Part of exhibition Writing Sound at Lydgalleriet, 2014
You went for a walk to Svartediket, a lake outside the city centre between two mountains. Apart from being a drinking water reservoir, you have to walk around it and through the area to get to Isdalen, a valley you have been obsessed with for thirteen years. It has an eerie, peaceful, unnatural quality. The name alludes to a place of darkness, everybody agreeing about the strange atmosphere here. The very last time Isdalskvinnen was seen alive was here somewhere. Svartediket is also the name of a local musical about Norwegian black metal: you can almost understand it, no you can’t. Welcome to MAYHEM 30 years Anniversary. Referance code: XBERG. Stemmeveien is the street taking you up to Svartediket. In the end of it you are met by the gigantic concrete structure holding the drinking water in place. You have never heard the droning sound coming from within it, coming from inside it. Timothy Morton told you that it is infrasound on your iPhone recording.
The word stemme in Norwegian signifies voice, dam, tuning, vote. Stemme comes from the throat, the neck, the breathing, the water. Neck (water spirit) were shapeshifting water spirits usually appearing in forms of other creatures. As we learn, voice is both object and subject.
VISHUDDA DECISIONSCH CH CH CH CHANGESDesire for and avoidance of being heard“Had I known that Stemmeveien was a possibility, I would have called my company that and not Vokalkultur. I run a small company besides my work at the college. The name Vokalkultur was chosen because of what I think is an under-communicated significance of the vocal aspect in everyday life. Generally speaking we are all very concerned about how we look and dress, but most people are not conscious about how they sound. It is foolish to neglect this important part of us, and what comes with our sound. To open up for the nuances in the resonance of who we are speaking or listening to, can enrich our experiences in meeting people. A vocal resonance can suggest security but also the opposite. Some voices uplift us, others are irritating sounds that destroy the atmosphere in a conversation. Just think about the number of people who are not aware of what these sounds actually do.”
“You have worked with the voice for a number of years, with people who wish to voice themselves. Could you elaborate on this complexity?”
“The voice is both a highly technical and emotional apparatus. It is interesting because of its ability to be both an object, such as a “thing” that can be described from the outside, and also a subject, a version of the self, of “I”. When I see the voice as a subject, it always very easily relates directly to emotions. The voice is completely connected with emotions and feelings. The instancy of a thought is enough to subconsciously regulate the voice according to the actual thought.”
“My own thoughts surrounding the voice is based on personal experiences, artistic ideas and connections. I easily recognise what you say about the voice being emotionally affected, thus also the clarity and expression of the voicing. One way I experienced this was physical sensations in and around the throat, jaw and ear area, in various situations of expressing words and sounds. Through voice- and chakra meditations it has been possible for me to activate and calibrate this area. Do you have any opinions on this?”
“One aspect of the voice that concerns me, is something that I call voice shame. Voice shame can affect anyone, and often it affects those who particularly express themselves through the voice; singers, professional singers, students or teachers who are supposed to be listened to. The moment where ones personal sound is self-consciously noticed as sound, and experienced as ridiculous or ugly, one can become overwelmed by a feeling of shame. Shame is a fundamental emotion in all human beings, in the same way that we have the ability to experience happiness or being moved.”
“We can experience shame in the same way. Shame penetrates extremely deep into the body, so that it stays there. On experiencing shame people want to disappear instantly, cave into the ground. For many it is a terrible feeling being exposed to the Others’ gaze and listening. The awareness of this can practically manifest itself physically. Muscles tighten, which again can lead to the vocal cords not functioning properly. The air does not have the opportunity to get into flow. It is all about the constant and smooth flow of air coming through the vocal cords, which produce sound. If this is disturbed by a thought about not being normative in terms of an ideal, it becomes very affected. I have been very occupied with particularly these issues, as I have singing pedagogy as the fundament of my education. I have many students who try to avoid being heard, despite of really wanting to be heard.”
“Can you talk more about shame as a fundamental emotion?”
“Shame exists in all cultures. One can go back to the biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, suddenly realising their own nakedness. This sense of shame has followed human beings in the course of history. Naturally this varies from culture to culture– nudity can be problematic one place, the voice and its bi-sounds can be problematic another. Go back to the Victorian era, where everything was shamed. Everything was shamed because of a very narrow tolerance of compliant behaviour.”
“I am interested in philosophical, psychological and symbolic connotations of using the voice. How do you work with expression and voice?”
“I take use of a methodology called voice stretching. I work very playfully with the voice, with stretching the voice and making glissando-sounds with the voice. This means stretching the voice and letting it become as long as possible. This methodology is the only one that heals the voice, in my experience. The voice is nothing without breathing. Breathing and voicing are completely intertwined. If you are to work with the voice, you have to first work on the breathing. Exhaling, that is.”
“We inhale unconsciously. One has to work with exhaling, with experiencing the voice instrument as not only something that sits in the top of the throat, but as part of a whole. One needs to experience the voice from the top of the head and the bottom of the feet. Posture and balance is essential, how the spine is operating. Imagining having a ballet posture, the stretch of the back of the head and neck as starting position. One will notice being able to exhale in this position, noticing that one is a body, not just in possession of a body able to produce sound. My opinion when working therapeutically with the sound, is that it always should be playful, experimental, silly and unconventional.”“One should try to feel and visualise the sound, how the energy of the sound is, what the difference is between being an object and a subject. In my pedagogogy I always start with a warm up consisting of using physical arm movements, a lot of stretching and improvisation with sounds. My purpose is to let go of everyday stress and concentrate on sound and breathing, in order to get into a slowness. We get into a flow where we forget that we are warming up before learning and practising singing. It is like meditation, a sound meditation. It is about the sounds, we hover in them and play with them, creating a performance for a duration of 20–25 minutes, which always is improvised forward by me.”“I always have an idea of where I want to go. I trust the body, I know that the body will do what is necessary in order to find a bodily and soundly “stillness”. We are all born through a first shriek, and from then on all of our emotions go through our vocal cords. All the sounds that come through us, are linked to the interaction throughout the whole body, so we are both our voice and our body at the same time. One way to work with the voice is to think of it as an object, not as a subjective voice.”
“I have worked with my voice intuitively without any techniques. My opinion is that the action of using the voice is deeply psychological, in the sense that it means voicing a self. I have a mother who is a speech therapist, but who paradoxically is very limited and strict in her expressions. There seems to be missing ideas of how the subject and object operate.”
“Speech therapists work very much with speech sounds and speech problematics. A lot of what I have worked with happens to be about restrictions on what one can be, can say, express or sing. I would like to ask the question “what is the self, what is identity?”
I believe that we all juggle with many identities, and that we can all work with our selves, work towards more freedom of voice and expression and have more courage to use our voices in ways that we are not used to. To be challenged by our voices. There is so little knowledge about the voice, and it results in people having a lot of physical and mental problems.”“The tongue is rooted just underneath the chin, the area of the throat, the neck, the facial muscles and the head, all of which is closely connected to the voice.”
Thanks to Tiri Bergesen Schei, voice pedagogue and associate professor at Bergen University College.