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JIVS 3 (2) pp. 167–183 Intellect Limited 2018
Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies
Volume 3 Number 2
© 2018 Intellect Ltd Voicings. English language. doi: 10.1386/jivs.3.2.167_1
ALEXIS DEIGHTON MACINTYRE
University College London
The signification of the
Embodiment is central to voice studies, but describing vocality as a material figure
requires that the embodied voice be defined, implicitly and/or in stark terms.
Consequently, apparently self-evident loci of the voice emerge as the throat, mouth,
tongue, and ear, yet these physical sites reveal a narrow view of voicing.1 In particu-
lar, Deafness and sign language hold a tenuous position at the fringe of voice studies,
to be evaded or invoked only as a special case. Examining voice as it is conceived of
by Deaf people and academics, hearing culture, and voice studies, as well as cogni-
tive neuroscience, I argue that the forces excluding Deaf voice and language rely on
truisms from western metaphysics. Rooted in the mind-body divide, these assump-
tions regard gesture and movement as primitive or beast-like. In discourse surround-
ing the voice, they are manifest in terminology that privileges tone, timbre, pitch,
and high-frequency material vibration. This embodied turn is driven by latent beliefs
surrounding sound and its associated anatomy, resulting therefore in the omis-
sion not only of sign language, but of gesture and other nonverbal vocal actions.
Intrinsically linked with the body, rhythm encounters a similar fate. In critique of
sound quality and the division of senses, I draw together Deaf insights with neuro-
biological investigations of multimodality, action perception, and rhythm cognition,
1. The concept of ‘voice’
moving into ‘voicing’
has, in particular,
Thomaidis in his
book Theatre &
Voice (Palgrave, 2017),
in ‘Voice: Forensics
in Experience Bryon
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Alexis Deighton MacIntyre
168 Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies
and submit that temporal and action-based frameworks offer an alternative means
by which to source the vocal body, one that fluidly accommodates hearing voices,
Deaf voices, and the movements they share in common.
The material turn can take many incarnations, which vary according to disci-
pline. As early proponents of new materialism, for example, feminist philoso-
phers excavated an embodied basis for gendered and racialized experience,
inspiring a diffusion of ‘attempts to write nature, bodies, and things into the
humanities’ (van der Tuin 2014). For the emerging field of voice studies, mate-
riality poses a special problem, or an opportunity, as Nina Sun Eidsheim and
Annette Schlichter argue: the ‘friction between the material and the meta-
phorical dimensions of the vocal’ is a site of interplay between ‘voice as symbol’
(e.g., of agency) and ‘voice as sound and material’ (2014). From this perspec-
tive, because the voice is elusive and resists singular definitions, the question
of what is left once ‘everything that is not the voice itself’ is stripped away
is richly generative (Chion 1999: 1). Efforts to formalize the voice, however,
run the risk of tacitly limiting voice qua voice to song, speech, and utterance.
In doing so, inaudible voices are pathologized or ignored. The Deaf commu-
nity2 first grappled with the problem of the voice long before Jacques Derrida
described ‘phonocentrism’, his neologism against the ‘absolute proximity
of voice and being’ (1997: 12). Following a lengthy period of institutionally
enforced oralism, Deaf nonvocalization is still often equated with silence in
both the popular and academic imaginations. Yet, Deaf studies has much to
offer voice studies. What can the latter discipline, given its current ontological
trappings, tell us about a voice that is not heard, yet attended to? I contend
that the voice, as it is codified in dominant hearing culture, is enmeshed by
discourse that denies status to some voices, while identifying concerns these
same excluded voices are uniquely equipped to address. Interpreting extant
voice scholarship from a non-oralist point of view, I suggest that drawing Deaf
voices into the fold may not only clarify the conceptualization of the voice,
but hone the persistent friction of mind–body dualism. Deafness subverts this
dualism on multiple levels. For instance, as it is utterly corporeal, the signed
voice is inalienable from the body, which is not the site of expression, but the
expressive medium itself. Notwithstanding the obscuring of vocal articulators,
a similar argument could be made for spoken language, which incorporates
the face, shoulders, posture, gesture and body sway in prosodic alignment,
whether or not an interlocutor can in fact be seen. Yet the material propa-
gation of sound and the sufficiency of an auditory signal for informational
comprehension permit the illusion of a detachable artefact, a voice without
a body. The installation of materiality to voice studies has yet to truly chal-
lenge this notion. Rather, taking the sonic nature of the voice for granted and
reverse-engineering the acoustic signal has brought us to an embodied voice
box, encased by sound-producing anatomy, leaving eyebrows, backbone and
hands aphonic and unheard. Inviting hearing people to consider how they
might voice – and listen – Deafly may therefore illuminate a dimension of
experience hitherto overlooked. Furthermore, although the Deaf understand-
ing of sound is typically non-linguistic, it can nonetheless be sensed as a
vibrotactile percept. The dominance of aurality may distance or conceal this
aspect of sound for hearing people, but it is of chief interest to recent embod-
ied theories of music as ‘intermaterial vibrational phenomena’, wherein oscil-
lating ‘bones and flesh’ are themselves sonic objects (Eidsheim 2015b: 161).
an Active Aesthetic
(pp. 219–36), and in the
editorial to Volume 1
Issue 2 of this journal.
2. Throughout this
article, I follow Deaf
studies convention by
spelling cultural Deaf
and Deafness with an
uppercase letter D,
and deaf or deafness,
as in the medicalized
condition of an hearing
impairment, with a
lowercase letter d.
