Monday, 7 September 2015

just to let you know:

"being artist in capitalism part 1" by Ralf Peters
https://vimeo.com/137284937

and on http://artistincapitalism.blogspot.de/

"Here I present some thoughts about how to be an artist in capitalism without being absorbed by capitalist thinking but stay with one´s own questions and values. I refer to ideas of the german philosopher Max Scheler (1874-1928) who wrote three articles about capitalism just before World War 1 (1914) in which the artist plays a role as a type of human being that supports values which are not supported by capitalism."

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Excursus: the song of angels


Excursus: The song of angels

How do angels sing? – angels? Those androgynous humanoids in white robes with a pair of wings sprouting out of their shoulders who, when the going gets tough, carry divine messages to man? The chubby infants that cluster around the edges of baroque altars? Yes, those are the ones I’m talking about. And the others, the Seraphim who are completely covered by the feathers of their six wings and who fly about crying to each other: "Holy, holy, holy, is YHWH of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory." In the book of Job, rejoicing to god after he created the world is the domain of the “sons of god”– a problematic description for later interpreters who then swiftly demoted them to angels. The evangelist Luke provides entire celestial hosts to announce the birth of Jesus Christ to the shepherds in the fields. But just how did it sound, this angel song? How do angels sing? What kind of question is that? Angels can’t sing because they don’t exist – so say today’s joyless rationalists. Better than most of what passes for singing today say those who lean towards romanticism infused with a dash of religion and who are somewhere along the spectrum between petty bourgeois and philistine. Although both answers address a number of aspects worth discussing, neither is entirely satisfying. Angels do exist. Their presence, to a greater or lesser extent, has accompanied the cultural history of the western world for thousands of years. After a long phase of niche existence during which the sciences asserted the undisputed sovereignty of their world view, more recently feathered and feather-free angels are enjoying growing popularity in popular theology, the self-help genre and television. With their help, increasing profits in the field of insurance advertising and films with titles like “A heavenly gamble” reduce these heavenly beings to deceased but still all-too human beings – a misconception that, although theologically indefensible, has enjoyed a resurgence in the residue of what were referred to in less secular times as ‘popular beliefs’.  Other examples populate our daily life with guardian angels in the form of a beloved partner or child but also as angels of death who through murder and assassination bring death and suffering down on man. But this new version of heavenly being cannot sing, although singing the praises of god used to be one of the most important of an angel’s tasks. The last angel in (German) popular culture confronted with this form of song and who failed spectacularly was “Ein Münchner im Himmel” … zifix! H´luja, sog i!

At the purely physical level, a naturalistic understanding of the question of how song could be produced by angels has always been avoided in sermons and tracts. Generally speaking, angels do not normally have bodies that bear any comparison to human bodies. Given the lack of larynx, tongue, lips and vocal cords, the idea of a singing angel takes on a puzzling aspect. And these heavenly beings were apparently capable of much more than innocent song in praise of god. According to Genesis (6,1-4), after the creation of the world a particularly wild band of these “sons of god” had their way with a group of defenceless women with the result that a new species of giant came into the world. And all of this without physical bodies? And even if the physical process of angel song was never discussed in detail or clearly explained and any witnesses are sadly unavailable, the old texts leave no doubt that angels can sing. The question how has more to do with the musical style in which their voices are raised. Do they sing in the style of Bach, Hildegard von Bingen, or perhaps in the style of a Gregorian chant? Why not in the style of Stockhausen? If angels are regarded as purely spiritual beings then perhaps they particularly like the music of Schönberg and Webern. The strange absurdity associated as much with the second question as with that of the physical aspect takes us to the point where we can bring the relationship between man and angel into play. We find ourselves close to a possible culturally intrinsic speech on aspects of this culture. In our culture angels act as beings that appear and take action without actually belonging to this culture. They stand beyond the world of humans and mediate between it and the sphere of the divine. They stand outside of human culture, yet are a part of it but as outsiders. They stand beyond history but influence it. Just think of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary. This outsider position is due to the fact that on the one hand we think nothing of accepting stories in which angels come into contact with humans and can make themselves understood, while at the same time, as soon as we question “how” they manage to do so, we run the risk of spiralling down into the absurd, regardless of the manner in which this “how” is interpreted. This has, however, never stopped people from maintaining bilateral relationships with these kindred spirits from the upper spheres and attributing to them a caring, supportive or even destructive influence on earthly relations. The angel – as a role model – has been extraordinarily important to western song and therefore on the local development of music as a whole.
Already in the second century before Christ, the aprocryphal Book of Enoch underlined an aspect that would characterise how Christian angels are presented: their unceasing songs to the glory of the Lord. These songs of praise would become the angels’ most important task. In a later version of the same book penned around 70 years after Christ, this aspect is even more clearly present. Singing is also the way the angels fulfil other tasks such as monitoring the course of celestial bodies and maintaining order on earth. Through their song, angels bring all of heavenly life in harmony: “so wonderful and marvellous is the singing of those angels, and I was delighted listening to it.” For the Christian church the obvious step was to take the choirs of angels as the role model for the praises sung by man. And that is what subsequently took place. To the Christian understanding, the liturgical song during mass is the participation of man in the angels’ songs of praise. Mortal and immortal beings join in one choir in that man adds his voice to the song of angels. And not only in liturgical song, the idea of music at all becomes a gift made by winged beings to us mortals. According to Hildegard von Bingen, the world was created from words that resound and human music from the choirs of angels. Similarly, Martin Luther is also familiar with the idea that music was brought to man by the angels:
 
“He who chooses music has won a heavenly treasure, as its source is heaven and the dear angels themselves 
are musicians.”

