Centre de Recherche en Ethnomusicologie


Liminal utterances: programme

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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

9h Welcome of the participants


Introduction by Estelle Amy de la Bretèque (CREM-LESC/CNRS, France)

9h45-12h15 Morning session. Chair: Estelle Amy de la Bretèque


Jeffers ENGELHARDT (Amherst College, USA): Logogenic Style and Electrosonic Materiality in the Voice of Orthodox Christianity.

Bernd BRABEC DE MORI (University of Music and Performing Arts, Austria): The Spirits’ Language or What Exactly Happens When the Voices Change?

11h15-11h30 Coffee break


Michael FRISHKOPF (University of Alberta, Canada): Language performance as a category of liminal utterance between speech and song in Islamic ritual.

12h15-14h15 Lunch

14h15-18h00 Afternoon session. Chair: Victor A. Stoichita


Multimedia presentations (part 1)

Eftychia DROUTSA (Iremus/University Paris 4 Sorbonne, France): The vocality of a religious poem among the Pomaks (Greece).

Rubia INFANTI & Ebru YILMAZ (Laboratoire Ethologie, Cognition, Development -EA 3456- UPO, France): Duets between mothers and infants.

Kisito ESSELE(LESC/UPO, France): Drum language between speech and music in the funeral ceremonies of Beti-Eton in Southern Cameroon.

15h45-16h00 coffee break


Round table Diadems Organized by Susanne Fürniss (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France), and involving several members of the DIADEMS project for Description, Indexation, Access to Sound and Ethnomusicological Documents. The workshop will present some findings of this ongoing endeavour, and propose to test their relevance on field materials collected by other participants of the colloquium.


Vocal workshop with Abdesslem GHERBI: Balinese kecak


19h30 Dinner in Nanterre (Ferme du bonheur)

Thursday, 21 May 2015

9h30-12h30 Morning session. Chair: Susanne Fürniss


Multimedia presentations (part 2)

François PICARD (University Paris 4 Sorbonne, France): Ferdinand Brunot and the Archives de la Parole.

Giordano MARMONE (CREM-LESC/UPO, France): Sung assemblies or declaimed songs? The samburu soloists (Kenya) on the border between political discussion and musical activity.

Estelle AMY DE LA BRETEQUE (CREM-LESC/CNRS, France): Between Speech and Song. Liminal utterances of sadness in Anatolia and the Caucasus.

11h-11h15 Coffee break


Maya GRATIER (Laboratoire Ethologie, Cognition, Development -EA 3456- UPO, France): Musical pathways into speech? On the musicality of preverbal infants.

Junzo KAWADA (Kanagawa University, Japan): Speech and Song: the case of Mossi, Burkina Faso.

12h45-14h30 Lunch

14h30-17h45 Afternoon session. Chair: Kati Szego


Emmanuel De VIENNE (EREA-LESC/UPO, France): Voiceless magic: The art of blowing in the Upper Xingu (Brazil).

Chris TONELLI (Memorial University of Newfoundland, International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, Canada): Liminality and the Policing of Extranormal Vocal Sound.

16h-16h15 coffee break


Martin DAUGHTRY (NYU, USA): Voice, Environment, and Precarity.

Julien MEYER (Post doc IIF Marie Slodowska-Curie 'Icon-Eco-Speech' (CNRS L2C2, Lyon, France) - Museu Goeldi (Brazil)) : Whistled and instrumental dialogs or songs.


Vocal workshop with Daisy BOLTER

19h15 Dinner in Nanterre (Ferme du bonheur)

Friday, 22 May 2015

9h30-12h30 Morning session. Chair: Bernd Brabec de Mori


Qian RONG (Central Conservatory of Music, China): Talking and singing in Traditional Chinese Vocal Music.

Anne-Christine TAYLOR (EREA-LESC, UPO, France): Heart speech: silent song as a mode of interaction among the Jivaro.

11h-11h15 coffee break


Kati SZEGO (Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada): Language, Song, (In)Comprehensibility.

