Hearings

Hearings is an art installation by Jack Tan comprising 8 graphic scores and audio recordings, and is part of a wider collaborative project between the artist and the Community Justice Centre (CJC) called ‘Voices from the Courts’. Hearings is the result of an artist’s residency  with CJC in Jan-Feb 2016 undertaken by Jack Tan at the State and Family Courts of Singapore. During the residency, Tan listened to the soundscape of the courts, paying particular attention to the experience of the litigant-in-person, and documented what he heard as drawings. The artist then turned the drawings into graphic scores which have been interpreted and performed by the ACJC Alumni Choir.

Exhibition dates:

8 – 15 October 2016 preview at Salon du Sens, live performance on 8 Oct.
23 – 29 October at The Arts House, live performances on 29 Oct.
27 Oct 2016 – 26 Feb 2017 at the Singapore Art Museum 8Q as part of the Singapore Biennale 2016

Sound production: Ethan Seow, Salon du Sens
Graphic design (artwork and catalogue): Darius Ou
Photos: Olivia Kwok

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A court of emotion

3 minutes 40 seconds

Throughout a court complex people are confronted with the emotions that litigation induces: worries about an impending hearing, elation at a successful outcome or disappointment at losing. Judges and lawyers acknowledge these emotions. They may empathise or even commiserate, and yet they have to maintain impartiality. The words in this score are verbatim declarations I heard around the State Courts of Singapore that addressed litigants’ emotional states.

The Choir sings their interpretation of this score in three sections. The declaratory sentence at the top was made by a judge trying to bring the litigant-in-person back on track during a hearing. The bubbles contain a question I overheard in a corridor between a legal adviser and a client. Finally during a pro bono legal advice session, a lawyer attempts to pierce through the clients wall of confused emotion with encouraging statements.

A court of emotion


3 mins 40 secs


Mitigation and sentencing

3 minutes 59 seconds

Listening to the sentencing in a series of traffic cases, I noted some of the text of the pronouncements and the declaratory tone in which they were delivered. In addition, through drawing I tried to capture the serious atmosphere of the process. The finality of the sentencing is represented as a dark circular block and yet within that sombreness there are streaks of colour that allude to the empathy that is required when considering mitigating circumstances.

The Choir begins singing this score from the middle of the circle working their way out to the edge and to the text, before coming back into the middle again. 

Sentencing traffic court


3 mins 59 secs


Waiting for hearing to begin

2 minutes 34 seconds

Like the soundscape of a concert hall before the orchestra begins to play, there is a sense of anticipation or ‘tuning up’ before a hearing begins. This score documents the sounds heard in a courtroom prior to the entry of the judge and then continues for a short while into the formal hearing. General chatter, footsteps, doors creaking, pens dropping, bangs and other background noises are scored as music.

The Choir sings this score line by line from left to right. The “Oei! Oei! Oei!” in the middle of the score, shouted by the court police, ushers the judge into the courtroom. Thereafter the previous soundscape of meandering chatter in court (green line)  becomes more structured (blue line). After the hearing commences, various noises continue and a new whirring sound can be heard from outside.

Court soundscape


2 mins 34 secs


A man who is his own lawyer

1 minute 4 seconds

I attended a series of hearings where a lawyer was representing himself in a case. This particular score is derived from one cross-examination that he conducted where he had to pin a hostile witness down methodically and logically, and yet battle his own emotions and clear irritation at what the witness was saying. Both these sides of him had to converge in a single clear argument (as represented by the blue diamond) if he was to present himself well to the judge. This was a difficult task but one which he discharged competently because he won his points.

The Choir divided in two for this performance: one half taking a circular melody while the other half made a series of 6 specific noises. With gathering intensity, both sides of the choir meet in the middle.

Representing yourself


1 min 4 secs


My learned friend

1 minute 40 seconds

I listened to two senior lawyers exchange arguments towards the end of a hearing. They were typically polite and measured, often using the phrase “My learned friend”. The coloured strokes in this score capture the protocol and politeness of turn-taking in court advocacy. However the increasing intensity of colour as the strokes reach the top denotes the increasing earnestness and sharpness of the exchanges between the advocates as they sense the end of the hearing near.

The Choir divided in two to sing the score in two halves. One half uses a rising refrain, while the other sings sang a falling one.

My learned friend


1 min 40 secs


Forms and processes

1 minute 51 seconds

This graphic score is inspired by the idea that the courts are comprised of procedures and forms that initiate proceedings and move them along. I encountered many public information flowcharts at court and used their visual language to describe some questions asked about a litigant-in-person’s extenuating circumstances while they are in the court system.

The Choir’s interpretation of this score captures the feel of how a person may initially respond to the many forms and processes that are encountered in court, which may appear daunting at first in spite of their aim to be helpful.

Litigant support meeting


1 min 51 secs


Interpreting states of mind

2 minutes 37 seconds

This score describes the work that interpreters have to do to translate not just language, but the overload of information that litigants sometimes provide as a result of heightened states of mind or emotion during court hearings. The orange represents an interpreter ascertaining relevant information from a litigant (coloured dots and stars), and then conversing with the judge in blue.

The Choir assigned a duet to each coloured line: a pair of female voices to the orange line, and a pair of male voices to the blue. Other singers contribute and interrupt with noises and phrases.

Interpreting mental capacity


2 mins 37 secs


Appeal and advocacy

3 minutes 32 seconds

On a visit to the Court of Appeal I listened to a conversation between Appellant and Respondent lawyers and the three judges. Argument, questions, debate happened freely between the lawyers and judges in the effort to determine truth within the complexities of real world business relationships and the legal principles at stake. I was struck by the dynamic of persuasion and deliberation unfolding before me in court.

The Choir divided into three, each group singing a particular motif, but all three groups singing simultaneously. Two soloists, representing the lawyers, interrupt and attempt to influence the Choir.  Court of appeal


3 mins 32 secs