Closer

In a text submitted for one of the most recent anthologies to be published in the NSU context, Artistic Research: Being There (2018), I described at length a constellation of voices belonging to a few friends and co-creators I happened to be sharing a lodging with during springtime 2015, in Mooste, southeast Estonia.

I remember them as they sounded to me. Their voices together in that place, as a family of consonant sounds. John, soft spoken and quiet even in motion, almost all breath and no tone in his often lingering words. Evelyn, resonant and sharp in her mezzo-soprano harmony of briskness and warmth. Sebastian, a soundscape of crescendos in his open, inviting tone, words following thoughts, climbing and descending, always gathering strength for a higher peak. Luisa, the voice of a listener and a storyteller, with a quick, lithe and rich tone, and a confident hesitation that allows others’ voices to rest with hers. Ming, both tentative and booming, a hyper masculine and well-rounded baritone, at times undercut by breathless reticence. Elsie, their child’s voice vibrating in low shy clarity, reminded me of the subtle presence of a single glass marble rolling, swerving and throwing sparks of light. Kathleen, the voice of a speaker and a witness, combining coloratura of expression with matter-of-factness of punctuation. Myna, her tone paused and deeply rooted, balancing arresting sobriety with an undertone of flashing curiosity.

In the current phase of my anniversary project – Lived Anthologies – I have been thinking about voices a lot, because I am actively searching for speakers for vocal narration. There is so much to consider when thinking about a voice, it brings with it not only the whole body, but also a biographical aura, a cultural context, and the radical lived presence of an acoustic soul.

Soul. Hard to use this notion meaningfully nowadays, if not metaphorically or poetically. The ancient Greeks had a lot to say about the soul. At least one of them, in at least one book, discussed it as a chariot pulled by two horses. One horse was good, the other not so much. The uneven communion which is the human soul therefore would move much like a sinewave. Sometimes going up towards heaven, other times falling down to earth. Pulsing imperfectly, vibrating constantly. Like its Greek namesake, the butterfly (ψυχή). Like a voice.

When listening to someone’s voice, one is shaken. Literally. If it is a rattle or a sway, a quiver or a surge, a swell or a drop – the associations are lively and active when we become aurally engaged. To frame and fasten the voice, the right one for the task at hand – for the saying, telling, or singing even of the kind of truth inherent in a text – is not easy. And these are not poetic texts I am dealing with. These are science, most of them, in the sense that science is when it aims at making sense non-sensuously. Sense and sensuous are the key terms, and it is voice that bears the brunt of the task, the heaviest corner of the pilgrim’s icon throughout the procession.

So I listen and make choices, and layer sounds upon sounds, sounds under sounds, masking and enveloping, sometimes outright misleading, using all the tools available to create a sensorially rich aural scenography of meaning. From letter to utterance, from utterance to swelling composition, with a more than healthy pinch of constant doubt thrown in. It is the due owed to creative bringing forth. Hope you listen for it when its summer embodiment comes around for a visit.

Eduardo Abrantes, Copenhagen, March 9, 2020