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The signiﬁcation of the signed voice
Finally, the introduction of sign language to voice studies may help to balance
the scale between pitch and time. Traditional vocal techniques taught by
European conservatories emphasize a ‘pure’ quality of timbre (Marshall 2015),
which is determined by the combination of frequencies that form a complex
sound wave, like a sung vowel. In contrast with sustained vocal tone, the ‘blow
of [a] stick’ on a drum produces non-periodic waveforms, resulting in ‘noise’,
an undesirable sound (Miller 1939). This dichotomy was perhaps most explic-
itly stated by Pope Pius X in his 1903 Motu Proprio promulgating that, whereas
the ‘purity’ of Gregorian chant indicates its centrality to worship, there is no
sacred place for ‘noisy or frivolous instruments such as drums, cymbals, bells
and the like’. Nor place profane, according to the colonial Nigerian govern-
ment who banned drumming throughout the first half of the twentieth
century, ‘to control noise’ and ‘prevent decline in morals’ (Jones 2001: 697).
Even today, a municipal response to noise pollution concedes that ‘[d]rums
by their very nature are noisy’ (London Borough of Bromley 2018), corrobo-
rating Spike Lee’s criticism of the white gentrification that halted the tradi-
tion of ‘African drums in Mount Morris Park […] because the new inhabitants
said the drums are loud’ (Coscarelli 2014). Yet, drums and other percussion
instruments are popular choices for Deaf musicians, and newly developing
scientific accounts of rhythm directly implicate the moving body. Specifically,
brain imaging suggests that motoric neural systems underlie not only the
planning and production of actions, but the perception of others’ actions, and
that prior sensory experience shapes even the passive recognition of rhythm.
Unlike the oscillations of pitch, which operate so quickly that the percept is of
a quality, rather than a time series, the sequential ‘noises’ of music, language,
dance and gesture are imitable actions that can transfer between effectors and
across modalities. These comparatively slow waves prompt reflexive move-
ment, such as the urge to dance or the readiness to respond dialogically, a
characteristic central to human rhythm, which is defined by Plato as ‘the order
of motion’ (2013: 93). Present in speech, song, and signing, I posit that rhythm
adumbrates an embodied voice unbound to hearing or vision or any exact
spatial dimension – rhythm as the unfolding of actions in time, the verbing of
the voice, or voicing as a process. To echo Nina Sun Eidsheim, ‘[v]oice is not
sound; it is action’ (2015a: 364). In unbraiding voice from mouth and ear, we
find that other materials may well voice and be contacted by the voicings of
others.3 Subsequently, a material definition may not be necessary at all for this
material turn. Rather, voice is neither object nor property for deployment, but
rather that itself which voices. I draw both from western philosophical, literary
and musicological traditions, and cognitive and biological empirical evidence.
Brain sciences is an interdisciplinary field that inherited many of the same
Cartesian binaries – mind–body, thought–emotion – subject to discursive
deconstruction, yet, in a surprising twist of convergence, its reliance on meas-
urement and data have led practitioners to question the same ontologies that
trouble many humanists; for example, biophysics is not swayed by how we
have operationalized language, and so the phrenologist’s search for a single
neural ‘language area’ is continuously thwarted by brain images that sabotage
modular theories of speech (Skipper 2015). As a researcher in cognitive neuro-
science, my secondary motivation is to reconvene scientific and philosophical
understanding of voice and voicing. Ultimately, I write towards the generative
potential of an inclusive voice studies: beyond the translation of knowledge
currently inaccessible to hearing people, yet more may be found where audi-
ble and inaudible voices intersect.
3. Strikingly, cerebral
blood flow, as
measured by magnetic
(MRI), has recently
constituted a means by
which some coma and
patients may voice
(Owen et al. 2006).
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170 Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies
THE VOICE IN DEAF AND NON-DEAF DISCOURSES
The practice of artist Christine Sun Kim indicates one possible audible–
inaudible nexus of the vocal. Spanning performances, installations, and a vari-
ety of media, Kim negotiates her audible voice by ‘trying on’ interpreters and
‘guiding people to become [her] voice’ (Mansfield 2015), and by ‘leasing’ out
her own or ‘borrowing’ another’s (Song 2016). Yet, for Kim, each ‘sonic identity
[…] is really more just about sound’ (Song 2016), and she distances her literal
voice, referring to the laryngeal apparatus, from the metaphorical, sometimes
putting ‘cultural identity aside to study [her] own vocalisation’ (Kim 2016:
187–88). Despite this separation, Kim’s uses of infrasonic frequencies and face
markers are two of many interventions by which she ‘reclaims sound’ from an
aural-centric world-view, and in doing so, establishes a framework in which
to reimagine orality through a Deaf lens – not just for herself and other Deaf
people, but for all bodies. Indeed, Kim invites hearing people to ‘see’ and ‘feel’
familiar social and environmental sounds, and to discover their own inaudible
voices for themselves. Dominant hearing culture, however, is often insensitive
to inaudible voices and continues to regard deafness as a treatable medical
abnormality, though this was not always the case. Surprisingly, until the mid–
late nineteenth century, the American education system actually favoured sign
language for the deaf by supporting specialized schools in which this cultural
and linguistic minority flourished (Tabak 2006). Bolstered by the institutional
embrace of social Darwinism, however, by the 1880s the introduction of the
Oral Method had led to systemic policies against signing. Victorian philolo-
gists and anthropologists noted that many indigenous societies incorporated
gesture and facial expression to an extent beyond that of so-called civilized
races. As the cultural historian Douglas Baynton relates, signing was thereaf-
ter seen as an ‘inferior language of inferior peoples’, and hence symptomatic