Philippe MARTIN (LLF, UFRL, University Paris Diderot, France): Melodic narration in French songs.

12h45-14h30 Lunch

14h30-18h00 Afternoon session. Chair: Emmanuel de Vienne


Jelena NOVAK (CESEM/UNL, Portugal): Singing, Ventriloquism and the Body: Performing the Voice in Postopera.

Andrea-Luz GUTIERREZ CHOQUEVILCA (EPHE-LAS/Collège de France): Can you see them while I am blowing my ikara song? Multimodal sequences of sound gesture, silence and speech in Lowland Quechua shamanism.

16h-16h15 coffee break


Alexander DJUMAEV (Uzbek State Conservatory & Central Asia University, Uzbekistan): Ashura ceremonies in Bukhara: Liminal utterances in the whole complex of musical and non-musical elements.

17h00-18h00 General discussion


Dinner in Paris

ABSTRACTS (speaker’s alphabetical order)


Between Speech and Song: Liminal utterances of sadness in Anatolia and the Caucasus

This presentation explores the practice of melodized speech in the Caucasus and Anatolia. Taking as a case study the Yezidi Kurds in Armenia, it explains why this practice, linked to the narration of sad events, stands at the border between speech and song in the local typology of vocal production. On a wider area, the comparison of three case studies from fieldwork conducted in Azerbaijan, Turkey and Armenia shows how elderly women integrate melodized speech in daily conversations. Beyond religious, national and linguistic differences, the similarity of these practices suggests a shared social-vocal nexus in Anatolia and the Caucasus.

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BERND BRABEC DE MORI (University of Music and Performing Arts, Austria)

The Spirits’ Language, or What Exactly Happens When the Voices Change?

“Music is the spirits’ language,” says a famous quote by Bruno Illius about the Shipibo-Konibo indigenous people from the Peruvian Amazon rainforests (a quote reiterating Siegfried Nadel’s almost forgotten theory on the origin of music). But how do Shipibo-Konibo people utter this, as they, as so many other people on Earth, do not have a word for “music”? Probably they do not mean the same thing as Spanish-speakers, although they would use the Spanish loan-word “música”. Peruvian popular music, well known and received in the region, is not “the spirits’ language”. On the other hand, indigenous people never sing in the forest, seldom on the river or in the gardens, and children’s playing songs are very rare. This is because singing is dangerous—the transition between the act of speaking and the act of singing marks the boundary of what spirits can understand. Therefore, the formalisation of language by itself seems to be an act of translation. In ritual and magical singing, a chain of semiotic transmutation takes place, as described by Carlo Severi. Names of the spirits, certain sonic qualities of the singers’ voices (timbre, pitch, tempo), and relations of the spirits among themselves and with the singers form parts of this chain. Among the Western Amazonian indigenous (and some mestizo) people, the conceptualisation of the sonic includes its power to materialise in the “spirits’ world”: thought, speech, and song (including thought song) create different grades of “materiality” in the “spirits’ world”. Here, the transition between spoken and sung word effectuates either as a manifestation of mere ontological positioning in case of speech, or as a newly created material landscape including certain qualities and inhabitants in case of song.

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Voice, Environment, and Precarity

A recent wave of anthropological scholarship on voice and vocality seeks to bridge the gap between speech and song by concentrating on, among other things, the affective, cultural, and symbolic force of the human voice as it interacts with language and music in different social milieus (Fox 2004, Kunreuther 2006, Minks 2013, Weidman 2006 and 2014). This work powerfully demonstrates how voice—as embodied practice, sonic material, and intellectual concept—affects and is affected by the cultural contexts in which it resonates. My presentation contributes to this body of work by showing how voice is also dynamically interrelated to the changing physical environments within which vocalizations take place. Further, I will argue that vocal utterances can be rendered liminal through their contact with dangerous environments. When the environment threatens the vocalist’s voice and body, the voice that survives is often invested with a poignancy and power that can be felt in aesthetic and political registers. By examining Jessica Schwartz’s work on the effects of radiation on singers’ voices in the Marshall Islands, Nina Eidsheim’s studies of underwater singing, and my own research on vocalizations within the context of the Iraq war, I hope to present a set of questions to help us better understand the often-precarious interplay of people, voices and environments in the early twenty-first century.