A number of legends tell how saints were taught certain songs by angels. Parts of the Catholic liturgy such as the Sanctus and the Gloria are traced directly back to the angels. Monks’ chants emulate the songs of angels. Monastic life in general was initially understood as the human equivalent to the angels’ ministry and certain sources state that, when singing, the monks sounded like angels.
Liturgical song encompasses the idea of kinship with the song of angels. Less perfect but still close. There can be no fundamental difference as it would have been a hopeless endeavour to emulate it without an acoustic reference. While it is often said that man is not able to sing well enough to do justice to the object of his praise, namely god, nevertheless he was on the right path. Hildegard von Bingen has left us with the wonderful notion that, in song, the soul is reminded of sounds from its heavenly home. However, in order to give man any chance at all of emulating angelic songs of praise in a recognisable form, first of all the sounds that issue from the heavenly home must be translated into human terms with concrete points of reference in terms of their musical-tonal structure. In the earlier writings of the Old Testament that dealt with acoustic experiences with angels, the audible results could not be called beautiful in any musical sense nor could any individual join in with this song. When the first instances were recorded, the voices of angels, along with every other sound they produced, such as that issuing from their wings, were shattering, terrible, it sounded like a thundering army, the roaring of mighty waters or the boom of a great earthquake. The first angels, those who hadn’t been through the Western program of cultivation, don’t actually sing, they call, cry out, their voices sound like that of a lion. Of music, the gift made later by angels to man, there is not a single trace. With this experience, it is no surprise that angels in the New Testament mostly announce themselves with a “Fear not!” Until then the advent of an angel connoted something terrible that also went far beyond the human scale in acoustic terms. Over time, a friendlier and more moderate note began to characterise the visual and acoustic world of angels throughout Christendom. The unceasing songs of praise remained “indescribable” and the first attempts to place the song of angels into an aesthetic category cannot have been very encouraging to the fallible human singer: perfection, ineffability, sounds that had never been heard before, una voce (with one voice), sine fine (without end), alter ad alterum (dialogical, alternation between two choirs), were the conditions applied to the song of angels and were therefore also applied as an ideal for man to fine singing and songs of praise. “Sweet” as an attribute would soon also follow and is one that would develop to be a consistent characteristic in regard to the song of angels over the centuries.

The aesthetic definition of songs of praise also included disparaging the areas of the human voice that had not contributed to the ideal of fine singing and disputing their suitability for the liturgical art of song and indeed for several centuries for art at all. It resulted in a complete separation of the part of the voice that best suited the world or other-world view: the ugly part of the voice was simply attributed to evil in the form of the devil. When they were consigned to hell, the fallen angels – led by Lucifer, the devil – lost their ability to sing beautifully. In direct contrast to the song of angels with their harmony and purity, the sound of the devil’s voice was all shrieking and dissonance. The howling of the fallen angels is so terrible that it defies description using the human voice. As with everything else, the devil also corrupts music, he cannot sing properly, instead he hisses, howls and cackles; he is incapable of making true music. Hell is filled with deafening noise. One hears coarse animal sounds, from grunting pigs through to roaring lions, and the acoustic space resounds with the rattling of chains and gnashing of teeth. This horrifying pandemonium is reminiscent of those first angels, whose “song” was anything but harmonious and sweet. Before the rupture that split the heavenly hosts into good and evil angels, the messengers of god had every possible sound available to them without anyone defining them as godly or diabolic. What was central, however, was the shattering impression they normally left behind them.
Already in medieval times, descriptions of the devil’s music were likely regarded with greater interest than talk of the sweet song of angels and peace and harmony. The distinction made by the church between good music inspired by the songs of angels and the evil “rasping” that must have been contaminated by the devil was unable to hinder the development of a secular tradition of song and dance to which high art was of little consequence and in which vocal expression could sometimes be given to the coarseness associated with the body and real life. Angelic beauty was less important to the musicians who travelled from place to place singing their songs and cantastoria than real life. The aesthetics of beauty were in conflict with the aesthetic of life and the prevailing aesthetic categories of ritual song that were represented and propagated by the spiritual and artistic elite in medieval western culture could not accommodate a larger dose of real life. But life cannot so easily be stifled. In the niches that escaped the watchful eye and absolute domination of high art, naturalistic song has always found a voice and developed further. The pre-Lenten carnival must surely be the most impressive proof of this strong counter-movement. These colourful singing subcultures of the middle ages could not, however, prevent the idea of a good, precious and beautiful sound as separate from the evil and ugly voice being burnt deep into the collective psyche of the Western world. We know to a relatively precise degree which sounds are acceptable to our fellow men and which are not. This is currently felt to a lesser degree in the public arena as the boundaries separating art from popular culture have relaxed considerably.  The conflict between the good and the forbidden voice that was reflected over the centuries in the metamorphosis of the song of angels is played out today principally in the way we deal with our own voice. This is where the forces that want to preserve the beautiful, risk-free voice clash with those that want to enforce the rights of that other voice that did not lose its vitality while underground. The images that illustrate this battle emerge in the dreams of those who seek that voice. When exploring the dark side of the voice, it is not unusual for all the animals, demons and devils whose intention it is to put the integrity of the beautiful voice at risk to appear during the hours of sleep. However, the more success one has in integrating the supposedly dangerous aspects of one’s voice, the more peaceful become the dream beings. Its malicious character turns out not to be the reason why this part of the voice was banished, but, to the contrary, its consequence. The fallen angel is not banished from honourable society because he is evil but becomes a demon because he has been banished. Our efforts to make the entire human voice resonate can be viewed, from the angels’ perspective, as an attempt to erase the division within the world of the angels. The acoustic results of this liberation of the voice bear some similarity to that primal song of angels rather than clinging to the dulcet tones of the angelic choirs after the fall of Lucifer. Beauty is released from its one-sided dependence on harmony and filled with vitality in which all the feelings and sounds have the right of expression.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

a journey through the (missing) philosophy of voice


Voice in the shadow of language.

Plato
The English philosopher Alfred N. Whitehead (1861-1947) once commented that the entire western philosophy consisted of footnotes to Plato’s oeuvre. It is indisputable that, in terms of philosophy, Plato set the course for everything that was to follow in the two and a half thousand years after his death. His influence even extended to areas with which he had little to do directly. In this way, although he never made the human voice itself a subject of consideration, until recently his philosophical principles dominated the understanding of the voice in our culture. For Plato and his teacher Socrates both placed language at the centre of their philosophical reflections. The voice was only referred to in terms of deliberations relating to the philosophy of language, and the voice did not emerge from under the long shadow of language for many centuries — in point of fact not until the 20th century, when artists and psychologists began to take an interest in it. In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato clarified how he saw the relationship between voice and language. He recounted the myth of the beginning of the world created by the (in this case, Greek) gods. The two fraternal deities Epimetheus and Prometheus from the House of Titan were given the task of assigning gifts to all the animals. At his own request, Epimetheus takes personal responsibility for this task, distributing all the gifts until at the end all the animals have been provided for with the exception of man. Naked and defenceless, there he stands — man, the imperfect being.  Prometheus decides to take man’s part and from Mount Olympus he steals fire and the “the artful wisdom of Hephaistos and Athena.” In other words, an ability for handiwork, technology. Thus equipped, man sets out on the road to becoming man, a part of which — to put it Platonically — also involves assigning sounds to the voice and forming words.