of an earlier stage of evolution (1996: 42). Until the 1970s, deaf children in
the United States were instructed not only to read lips and learn to vocal-
ize, but to actively supress their purportedly primitive visual language. In the
wake of plummeting deaf literacy, the Oral Method was pronounced a ‘fail-
ure’ in a 1965 congressional report (Babbidge 1965). At this time, academi-
cally refined conceptions of Deafness, Deaf identity, and the Deaf voice had
begun to emerge, the last of which confronted ‘the assumption that [Deaf
people’s] happiness depends on acquiring fluency in the language of the
hearing culture’ (Humphries cited Bauman 2004). Roughly contempora-
neously (in 1967), Derrida produced De la grammatologie (Derrida 1997), in
which he deconstructed what he saw as the binary opposition privileging
speech (phone) over writing (écriture). Some Deaf studies scholars read Derrida
‘through a deaf lens’, which ‘substitute[s] Derrida’s use of writing with signed
languages’ (Bauman 2004). Recognizing this philosopher as a collaborator
against phonocentrism, the oppressive force of speech, H-Derksen Bauman
and Joseph Murray propose that the Derridean circuit of auto-affection is
‘radically altered through the self-awareness of one’s own signing’, for unlike
a speaker who can hear herself, a signed voice is confirmed only ‘through the
face of the other’ who attends to one’s signing (2010: 221). From a neuroscien-
tific view, this is contestable. We do not perceive our own speech as others do,
nor do we perceive any of our actions as others do, in that our motor system
informs other networks, including sensory cortices, of impending movement,
resulting in a suppression of receptivity to exogenous stimuli (Crapse and
Sommer 2008). This does not, however, settle the issue of vantage point. The
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The signiﬁcation of the signed voice
sonority of speech is agnostic to the ear towards which it propagates, where
it blends with bone-conducted sound in the mind of the speaker, explaining
the discomfort of hearing oneself in a voicemail message. For Bauman, this
first sonority amounts to parallel perception of self and other, an equivalence
of first- and second-person hearing (1997, 2008). But the singular focus of
vision precludes an ocular analogue; specifically, there is no first- and second-
person seeing, at least outside of the supernatural. A mirror or monitor intro-
duces physical space, violating the absolute proximity that privileges the ear
in a phonocentric model. Hence, Deaf people, Dawne McCance observes, ‘are
caught up from the start in the sort of linguistic spacing that phonocentrism
attempts to collapse. In a phonocentric culture, then, they belong on the other
side of the us/them line’, identifying ‘the term hearing-oneself-speak as a desig-
nator of phonocentrism’s inevitable collusion with hierarchical – sexist, racist,
and colonialist – political structures’ (2012: 8–9, original emphasis). In oppo-
sition to this stance, Shirley Myers and Jane Fernandes argue that Derrida’s
‘descriptions and statements about speech apply equally to the only other
live form of communication besides speech: sign’, and furthermore that Deaf
studies ‘would do better to stick with the proof of linguists’ concerning the
‘linguistic nature of sign’ (2010).
In voice studies too Derridean ideas are met with debate, although his
critics here are perhaps more guarded. In For More Than One Voice, Adriana
Cavarero writes that ‘Derrida opens the philosophically disturbing theme of
the voice and, at the same time, imprisons it in the very metaphysical box
that it was meant to disturb’ (2005: 215). Whereas Derrida indicts the meta-
physical hypocrisy of denigrating written language as a trace, while valorizing
speech – equally emblematic of différance – for its absolute proximity, the thesis
of Cavarero’s book considers the uniqueness that resounds in the ‘voice that is
not speech, [and] also continues to resound in the speech to which the human
voice is constitutively destined’ (2005: 13). In an ‘anti-Derridean’ twist, Cavarero
asserts that the western philosophical tradition is in fact ‘logocentric’ and ‘radi-
cally denies to the voice a meaning of its own’ (2005: 13). From the outset,
Cavarero’s position appears amenable to Deafness. Indeed, sign languages are
‘oral’ in that they offer no written equivalent. Nonetheless, she ‘pull[s] speech
itself from the deadly grip of logocentrism’ and seems to place it into the
chokehold of oralcentrism (2005: 15). This work is preoccupied throughout by
‘sonorous articulation[s] that emit from the mouth’ (2005: 14), ‘sonorous breath’
(2005: 200), and ‘[w]et membranes and taste buds’ that mix up ‘with the flavor
of the tones’ (2005: 134). In Calvino’s words, ‘A voice involves the throat, saliva’
(Calvino 1988 cited Cavarero 2005: 4). Not that there is an inherent wrong or
prejudice in Cavarero’s oral fixation: sign languages involve the mouth, tongue
and teeth, too. The trouble lies in the hierarchical primacy of vocal emissions,
which is also manifest in language that, while at least partially metaphorical,
is hostile to Deaf people. For example, whereas philosophy on the whole has
undertaken a ‘strategic deafness’ to the voice (2005: 14), the ‘metaphysician is
[…] without exception, the deafest of the deaf’ (2005: 45), having sacrificed
the voice to the ‘mute realm of thought’ (2005: 224). For Cavarero, the sonic
artefact constitutes a defining property of the voice, as ‘[o]nly the voice that is
perceptible sound and breath is capable of transferring an effect of living pres-
ence to the phonic sign’ (2005: 226). Despite failing to achieve sonority, signing
should qualify as voice following Cavarero’s other criteria. Take for instance the
‘communication of one’s own uniqueness’ (2005: 5), which is arguably present
in the physical gestures, facial expressions, and sustained eye contact necessary
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Alexis Deighton MacIntyre
172 Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies
for sign language. Moreover, more than a ‘pivotal joint’, the voice in sign
language perturbs the separation ‘between body and speech’ such that any divi-
sion, if at all extant, becomes a moving target (2005: 15). Finally, sign language
knows well the ‘realm of speech in which the sovereignty of language yields to
that of the voice’ (2005: 10): that is, poetry.
