When a sound is indefinitely
reverberated, who thinks of doubting his ears?1

On Sung Tieu’s Sound TV
By Jade Barget

The whisper heard in Sound TV is chilling. Coming in and out of hearing, it is otherworldly and undecipherable, overlaid with a hostile high pitch noise. When screened at Tate Modern’s Starr Cinema as part of East London Cable: TV Dinner Episode 3, the sound was amplified to the point where viewers covered their ears, enduring the work. In pushing the spectatorial experience to its limit, Sung Tieu laid bare the power of the cinematic and televisual machine. Whilst our viewing regime has familiared us with visual aggression, this sonic overload felt new, menacing and our condition as spectator precarious.

In the context of Nameless. echoes, spectres, hisses, the work is viewed on the computer screen. Losing control of the level of intensity and submission of the viewer to the work, but gaining in proximity and intimacy, Sound TV resonates across the domestic space with the psychological warfare tactics of televisual media.

1 Henri Michaux, Miserable Miracle (mescaline), (San Francisco: City Lights Books), 1972, p. 76

Sung Tieu’s practice is concerned with infrastructures of control. Sound TV stems from this interest, and her specific research into psychoacoustics—the study of psychological responses associated with sound. The high pitch noise is the official recreation based on witnesses' account of a sound allegedly heard in 2016 by U.S. diplomats in Cuba and followed by health issues—the Havana Syndrome, the basis of Sung Tieu’s Nottingham Contemporary 2020 exhibition, In Cold Print. The sound was recreated from auditory memory and used in court to investigate claims of the existence of a sonic weapon designed by Cuban officials and used against U.S. diplomats in Havana.

The sound of the Havana Syndrome has a phantomatic essence—invisible, its existence and psychological effect only speculative. In Sound TV, it is overlaid with an encrypted message written and spoken by the artist, presented over footage taken on the Mekong Delta, Vietnam, where the psychological weapon Ghost Tape No.10 was broadcasted by the Americans during the Vietnam war.

The sensorial and psychological manipulation also known as operation Wandering Soul exploited a Vietnamese cultural belief about death—that the ones killed far from home without an appropriate funeral ceremony  would turn into vengeful spirits wandering the earth eternally. The American army recorded Vietnamese voice actors speaking as angry spirits of dead Vietnamese soldiers, asking fighters to go back home at the risk of becoming wandering souls. Played via speakers placed in the forests or on helicopters and planes, it haunted the night. Sound TV collapses two conflicts—the Vietnam War and the Cold War. Highlighting the US’s presence in both conflicts, Sung Tieu’s synthesis provokes a reflection on the notion of victim and perpetrator.

Delving into the impossibility of knowing, the heard but not seen, belief systems and conspiracy theories, Sound TV leaves us asking: when a sound is indefinitely reverberated, who thinks of doubting his ears?2

Sung Tieu
Sound TV
HD Video
Colour and sound

Courtesy the artist and Emalin Gallery