Searle’s Room

This project is a response to John Searle’s Chinese Room. It explores child-writing and child-speech as protolanguages, unintelligible in any conventional linguistic sense but rife with poetic possibilities and communicative in other registers, on the level of shared biological and developmental experience. The system is composed of a number of static materials and two active agents: a child speech synthesis system, and a mechatronic child drawing apparatus. The system operates in cycles: synthesizing child speech, which is then interpreted and transcribed by speech recognition system, in turn launching the drawing machine into a round of additions to a cumulative drawing on the wall. As the cycle repeats, periodic bursts of child speech are followed by the sounds of stepper motors and pen-and-ink inscription.

Children’s voices were sourced from an online speech research database, and videos of children babbling and learning speaking their color words. Child drawings were gathered from a range of sources demonstrating different levels of representational and typographic development. My eye and hand were the means of data entry for the children’s drawings: I traced them into the system using the recording apparatus at left. This produced position-time series of pen motions which were broken apart and re-synthesized as the source data for the system’s machine drawings.

Installation View
Synthesized Babble and Speech Recognition

Drawing Recorder and Playback
Source Drawing

Machine Drawing
Clustered Drawing Information
Continuous Translation

Synthesized from child babble and color words utterances, extracted from home video:

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[soundcloud url=”″ params=”auto_play=false&show_artwork=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

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