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EMMANUEL DE VIENNE (LESC/University Paris West, France)

Voiceless magic: The art of blowing in the Upper Xingu (Brazil)

Among the Trumai of the Upper Xingu, magical spells are said to be "blown" (laf), not sung, whispered, told or spoken. This categorisation shows the path to a line of inquiry little explored in the literature about spells and incantations. While much has been written about their semantics, tropes and formalisation of content, or about their relationship with technical actions, little has been done regarding the materiality of their enunciation when it did not involve the enactment of an alien voice. This presentation aims at filling this gap through a minute description of what “blowing” involves on several dimensions: breathing, rhythm, and structure of the performance. This "musicological" description suggests that xinguanian spells do not explore the frontier between speech and song, but between speech and technical work, thus offering a counterpoint to the general theme of the conference.

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ALEXANDER DJUMAEV (Uzbek State Conservatory & Central Asia University, Uzbekistan)

Ashura ceremonies in Bukhara: Liminal utterances in the whole complex of musical and non-musical elements

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EFTYCHIA DROUTSA (Iremus/University Paris 4 Sorbonne, France)

The vocality of a religious poem among the Pomaks

This work questions “vocality”, that is the sound production of speech and song among the Pomaks through their religious poem called mevlud.

Dating from the 15th century, the mevlud is a poem attributed to the poet Suleyman Çelebi, in which he relates the birth, the life and the death of the Prophète Mohamed. It is written in osmanli (Othoman, ancient Turkish in arabic characters) in the poetic form of masnavi, structured in a series of versified distiches where each verse adheres on a metric regularity of eleven syllables. We find this poem among Pomaks, a mountain population, muslim and trilingual, who speaktheir own Slavic dialect -Pomak -, Greek and Turkish. They live in the north of Greece in the area of Thrace and are recognized officially as “a religious minority” by the Greek Government. Pomaks learn to read the mevlud, on which they adapt a repetitive motif borrowed, modified and customized according to individual preferences and abilities. However, most of them do not understand the literal meaning of the poetic text. It is in this particular context, where the words are detached from their litteral meaning and become a medium for statement, that we will approach the duality of speech and song through a sound editing, where the words are sung, whispered, muttered, recited or simply said.

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Logogenic Style and Electrosonic Materiality in the Voice of Orthodox Christianity

In the world of Orthodox Christianity, logogenic style is essential to a theology of the voice and an Orthodox anthropology. Between speech and song, logogenic style subsumes the voice as an embodied, historical, social medium to the transcendence of the word as religious truth. In this paper, I locate logogenic style in the amplified voices of male cantors and choirs that permeate the soundscape of Orthodox parishes and monasteries in urban Thessaloniki, Greece and its suburban countryside. For many attending services, electronic amplification is desirable even when it is unnecessary or low quality – an aesthetic norm for mediating the religious voice linked to broadcast liturgies, recorded prayers, online sermons, and iPad apps that perform the vocal drone of Byzantine chant. Here, I focus on how logogenic style and electrosonic materiality merge in the ways laypeople and cantors cultivate humility – an essential part of being Orthodox – by listening through the electrosonic materiality of the voice to the sacramental reality it mediates. For cantors, this extends to techniques of singing with amplification that emphasize the pastoral role and non-objective nature of the voice. Ultimately, I connect these mediations to broader understandings of the voice and technology as effective, expedient means of relating to the divine that are shaped by long histories of Christian discourse on song, speech, and the word.