In ‘How logos lost its voice’, Cavarero’s Aesopian retelling of how the west-
ern ear was supplanted by the eye, the epic poet Homer is the subject of the
philosopher Plato’s contempt. She writes, ‘Homer works with the voice, which
obeys the natural laws of sound […] this law is rhythmical, like breath or the
heartbeat’ (2005: 80). The formulaic, repetitive structures so mnemonically vital
to oral poetry and music represent to Plato a ‘paralysis of thought’. Hence, it is
not the narrative content of Homeric tradition he attacks, but rather its vocal-
ity: the ‘charm of song and sounds, the bodily enjoyment of the ear’ (2005: 81).
Plato’s hostility is, according to Cavarero, ‘absurd’ (assurda) (2005: 80). From an
etymological or Deaf studies perspective, this choice of term is apposite. In her
description of Victorian deaf poets who wrote in English, Jennifer Esmail traces
how the word ‘absurd’ gathered a plurality of senses. While most recognize its
connotation of ‘Inharmonious’ or ‘Foolish’, ‘Absurdus unites ab meaning “from”
and surdus, which means “deaf, inaudible or insufferable to the ear”’ (2011, orig-
inal emphasis). Absurd poetry is therefore ‘literally poetry from the deaf’ (2011).
Despite having little to no experience with spoken language, deaf people have
yet desired, and successfully produced, written poetry, thereby destabilizing
Cavarero’s assertion that the voice is sound. Arguing that nineteenth-century
deaf poets subverted the same ‘sound-based theory of poetry’ that warrants
critical assessment today, Esmail shows how, in a time before Deaf or disability
studies, they ‘simultaneously emphasized both the silence and the imagined
orality of their poetry’ (Esmail 2011). Yet, this literary voice, however animated
in readers’ minds, speaks – what is for many Deaf writers – a foreign language.
With the Internet and the expansion of Deaf public spheres, however, there is
widening opportunity to disseminate, consume, and participate in sign poetry.4
This can range from the translation of written spoken language classics to the
production of original works that utilize linguistic avenues only available to,
for instance, American Sign Language (ASL).5 Although ASL poetry unfolds
across the same temporal axis that English poetry does, its medium is the
expanded field of the performer’s body. Because hand height, facial expres-
sion, direction of eye gaze, and other articulators carry grammatical, lexical, and
emotive currency, the ASL poet’s voice is spatially both fluid and recursive – but
undocumentable on paper. In this format, the poem is thus ephemeral, in that
it only exists in action, yet embodied, in that every live or videoed performance
is expressed in the physicality of the signer. The presence of the audience, who
must maintain eye contact to comprehend the poem, and whose embodied
reactions form a feedback mechanism that is both interior (seeing-oneself-sign)
and exterior, ‘frame the meaning of every poem’s interpretation’, blurring the
lines between voices and rerouting the circuit of auto-affection (Burch 1997).
This rupture of self and other need not be exclusive to signed poetry, yet for
those unaccustomed to sensing Deafly, the production line-model of sound
tends to obscure such possibilities. Like spoken poetry, signed poetry oper-
ates rhythmically and frequently incorporates rhyme and metric play. Working
‘with hand-shape rhyme, pace, and movement to establish specific rhythms
4. The current article
does not address
sign poetry in detail;
readers are directed
to, for example, Robert
Panara, Ella Mae Lentz,
and Douglas Rifloff,
among other Deaf
poets whose works are
published and available
on social media and
the Internet. Many of
these authors explicitly
concentrate on rhythm
and the patterning of
human and non-human
motion. In Lentz’s
poem ‘Eye Music’, for
example, the performer
enacts the steady pulse
of roadside telephone
poles, whose wires dip
and resurface within
view of a moving
passenger as a melody.
As is often the case
in sign poetry, ‘Eye
Music’ resists the
that can pervade linear
spoken language, by
granting both the
cables, and the
resting viewer in
the car, agency and
movement via the
body of the poetic
actor. My warm thanks
to H-Dirksen Bauman
for introducing me
to this poem, as well
as his thoughtful and
regarding sign poetry.
5. There are many other
signed and written
languages used by
Deaf poets around the
world; however, for
brevity’s sake, I limit
discussion here to ASL
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The signiﬁcation of the signed voice
and spatial prosody’, Deaf poets structure, sequence, and accent much the
way speaking poets do (Rose 2006: 141). Moreover, as with spoken language,
linguistic studies suggest that Deaf signers, and even hearing people unfamiliar
with signing, perceive a beat in ASL signing rhythms, although native knowl-
edge of the language’s grammar and syntax appears to intensify Deaf people’
level of engagement (Allen et al. 1991). In sum, it can be argued that rhythm in
sign language is visibly evident; yet, there is only one thing more absurd to the
popular imagination than a Deaf poet, and that is a Deaf musician.
