What are you trying to say?


by Youjia Lu

View Porphyria (Youjia) Lu's Biography

Porphyria (Youjia) Lu is a video artist and researcher based in Melbourne. 

What are you trying to say?

Youjia Lu

This project came about as a response to the regular visits of one of the neighbourhood blackbirds. In 2020-2021, he stopped by often in mornings and evenings, perched upon the balcony railing of an adjacent apartment. Though I do not know the language and expressions, I was captivated by a desire to understand the patterns and sounds. As I continued recording encounters in the following weeks, I was able to discern patterns and motifs, but I was yet still unable to get a response to my naïve question: What are you trying to say?


What are you trying to say? 

Fear that no one will understand prevents me from communicating. 

I keep trying and trying and trying, trying to listen even without understanding your words.

What are you trying to say? 

I keep trying because my heart yearns for relating to you even though the friendship seems unlikely, but I know it is true.

What are you trying to say? 

Don't stop, for I have not given up trying to hear what you say.

What are you trying to say?


Rather than a question expected to be answered correctly, I propose this project as an expression of interest in the occasion of trying to know a fellow being (human and-or non-human)   a gesture to establish a mutual understanding to commune. Instead of an assertive statement, the collection of video and sound recordings will provide an expression of my attempts in the trials-and-errors process of forging dialogues initiated by this question.

Sonogram: 'What are you trying to say?'

Raw Material

From the audio recordings of the blackbird from my neighbour's balcony, I identified there are several tones in his singing 'verses', which he repeats each time he sings. From these repetitive tones, I selected one of the most frequently repeating tones to be the source material.

Creative Process

  1. Learn the selected tone from the blackbird singing, and form it into a new (antiphonical) musical tone for my singing.

  2. Add lyrics 'What are you trying to say?' to the blackbird-inspired musical tone.

  3. Use the blackbird-inspired musical tone as a medium to carry different language I collect from the encounter with my neighbourhood.

  4. sonogram visually displays the artistic/poetic expression of the formed music, like a 'music video.'

(Master)Musical-tone + (servant)word/lyric


  1. A sonogram becomes a 'music video' for the vision of senseless/wordless chanting.

  2. 'What are you trying to say' carried by the tone to initiate a possible call and response with the bird, a neighbour and oneself to know what lies beneath the words. The wordlessness.

  3. Question replaces statement. Singing overwrites speaking.


Phono-cardiogram: 'What are you trying to say?'

Raw Materials

Audio signal of my heartbeat using a Heart-Listener, a made for purpose amateur device that consists of a stethoscope and a condenser microphone to capture my heartbeat.

Creative process

  1. Collect 'what are you trying to say?' from the Encounters with my neighbours and friends.

  2. Use 'Google Translate' to translate the words into different languages based on their syllables and pronunciation.

  3. Use the 'Heart-listener' to generate the pulse of the texts in a rhythm corresponding to my heartbeat.

  4. The phono-cardiogram translates the syllable texts into a vision of imageless 'music video', silent beats.

(Master)Rhythm-pulse + (servant)word/text


  1. A phono-cardiogram also becomes a 'music video' for the vision of imageless/silent beats.

  2. 'What are you trying to say?' becomes a pulse in silence, internal observation and conversation between my mind-body and my heart.

  3. Forced silence in the recording and generating process becomes a chance for deep listening, the sound of silence, the unfathomable expression from the heart.

  4. Words turn into musical beats that correspond to the pulsation and rhythm. Patterns emerge in the imageless beats. 

  5. In silence, my heart sings a new song with its rhythm. In silence, my (ear and eye) body is listening, and my heart is singing.


The Heart-Listener

1 - IMG1 Youjia_Heart-Listener.jpg

The Encounters

People in these encounters are:

  1. A nut shop owner in the market (Greek)

  2. A deli retail assistant in the market (Indonesian)

  3. A cashier at the vegetable shop in the market (Indian)

  4. A dollmaker at the pop-up stall in the market (Ukrainian)

  5. A café owner and his wife (Polish and Filipino)

  6. A barista from the downstairs café and her partner (Vietnamese and Macedonian)

  7. An elderly person I met on the street near the market (Albanian)

  8. A close friend. Our first reunion since the lockdown, at the botanic garden in the neighbourhood (Germany).

Side Notes

  1. In the translation process, each person translates the question 'What are you trying to say?' with a slightly different personal emphasis on various elements of the question. For example, 'say' is translated differently into 'mean', 'speak', or 'telling'.

  2. The learning process generates laugher, encouraging words and some extra explanation added to the conversation.