The Voice(s) – Part 1

Roland Barthes sought to understand the “very precise space (genre) of the encounter between a language and a voice” (“The Grain of the Voice,” 1977, reprinted in On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word, ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin [London: Routledge], 294, emphasis in original). He refers to this as the grain of the voice and likens it to “the materiality of the body speaking its mother tongue, perhaps the letter, almost certainly significance” (295). In other words, the voice is the physical embodiment of the music, it is what gives it meaning in the case of vocal music, not necessarily the specific text. 

Barthe examines this grain in terms of one voice. I, on the other hand, am interested in the “voice” that is created when two or more voices combine (but most specifically two voices). The issue becomes slightly more complex. First our position relative to the “voice” changes. In the typical discussions of the listener’s position, there is a one-to-one connection between the listener and the singer. I favor the model of a triangle with the listener, the singer, and the work itself at the vertices.

With an additional voice, we now have to understand the relationship between each singer and the listener, between the singers themselves, and between the singers and the work itself (works?). Conceivably the work itself is now understood in multiple ways by the listener.



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