According to Plato, man requires a voice whose task it is to function as the medium for the spoken language. One of the fundamental functions of the voice is to give language audible form. And that is the sum of its potential for him. This narrow view of the voice has fatal consequences. For logocentrists in the wake of Plato, the voice that serves unstructured sound rather than language stands for all that is pre-human, indeed even inhuman. It is language that makes man what man is, language ennobles the voice that as part of this philosophy loses its own individual value. Strangely, this leads Plato to the view that speech and use of the voice did not necessarily emerge at the same time and the voice here forfeits even its supportive function in favour of speech. For Plato, thinking carries with it the idea of a dialogue of the soul with itself. Speaking aloud serves only to put out into the world the thought that has already been formed. In this way the voice is downgraded to an accessory of thought that has no influence over what is said and is merely the neutral servant of the thought expressed in words. On the whole, this idea of how language and the human voice are understood has prevailed for centuries. The first signs that its grasp was weakening appeared in the Renaissance, when a culture of the voice developed in which the sound produced was taken as seriously as the text of the song. In philosophy, the formulation of doubt in regard to the Platonic understanding of the voice is attributed to Nietzsche. Nietzsche always speaks of language, but he senses that there is more to the sound of words than can be perceived if one only pays attention to the words and their content.

There is yet another reason for Plato’s neglect of the voice that is strongly anchored in his understanding of philosophy. Plato attaches great value to the human senses in the development and progress of philosophy. But he is convinced that sight represents by far the most important source of awareness for philosophy. For his idea is that laws or the proper functioning of world affairs can be achieved by simply observing nature. By observing the movement of the heavens and the regular alternation between night and day, for example, we will grasp an idea of time and lessons that will guide us from all that is visible to a “singular approach to philosophy”.
In Plato’s dialogue Timaeus, from which this derivation of the philosophy of observation is taken, there is also a scientifically erroneous theory of voice generation according to which sounds are produced by a puff of air. These puffs of air reach the ear, which passes them on to the soul. The reference for this model was the flute. The human voice however, actually functions more like an oboe in which sound is generated by the vibration of the reeds in the mouthpiece. Plato’s theory held sway until far into the 18th century when the vibrating nature of sound and the functioning of the human vocal folds were discovered.

Plato’s preference of sight over hearing would have drawn loud protest from his teacher Socrates. His background is one of the natural philosopher, the seer, through to a philosopher of the Agora, the market place, who seeks to investigate the essence of ideas and knowledge in discussion with others. Accordingly his dialogues depend much more on hearing than seeing. But even if Plato’s philosophical classification of seeing and hearing is questionable, when one regards the effect it has had to date on philosophy and the history of ideas and therefore also on culture, his approach has nevertheless asserted itself. In other words: the preference Plato gave to seeing over hearing has over the course of time in a manner of speaking become truer, it has proved itself to be true. Philosophy has to a great degree become a philosophy of seeing. All the way through to the philosophical metaphor, seeing has become the dominant sense for the way the world thinks. Hearing has been subordinated to seeing. And one must also ask oneself whether Plato was right in a further aspect. Until Nietzsche, philosophy was concerned with universal, timeless truths. True thinking that embraced being and the world. The realization of the nature of things. That which endures. Seeing offers the best possibility to perceive what is (apparently) enduring, constant and reproducible. Hearing, in contrast, is directed towards that which is fleeting. Sound fades, it is not tangible, cannot be determined in the same way as the observable world. A piece of text, such as the one that you have just read, is unchanging. Whether tomorrow or in a year, it will be the same as at this moment. In making my thoughts visible, I fix them. If we were to discuss the same subject, it would not be possible to preserve it in the same way as a written text. At the very least, before the era of modern recording techniques, it was not possible to listen to something that had been said at a point later on in time. Today it has become possible to preserve acoustic material. Perhaps the invention of the microphone and audiotape were necessary in order to overcome philosophical ignorance in regard to the voice and hearing.  Interest in the voice on the part of the humanities, however, has been increasing over recent decades. But the question whether the nature of hearing and what is heard — in other words the nature of the voice — contradicts the essence of philosophy, whatever that might be, should be taken seriously. This would still mean that any philosophy that looks seriously at the voice and hearing cannot avoid undergoing change and becoming something different. New insights alter the path to knowledge. And this brings us back to the metaphor of the map proposed by Deleuze/Guattari, who raise the interconnection between awareness and life, thinking and the world to a guiding principle of philosophical action that therefore serves us as a model for thinking about the voice.

