The Evolution of Voice Perception

Greg Bryant, University of California, Los Angeles, and Kasia Pisanski, University of Wrocław, Poland

Evolutionary behavioral scientists examine a variety of aspects of voice in human communication. In this talk we will describe some of this recent work focusing on voice perception, including investigations of the role of nonverbal vocal information in judgments of body size, physical strength, attractiveness, as well as in the recognition of emotion and intention during social interaction. This research will be presented as a series of examples of how scientists can effectively distinguish different levels of explanatory analysis, including separating adaptive signals from incidental cues.

What Was the Voice?

Shane Butler, University of Bristol

Given that one of the stated aims of this companion is to ask, if not definitively to answer, the question of what a voice is, it may be useful to pause to ask the same question in the past tense, specifically about classical antiquity, birthplace of many of the Western theories and practices of the voice that subsequent ages would inherit, adapt, and contest. Needless to say, this chapter cannot provide a survey of all that a voice could be or do in the ancient world, a vast task for any era. Our focus will be instead on the voice in theory, i.e., on antiquity’s contribution to the idea of the voice. This narrow aim will lead us to say less than some readers might expect about music and song, though these will get a nod toward the end. Our material instead will be, in order, terminology, philosophy, rhetoric, poetry, and pantomime. We shall conclude with some brief thoughts about the role of the voice in our idea of antiquity itself.

Voicing Trans-Pacific Modernity:
Mission-Led Confessions in Early-Twentieth Century Korea

Hyun Kyung Chang, University of California, Los Angeles

Confessional practices led by North American Protestant missionaries were common elements of native converts’ religious activities in early-twentieth century Korea. These practices, enacted during mass revival meetings attended by at least several hundred Koreans, typically took the forms of mutually audible prayers and public confessions of personal and shared vulnerabilities. Anglophone and Korean-language missionary reports documented these prayers and confessions enthusiastically, often as evidence of the extraordinary success of the North American Protestant mission in Korea, which began in the 1880s. These testimonies, while popular among religious scholars ever since their publications, have eluded secular historians because they appear to chronicle strictly religious experiences. This article re-examines these testimonies, particularly those that detail a series of revival meetings known as the “Great Revivals” (1903-1910), re-conceiving of the recorded prayers and confessions as fraught practices of modernity-coloniality (Quijano 2000, Mignolo 2000). It argues that these vocal practices of improvised nature enabled many Koreans to instantiate the linked ideals of selfhood and nationhood against the backdrop of trans-Pacific modernity, which was shaped as much by the emerging imperial rivalry between Japan and the U.S. in the Asia Pacific as the felt vulnerabilities of the affected subjects. In considering them as constitutive of trans-Pacific modernity in Korea, this article proposes a poly-vocal framework that explores modernity as both a function of Western imposition (e.g., an instrument of discipline and translation in service of capitalist modernity) and continuation of local genealogies and narratives (e.g., shamanist ritual and modes of proto-nationalist, anticolonial discourse derived from this ritual)—a framework that straddles between “historicism” and “hermeneutic tradition” (Chakrabarty 2000; also see Mignolo 2000). This article thus explores the ways in which mission-led vocal practices in early-twentieth century Korea instantiated, at once, the top-down distillation of Eurocentric values and the horizontal mediation of such values through local narratives, memories, and genealogies.

Voice as a Lens to Knowledge

Nina Eidsheim, University of California, Los Angeles

Over the last decades, much has been said and written about urban renewal and gentrification in Los Angeles. However, the issues addressed have been associated with the types of sounds present or created and musics played. My paper examines the process of opera in relation to downtown Los Angeles’ gentrification. More specifically, drawing on Tim Choy’s and Ben Anderson’s notion of the “atmospheric” and “air politics,” I address the ways in which considering the very acoustic part of the soundscape can offer entry into understanding of the process of gentrification. That is, the listening into the acoustic realization of sound and the reverberation of distinct space can give evidence into broader and deeper shifts in the space’s value, otherwise often difficult to discern. I do so by considering director Yuval Sharon and sound designer Martin Gimenez setting of Invisible Cities (composed by Christopher Cerrone) within Union Station’s waiting hall and courtyard. While each singer sang within the everyday soundscape and acoustics of the station, their voices were treated with a thorough sound design and offered up to audiences via wireless headphones. This partial interaction and selectively available product marks a project of “upgrading” the Los Angeles downtown acoustic soundscape—a process, I propose, that can be understood as an indicator of the late stage of gentrification.

