Both practically and symbolically, our voices are one of the primary ways that we interact with the world around us. Since ancient Greece, the voice has represented participatory democracy, and today we still argue about whose voices to include in our national conversations. But even though we might think of our voices as our own—and ourselves as free to use them—it turns out that the voice is one of the most disciplined, trained, standardized, regulated dimensions of human life and expression. This hour, we confront the politics of the voice, from stereotyping to vocal fry. And we also talk to a soundscape ecologist who listens—perhaps closer than anyone—to the voices of the natural world.
David Thorpe is a filmmaker who went in search of his voice. Specifically, he wanted to know why he and many other gay men ended up markers of a "gay voice"—one with precise enunciation and sibilant "s" sounds. He spoke with his family and several speech therapists to better understand, control, and inhabit his voice.
Before and since Keith Powell's breakthrough role on as Toofer on the sitcom "30 Rock," he has been forced to confront Hollywood's problem with black male voices. In this interview, he tells us how he works within an industry that desperately needs more diverse voices but doesn't truly want them.
In and around public radio there is growing chorus of people talking about "vocal fry," the low vibrations in the voice that usually come at the end of sentences. Critics say it makes for bad sound, but if that's true, why are only women being criticized for it? In this piece, our host, Anne Strainchamps, talks with NPR pioneer Susan Stamberg, podcast star Ann Friedman, and voice specialists about this so-called "problem."
For as closely linked as the voice is to our body and sense of identity, there are also a lot of external forces affecting our voices, both social and technological. In fact, when we're talking about mediated voices—voices we hear in music, film, and of course, on the radio—we're actually not talking about "voices" any more. We're talking about signal processing. And, as media historian Jonathan Sterne tells Craig Eley, signal processing shapes the sound of all vocal media, from your telephone calls to the music of T-Pain.
While we humans are out there making a lot of noise, we're not the only creatures on the planet that vocalize. Birds, whales, frogs and toads—all of these things make noise. But do they have a voice? And if so, what do their voices tell us about our natural world? Bernie Krause is a musician who has been recording environmental sounds all over the world since the 1970s. He recently spoke with Steve Paulson about what he's learned in a lifetime of listening.
So – time for a lesson in Naikan. A Japanese tradition, or spiritual discipline, that teaches people how to deliberately cultivate gratitude – by noticing how much we take for granted. Gregg Krech teaches Naikon in Middlebury Vermont – and he says if you want to give it a try, be thankful for more than the turkey this Thanksgiving - thank your roof, your furnace, even the lane lines in the street.
Most of the time, it’s kind of clear when you should be grateful. For instance, if someone gives you something, or even holds the door for you… you say thank you. But what if you didn’t actually want help? What if complete strangers kept insisting on giving you a hand? Haddayr Copley-Woods says she's been trying to figure out how to deal with that for years, since she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Is it actually possible to give a truly selfless gift? Anthropologist David Graeber says it's not only impossible, the entire idea of a "free gift" is nothing but a construct born in opposition to impersonal market economies. In other words, it’s you know, complicated.
Today we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Punk. For 40 years, punk has influenced not just music, but fashion, film, art… not to mention hairstyles. So what makes punk… punk? Music journalist Legs McNeil is the guy who named it. And chronicled it. Along with Gillian McCain wrote THEE book on the history of punk. It’s an oral history called “Please Kill Me.”