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KISITO ESSELE (LESC/University Paris West, France)

Drum language between speech and music in the funeral ceremonies of beti-eton in southern cameroon

Several uses of the voice are identified in the funeral ceremonies among the Beti-Eton of southern Cameroon: Manifestations of pain and sorrow, songs and speeches. These uses of the voice enter into a complex relationship with language and it is admitted that part of the linguistic communication often takes place outside vocal sounds. A great example is the drum language, which is the reproduction of speech on a wooden drum. During funeral ceremonies, announcements are heard on slit- drum at certain times to convey messages, and at other times it accompanies the dance. It thus appears as an extension of vocal acts in its semantic and performative dimensions. The study is guided by an interdisciplinary concern to make a comparative analysis between anthropologic, M. Heepe (1920), L. Guillemin (1948), T. Tsala (1958), S.C. Abéga (1987), linguistic, F. Cloarec-Heiss (1976), M. Van De Velde (2008), organologic, G. Dournon (1996) and musicological data, E. von Hornbostel (1914), S. Arom (1985), S. Fürniss (2012).

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MICHAEL FRISHKOPF (University of Alberta, Canada)

Language performance as a category of liminal utterance between speech and song in Islamic ritual

I argue that "music" and "song" are unsatisfactory to describe the sounds of Muslim ritual performance, not so much because such terms are controversial in Islam, but because of their inherent inability—due to a heavy preexisting semantic load—to support an etic definition that maps correctly to local ontologies while also calling attention to the overriding importance of language in these rituals. From the standpoint of the human sciences, I am interested to understand the broad power of such rituals at multiples levels of metaphysical, social, and psychological systems. “Music” and “song” tend to distort and even block holistic ritual analysis of this kind. I develop an alternative, “language performance” (LP), including four aspects—syntactic, semantic, sonic, and pragmatic— of ritual performance. Applying a linguistic theory of communication developed by Jacobson, I show how LP can be developed as a comprehensive, flexible descriptive framework for analysis, akin to Lomax's Cantometrics, but designed so as to be adaptable to a narrower range of phenomena, in order to conduct systematic comparative investigations of performance in Islamic ritual. I include examples of such analyses applied to the Sufi hadra and to Qur'anic recitation, as performed in contemporary Egypt.

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MAYA GRATIEZ (Laboratoire Ethologie, Cognition, Development -EA 3456-,University Paris-West, France)

Musical pathways into speech? On the musicality of preverbal infants

This talk will describe the musical qualities of 1) vocalizations produced by infants in the first 5 months of life, 2) mothers’ and fathers’ speech to young infants and 3) vocal interactions between mothers and infants. Psycholinguists have been concerned with identifying the « speech-like » patterns in the vocal development that precedes the appearance of speech in infants. They have largely ignored their « music-like » aspects. Infants are born into a world dominated by linguistic communication and they are familiar with the specific sounds of languages even before they are born. It is known that newborns are most sensitive to the dynamic and musical aspects of speech, they recognize their mother-tongue at birth because they are cued into its intonation and rhythm. We will present evidence suggesting that infants use a precocious musical, i.e. rhythmic and expressive, ability to enter into more and more complex forms of social interaction that pave the road to language use itself. A number of studies support the view that prosody is a primary linguistic system, the development of which precedes the stabilization of phonological, lexical or syntactic structures. Moreover, infants all over the world develop through musical interactions. Traditionally rich repertoires of action-songs and nursery rhymes have been shaped by history to support their entry into spoken language. Song and poetry, in every language, powerfully mediate language learning, yet psychologists and linguists know little about the processes involved in this mediation.

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ANDREA-LUZ GUTIERREZ CHOQUEVILCA (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, France)

“Can you see them while I am blowing my ikara song?” Multimodal sequences of sound gesture, silence and speech in Lowland Quechua shamanism.

Lowland Quechua shamans usually state that magic songs ikara can be seen as material objects such as invisible darts supay wiruti, located in the specialist’s stomach or liver. However, besides this materialist definition of shamanic knowledge as the enactment of a physical performance related to hunting practice, the chore of shamanic practice seem to rely on multimodal communicative sequences including the description of visual mental images considered as an act of naming, the performance of sound gesture, utterances, blowing, whispering, handling a bunch of rustling leaves on the patient’s body… Different frames of interactions develop in each modes of communication. How can we account for the articulation between linguistic and gestural devices of reference and ostension in shamanic performances? What is the specificity of the relationship between sign and object in the field of ritual communication? How can ritual specialists construct the mental images of silent spirits voices? This approach opens questions that relate to cognition, culture and language. We argue that sound and gestures play a decisive role not only as possible substitute of the referred object but as effective memory devices and key-modes of commitment in ritual interactions.