More broadly, what I want to suggest is that by listening with and through the voice we are able to grasp dimensions such as those outlined above in regards to changes in the urban landscape, changes that are not apparent within listening that favors one mode and suppresses incongruences. However, the voice models multimodal, multisensory listening and insists that listening often yields contradictions. Through that, voice also models a listening mode in which fidelity to one perspective or mode is questioned. Voice teaches us to stick with the complexity—and often incongruences—that attends multiplicity. Indeed, in the case discussed above, voice animates air and points to acoustic economy.

‘Voiceness’ in Instrumental Musical Sound

Cornelia Fales, Indiana University

This paper presents the results of a pilot study of “voiceness” in instrumental musical sound across cultures. Of all instruments, the human voice has a significance beyond its production of musical sound. It is the medium of spoken communication; it is the substance of the conspecific sounds that serve to orient members of the same species toward each other; and it is the source of the nonmusical vocalizations in coalition signalling between groups. And research in auditory neuroprocessing has recently identified an area in the brain – comparable to the fusiform area for identifying faces – dedicated to the processing of vocal sound. Our study grew from the proposition that not only is the voice of primal importance in music, but “voiceness” in nonvocal musical sounds is a quality that seems to exert a particular fascination to music cultures around the world. The objective of the study is to look at the use of voiceness in music across cultures in order to discover something about the constituents of voiceness. Since it is normally not the case that voice-like instruments, either alone or in combination, sound like voices per se – that is, no one would mistake their sounds for sounds produced by human singers – it must be the case that the quality they convey as voiceness consists of some distillation of acoustic features, presumably proper to “real” vocal sound. A primary question addressed in our study is whether the voiceness in music of specific cultures varies in someway consistent with that culture’s primary language, or whether on the other hand, there are features that convey voiceness across cultures independent of language. Unlike many other instruments, the voice is capable of immense timbral variation, and the magnitude of difference across individual voices can be as great as the difference between instrument classes. Thus, we have taken the results of our study as a preliminary indication of an abstract auditory category of voiceness consisting of perceived commonalities across several levels of vocal variation. The paper will be limited to sounds from just three cultures that are particularly illuminating in regard to these issues.

Singing High: Black Countertenors and Treble Timbres of Transcendence

Alisha Lola Jones, Indiana University

The Interdisciplinary Study of Voice

Jody Kreiman, University of California, Los Angeles

The study of voice and voice quality has long been characterized by segregation across disciplinary lines, with little interchange of data or ideas between scholars who do not share the same research focus.  Recent efforts have begun to merge traditions in the voice science community (for example, by examining the perceptual effects of changes in one or more aspects of voice production).  However, studies by scientists of the manner in which humans produce and/or perceive voice quality remain nearly unintelligible to humanists examining issues of social, clutural, aesthetic, and political messages conveyed by the same phenomena, and vice versa.  This chapter will attempt to provide a preliminary foundation to support dialogs and promote mutual understanding between these two groups of scholars.  My intent is to show where (and I hope why) these different scholarly traditions overlap, where they abut, and where they differ, with the goal of elucidating how these bodies of work might eventually combine as parts of a single discipline of “voice studies.” 

“Trans/forming White Noise: Gender, Race, and Dis/ability in the Music of Joe Stevens”

Elias Krell, Vassar College

“Trans/forming White Noise: Gender, Race, and Dis/ability in the Music of Joe Stevens,” amplifies vocal “noise” as a polyvalent marker for the complex nexus of oppressive and liberatory effects of Joe Stevens’s voice. A white, upper-middle class, transgender, disabled, Americana/folk singer, Stevens’s visibility provides critical redress for white trans men. Yet the discussion cautions that the emergence of visibly able-bodied white trans men as the new face of transgenderism risks (re)producing Others who are too Brown, Black, disabled, poor, or otherwise strange to “count” as trans. Drawing from four years of ethnographic fieldwork between 2009 and 2013, the article deploys noise literally, metaphorically, and metonymically. On a literal level, noise signals timbral changes to Stevens’s voice as a result of growing up in a society that renders transgender an unlivable subject position. Through coping mechanisms of smoking and drinking, Stevens’s voice literally became “noisy,” to borrow a communication science term for hoarseness or breathiness. The essay also considers the effects of testosterone hormone therapy on the voice. Metaphorically, noise makes audible underrepresented narratological and affective aspects of transgenderism in Stevens’s music. Thirdly, the discussion harnesses noise’s metonymic capabilities to think through the effects of Stevens’s music on a wider popular trans imaginary. The research nuances Stevens’s race and class privileges by considering how chronic illness and addiction trouble his claims to status or power. Employing a theoretical methodology of “trans-ing,” the discussion tacks back and forth between analyzing Stevens’s race, class, gender, sex/uality, and disability, all from a voice-centered perspective.