Herder: the discovery of the language of feeling
Despite the principle concern in regard to its philosophical ascertainment, in the long history of philosophy there have always been thinkers who assigned a more important role to the voice than Plato. At the end of the 18th century a movement swept through Germany that marked the beginning of the modern philosophy of language. A historico-cultural approach was taken to the question of how language emerged and how it evolved in the course of history. Almost inevitably, the spotlight of interest fell on the spoken word. As the focus shifted from the written to the spoken word, for the first time attention was also directed to the human voice. Its place in the shadow of language did not change, but nevertheless investigation began into the role played by the voice in human communication. In his “Treatise on the Origin of Language” from 1772, the philosopher and theologian Johann Gottfried Herder postulates that there was a language before language, one that required no words and consisted of vocal communication, cries, whimpers, groans and sighs, laughing, inarticulate sounds of joy and cries that gave vocal expression to the physical and mental state of man. This “language of feeling” does not represent an achievement that is exclusive to man; indeed, it is in no way an achievement, that is, something that needed to be acquired, but is directly given by nature. According to Herder, nature had made it possible for all the members of the animal kingdom, including man, to express their current state by way of their voice. The closer a species is related to us by evolution — as one would say post Darwin — or is connected to us on an everyday basis, the better we are able to interpret its cries. We are closer to land animals than aquatic and flying animals. Of the land animals, we best understand the sounds made by herd animals — to which group man belongs. Through daily contact with animals we develop a fine sensorium for the sounds they make. A farmer is immediately able to interpret the sounds made by his cows, the hunter understands the sound made by his game, and a city dweller has no problem understanding his dog’s bark. The socio-biological function of the language of nature is the same for both animals and man: it evokes empathy in those who hear the sounds of their companion. If we hear someone give a cry of pain, we feel involuntary sympathy and even the whining of a dog does not leave us indifferent. If the sound of joyous song comes to our ears, it slowly infects us, whether we like it or not. In our natural state, we cannot do otherwise than react with sympathy. In cultures with highly complex verbal languages, this naturally present ability is forced into the background and our modern, refined and “humanised” languages, the product of reason and society, make hardly any reference at all to their wild sister. The ability to give expression to mood using the voice is a legacy that still appears to hold sway with so-called primitive peoples. Their languages sound livelier than our emotionally restrained tools whose chief task it is to communicate intellectual content; feelings only appear as an often inconvenient sidebar. According to Herder, the language of feeling is not the original root of human language — that according to him developed more in response to reason and differentiates man from the rest of the animal world so strongly — this vocal expression that is so drenched in feeling represents “the juices that bring life to the roots of language”.

There is little room in verbal languages led by reason for the lively sounds of nature as they tend to challenge the space for development of our repertoire of vocal expression. The process of civilization that took up the cause of progress leads to a general suppression of the language of feeling and in this way to a step backwards in human communication. Today we know that a large proportion of the information that we infer from what is said by an interlocutor lies not in the content, but in the way it is said, the sound of the voice, the intonation, tempo and rhythm. All that which — as Nietzsche pointed out — cannot be written down. Despite all the limitations placed by civilization, our receptiveness to aspects of speech beyond that of the word has remained high, even if we perceive only a fraction of all that we actually hear. However, Herder’s view that modern man’s ability to express himself in the language of feeling has atrophied does not lose any of its authority. On the contrary, a good 200 years later it appears to be more relevant than ever. So much for cultural criticism. Time and again, this same culture has shaped tendencies that assist in giving vocal expression to repressed perceptions, such as in the art of romantic song, or in the rock and pop music of the 20th century. Our journeys of discovery through the landscapes of the voice also belong to the attempts to do justice to the complete voice with its multifaceted possibilities of expression. From Herder we can learn that the mere sound of a voice carries with it meaning that is comparable to language and that wordless sounds are able to convey meaning. Because the voice in sound can awaken feelings in us, we are able to understand the meaning of sounds directly. We hear more than mere acoustic impulses. Every sound made by the voice, whether clad in words or not, goes beyond the sound to tell us something about the person who has given expression to his or her voice.



Derrida “The voice and the phenomenon”

When philosophers apply themselves to a subject, they begin by defining the key expressions that crop up most frequently as precisely as possibly in order to avoid the possibility of misunderstandings in regard to the area under discussion. In everyday conversation with no pretensions to philosophy, such measures are generally unnecessary. When we feel comfortable with a language, we have an intuitive feel for the right word and can be sure that our dialog partner understands us fairly well. In philosophy, the everyday definition of a word is the point of departure. And then this usage becomes the subject of scrutiny. One questions its usage. According to the school of philosophy, one either wishes to show how and in which situation the expression is actually used – this is the way modern analytical philosophy proceeds – or one tries to find a universal definition of the expression that shows how that expression is used “correctly”. The latter strategy is the one that was used by classic philosophy as long as it retained enough self-assurance to determine what the meaning of an expression represented. Philosophical definitions have the goal of reflecting what an expression denotes. They aim to illustrate as comprehensively as possible the object that is represented by an expression. Such definitions appear to deal purely with descriptions, but a normative component creeps in here: the attempt to show the precise meaning of an expression and how it is used quickly gives way to specifying how the expression should be used. The philosophical definition becomes the criterion for the correct and appropriate meaning of the word. Moreover, philosophers have a tendency towards developing systems of thought in which the meaning of the key expressions owe at least as much to the philosophical system as to the thing being identified. The expressions should fit with the other expressions in the construct of ideas in terms of their meaning, and it happens that the thing being identified ends up being adapted to the terminology rather than the other way round. In such cases, there is a yawning gap between the everyday and philosophical usage of an expression. If it is not borne in mind that one is dealing with a philosophical text, this inevitably leads to those misunderstandings that one was taking such pains to avoid. The situation becomes even more complicated when two philosophical approaches collide in which one and the same expression is used within differing contexts.

I would now like to speak about the French philosopher Jacques Derrida and his use of the word Voice that differs from the way it is used in everyday language as well as from the way I understand the expression. If one studies the literature on the subject of the human voice, one inevitably stumbles on Derrida’s text “Voice and Phenomenon”, one of the few titles in the collective history of philosophy in which the word voice actually appears. Under the heading “Problems connected with the voice”, Aristotle gathered a number of remarks on acoustic phenomena, in which observations on the human voice can be found. Roland Barthes’ volume of interviews “The Grain of the Voice” belongs only marginally to philosophy and more precisely to semiotics, but is worthy of mention here because Barthes is one of the few thinkers who saw the significance of the voice itself, independent of music and speech, and was interested in it.

Initially what interested me most about the voice is that this cultural object is in some way an object marked by its absence (much more so than the body that is represented in a thousand different ways in mass culture): we rarely hear the voice in itself, we hear what it is saying; the voice has the very status of language, an object thought to be graspable only through what it transmits; however, just as we are now learning, thanks to the notion of “text,” to read the linguistic material itself, we must in the same way learn to listen to the voice’s text, its meaning, everything in the voice which overflows with meaning
Roland Barthes

Derrida’s essay is a work rich with postulates that can only inadequately be summarised in a few sentences. In brief: in dealing with Edmund Husserl’s school of phenomenology, Derrida states that the voice is crucial within this system of theories. The central concept in Husserl’s phenomenology is that of consciousness. All the subjects of knowledge/perception are present in us in our conscious awareness. This presence is what makes consciousness what it is. Consciousness is always an awareness of something, of an object in the world, a memory, a feeling or a thought. According to Derrida, presence understood in this way as human consciousness could only have established itself via the medium of the voice, without this aspect ever having been noticed by the phenomenologists themselves. Accordingly, in philosophical approaches like that of Husserl, mute consciousness is not possible. The fact that we are able to express our ideas in words with the help of the voice is precisely what allows the development of this complex consciousness that is possessed by man.

