Vox in Situm

Vox in Situm

SOUND PIECE

Whenever I teach my “Human Voice” course in New York, about midway through the semester, I ask my students to raise their hands if they speak English with an accent. This request usually generates a little consternation in the lecture hall. Slowly, somewhat sheepishly, the non-native English speakers will raise their hands. I repeat the request, after which a scattering of Southerners and Jamaicans and maybe even a student or two from the Bronx will put their hands up, sometimes defiantly. I repeat the request again. And again. And again, until my point dawns on the class and everyone’s hand is raised in the air.

My rather obvious point is this: there is no such thing as unaccented speech. The accent that currently serves as the unmarked category in the United States (the “news announcer” accent) is no more natural than any other way of speaking. It attained its predominance over time, as a result of social relations, collective decisions, and power struggles—in other words, as a result of politics. The politics of accent can be a high-stakes game, with one’s ability to land and keep a job, assimilate into a group, or navigate among social collectives often hanging in the balance.

The following sound piece emerged out of a series of conversations that my NYUAD “Human Voice” students and I had about the politics of accent this semester. My radically cosmopolitan students at NYUAD are fascinated by accents, and the utterances that are featured here represent a small fraction of their thoughts. As the voices in this piece move up to, and occasionally cross beyond, the horizon of intelligibility, they discuss the strangely fluid character of some accents, the anxiety people often feel because of their accents, the amount of cultural information that is encoded into accents, and the aesthetic pleasure one can get when listening to accents that “sound like songs, like singing.” The piece itself is a collection of beautifully accented voices speaking about accent. The voices belong to Laith Aqel, Leena Asfour, Bouthayna Baltaji, Juan Felipe Beltran, Jessica Boren, Claudia Carrasco Valdich, Emily Eagen, Eric Johnson, Raleigh Logan, Erin Meekhof, Vivek Mukherjee, Samer Nehme, Irene Pañeda Fernandez, Yannick Trapman-O’Brien, and Jorge Zarate Rodriguez.

Accent trial #1

J. Martin Daughtry is Assistant Professor of Music at NYU New York. An ethnomusicologist, he has published articles on Russian national anthems, uncensored media in the late Soviet period, and the intermedial translation of poetry into song. He is working on a book-length investigation of the sonic dimension of the ongoing conflict in Iraq. At NYUAD, he is teaching the Fall 2010 class “The Human Voice” and the Spring 2011 class “Translation as Multimedia Practice and Metaphor.”

[Illustration: The first U.S. serialized printing of Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion (Everybody’s Magazine, November 1914), in which a young English girl is taught to overcome the “handicap” of her lower-class accent.]

New Vocalizations

COMPOSITION
BY CAMERON TOMAN

FEATURING THE VOICES OF LAITH AQEL, LEENA ASFOUR, BOUTHAYNA BALTAJI, JUAN FELIPE BELTRAN, JESSICA BOREN, CLAUDIA CARRASCO VALDICH, J. MARTIN DAUGHTRY, MICHELLE DENT, EMILY EAGEN, ERIC JOHNSON, RALEIGH LOGAN, ERIN MEEKHOF, VIVEK MUKHERJEE, SAMER NEHME, IRENE PAÑEDA FERNANDEZ, CAMERON TOMAN, YANNICK TRAPMAN-O’BRIEN, AND JORGE ZARATE RODRIGUEZ

In the Human Voice class, we explore the significance of the voice in different cultural and historical contexts, including the context of our own classroom. We do this through reading, analysis and discussion, but also, occasionally, through composition and performance. One day a few weeks ago, after we had recorded a piece we were working on, we decided to each produce a vocal sound that we had never produced before. The eighteen “new vocalizations,” one from each member of the class, were then broken up into eighteen individual sound files and placed on our course website. Class members have begun using these sounds as the raw material for vocal compositions. In this piece, by our academic coach Cameron Toman, they are the only sounds utilized–they have been layered, organized, and amplified, but not altered in any other way. The movement begins with introductions to the new vocalizations and then builds to complicated, multi-vocal overlays. Several times all of the voices are layered directly on top of one another—producing a new, collective vocal sound. The piece is a playful mash-up of non-linguistic vocalizations and an attempt to render the voice, that most familiar of human attributes, deeply and productively strange.

Click on the link below.

New Vocalizations

Cameron Toman is the academic coach for “The Human Voice” at NYU Abu Dhabi. He recently graduated from NYU New York, where double-majored in Political Science and Psychology.

J. Martin Daughtry is Assistant Professor of Music at NYU New York. An ethnomusicologist, he has published articles on Russian national anthems, uncensored media in the late Soviet period, and the intermedial translation of poetry into song. He is working on a book-length investigation of the sonic dimension of the ongoing conflict in Iraq. At NYUAD, he is teaching the Fall 2010 class “The Human Voice” and the Spring 2011 class “Translation as Multimedia Practice and Metaphor.”

Pin It on Pinterest