“This American Voice: The Odd Timbre of Democratic Radio”

Tom McEnaney, Cornell University

The January 10, 2013 episode of the U.S. radio program “This American Life” began, like any other of the show’s episodes, with host Ira Glass’s voice. Except that the voice wasn’t that of Glass, but of comedian Fred Armisen impersonating Glass. As the two dialogued, and Glass trained Armisen to perfect his mimicry, Armisen, one of Saturday Night Live’s stars, revealed that he had pitched a parody about Glass and “This American Life” to SNL’s producers, but that it was ultimately rejected because it’s object, the voice of Ira Glass, wasn’t famous enough.

This recent episode marks a self-reflexive turn in the history of “This American Life,” and the point at which the show recognizes the genre of its voice, and the limits of that voice’s reach. Over the past seventeen years “This American Life” has functioned, in part, as an investigation into, and representation and construction of an American voice. Alongside David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, Mike Birbiglia, and the panoply of other odd timbres on the show, Glass’s delivery, pitch, and tone have irked and attracted listeners. Yet, what began as a voice on the margins of public radio has become a kind of exemplum for what new radio journalism in the United States sounds like. How did this happen? What can this voice, and the other voices on the show tell us about contemporary U.S. audio and radio culture? Can we hear the typicality of that American voice as representative of broader cultural shifts across the arts? And how might author Daniel Alarcón’s “Radio Ambulante,” which he describes as “This American Life, but in Spanish, and transnational,” alter the status of these American voices, possibly hearing how voices travel across borders to knit together an auditory culture that expands the notion of the American voice? 

Robot Imams!: Responses to the Centralized Call to Prayer in Turkey

Eve McPherson, Kent State University

Since the beginning of the twentieth century and the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic, the Islamic call to prayer in Turkey has occupied a controversial space, sonically and culturally. Early on, the new Republic attempted to “Turkicize” the call by legally mandating Turkish language recitation, a practice that was maintained for nearly twenty years despite strong popular opposition. Although this particular practice ended in 1950, the call to prayer has continued to engender controversy. One of the more recent debates has grown out of the practice of centralization. Call to prayer centralization refers to broadcasting one muezzin, or caller, from one mosque to other area mosques in an effort to diminish “cacophony” and regulate the sound quality, ostensibly to beautify the call and make it more clearly audible. Although the goals of the centralization program have been to improve the sound quality and distribution of the call, opponents of the program have voiced concerns. Such concerns include the loss of mosque “personalities” and the possible substitution of recordings for live recitation, an especially worrisome prospect in the context of a religious practice that considers live human recitation a direct conduit to the divine. This paper examines the recent history of centralization and how its implementation fits into the continuing dialogue on the public declaration of faith in the context of a politically secular republic, thus contributing to studies on the use and mediation of public sonic space.

Fluid Voices: Practices and Processes of Singing Impersonation

Katherine Meizel and Ronald Scherer, Bowling Green State University

Theatrical impersonators have long been understood to demonstrate and celebrate the transgressive powers of transvestism. And there is always more at work than dressing up; wigs and sequins are not the only technologies of transformation. Voice, too, becomes a significant technology not simply of the Self, but also of multiple intersubjectivities. Though there is a small body of literature that addresses spoken impersonation among actors, there have been no published studies of singing impersonation. In our research, we have sought to arrive at some preliminary methods and approaches that might be of use in such studies. In the interest of working toward a more holistic understanding of voice, we have combined ethnographic and empirical methods to illuminate how disjunctures between bodies and voices are negotiated by a Las Vegas impersonator, and how they paradoxically contribute to the construction of these performers’ own identities.