We know enough about Derrida’s approach to understand how he sees the voice – it is always with reference to words and language; for him the voice is the living expression of the word. Derrida turns the written word — the other way of bringing words into the world and the form to which he gives preference — into the opposite of the voice. In order to clarify what Derrida means when he refers to voice, the term “oralcy” would be more apt. However Derrida equates this with phonocentrism — the focus not on the voice but on the oralcy associated with language — and logocentrism — the occidental tendency towards reason, logos. Derrida claims that in philosophy, phonocentrism and logocentrism have been inseparable since antiquity. This conclusion arises less from an examination of the history of philosophy and more from the definitions Derrida ascribes to his terms.

Phoné strictly defined can be taken as oralcy, which in Derrida’s understanding can also be translated as speech, which is also a possible translation for logos. We, on the other hand, are interested in the voice as something that has meaning even when not in connection with language.  We are looking to uncover the intrinsic importance of the voice that exists beyond speech. The way Derrida understands the voice does not align with the associations we have, and the various aspects related to the voice to which we wish to draw attention are precisely those that his orientation to the voice actually obscures. Derrida too places the voice in the shadow of speech and in so doing aligns himself with a long tradition that began with Plato.

Despite this, Derrida is enough of a phenomenologist to speculate about a couple of purely vocal aspects of speech that are interesting to our discussion. Derrida wants to make it clear that the role of phoné in the history of philosophy is most closely related to the traditional concept according to which truth and appearance are in opposition. In this way truth does not disclose itself naked, it can never be directly perceived. In that which our senses can perceive, we never recognize the essence but rather an image of the substance. Plato’s concept of ideas presents the prototype for this philosophy. The world that can be perceived is a combination of images of ideas reflecting the highest and only true condition. Initially only a general direction can be delivered towards recognition of these hierarchically ordered intellectual entities, and true insight comes only as the result of reflection. In this regard, Derrida accords the voice a central significance because it represents the medium through which ideas and “ideal objects” can be expressed. At this point Derrida makes a noteworthy observation: Speaking or generally making sound using one’s own voice results in a strange self-reference of the subject that is making sound. In expressing oneself vocally, one hears oneself without mediation from an external source. The voice travels along the boundary between the inside and outside and at the same time sets this boundary aside for those who have raised their voices. My voice, and with it the words, do not leave me. Yet I am affected by them. When speaking and making sound, I am the one who reveals and, at the same time, also hears. This unity of action and perception where the vocal expression is simultaneously created and perceived by me and in me — or in Derrida’s words heard by me — is a unique quality of the human voice. It indicates a physiological and psychic connection between voice and hearing, two organs that can only be understood when taken together.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau had already alluded to this:

We have an organ that corresponds to hearing that is the voice. We do not have the same for the face as we cannot reproduce colours in the same way as sounds.

J.-J. Rousseau


And this is why Hegel sees in the voice “a condition for the possibility to experience the self”. The crucial question for us is therefore: What is simultaneously being revealed and examined? And this is where Derrida takes a very traditional approach, differentiating strictly between what is shown — for him this is the content of what is being said, that means the linguistic signs — and a mere carrier for that which is shown: the voice.  This confronts us with the old prejudice that reduces the voice to a medium for speech in which the vocal sound should play no role in either self-affection or communication.  However, if the voice is released from its function in service to language to become a thing in its own right, the independent and meaningful quality of the vocal sound can be recognised and Derrida’s observation on how self-hearing and self-expression dovetail acquires a different weight. In and with the voice, man can hear himself directly without recourse to other media. The ‘I’ hears itself. Although strangely enough it does not hear everything that it shows vocally. In the self-affection of making vocal sound, the voice is not, as Derrida believes, a “signifying substance that is absolutely available”. The limitation on vocal availability results from its own history, the history that is simultaneously that of the person to whom the voice belongs and who both reveals and conceals him/herself in his/her voice. Contrary to Derrida’s clear assertion, the voice is not consciousness itself but an expression of the interwoven nature of the conscious and unconscious. Based, then, on the voice’s individual history, the act of hearing my voice becomes a unique experience. This means that I cannot hear my own voice without screens. The parts of my voice that are “mute” to me are often perceived by other listeners with different vocal histories with much greater accuracy. At the same time, aspects of my voice can sound very alien to me, as if they did not belong to me at all. In short: expression and perception of one’s own and other voices form a complex arrangement in which the conscious and unconscious aspects go hand in hand and can never be assigned completely to the entity either making or hearing the sound. Neither one’s own nor any other voice can be consciously heard in its entirety.  What is heard depends not only on the object of perception — that is the vocal sound. The vocal background history of the listener that also shapes the experience of hearing a voice is of equal importance. Derrida’s observation regarding the particular character of vocal self-affection has led our discussion to the intrinsic importance of the voice as part of perception of the self and others and thus away from the philosophical aspect that Derrida deals with.


We are still at the beginning of evolution. We still closely resemble animals. The only difference is that god gave us a voice.
                                                                      Franz Beckenbauer (13.09.2004 dpa)


Vocal concepts in transition
Let us take note: In the intellectual history of the occident, the human voice has never been treated as an independent subject of consideration in its own right. It has led a shadow existence since Plato’s time. The shadows are thrown by language. In the development of our culture, the voice has always stood on the sidelines and its role in man’s self-concept has always been underestimated. Only since the beginning of the 20th century have there been diverse efforts to shine a spotlight onto the voice and to carry out research into its role for man beyond that of carrier of language and musical instrument. Later on, we will be looking at the pioneers of this movement — the singing teacher Alfred Wolfsohn, the linguist Karl Bühler and the American psychoanalyst Paul Moses — each of whom in his own way began to reflect on the voice in new and different ways.