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RUBIA INFANTI & EBRU YILMAZ (Laboratoire Ethologie, Cognition, Development -EA 3456-, University Paris-West, France)

Development of turn taking in vocal interaction between mothers and infants aged between 2 and 4 months

Infants are known to engage in conversation-like exchanges from the end of the second month after birth. These ‘protoconversations’ involve both turn-taking and overlapping vocalization. Previous research has shown that the timing of adult-infant turn-taking sequences is close to that of adult verbal conversation. The gap between turns in protoconversational exchange seldom exceeds 500ms. It has also been shown that young infants adjust the quality of their vocalization in response to the quality and timing of adult vocalization. Furthermore, turn-taking exchanges often involve mutual imitation of sounds, pitches and melodic contour. We present new evidence of the timing and temporal organization of turn-taking interaction between mothers and 2 to 4-month-olds recorded in naturalistic contexts based on a corpus of recordings from 50 French dyads. All of them were recorded in naturalistic contexts, in their home, when infants were in a quiet alert state. The entire sample comprised a total of 2943 vocalizations of which 748 (25.4%) were produced by the infants, 1851 (62.9%) were produced by the mothers, and 344 were overlapping vocalizations (11.7%). In all, 489 turns taking sequences were identified. The quality and duration of infant vocalizations differed according to whether or not they were produced within a turn-taking sequence. Finally, length and number of turns were highly correlated between mothers and infants vocalizations.

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JUNZO KAWADA (Kanagawa University, Japan)

Speech and song: the case of Mossi, Burkina Faso

During about nine years of research among the Mossi (moose) in Burkina Faso, the author recorded more than 600 tales (including incomplete tales or the same type tales) and many songs accompanied with dances or works. The author analyses them (1) to determine the native concept of speech and song in a comparative perspective with Japanese and French cases, and (2) by mechanical means, using melograph and pitch extractor.

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Sung assemblies or declaimed songs? The samburu soloists (Kenya) on the border between political discussion and musical activity

Among the Samburu of Kenya the leaders and the spokesmen of the warriors' age-grade, the so-called larikok, play a fundamental role in both political and musical domains. The oratorical skills of which they must be provided to protect the interests of the warriors during the assemblies, core of the Samburu political system, also allow them to stand out as main soloists during the singing and dancing sessions. This double form of authority is based on what, among the Samburu, is considered as one of the essential features of male leadership: the ability of “dominating the words” in all their forms, both sung and spoken. At the same time, this connection between political debate and soloist singing is not focused exclusively on the double social role of the larikok. The vocal technique that characterizes a big part of the Samburu's musical repertoire, in fact, is definable as a form of speech shaped around the rhythm of the dance. It confers to the melodic contour of the soloist's part the prosodic characteristics of the spoken language, making Samburu choral songs a sort of oratorical confrontation between soloists, very close, structurally and verbally, to the assemblies' debate scheme. The process of decision-making and the composition of the songs' lyrics lead, in both cases, to the creation of accounts which aim to expose opinions and stories based on real events. But if during the assemblies the speakers' purpose is to use their own charisma for the political administration of the community as representatives of an age-grade's or an age-set's interests, during the singing and dancing sessions the soloists have the responsibility to stand for their age-group and share with the listeners the narrative of its collective memory, contributing to assert its presence within the society.

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PHILIPPE MARTIN(University Diderot – Paris 7, France)

Melodic narration in French songs

Various structures organize the sentence internally: morphologic, syntactic, prosodic, informational. These structures act independently on their respective units (words, syntactic phrases, accent phrases, informational segments), defining hierarchies that may or may not be congruent with each other, either par merging units considered distinct in another structure, or by splitting units defined in another domain. These differences pertain to phrasing, i.e. the segmentation into minimal units and their hierarchy, i.e. the way these minimal units are grouped together in one or more levels to form a structure.

