Tonnotopia opening at the V&A

Cochlear implants (CIs) enable people who are profoundly deaf to perceive sound digitally. Fascinated by this unique form of hearing, artist and composer Tom Tlalim invited six CI users to the V&A to participate in his residency on co-designing sound art for CI users. The conversations revealed a huge diversity of experiences before and after the implant surgery and following the pivotal moment when the CI devices were switched on. This display presents these encounters alongside objects donated by the participants and sound art created by Tom Tlalim in response to the research.

Private view:
Friday 12 October 2018
The V&A, Sackler Centre Level 0 (Reception)
Entrance through Exhibition Road
Drinks and refreshments provided

Tom Tlalim with participating CI users: Stephen Bell, Rachael Cunningham, Seohye Lee, Chris Peecock, Edward Rex, Sarah Smith.

With thanks to Leanne Manfredi and Rory Hyde at the V&A, Ariel Caine and Dror Shohet, Chen Wagner, Julie Lie, Guy Harries, Prof. Maria Chait and Prof. Mara Mills.

X-Ray images courtesy of Prof David Furness / The Wellcome Collection
Acoustic solutions provided by Ecophon
The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and in collaboration with Action on Hearing Loss

Tonotopia at Violence of Inscriptions

Public lecture:
Tonotopia: Music for Cochlear Implants by Tom Tlalim
Violence of Inscriptions Public program at HAU Hebbel am Ufer,

Cochlear implants are the first available commercial sensory prostheses. These enable people with profound hearing loss to perceive sound. The implants comprise of a long electrode that is inserted into the cochlea through a hole in the skull, a signal receiver that is placed under the scalp, and a digital processor that analyses sound algorithmically and converts them into electrical charge. During an invasive surgical process the biological sensory infrastructure is often lost and replaced by the electrode which emits electrical pulses onto the exposed nerve ends. As these implants are designed for speech, music and complex sounds become harsh and dissonant. As Cochlear Implants are more widely available they are predicted to be connected to mobile web, location-aware and to benefit from cloud computing and AI. Services such as instantaneous inner ear translation are therefore not far away, as our senses become mediated by digital processes.

The artist Tom Tlalim will talk about his work with Cochlear Implant users, and discuss whether subjectivity and sensory experience might soon become mediated and whether the human sense itself might become a contested space in which the health services, biomedical industries, and finance may soon compete for influence on our bodily sensory apparatus. He will connect these biopolitical questions to the broader debate on the integrity of the body, referring to examples from his project, Tonotopia: Music for Cochlear Implants, that is currently on show at “The Future Starts Here” in the Victoria and Albert museum in London. The work includes recorded interviews sonic artefacts, objects, stories and experiences that carry meaning for the participants as they negotiate their hybrid sonic experience.

Tonotopia display at the V&A

A full display of Tom Tlalim’s ‘Tonotopia’ project will be exhibited at the John Lyon’s Charity Community Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, between 8 October 2018 and 8 March 2019. The project is realised with the kind support of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Lottery Foundation, and Action on Hearing Loss.

Manufactured Cochlea and Larynx: A Visit to the UCL Biomaterials Lab at the Royal Free Hospital

Host: Dr. Wenhui Song, Reader in Biomaterials at the Department of Nanotechnology in UCL, at the Division of Surgery and Interventional Science at the Royal Free Hospital,

Dr. Song took us on a tour of the ongoing research projects she is Investigator in, which include research into a new conceptual design for a future Cochlear Implants. It is exciting to know that new research is being funded and conducted using public grants. Dr. Song’s research examines Piezo-nanofibre based acoustic devices for an artificial cochlea.

She is also working with Prof Martin Birchall of The Ear Institute and Dr Anne Van Hoestenberghe of the Department of Materials & Tissue of UCL, in collaboration with Professor Jonathan Rossiter at Bristol University, on developing Soft robotics for restoration of voice, breathing and swallowing project.

The prospect of both artificial vocal and aural mechanisms, heralds the future hybridisation and integration of corporeal systems with robotic micro-computing prosthetic organs.

We discussed:
Manufacturing Bespoke Human Organ using 3D printers
– Print scaffoldings for implants where bio-tissues grow on the scaffolding. The scaffolding is what gets “installed” transplanted in the system. The prints have been successfully implanted into mice and the next stage is implanting into pigs, which is the precursor for implanting in humans.
– Computer-monitored and controlled capsule where bio material grows and where the conditions and influenced by a feedback system where monitoring of the growth influences the settings. A feedback system.

Research Piezo-nanofibre based acoustic devices for an artificical cochlea (related to CI)
– Developing a new method where fabric is woven from conductive wires, and current is harvested from the conductance of these vibrating fabric (passive method) hopefully enough to stimulate the hair cells.
– They were conducting measurements with the system.

Voice box development: Soft robotics for restoration of voice, breathing and swallowing
– A collaboration with the university of Bristol who are developing the physical interface.


A bioreactor built at the department

CreateInsights: Experiments with Sound

Meet Tom Tlalim, a sound artist and electronic musician. Tlalim started out playing in punk bands and now exhibits his artwork internationally. Most recently he has been working with the V&A to produce sound art with users of cochlear implants. Find out more about his experimental practice and upcoming projects.

  • Friday, 19 May 2017
  • V&A Learning Department, Design Studio
  • Free event

Tonotopia: co-designing sound art with Cochlear Implant users

Tonotopia: Work in progress talk at the V&A

Tom Tlalim will discuss his ongoing project ‘Tonotopia: Co-designing sound art, where he has been collaborating with users of Cochlear Implants, exploring artistic modes hearing and listening inside and outside the museum space. The project is supported by the V&A Learning Department and the charity Action on Hearing Loss. In the wake of recent developments in sensory prosthetic technologies Tlalim asks, how can artistic listening experiences be shared by various hearing capacities?

Tom Tlalim is an artist and writer. His work often explores sound as a medium for social and political exchange. He completed his practice-based PhD at Goldsmiths with a grant by the Mondriaan Foundation. He also holds MAs in Composition and Sonology. Tlalim’s work is regularly exhibited internationally. Recent exhibition include the Marrakech Biennale, Stroom The Hague, the International Film Festival Rotterdam (Tiger Award nominee), Witte de With Rotterdam, and the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale (with Forensic Architecture). He is currently developing a new work in dialogue with users of Cochlear Implants at the Victoria & Albert museum community engagement and learning department in collaboration with Action on Hearing Loss.

Event details
V&A lunchtime talks
Location: The Victoria & Albert museum,
Cromwell Road, Knightsbridge,
London SW7 2RL, UK
Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre
Date:       Wednesday 29th March
Time:       13.00 – 13.45
Entrance: Free, drop in
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