Reflection on the human voice inspired by philosophy must ask itself from where such thoughts on the subject stem, how could they arise, and what is the history that enabled them. Even if to date there has been no philosophy of the voice, we do not have to start at the very beginning. Thoughts are embedded in the context of an intellectual history. In order to see and better understand our own position, it will be useful first to examine and question our thoughts in regard to the voice a little more closely. Questioning does not mean we are criticising the intellectual history of the voice, it is much more a case of becoming aware of how the voice was regarded and its functions in order to be able to integrate the results into our own thought process.  After all, our cultural history forms the foundation for our way of thinking and influences it considerably, regardless of whether it is at a conscious level or not. However, the more we can find out about this influence, the more we know about our own contentions and the suppositions that fuel them.

Let us therefore take a closer look at the cultural concepts for the human voice that previously existed and whether, as well as in which way, they still influence us today. The lack of philosophical concepts for the voice to which one can refer and review has led to the situation that the “self-evident” ideals of the voice have decided how we approach the voice without there ever having been a discussion of our convictions in this regard. A strong role in the relatively unconsidered history of the voice is played by the category of beauty. Naturally this holds particularly true for the singing voice, on which I will be focussing next. The by no means less important speaking voice is informed by a different history, but how it changes follows a similar path. The practice of differentiating between beautiful and ugly sounds extends across centuries, but the definition of what is beautiful and ugly has repeatedly changed radically. What has, however, remained relatively constant in this variation over time is the preference given to high over low voices. For a long time, it was not considered unusual for men to sing soprano. There was no call for the bass and baritone register in serious music until the mid-15th century. In the 16th century there was a school for sopranos that trained boys whose voice was breaking in such a way that they were able to continue singing soprano — a much more humane technique than the practice of castration that was commonly accepted until well into the 19th century and lent men a level of power when singing soprano that is not normally available to boys and women, albeit at a high price. It did not seem odd for castratos to play and sing the role of lovers in opera. In Italian opera, the role of hero was also reserved for castrati. At the time, the only call for natural male voices in opera was in supporting roles. The vocal ideal represented by the castrato was thus not a substitute for the female soprano. The high voice of the “emasculated” singer became a symbol of masculine Eros. While tenors and basses played only the captain of the guard, the king’s trusted confidant, shepherds and messengers. At the beginning of the 18th century in Italy bass voices could only be heard in church, they were virtually never assigned a leading role. A bass playing the part of a hero would likely have provoked hysterical laughter from the audience. They were reserved the role of magicians, giants or devils. Although the bass voice is the exclusive preserve of men into which women intrude only very rarely, in the European tradition of song it never took on the role of expressing the erotic dimension of masculinity — with the exception of the baritone in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Basses took on the role of the voice of social authority, while sexual potency was not granted to them — at least not on the stage.

The idea of the tenor as we know it from operas of the 19th and 20th century — that sounds high in the chest with brilliance and strength but is also comparatively inflexible — emerged at the end of the 18th century. Since then it has remained the personification of masculinity. Since it was toppled from power by the tenor, the high male voice has, in the meantime, recovered its own niche and presented more and less impressive testimonials of vocal artistry through artists ranging from the Bee Gees through Michael Jackson and Simply Red to Modern Talking. Deep male voices such as those of Barry White and Johnny Cash remain the exception in this field.





Sunday, 25 January 2015

Part 1: The Voice and Thought (1)




...and of greatest importance in philosophy are the cries around which concepts transform into song.
                                                                        Deleuze/Guattari

Orpheus could be the eponymous, the mythical hero of theory, as he is the one who turns to that which he loves, even at the risk of destroying it.

                                                                        Roland Barthes

Part 1:

The Voice and Thought

A day in the life of a voice


The alarm goes off, barely half awake he stretches, got to put a stop to that racket fast! The first vocal expression of the day is somewhere between a mumble and a sigh. The woman next to him rolls over and pulls the covers over her head. The man – in his early 40s – whom we are observing waking up belongs to the species of frustrated late riser who has gradually turned into a chronic morning grouch. In the minutes directly after getting up, all that can be expected is a low growl or a few signals expressing the thought “leave me alone!”. In the bathroom in front of the harshly illuminated mirror, the first deep breath is followed by a long drawn-out sigh. Silence on the way to the kitchen that is briefly punctuated by another sigh on seeing the empty bread bin. A trip to the shops needs to come first. And that is where the first sentence of the day makes its appearance: “Five rolls and a newspaper, please”. The gravelly sound of his own voice startles the man, who hastily clears his throat and makes an effort to sound a little more human when he says goodbye. Back at home, his daughter has occupied the bathroom. “For heaven’s sake, would you get a move on. I need to get to the office”. The voice thunders through the door with ease; the daily outburst makes a vocal warm-up superfluous. The voice moves back into low gear to fulfil its limited needs during breakfast – planning the family day needs no special vocal input. But why does his daughter need to squawk so early in the morning? A soft and loving, if already slightly stressed, “Bye, see you this evening!” to his wife, who in the meantime is also up, and then it’s off to work.  In the car, the radio is playing familiar old songs and the man hums along, using his hands to beat the rhythm on the steering wheel. At the office, the attractive new secretary says hello. She always makes him nervous although he would actually like her to find him cool. As there is a strange wobble to his “good morning”, he decides not to get involved in a longer conversation. Team meeting at 10 am to discuss a major new project. A serious attitude is the order of the day. No exaggerated enthusiasm. The voice needs to sit as securely as his belt. During a break, a conversation with a colleague about football and the appalling game played by the local football club on Saturday. The voice sounds relaxed, loud and unrestrained, at times so forceful that it almost breaks. The people at neighbouring tables are looking around to see who is shouting. Back at the office, a few important calls during which the voice functions perfectly.  He’s noticed that on the telephone he sounds a lot more calm and collected than face to face. He simply feels more comfortable if no one is watching him when he’s speaking. Perhaps he ought to do that workshop on body language that the company regularly offers …

Time to go home, the car radio plays the same songs as in the morning, but he’s too tired to sing along now. He has to pick up his daughter from tennis. Her voice suddenly sounds suspiciously friendly and smooth. His, in contrast is almost resigned: “OK, what do you want?” His “No” explodes like a shot – hard and uncompromising. Directly afterwards he is almost sorry. His daughter is close to tears. Just great!