Prosodic phrasing for instance (segmentation of speech into accent phrases, i.e. minimal prosodic units containing one non-emphatic stressed syllable) may vary according to the speech rate. This is especially the case in French, a language devoted from lexical stress. For example la belle ville de Meaux (“the nice city of Meaux”) can be pronounced with one, two or even three accent phrases, according to the speaker speech rate: [la belle] [ville] [de Meaux] (slow), [la belle ville] [de Meaux], [la belle] [ville de Meaux] (average) or [la belle ville de Meaux] (fast), the third phrasing being non-congruent with syntax. However, the AP maximum duration is limited to some 1.2 to 1.4 second, accommodating up to about 8 syllables.

In French songs, the musical structure determines yet another hierarchy, pertaining to musical units, with one beat per bar. Bars are then grouped into musical phrases in one or more levels. This musical structure defines another phrasing and another hierarchy of the corresponding prosodic and syntactic text units. It can then be investigated

  1. How musical phrasing is associated to prosodic and syntactic phrasing of the text;

  2. What is the relationship between the musical structure and the prosodic and syntactic structures (i.e. congruence and non-congruence cases);

  3. How performers encode these different structures, and resolve their eventual non congruence using specific prosodic and musical acoustical parameters.

French songs examples will illustrate how one structure may be dominant over the others, destructuring syntax or even morphology, or on the contrary submitting the musical phrases to prosody or syntax.

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JULIEN MEYER (Post doc IIF Marie Slodowska-Curie 'Icon-Eco-Speech' (CNRS (L2C2, Lyon, France) - Museu Goeldi (Brazil))

Whistled and instrumental dialogs or songs

The present paper proposes to study natural traditional oral practices that permit the transformation of human voice into simple prosodic signals (such as whistles) or sounds produced with musical instruments. We will compare whistled and instrumental emulations of both spoken and sung speech produced with various techniques that range from bilabial whistling to the use of musical instruments such as flutes, drums, bamboo clarinets, mouth archs…. Most of our examples will concern Gavião and Surui Amazonian languages (Rondônia Brazil). However, some examples will concern also other Amazonian languages such as Wayãpi and Teko of French Guiana, Bora of Peru, as well as some European (Spanish, Greek, Bearnese), North American (SIberian Yupik), African (Tamazight Berber) and South-East Asian (Hmong, Akha) languages. We will focus on what they tell us about pitch and timbre percepts in music and language.

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JELENA NOVAK (CESEM, New University of Lisbon, Portugal)

Singing, Ventriloquism and the Body: Performing the Voice in Postopera.

In certain cases of postdramatic recent opera, or postopera, there are numerous ventriloquism-like desynchronizations between what we see and what we hear at the same time while action of singing is taking place. Those desynchronizations are related to breaking of silent conventions in relation to the singing body and the voice it produces. In opera studies, those issues of ‘ventriloquism’ are for a long time being taken as ‘blind spots’. Illuminating those fluent non-semantic relationships, ‘liminal utterances’ between the singing bodies and sung voices, and discussing their statuses and effects bring to light intriguing findings in relation to what contemporary opera is, and how it ‘talks’ about itself and the world that surrounds it. Those issues will be discussed in relation to recent pieces of some of the most important contemporary opera authors: Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Louis Andriessen, John Adams, Michel van der Aa, Laurie Anderson and others.

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FRANÇOIS PICARD (Iremus, University Paris 4 Sorbonne, France)

Ferdinand Brunot and the Archives de la Parole

The Archives de la Parole or Spoken Archives have been founded by the French historian of French language and grammarian Ferdinand Brunot at Sorbonne university in 1911. Using a Pathéphone phonograph, he recorded spoken or singing voices, he classified in main sections: I for “interprètes”, O for “orateurs”, L for «langues”, D for “dialectes”. Taking it as a solid corpus, we analyse it using digital tools according to the relation between pitch, intensity and timbre, and find it possible through strong descriptors to recover local, culturally meaningful, categories. The question of whether this new categorisation could be universal will be asked.

