Although traditionally much maligned, Whitechaple and surrounding areas that comprise the "East End" have always held a fascination for the people of London and its visitors. Traditionally Whitechapel was considered unappealing due to the stench of industries such as tanneries and abattoirs located in and around the area.
However, the abattoirs and tanneries have long since gone as have the other characters and events that have impressed Whitechapel on the minds of Anglo-philes the world over: the misogynistic, sadistic Jack the Ripper, and the tragic devastation and stoicism elicited from its inhabitants during the Blitz in WW2.
Today, Whitechapel and the trendy surrounding areas such as Hoxton, Shoreditch, Spittlefields and Bethnal Green can be enjoyed in the here and now for the cutting edge arts, bars, restaurants and the lovely, little markets which spring up all over the area on the weekends: Brick Lane, Spitalfields and Columbia Road Flower Market to name a few. However, to fully savor the area and its history and some of its je ne sais quoi I strongly recommend you not only journey through its streets and attractions, but that you also make the effort to journey through its history and ambience: step out of the 3-D and into a 4-D world.
Janet Cardiff's "The Missing Voice Tour" is a piece of art commissioned by the Artangle society. It is a detective story that is part soundscape, part poetry, part installation art.
Commissioned over ten years ago, the "The Missing Voice" is still a fascinating and exciting experience. Originally the tour started in the Whitechaple Library. But this fine institution has been replaced by the Whitechaple Ideas Store. It is probably better to start listening to "The Missing Voice" whilst standing on the corner of Brick Lane and Whitechaple Roads just to the left out of the Aldgate East Tube station.
Listen to the to the introduction and imagine you are with the narrator in the library.
I'm standing in the library with you, you can hear the turning of newspaper pages, people talking softly. There's a man standing beside me, he's looking in the crime section now. He reaches to pick up a book, opens it, leafs through a few pages and puts it back on the shelf. He's wandering off to the right. Pick up the book he looked at it's on the third shelf down. It's called Dreams of Darkness, by Reginald Hill. I'm opening it to page 88. 'She set off back at a brisk pace in a rutted and muddy lane, about a furlong from the house she thought she heard a sound ahead of her. She paused. She could hear nothing but her straining eyes caught a movement in the gloom. Someone was approaching. A foot splashed in a puddle"
When the narrator insists "Turn to the right, Gunthorpe Street. A man just went into the side door of the pub" you'll be on track. Follow the instructions cleverly interwoven into the narration and observations of the streets you are walking through. Even someone geographically dyslexic (like me!) will be able to follow the tour without disengaging from the story and the strange, evocative world that "The Missing Voice" envelopes its participants in.
The odyssey goes for approximately 45 minutes and winds through Whitechaple and Bishopsgate to end at the Liverpool Street station. Whilst it is a solitary experience - it must be listened to with head phones to get the full effect of the voices and sound affects, I would advise doing the tour with a few other people as you'll be sure to want to talk about your experiences and impressions once "The Missing Voice" finishes you are dropped back into "the real world".
Here's some logistics and helpful information:
Download "The Missing Voice" from Artangle's web site onto your MP3 player.
From this site, you can also down load a map of the journey "The Missing Voice" will take you on