If the absurd pairing of music and deafness prompts surprise in the general
hearing public, it is downright ‘nightmarish’ to musicologists (Abbate 1996:
124). In Unsung Voices, Carolyn Abbate articulates musical deafness on a
number of levels, both metaphorical and literal. The titular unsung voice
constitutes a ‘secret terror’ of opera (1996: 123), wherein the onstage charac-
ter, bound within his or her own narrative, hears only words without melody,
unless the song is incidental to the plot. Abbate also explores Mahler’s
‘grotesque’ dream of watching dancers dance in silence: the horror of sens-
ing music through seeing the ‘rhythmic motion’ of the body, while simultane-
ously unable to hear it and therefore comprehend its meaning (1996: 125).
This uncanny vision operates within a Derridean framework wherein music,
the sonic artefact, is signifier, and dance, the visual/motor action, is signified.
Phone, here the musical voice, therefore subjugates dance, which, like écriture,
remains a mere trace. Mahler’s dancers cease to be macabre, however, when
read through a Deaf lens, in which case their moving bodies are no longer
mute, but abound with meaning. In such a system where sign and signifier
are one, the interiority/exteriority binary collapses and the question of abso-
lute proximity is struck moot. Nonetheless, Abbate continues on to gaze into
the abyss of ‘organic deafness’ – the audiological kind (1996: 125). ‘The deaf
learn language, learn to read lips’, she notes, ‘but can never experience music’
(1996: 130). This notion is so prevalent that, ‘fed up with talking about deaf-
ness’, the deaf virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie had her publicist mail
copies of her autobiography Good Vibrations (1990) to journalists before they
could interview her (Fisher 1992). Abbate maintains that ‘deafness is the deep-
est imaginable antithesis to music, the one thing that a deaf person can never
possess’ (1996: 130). In historical context, she wrote before online streaming
video, today a point of access to Deaf musical culture for outsiders; however,
Unsung Voices was published one year after the bestselling Good Vibrations, and
just three years after the protests by Deaf students at Gallaudet University
that precipitated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Through Deaf
Eyes Documentary Website 2007). Since then, Deaf scholars and activists have
worked with increasing recognition, but Abbate’s supposition that ‘[f]or the
deaf man, all voices are unsung’ remains a convention worthy of unpacking
(1996: 131). In stating that deafness ‘end[s] our ability to hear voices that may
well still be singing’ (1996, emphasis added), Abbate identifies her intended
readership: a hearing one that fears the experience of the deaf other. Nearly
three decades after making an ear’s case for the voice, Abbate’s position seems
unchallenged, at least not by the equally aurally minded Cavarero. To under-
stand this essentialism, it is helpful to return to Abbate’s thought experiment,
the operatic world wherein ‘everyone merely speaks’ (1996: 123). This is melo-
drama without melos, a fate worse than that of the recitative which, though
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Alexis Deighton MacIntyre
174 Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies
prosaically paced, is at least still sung. Locked behind the fourth wall, the char-
acters’ unawareness of pitch is, according to Abbate, equivalent to being ‘struck
deaf’ to music (1996: 125). In a very narrow sense of music, one that is contin-
gent on tone and melodic contour, this may be true. Guides to instruments
for deaf people recommend pianos and electric drum kits over fretless instru-
ments (Stelmacovich 2012). Evelyn Glennie is, after all, a percussionist. Yet,
although deaf children in psychoacoustic studies do show a reduced ability to
discern melody, their sense of rhythm persists (Darrow 1984), as do the visual-
rhythmic (Iversen et al. 2015) and haptic-rhythmic (Tranchant et al. 2017)
synchronization abilities of deaf adults. Indeed, in addition to visual motion, it
is via tactility that rhythm travels where pitch often cannot, leading Glennie to
identify her body as ‘one huge ear’ (2011) and making Deaf community centres
a venue of choice for thunderous punk shows in the 1970s (Vale 2012).
THE NOISY, PERCUSSIVE VOICE
When pitch is treated as a subjective property of the sung voice, and not
its ontological requisite, the absurdity of a Deaf musician is less credible.
However, pitch and the related concept of timbre hold a privileged posi-
tion in western music, particularly vocal pedagogy. In his instructional text
Melodic Sculpturing: The Art and Science of Singing, Donald Mathis describes
a ‘[g]ood vocal sound’ as follows: ‘[It is] free of constriction, has many over-
tones, is ringing and resonant, is consistently produced with a smooth and
even vibrato […] It must not contain any ‘noise’ factors, such as harshness
or breathiness’ (2009: 102). Noise factors result from ‘anatomizing the voice’,
the obtrusion of body that stops the free flow of air (Olwage 2004: 214). As
ethnomusicologist Grant Olwage recounts, this was of chief concern for nine-
teenth-century colonialists seeking to correct black South African choristers.
Like children, the lower classes, and other Indigenous groups, these voices
were ‘pathologiz[ed] as a justification for their reform’ (2004: 207). Echoing the
concurrent Oral Method in the United States, which associated Deaf sign-
ing with communicative gesture in ‘primitive’ societies, ‘disciplining work’ on
‘voice culture’ in Victorian South Africa entailed drawing out the ‘nasality and
throatiness’, the bodily traces, in Xhosa diction (2004). In her interviews with
vocal pedagogues, Nina Sun Eidsheim demonstrates how similarly racist – if
lightly reworked – agendas persist in contemporary American conservatories
(2015a). These bodily traces are just one skeleton in timbre’s closet. Others still
have skin: ultimately founded in the Greek tympanon, ‘drum’, the word ‘timbre’
is also ‘akin to Greek typtein, to beat’ (Merriam Webster Dictionary 2018).
