Jon Tjhia

How is a business phone call like a folk song or jazz standard? How much are non-words, and part-words, involved in how we communicate? Is it possible to speak into the void; to use our voices to communicate nothing at all?

In Thing-Like, Jon Tjhia has created a suite of 'exercises' – basically analogous to piano études, or studies, for edited sound works. Taking Walter Ong's preoccupations with the 'immersive' and vital nature of oral culture as a point of departure, these pieces tease and critique the heavy burden of speech and its value: as social currency, blunt instrument, monetary resource and point of connection.

This collection of short works is composed for speakers – inviting, intrusive, implicating the passer-by; and headphones – individual, interior. Traditional interviews, aimless conversations, paid celebrity dedications, forgotten sing-alongs, free improvisations, custom voice synthesis and chance murmurs become material for a process that is both informal and entirely formal. Speakers’ words are manipulated (‘say that again, but opposite’); license agreements are breached. While Ong argues that thought and expression have been fundamentally reconfigured by the technology of writing; Thing-Like suggests ways in which voice and speech have been reconfigured by the technology of money and how it structures time.

“I’m generally interested in thinking about sound as a material and time as a material. Speech acts, and the way most examples of speaking make no sense without at least an implied listener. But the key idea which informs Thing-Like as a title and a work is Ong’s insistence on writing as a technology, and how that’s bled back into the realm of speaking. It’s not just writing that’s become standardised. And, if you think of it in certain ways, the recorded voice is very similar to the written word.”


Thing-Like, by Jon Tjhia, was adapted for stereo from a four-channel installation. It features Carolyn Connors, Ahmed Yussuf and Montell Jordan.

Support Us

We work on the land of the Kulin Nation, and pay our respects to their elders—past, present and future.

© 2023 Constellations. All rights reserved.