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“I Am an Essentialist”: Against the Voice Itself

“I Am an Essentialist”: Against the Voice Itself

(p.142) 7 “I Am an Essentialist”: Against the Voice Itself
The Voice as Something More
James Q. Davies
University of Chicago Press

This chapter revisits the idea of “the object voice,” and pushes back against the modernist conceit of the voice qua voice. The argument moves from a historical diagnosis of the lie of vocal autonomy to address myths about schizophonia or rhizophonia – in fact, any acousmatic experience of voice. These theories and experiences are historicized as consequences of the commercial success of specific technocratic and psychoanalytic practices and vocal techniques, emerging at localizable points in Euro-American history, ones serving powerful biopolitical interests. A comparison of two iconic vocal imprints of “Recondita armonia,” from Puccini’s Tosca (1900) reveal the techniques by which the conceit of spectral autonomy have been perpetuated. The first examines the videographic projection of Luciano Pavarotti’s performance in 1979 Modena; the second, Enrico Caruso’s 1904 record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York, 1904, where the idea of “painting sounds in voice” are related to a range of “tonographic” or voice-imaging technologies of the milieu. The chapter defends a broadly perspectivist essentialism, and the iconic relation of vocal sound to source, one where vocal materiality is never predetermined, but emergent and always beholden to the power of social discrimination, historical mediation, and socio-technical practice.

Keywords:   object voice, essentialism, schizophonia, tonograph, “Recondita armonia", Luciano Pavarotti, vocal autonomy, Tosca, Enrico Caruso, vocal materialism

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