Unfolding of the Gendered Voice

The time and space of listening. And the who.

Excerpts from a letter to Joy Parr thanking her for a gift of music by Meredith Monk and Hildegard von Bingen (Monk and the Abbess by Musica Sacra) and musing on other matters.

Having heard it I wanted to hear more Monk, I therefore acquired “Book of Days” which since it was a filmic piece provides a wonderful example of adaptation. Allow me to quote Monk herself:

When it came time to make this record, I re-thought the music again. Since I was not at all dependent on the sequence and timing of the images, I tried to develop longer musical forms for some of the sections which were mere fragments in the film. There are also musical sequences on the record that I was not able to include in the film at all […] Manfred Eicher and I were both interested in making this album a film for the ears. We made a new continuity (going from early morning to night) which had a cinematic quality to it, hoping that this sequence of events would evoke images in each listener’s imagination and offer the space and time to dream.

What intrigues me here is the production of a space not for worship as in Part and von Bingen but for acts of imagination.

The next example is a phrase from a poem by June Jordon. “Seven day kiss” is part of the refrain of a lyric which was set to music in 1980 by Bernice Reagon of the a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock (on their album Good News Flying Fish Records FF246). The phrase reappears in the libretto of I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky with music by John Adams (1998 Nonsuch 79473-2). BTW, the libretto has much to do with earthquakes & L.A. and is an interesting example of an artistic treatment of one of those large scale events that upset people’s everyday existence. In the Sweet Honey in the Rock song, “Alla Tha’s All Right but” the gender markers are neutral. In the libretto, three women characters (Leila, Consuelo and Tiffany) do the “Song About the Bad Boys and the News” and the song is very much figured in heterosexual terms (but has great camp potential). I wonder what an all male group such as the Neville Brothers would do with June Jordan’s material. They probably could manage it because of the vocal range they display.

And finally this little item from Beverly Biderman Wired for Sound: A Journey into Hearing (Trifolium Books:1998). It is part memoir, part information guide, tracing one woman’s experience of deafness and regaining of some hearing with a cochlear implant)

Treble sounds give 95% of the information used in understanding speech. Bass sounds, while they account for 95% of the volume of speech, provide only 5% of the information used for comprehension.

The sibilants in the phrase “seven day kiss” also put me in mind of this passage from Biderman:

My friend’s voices are starting to sound more and more natural, and I think I am starting to understand them better, especially in the case of women’s voices, which have less volume and blare than men’s.

Acutely attuned. To location and duration. And gender.

And so for day 1385

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