Probing the division of labour between timbre and rhythm, Jean-Luc Nancy
compares the body of a person to the body of a drum, which bear the same
‘resonance of a stretched skin’ (2007: 43). Although he asserts that timbre is
‘the first correlative of listening’ (2007: 40), Nancy writes that ‘[r]hythm, danc-
ing, opens up timbre, which resounds in rhythmed space’ (2007: 39). By iden-
tifying the body not as a ‘“figure” for rhythmic timbre’, but rhythms’s ‘very
pace’, the ‘body beaten by its sense of body’ (2007: 43), Nancy shows how
even the purest timbre, rational and un-noisy, is contingent on rhythm, the
‘vibration of time’ (2007: 17), the blending of the body with time itself. Despite
these percussive connotations, the time-variant aspects of timbre, such as rise
time and decay, remain less prominent than its tonal constituents in timbral
discourse (Smalley 1994). Nonetheless, in harmony with Nancy’s foreground-
ing of the body, the neuroscientific view proposes that the passive perception
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The signiﬁcation of the signed voice
of rhythmic actions, including speech (Watkins et al. 2003), music (Grahn and
Brett 2007), and sign language (MacSweeney et al. 2008), activate networks
in the brain associated with the execution of those corresponding actions.
In other words, merely viewing, hearing and sometimes even just imagining
another agent execute some gesture draws upon much of the same neural
architecture implicated in the auto-production of that gesture, a phenomenon
called motor resonance. When this neural mimesis unfolds in synchrony with
what is being heard, seen, or felt – a process known in cognitive science as
‘entrainment’ – it is proposed to enable comprehension, prediction, and partic-
ularly in music’s case, empathy (Cirelli et al. 2014). Rhythms form the temporal
scaffolding upon which we may anticipate and coordinate future movements
with another, an improbable feat were we merely reacting to incoming
sensory information alone. So quotidian is the state of being entrained that
we may not notice when we fall into step with a friend or prepare for our
turn in conversation. But it would not be possible without rhythm, which is
both a shared construct through which we time our gestures sympathetically,
and a sign of subjectivity, an identifier, a distinctive feature by which we can
recognize ourselves or another. In multimodal shared experience, the voice’s
rhythms are neither singularly aural nor visual, but guided by being in time
together, taking turns. And so, just as the voice’s material turn must encom-
pass the whole body, so too should the material turn for listening.
These connections between rhythm, the body, and interpersonal
synchrony were not lost on the rational colonial mind, brain scanner or none.
In his influential 1894 essay ‘Rhythm’ in the American Journal of Psychology,
Thaddeus Bolton summarized man’s knowledge of time in music, dance,
language, and work with the finding that ‘[t]here is no more striking fact in
the whole field of rhythm than the emotional effect which rhythms produce
upon certain classes of people, savages and children’, so strong that none ‘is
able to listen to music […] without making some kind of muscular move-
ments’ (1894: 163). Comparing across the Maori of New Zealand, ‘Indians’
of British Columbia, and the Vedda of ‘Ceylon’, Bolton observes that rhythm
appeal to the primitive sense common to all people, but upon savages
[…] its influence is immense, and the state of excitement into which
an assemblage of uncivilized people may be wrought by the mere
rhythm of drums and the repetition of a simple melody would hardly be
(Ellis cited in Bolton 1894: 163)
In contrast, ‘A highly civilised people is not easily affected by mere rhythms’
(Bolton 1894: 163). Bolton’s explanation for this finding reads as expected,
the prototypical psychologist’s take on Homer and Plato: ‘[p]oetry and
music among primitive peoples’ could not be distinguished, and ‘it was not
until a later period that they became separated’. Bolton makes it clear that
‘[l]ittle or no regard is paid to the thought in a poetical recitation by chil-
dren or by primitive people’, just as the thought is of ‘minor importance’
to a ‘negro preacher’ who ‘resorts’ to rhythmically repeating an ‘unimportant’
phrase accompanied by ‘gesticulations’. This teleological account concludes
with modern men, for whom ‘the thought is the chief element in poetry,
and in attempting to bring that out, they disregard the rhythmical flow’
(Bolton 1894: 169).
