May 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Thesis: Grimes’ cloying-vaulting, consciously airy voice is the indie shadow, the historical partner, of the hyper-melismatic lung-bursting exercises that has become not so much the fashion as the dominant voice-signature of the last few years (witness Adele, The X Factor‘s products, Florence Welch, Jessie J, all of the vocalists that the latter tutors or even looks at on BBC 2’s The Voice, etc.) The latter is an odd voice: as D. pointed out to me, it’s very nasal, deriving all its resonance from the sinuses, head-bones & cavities; it carries nothing of the sense of bodily interiority (singing from the chest, the stomach, the diaphragm) that soul traditions of voice depend upon, or, for that matter, the tradition of operatic voices. Voice, which, as Steven Connor notes, seems to move away from and above us, seems in this case to zip immediately into the air, to always-already be of the air; voice as pure excess: not as a production of the body, referring back to that corporeal origin (Barthes’ beloved grain, rustling*), but unfolding in itself, proof of nothing but the mastery of the voice, its ability to make itself material in thin air, & thus partition & direct itself, to prove the self-transcendence of its productive origin. Needless to say the hand of the market is visible here. One hesitates to say that there’s something hysterical about it – a) it’s mainly associated w/ female artists b) in its ostentatious control it has little in common w/ other vocal signatures that share the economy of hysteria (the ‘Psycho’ scream, Nick Cave’s mumbling & shrieks on ‘Hamlet’) – but there is a real sense of drive to such voices, an unstoppable & aimless volition that spews out from within the body, the utterance of the unconscious of the body itself. Its association w/ contemporary light entertainment seems both oddly correct & inappropriate: it desperately projects a certain sort of authenticity, following the paradigmatic template – the soul utterance – whilst simultaneously incorporating it into a commodity, shaping itself to the market. The sound of the matter of lived experience being repressed until the singer itself is nothing but a voice-made-object (that’s why it’s called The Voice, obvs), of the subject’s erasure to be replaced by the pure logic of production.

*I was clearly tired enough when I wrote this to get the different sorts of grain mixed up


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