In the evening it’s choir. Once a week, two hours of singing. Not at a professional level but still quite demanding. He’s a tenor along with three other men and has to make himself heard among around 20 female voices. The basses don’t have it much easier. Men are in short supply in choirs. Despite all that, he wouldn’t want to miss a choir evening. Regardless of how tired he is beforehand, after an evening of singing, he feels refreshed and alive. Afterwards it’s off for a quick drink; with the first gulp of cold beer, the throat releases a long sonorous aaaahh! The noise level and poor air quality make communication quite difficult. His voice is gradually getting tired and is sounding strained and tight. He starts off for home soon after. At home, he makes conciliatory sounds in his daughter’s direction. The voice now has a lower timbre, smooth, almost velvety – it helps to smooth ruffled feathers. Later on he lets himself collapse with a grateful sigh into bed, has a short conversation with his wife, who already has her bedtime reading open in her hand. This in turn settles the question of whether the tonal universe of amorous play will find its voice tonight and shortly afterwards the only sound to be heard is that of gentle snoring that follows the rhythm of relaxed breathing.



The small sortie into a day in the life of a European voice allows us to get a sense of the diversity of sounds produced by this most important human organ of expression. If a recording were made of all the sounds a person makes over the course of a day, the accumulated results would surely amaze.  We normally only hear those sounds that are directly associated with speech and we build up a picture of the voice that allows us to recognize a person. We only become aware of all the other sounds and voices when they force themselves into the foreground because they are very loud or occur in an unexpected context. We also take a subjective approach to how we perceive our own voice, which normally does not fully correspond to what we would hear during a recording made of the day’s sounds. In order to become aware of the world of sound that a voice produces on a daily basis, we have to soften up and adjust the routine settings of our sense of hearing. Unlike a microphone that records all that is acoustically available, our sense of hearing functions according to settings that develop out of general beliefs based on our culture, as well as our personal habits and convictions. We hear only those things that we believe – at a more or less subconscious level – are good for or important to us.



 
Thinking about the voice

Every sound made by the voice is embedded in a net woven of beliefs, convictions, opinions, decisions and questions. In other words, the results of thinking that mould our lifeworld. We hear the voices of others as well as our own against the background of our lifeworld, of our culture in general and our specific life situation in particular. But it is not only our sense of hearing that is culture-dependent, the voice also adjusts its tonal possibilities to that zone that appears to be socially and personally normal or appropriate. While, on the one hand, many sounds produced daily by the voice are filtered out by culturally biased ears, on the other, we make use of only a fraction of the potential that lies deep in every voice. How our voice sounds also depends on the range of the sound spectrum that is acceptable to us and to our self-image. Although sounds do manage to emerge other sounds in the acoustic world, in the background there awaits an entire universe of volume, pitch and timbre that is also at our disposal! And much of it, when it is finally allowed to make itself heard, sounds too strong, too interesting, too special to miss out on.

We are, to a large degree, unaware of how our vocal world is conditioned and restricted. A characteristic of our lifeworld is that its ‘building blocks’ are taken for granted. We would be unable to function if we continuously had to question and challenge every aspect of daily life. As long as we are not in any difficulties, we do not question the structures that go to make up our life. However, when searching for the whole voice – which is what all that follows is about – we will have to penetrate some cultural layers of our lifeworld that have covered and hidden large parts of the voice in order to seek out possibilities beyond those implicit in our modern existence inherent in our voice … By taking this approach we are drawing on that area of philosophy that is always on the hunt for the thing itself and doggedly challenges everything that is simply assumed to be so. The discipline of philosophy has a number of fascinating and difficult questions up its sleeve for a subject like the human voice that is so intimately involved in our lives, our senses and the world we experience. For example, what do we mean by: the human voice? First of all, it denotes nothing more than a general term defined by philosophy in order to be able to reflect on the subject. The human voice, in the sense of the billions of vocal organs with which humanity (yet another general term) is equipped and that are all unique, does not exist. The general term for the human voice cannot be heard. There is a big gap between the theoretical discussion of our topic and the phenomenon itself. Reflecting on a subject by making use of words does not enable sensory experiences to be communicated. In this way, a discussion or discourse on French cuisine and the composition of a five-course meal is clearly not the same as enjoying the meal itself. A theoretical interpretation of Beethoven’s fifth symphony or a folk song, however brilliant, can in no way replace listening to the symphony or singing the song. The curious quality of the experience that is conveyed by the senses and the associated activities cannot be experienced or brought to life simply by thinking. The idea that thinking can provide an adequate image of the world in all its aspects clearly does not apply to experiences connected to the body (such as those cited above). At least, not if one adheres to the philosophical notion that dominated the western philosophy of thought until the 19th century. Thereafter, thinking was capable of adequately rendering the state of being and the world. It’s simply a matter of thinking correctly, or, put with a little more passion: thinking the truth. Philosophy shows the world as it is! With the oeuvre of Friedrich Nietzsche, the scepticism always felt in regard to this concept became a real threat to the old way of thinking. Philosophy in the 20th century represents, to a large extent, the attempt to redefine the relationship between thought and being and to discover what the original function of thought is, if not to represent being. And that makes philosophy once again useful to us in terms of exploring the human voice and its anthropological significance. If one accepts that thought is not able to adequately represent every aspect of being or, in terms of our investigation, the human voice in a universal sense, one can begin to reflect on the benefits that a philosophical approach to studying the whole voice might bring. One particularly fruitful approach was put forward by the two French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their work: A Thousand Plateaus.


A map and not a tracing

In the introduction to ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, Deleuze and Guattari discuss the philosophical question of how the relationship between thought – together with its verbally expressed results – and that notorious ‘being’ – the sum of everything that is – used to be understood in occidental philosophy and how it could be understood today, long after the much publicised death of metaphysics. To describe the traditional and the new approaches that they contrast against each other, Deleuze/Guattari introduce the concept of the tracing and the map. The tracing stands for the idea of the representation, whereby the thinking-speaking expression of an object is supposed to be as accurate a reproduction of the original as possible. Creating a tracing means making a true copy of an existing original. Here once again we are talking about a notion with which we are familiar that thinking and being correlate with one another. A traditional philosopher would say: true thinking is thinking that which is. With their metaphor of the tracing, Deleuze and Guattari are relocating the old philosophy at a more mundane level; they are, so to speak, dispersing the clouds of incense in order to see the intellectual approach more clearly. Copying being via thinking follows a similar process to making a Xerox copy in which the original is made according to a different process than its copy. The sheet of paper that we lay in the photocopying machine may contain handwriting or have come out of a computer printer, the copy, on the other hand, results from a different process entirely. There are, however, copies that are created in the same way as the original. Copies of oil paintings are painted using oils; handwritten documents – Kujau’s Hitler Diaries spring to mind – on original paper, or as close as possible, and written using identical ink. But thought does not make use of the same “material” in order to make a faithful reproduction.