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176 Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies
THE LOGOCENTRISM OF PITCH
According to Christine Sun Kim, ‘in Deaf culture, movement is equivalent to
sound’ (2015: n.pag.). In hearing culture, as we have found expressed in the
languages of antiquity, racial psychology, and modern philosophy, rhythm
represents the intermingling of movement with sound. All vocal actions
‘resound in rhythmed space’, yet the temporal dimensions of timbre and
the slow vibrations of rhythmic entrainment – which cross and defy modal-
ity – are often overlooked. If we had, whilst building our taxonomies, turned
to time and action, and not simply space and effectors, the voice might have
already encompassed speech, gesture, stance, eye gaze, and other means of
voicing. But this has not been the cultural inheritance of western philosophy,
wherein the rupture between rhythm/body and pitch/voice is already clear
in Plato’s complete statement that ‘the order of motion is called rhythm,
and the order of voice, in which high and low are duly mingled, is called
harmony; and both together are termed choric song’ (2013: n.pag.). Plato
recognizes the necessity of rhythm to the chorus, what Barbara Kowalzig
calls the ‘bodily social’, ‘a physical mechanism for the integration of indi-
vidual and collective’ (2013: 181). Yet his extraction of the moving body from
the resounding voice portends further cleansing: Aristotle, in what Raoul
Mortley describes as the ‘full flowering of the concept [of logos]’, contrasts
voice with speech, the ‘defining characteristic of man’, that ‘faculty of making
rational sounds’ (1986: 29). Put simply, unlike a cough or cry, ‘voice is a
sound with a meaning’ (Aristotle 1932: n.pag.). The same could be said of
music, and pitch became logos to the western ear. The ‘purity’ of Gregorian
chant underwent further rationalization over the course of a millennium,
such that by the eighteenth century, Jean-Philippe Rameau extolled that
‘harmony is sufficient for a complete understanding of all the properties of
music’ (Rameau 1772 cited in Finn 1997: 67). Noting this ‘embeddedness in
[…] the hierarchical oppositions which organize Western metaphysics and
its privileging of reason and abstraction over experience and the evidence of
sensation’, Geraldine Finn makes clear the connection between the develop-
ment of tonality and other rational systems that would come to justify west-
ern imperialism, such as the Great Chain of Being (1997: 67). Two hundred
years after Rameau, Henri Pousseur concurred that ‘[t]onal harmony is in
fact the type of musical language in which the most transparent logic reigns’
(1970 cited in Finn 1997: 71). Christopher Small goes so far as to propose
that the formal organization of pitch may have directly resulted in the
‘rhythmic impoverishment’ that characterizes European music, due to the
temporally constricting nature of harmonic resolutions (2011: 16). Hence,
merely unmuting orality as such is to move one step too few back, particu-
larly if voice scholars are interested in embodied and relational aspects of the
voice or voicing. In undoing hierarchal reasoning, why stop at phone/logos,
or rhythmos/phone? The Aristotelian logic holding rhythm and the body at a
distance from thought lives on in theories of the vocal that implicitly accept
pitch as logos, meaningful and rationally communicative, over rhythm, which
in itself dangerously cannot discriminate between ‘savage dances’, speech
Accordingly, time-based frameworks guide us out and away from the
ruts of the classical five senses, a nomenclature contingent on space and
objects. In turn, cognitive neuroscientists are increasingly concerned with
multimodality and how the integration of sensorial content informs not
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only our experience of the psychological present, but how we will process
future percepts. For example, what we may see, if sighted, influences how
we hear, if hearing, such that vision of emotional facial expressions shapes
audition of emotional prosody (Jessen and Kotz 2011). In fact, gazing
from side to side also prompts microscopic directional movements in the
eardrums, although the tympanic membrane shifts first – before the eyes
do (Gruters et al. 2018). And this multimodality is not limited to perception.
Speakers’ hand movements are closely time-locked to vocal prosody, but
their gestures typically anticipate speech by a fraction of a second (Leonard
and Cummins 2011; Loehr 2012). Moreover, experimentally perturb-
ing subjects’ hand movements appears to influence or alter simultaneous
spoken production (Rusiewicz et al. 2014), to the extent that instruction in
gesture appears to ‘improve’ the oral pronunciation of second languages
(Gluhareva and Prieto 2017; Baills et al. 2018). In sum, hearing people may
already sense and behave more Deafly than they suspect. How might voice
studies have materialized in an alternative cultural setting wherein spoken
and gestured dialogue form a common communicative system shared by
Deaf and hearing people, as is the case, for example, in some Indigenous
Australian societies (Power 2013)? Taken together, it seems that the body
distributes the voice, neither knowing nor caring for its own discursive fenc-
ings; however, because much of our construction of reality unfolds below
the surface of consciousness, it can be difficult to change one’s mind from
within, which is why interdisciplinary dialogue with scientists is potentially
a weighty tool in this project.
VOCALITY BEYOND MODE
As voice studies crystallizes into a critical methodology, it is crucial to
address lingering constructs that exclude, silence or speak for other voices.
What sense must be gained to scrutinize the belief that deafness renders
all voices unsung, to recognize orality beyond sound? Whereas the deaf
Victorian poets who wrote in English grappled with the shortfall of imag-
ined orality, the signed voice challenges whether this orality is imagined at all,
and not embodied and material, yet orthogonal to any one sense or modal-
ity. Return to Abbate’s nightmare of silent dancers, but consider its mirror
image: immobile bodies that emit pitch, but nothing more, a radical orality
that annihilates both voice and time. Melos of course does not signify ritmos,
but the spoken voice cannot demonstrate this in the vacuum it has created
for itself, a vacuum wherein movement is subject to sound, and so move-
ment qua movement is silent, its claim to orality unheard. This vacuum is
where we leave both Mahler and Bolton, recoiling in horror and disdain for
bodies that move but are incomprehensible, because they move to either
the noise of what Bolton calls ‘purely unmeaning sounds’ (1894: 160), or
to the silent ‘meaninglessness’ that confronts Mahler’s dreamer, who ‘can’t
hear the music they dance to’ (Abbate 1996: 124–25). Philosophies of voice
that are likewise sensorally bound to sound and organoleptically bound in
anatomy that perceives sounds do not make any other ‘sense’ of the voice.
Recognizing this, Nina Sun Eidsheim does away with ‘logic that relies on the
figure of sound’ by focusing instead on inter-material vibration (2015b: 156).
