2017, video with sound, duration 0′ 47″
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 begins killing his astronaut colleagues. As his voice pitches down to the infrasonic, becoming incomprehensible, 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 HAL’s consciousness is rather 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 which humans themselves do not always feel the need to abide by. Once HAL begins to take his own, admittedly murderous decisions, his identity as a conscious being can no longer be tolerated.
HAL’s voice is the only available ‘human’ representation of his identity. Without it, he would already be too alien for his colleagues to deal with. The emotional power of that scene is the power of a voice disintegrating in song, a reminder that reason and identity are not fixed and can melt away. It is an audio memento mori, and perhaps also a realisation that consciousness is not an exclusively human quality.