A copy quasi duplicates the original object. A copy produced in this way should show the original as it is. By producing this copy, the copier proves that he knows the object and knows how to make a facsimile of it using his tools. If he makes a good copy, then he has understood the original object and classifies it within his sphere of competence. This turns understanding into a form of epistemological power politics.

Deleuze and Guattari put forward the map as an alternative to the model for the copy that is now obsolete, not only in the eyes of the authors. Maps do not duplicate the object in a true to original way. They act more like an aid on the journey through the territory under investigation or the universe of discourse being represented and provide guidance on how to behave in that world. In the words of Deleuze and Guattari, the map is not primarily proof of expertise (“I have understood my subject”), but of performance (“I indicate pathways through a subject area”). Unlike with the copyist, the object is not available to the cartographer or map reader and the universe on the map is not reduced to a simple scientific object. Theory and practice are no longer sealed off from one another but permeate each other mutually. The map metaphor takes leave of the traditional subject-object separation in favour of an integrated structure in which each contribution to the subject affects its form and the reactions to this change will in turn shape later activities. In this way, maps prescribe how one gets to a region and which paths one can take. While the travelling map reader is exploring, new things will come to light that will be integrated into the next map. This is a process that continues for as long as there is interest in the quest. The map will never become a tracing as this cognitive process is not the search to find an eternal truth but rather a scene that is set in a particular time and history. The conditions change with each new contribution, each new map and each further journey.  Seen from this perspective, there is no true essence of the human voice. The result of the expedition into the landscape of the voice depends on who is carrying out the expedition and which map is being used.


The cartographer draws the areas in which he has spent time, tries to show how one gets there and what awaits one on arrival. However, everyone must make the journey into the world and foreign countries for him- or herself. Only practical experience can bring to life the insights gleaned from the map. This particularly applies to the human voice. One cannot get to know the human voice by reading a book. A study such as the one presented here is no more, but also no less, than a source of inspiration for one’s own journey of discovery. Whether the reflections that I present here are consistent with the experiences of readers can only be decided once these experiences have been had. According to Heidegger, one could say that the landscape of the voice appears as a result of experience; the expedition into the unknown creates that which will be recorded on the map. The map of the voice that I am presenting in this book takes its reference to me as its cartographer. In this way it resembles every map that was drawn from ancient times up to the early middle ages. The result of painstaking efforts, the style and workmanship of these hand-drawn maps revealed the identity of their author.


Up until the middle ages, maps were drawn in the expectation of making new discoveries. Fantasy and imagination accompanied the process of creation. These maps can be said to have a degree of personality. In regard to details, the cartographer from the past took the liberty of disregarding the constraints of drawing to scale. The things he found important are therefore drawn so large that they cannot be ignored. Alfred Wolfsohn, one of the great explorers of the territory of the whole voice, wrote texts that are like maps, and which include many features that one would not expect to find on a map of the voice – because one is not familiar with the territory, has not been to the places where Wolfsohn spent much time and made his home. The quality of the map can only be appreciated once one has started one’s own journey and can then see whether it shows the way or leads one astray. Maps of the voice cannot and do not want to be objective. Showing readers one path and in this way encouraging them to follow their own path is, to my understanding, the task of a “reference work” that deals with the human voice – a subject that holds myriad surprises for everyone who undertakes this journey.

But why draw comparisons between the voice and unknown territory that needs to be charted? Every human being uses his or her voice on a daily basis; it is a trusty companion in virtually every situation. Normally speaking, we require no special resources in order to use and make use of our voice. Just as we need no map to find our way around the neighbourhood in which we live except when occasionally searching for an unfamiliar side street, our voice moves confidently within its environment. Why draw a map of an area with which everyone is apparently familiar. The question points directly to the heart of the matter. To what extent can it be claimed that everyone is familiar with the human voice or at the very least one’s own voice? Our knowledge is rarely the result of research that we have personally undertaken. As part of education and socialisation, we are faced with the prevailing understanding of the voice that we accept, more often than not, without question or objection.  This understanding is the result of a cultural process where the notion of which areas of the voice are socially acceptable or what is appropriate or beautiful for a voice is governed by an unspoken agreement that is binding for that particular time. Our understanding of the voice is part of the network of attitudes towards the world and life that are only partly individual and which we absorb from the society in which we were born and raised. And if we want to take a fresh approach to the voice, we are confronted with a horizon of the mind that carries with it a long history. The voice as such, as a quasi-natural phenomenon does not exist. The task faced by a cartographer of the voice has a (cultural) historical aspect.  He must study all the old maps that have served to date and then compare his own findings with that which is already known. This is the only way in which to gain an overview of the general context of understanding in which the current approach to how the voice is used and perceived is anchored. In terms of the voice, this context comprises preconceptions that are not questioned in daily life and work as they are the means that allow us to operate with a degree of success in the world. Remarkably, even professional researchers into preconceptions – philosophers – have relegated the voice into the corner of unquestioned assumptions. This is a blot on the study of philosophy that becomes increasingly untenable the more one grapples with the phenomenon that is the voice and begins to comprehend the meaning the voice carries for man at both the individual and anthropological level. After sexuality, the voice represents the second largest blind spot in the eye of occidental philosophy. The refusal to address the voice as the voice rather than as the carrier or servant of language or music has had enormous repercussions on the way we understand it. Expressed in the metaphor of cartography, the task today is also to bring to light that which, to date, maps have tended to conceal. This process of concealment found its beginning in antiquity, which is why we will now be taking a look at how the voice was regarded (rather than heard?) by Plato.