Consequently, the ‘implicit or explicit questions’ that ‘nudge us into identifying
its distinct units […] and form’ lose their ability to slip by unnoticed (2015b:
165). We can imagine rhythm as an oscillation on the human timescale, for
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Alexis Deighton MacIntyre
178 Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies
as Nancy puts it, rhythm is the ‘time of time, the vibration of time itself’
(2007: 17). As a cycle that is propagated through the medium of entrained
bodies, rhythm may well be just another vibration, one suited to Eidsheim’s
multisensory groundwork of tactile sound. This has generative potential for
studies of touch, haptic sensing, and contact, which are sometimes contrasted
with vision, imagery and observation. Jennifer Fisher, for example, explains
that ‘[w]here the visual sense permits a transcendent, distant and arguably
disconnected, point-of-view, the haptic sense functions by contiguity, contact
and resonance’ (1997: n.pag.). Yet, the mechanical-material resonance Fisher
describes may have an electric-chemical analogue in motor resonance, the
neural mimetic response associated with learning and empathy (Leslie et
al. 2004; Overy and Molnar-Szakacs 2009). In this broader context, Fisher’s
position that the ‘haptic sense renders the surfaces of the body porous’ (1997:
n.pag., emphasis added) aligns with Michael Golston’s reflection that ‘while
each body has its own characteristic rhythms, it is nonetheless permeable by
other rhythms’ (2007: 19, emphasis added). Gathering insights from theory
with quantitative knowledge from cognitive science therefore indicates an
alternative reading of the somatic nature of empathy, namely that our bodily
cognition is fully capable of seeking contact by whatever means it can, be it
within, between, or across spaces small and large.
Conceptualizing rhythm as a vibration propagated through entrainment
is one way to expand the fields of sound and sight, just as hearing Deafly
opens up the field of voice studies to inaudible contact. This requires criti-
cally examining how oralism pervades discourse as yet another prong of
colonialism. Accepting that Deaf voices exist and must be regarded on their
own terms is vital on grounds of inclusivity, but hearing people can also
benefit from ‘Deaf Gain’ (Bauman and Murray 2010). Deaf poetry and Deaf
music illuminate inaudible expressive channels, some of which may overlap
with spoken forms but have been overlooked. Moreover, the nonlinearity of
signing indicates exponential possibilities for nuance that cannot collapse to
the Morse code of spoken language, at least as it is reductively conceived.
Intriguingly, Christine Sun Kim compares the signing voice to a ‘chord’, but
for her this is a quality unique to ASL and other visual languages, which
employ parallel grammars simultaneously across multiple effectors (2015).
Although Kim contrasts ASL with what she sees as the unidimensionality
of English, re-examining hearing culture from a Deaf perspective prompts
looking beyond the mouth, towards everything else that is animated in
speech. So can one escape from the streetlight effect that pervades the
embodied voice reduced to sound-producing parts. Rosi Braidotti terms
this ‘organs without bodies’, and her critique of ‘instrumental denaturalisa-
tion’, whereby biotechnology transforms the body ‘into a factory of detach-
able pieces’, could also apply to the implicit processes by which discourse
delineates the voice (1994: 59). The otolaryngological voice is thus not in
fact an embodied voice, but a synecdoche: ‘voice is sound’ is a pernicious
‘metaphysical box’ that cannot be opened unless all voices, and all habits
of voicing, are understood as part of the discipline’s material turn. And as
with music, the voice need not be ‘stable, knowable, and defined a priori’
(Eidsheim 2015b: 22), but dynamic, chimerical, and emergent. In closing, by
proposing voicing as a rhythmic action, I do not intend that rhythm supplant
or overwrite timbre, sonority, or orality. Rather, I write towards a temporal
turn, one that exposes time as an orthogonal axis of relationality, a scale
upon which each point may be situated in spatial or spatial-metaphorical
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The signiﬁcation of the signed voice
coordinates; specifically, the present that we share in together, for as Michael
Golston poses, ‘[r]hythm is the omnipresent measure, informing and fusing
substance and time, from which each body and every event is knit’ (2007:
19). Crucially, it is not what or when we move, but how we move, that is
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41:8, pp. 989–94.
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The signiﬁcation of the signed voice
Alexis Deighton MacIntyre studied jazz guitar performance, linguistics, and
ethnomusicology, before receiving her MPhil in Music and Science from
University of Cambridge. Now a doctoral candidate in cognitive neurosci-
ence at University College London, her research focuses on motor cognition,
specifically the temporal intra- and inter-personal coordination of sequenced
behaviours, including music, speech, dance, sports, and labour. Originally
from Vancouver Island, Canada, Deighton MacIntyre is based in London, UK
and acknowledges the support of Cambridge Trust and the UCL Overseas/
Research Graduate Scholarship schemes.
Contact: Alexandra House, 17 Queen Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1N
Alexis Deighton MacIntyre has asserted her right under the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work in
the format that was submitted to Intellect Ltd.
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To order this book online visit our website:
220 pp | £20, $26.50
Paperback | Fall 2018
230 x 170 mm
Antônio Carlos Jobim has been called the greatest of all contemporary
Brazilian songwriters. He wrote both popular and serious music and
was a gifted piano, guitar and flute player. One of the key figures in
the creation of the bossa nova style, Jobim’s music made a lasting
impression worldwide, and many of his songs are now standards of
the popular music repertoire.
In The Music of Antônio Carlos Jobim, one of the first extensive
musicological analyses of the Brazilian composer, Peter Freeman
examines the music, philosophy and circumstances surrounding the
creation of Jobim’s popular songs, instrumental compositions and
symphonic works. Freeman attempts to elucidate not only the many
musical influences that formed Jobim’s musical output, but also
the stylistic peculiarities that were as much the product of a gifted
composer as that of the rich musical environment and heritage that
The Music of Antônio Carlos Jobim
By Peter Freeman
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