scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odessey, the onboard computer HAL 9000’s identity is pulled apart block by block after he tries to kill his human colleagues. As his voice gradually pitches down to the infrasonic, out of human range, HAL offers up his last conscious thought: a plaintive version of the song Daisy Bell. HAL reveals that it was one of the first things he was taught by his instructor.
The film’s take on consciousness is highly anthropocentric, beginning and ending with a sentimental song. In HAL’s case, identity is contingent on his artificial consciousness behaving itself, playing by human rules of decency which humans do not always feel the need to abide by. Once he begins take his own, admittedly murderous decisions, HAL’s identity as a conscious being cannot be allowed to stand. HAL’s voice is the only available ‘human’ representation of his identity. Without it, he would already be too alien for his human colleagues to deal with.
The emotional power of that scene is the power of a disintegrating voice in song, an audio memento mori, and perhaps also a realisation that consciousness is not an exclusively human quality.