Talking Books and Aural Reading

Mara Mills, New York University

Vocal Identity: A Crowdsourced Definition

Rupal Patel, Northeastern University

Laryngeal Dynamics of Taan Gestures in Hindustani Classical Singing

Nandhu Radhakrishnan, Lamar University

Vocal music across the globe has several genres and styles. Some of the common features among these styles include pitch and loudness modulations, ornamentation, and vocal gestures that identify the singer or singing style. Vibrato is a well appreciated vocal modulation in the Western classical style of singing. Hindustani classical singing, a tradition practiced in Northern India, portrays a similar, yet different, pitch modulation called “taan.” This paper explores the basics of taan gestures practiced at two different levels, pedagogical and performance, by an elite singer and teacher. “Pedagogical” refers to the taan gestures used by the singer during student training, and “performance” refers to those rendered during a typical vocal performance. The aim of this study was to determine physiological and acoustic characteristics of this gesture and create a platform for future research. The results of this study will also further the understanding of human voice production.

The basic fundamental frequency (F0) structure of the taan gesture demonstrated by the singer allowed the definition of taan to be a local fall and rise in frequency followed by an F0 “superior surface” portion. The “pedagogical” taan gestures were slower with longer superior surface durations compared to the faster “performance” taan gestures. The voluntary control of the taan gesture seems to be facilitated by glottal adduction. When the artist voluntarily altered pitch, loudness, rate, or the subjective “obstruction” of the taan gestures, significant differences (p<0.05) were seen in the fundamental frequency as well as in aerodynamic and kinematic measures across the different levels of each condition. In general, increasing pitch level, loudness level, rate of the taan gesture, and subjective “obstruction” levels resulted in steeper slopes to the F0 fall and rise within the taan gesture and significant changes in the laryngeal flow waveform (greater AC-flows and MFDR values and lower open quotients), suggesting greater adduction levels. When compared to vibrato, taan is a more voluntary production that is modified in rate and extent throughout the performance. It shares some similarities and differences between “Gamakam”, its counterpart in South Indian classical music. Gamakam is also a pitch modulation that helps a singer glide through notes; however, it can be considered as a smoother (legato) version of taan. This study can be enhanced with further analysis of taan gestures related to different “raagas”, the basis of Indian classical music. These results not only add to the basic understanding of the multicultural aspects of singing but also advance the basic knowledge about human voice production.

Exposed Populations: Nuclear Power and Vocal Productions

Jessica Schwartz, University of California, Los Angeles

Voice in Charismatic Leadership

Rosario Signorello, University of California, Los Angeles

Voice is one of the most reliable and efficient behaviors that charismatic leaders use to convey their psycho- cognitive states in order to influence followers. The charismatic leader manipulates voice quality by adjusting the physiological characteristics of the voice production system and by using language and culture-based habits. These manipulations cause different voice quality patterns and convey the leader’s traits and types of charisma.

This paper will illustrates a socio-cognitive approach to describing the phenomenon of charisma and addresses the issue of voice acoustics and measures the perception of charismatic voice: What are the biological vs. language and cultural dependent functions of charismatic voice? How does voice influence the interaction between leaders and followers? How is the charismatic voice described in different languages and cultures? What information about charisma is conveyed through voice? What patterns of voice quality convey certain traits and types of charisma?

The Evolution of Singing Culture in the United States

Chloe Veltman, Colorado Public Radio

It used to be that people in this country sang all the time. Around pianos. On porches. In factories and cotton fields. But with the advent of recorded sound in the late 1800s which led to the growing professionalization of music-making, and the dwindling of music education in schools during the twentieth century, people largely moved away from singing themselves to passively listening to others with more expertise – and, often, sex appeal — do it.

But this situation looks like it might be changing. The popularity of reality TV shows such as Glee, Smash, American Idol, X Factor and The Voice, and the proliferation of user-friendly song creation and sharing technologies like Smule’s “Songify,” “Strum” and “AutoRap” are helping to get more people singing once again. 83 million people are users of Smule’s mobile music-making apps to create full-fledged pop songs from scratch and at the touch of a button. The fact that children’s and youth choral programs are finding ways to keep children — notably boys — using their voices through puberty is also starting to have a transformative effect on our singing culture – an effect that will become more evident over the next ten years. A recent Chorus America study cited singing as the most popular household activity in the United States, ahead even of NASCAR.

In this paper, I would like to argue that it might not be too long before singing starts to become a part of regular life in this country once again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>