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Artist Ekene Ijeoma Seeks To Capture The Languages And Accents Of St. Louis

A crowd begins to form on Luther Ely Smith Square as demonstrators finish the St. Louis Women's March January 21, 2017.
File photo / Camille Phillips / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis' unique sound portrait will include the voices of its residents.

If you were tasked with creating a “sound portrait” of St. Louis, what would you include? Maybe the rumble of trucks over potholes. The cheering crowd — and the fireworks — that follow a home run at Busch Stadium. The crickets chirping their hearts out in Tower Grove Park.

Conceptual artist Ekene Ijeoma and his Poetic Justice group at MIT Media Lab had a different idea. Their project, “A Counting,” features the voices of residents of cities around the world. Each city’s sound portrait seeks to capture the many different languages spoken in that city. And it creates a rich sound mosaic of those voices counting — one by eins by uno by ek.

On Feb. 15, Ijeoma revealed the latest video chapter in A Counting: the St. Louis version. The chapter was made in partnership with the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis’ CAM Anywhere initiative, which connects people with art online. And while it currently has only a handful of voices from the area, Ijeoma hopes people will feel inspired to participate.

Ijeoma explained on St. Louis on the Air that he launched the project in New York City last year in connection with the Museum of the City of New York. They kicked things off by posting ads on Craigslist asking people to call a hotline and make a recording of themselves counting to 100 in their languages. “It went on to word of mouth and to posting on social media, et cetera,” he said. “We’re nearly at 100, but there are 600 languages spoken in New York, so there’s still a ways to go.”

St. Louis likely has far fewer than that, but that’s not the point, Ijeoma said.

“It’s not just about the languages. We’re really looking to capture accents, voices and just the different ways people express themselves through voice,” he said.

In addition to making a recording, St. Louisans are being asked to listen to others and transcribe their call. “It gives more stewardship into the artwork,” Ijeoma explained. “We wanted to give more ownership into how languages, and cities, are represented, and also for people to listen to each other in a different way.”

People are encouraged to call 314-470-8445 to participate in St. Louis’ sound portrait.

Related Events

What: A Counting

Where: The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis website

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.