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QIAN RONG (Central Conservatory of Music, China)

Talking and Singing in Traditional Chinese Vocal Music

As we know, both speech and song are produced by vocal organs. However, due to their different functions, they have different features in their expressions.

The language used in most parts of China is a tonal one, which belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family. The pitch contour in it has brought a speech-and-song feature in the traditional Chinese vocal music. In my speech, I will give some examples to show how speech and song as well as lexical tones and musical melody have been coordinately used in the creation (formation) of traditional Chinese vocal music.

Considering of the inseparable relationship between speech and song as well as the tones of words and melody in the traditional Chinese vocal music, I don’t think the analysis of traditional Chinese vocal music should be made merely from the angle of notations. And I don’t think the forms of speech or tones of words in the traditional Chinese vocal music can be well described within the present notational systems alone. Therefore, I’ve just finished a monograph featuring how to analyze the sounds of singing words. This book will soon be published by the Higher Education Press of China.

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KATI SZEGO (Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada)

Language, Song, (In)Comprehensibility

With important exceptions, ethnomusicological and folkloric approaches to sung text have assumed the ability of vocalists and the people who listen to them to engage words semantically. That assumption has always been vulnerable, but especially in an era of global cosmopolitanism when song routinely crosses boundaries of linguistic proficiency. In this paper I take up anthropologist Ulf Hannerz’s question, “Could there be affinities which allow [northern Europeans, for example]… to appreciate what Nigerians or Indonesians do as they sing … even as what they say sounds to us as only gibberish?” (1996:22). Drawing on multiple examples, including medieval polytextual motets and my own work with English-speaking Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) who sing in their ancestral language, I probe Hannerz’s suggestion that “we have to draw different boundaries of intelligibility for each symbolic mode” (ibid.).

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‘Heart speech’ – song as a mode of interaction among the Jivaro (Upper Amazonia)

Groups of Jivaroan culture (Upper Amazonia, Peru-Ecuador) have developed a vast repertory of magical invocations, called anent, normally sung sotto voce, intended to inflect or modulate Others’ dispositions in regard of the enunciator. These songs can be addressed to other Jivaroans, to game animals, to plants, to spirits and even to other anent. In this contribution I will examine the form and conditions of enunciation/transmission of these ‘sung thoughts’, their postulated mode of action and the implicit theories of relationality and communication embedded in them.

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CHRIS TONELLI (Memorial University of Newfoundland, International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, Canada)

Liminality and the Policing of Extranormal Vocal Sound

The symbolic order undergirding those forms of subjectivation afforded by ideologies of modernity reifies divisions between human and animal, civilized and primitive, and rational and irrational. The voice plays a fundamental role in this symbolic order as multiple dominant forms of vocality, particularly those recognized as speech and song, become positioned as evidence of the universal truth of modernity's hierarchies. Listeners in cultures of modernity often come to the voice expecting that it will affirm the hierarchical social order of modernity and their privileged place within it. Due to these expectations, these same listeners can be drawn into an uncomfortable liminality when faced with vocal performances that fail to serve this symbolic function.

In my experiences as a participant observer in the realm of improvised soundsinging, I have witnessed the creation of both profound discomfort and liberation through vocal performances that involve improvisational streams of extranormal vocal sound. I have also witnessed reactions to such performances in which listeners labour to repair the symbolic order violated by human performers employing human vocal sound that listeners perceive as non-human. These reactions render visible some of the symbolic functions being served by normative forms of vocality in cultures of modernity and they stand as evidence that, within these cultures, extranormal vocality performs a political function by resisting modernity's exclusionary logic and striving for a more inclusive symbolic order.

Beyond recounting experiences of these types of audience reactions, I will explore the signifying pasts and potentials of abstract extranormal vocal sounds in free jazz and improvisation contexts through a discussion of the ways practitioners speak of their practice. I will draw on interviews I have conducted with improvising vocalists that reveal that it is often an ethico-aesthetic imperative that draws them to improvisational work and extranormal vocal sound.

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