Heidi Fast and Milla Tiainen

Ranging from film studies and philosophy to gender studies, music, and artistic research, voice has been an important topic of concern across several areas of study in the past decades. Recently, the interest in voice and what it can tell us about a variety of issues extending from subjectivity and social power to embodiment and technology, has become more systematic with the inauguration of the cross-disciplinary domain of voice studies (e.g., Macpherson and Thomaidis, 2015; Neumark, Gibson and van Leeuwen, 2010; The Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies). New materialist concepts and approaches can significantly advance voice-related research since there are many resonances between key notions of new materialisms and the characteristics of and insights on voice, as developed in voice-themed research.

A central issue in voice studies has been the voice's intermeshed, ontologically inseparable relationship with the body – both the (technologically extended) body that vocalizes, and the bodies-minds that perceive sound. For instance, previous studies have inquired into the notion of voice as an intimately corporeal performance of gendered, sexual, racialized and other socially conditioned identities (Cusick, 1999; Potter, 1998; Eidsheim, 2014) and in terms of the experiences of empathy, connection or erotic pleasure that the signs of the vocalizer's body in the voice can inspire in the perceiver (Barthes, 1989; Cavarero, 2005; Tarvainen, 2012). New materialist lines of thinking expand these insights into the voice--body relationship. When considered through a new materialist lens, the interconnected workings of body and voice are not only about the mediation of culturally recognizable markers of identity or about how the flesh and bones of particular bodies shape the sounds and multi-sensory experiences of a voice. While these are important aspects, new materialist understandings of matter as eminently active and vital, as both self-organizing and actively responsive, recast vocalizing and voice-perceiving bodies as being increasingly vibrant too. This means that they are understood as consisting of incessant physiological processes and corporeal practices in which biology and culture dynamically intermingle.

Rather than materially stable, bodies and the voices they emit must be conceived as fundamentally processual and open-ended. They figure as activities and capacities that are susceptible to situation-bound, longer-term, and minute changes that depend on a varying blend of physiological, socio-cultural, and technical factors. Recently, the voice--body connection has been examined from this kind of new materialisms-inspired perspective, for example in relation to western 'classical' singing (Tiainen, 2008), laughter (Thompson and Tiainen, 2017), and the transformations of body and voice experienced by trans male singers during the sex/gender reaffirmation process (Leppänen and Tiainen, 2018).

Yet aside processuality, another attendant idea highlighted by new materialisms-informed understandings, is that the materiality of voices and of their source bodies is never self-contained in the sense of being composed of enclosed organisational patterns. Voices and vocalizing bodies take shape in co-constitutive relations with other material beings, such as fellow human bodies who also vocalize or act and respond otherwise. Voices also unfold in co-constitutive relations with discourses and social practices that direct, valorize, and mold ways of producing voice. Indeed, voices provide an apt example of what Karen Barad has famously termed intra-action, referring to the ways in which agencies and phenomena do not precede, but rather emerge through their mutual relations (Barad, 2007, p. 33). Voices, themselves, result from intra-actions among corporeality, sounds, technologies, particular cultural techniques, practices of vocalizing, and so forth. However, they also engender intra-actions between several feeling, acting, and thinking bodies. This has been explored in recent sound and performance art projects that have mobilized vocalizing as "a mode of embodied encountering" between participants in inviting them to sing, the aim being to revive and expand the participants' sensory sensibilities and capacities to connect with one another and the wider environment (Fast, 2017, 2010). This kind of art is attuned with the materiality and affective powers of voice, that is, to its ability to effect change in the relations and states of bodies and minds. Here, the voice comes to be understood in terms of its vibrating nature, as a sheer physiological dimension and as a material-energetic process that is relational and generates affective knowledge about one's embodied existence in connection with its surroundings. Apprehended from this angle, both the materiality and affectivity of voice also have a significant ethical dimension (Fast, 2017; Eidsheim, 2015). From the perspective of intra-action, it is also interesting to consider how voices, with their bodily and technological sources, intra-act with the symbolic realm in the production of language and instances of verbal communication. Voices oscillate between verbal and non-verbal sounds, expressions, and experiential spheres (Fast, 2017). This is another topic of interest for new materialist considerations.

Another noteworthy aspect of voices in the context of new materialist thinking is the manifest way in which they confound many of the conceptual distinctions or binaries on which Western traditions of thought (especially) have rested upon: these include self/other, individual/environment, and animate/inanimate. This characteristic of voices (and sound in general) has been noted by numerous scholars. Indeed, the blurring of inside and outside, body-mind, and other types of dichotomies is endemic to embodied vocal and listening experiences (Tarvainen, 2016, p. 20; Fast, 2017). What a new materialist approach can add to these considerations of voice's transversality is an increased attention to how its relations and effects extend to other-than-human processes and things: these might include sound processing and transmission technologies, the acoustic affordances of buildings, or wider-than-human environments and life forms. From this perspective, vocalizing is always entangled not only with human social contexts and environments but also with the broader material and vibrant world.

Thus, new materialist ideas and concepts -- such as Stacy Alaimo's (2008) trans-corporeality or Jane Bennett's (2010) thing-power and agency of assemblages-- encourage one to locate voice "within a broader nexus of relations between organic and synthetic bodies, actors, and forces" (Thompson and Tiainen, 2017, p. 382). A wider-than-human perspective expands general understanding of voices and unsettles anthropocentric thinking within voice studies (Neumark, 2017; Tiainen, 2013). This decentering is already evidenced in several contemporary art projects, which purposely situate the voice on a continuum between human and other-than-human materialities and beings, for example: American opera singer, voice artist, and researcher Juliana Snapper's underwater signing performances, which explore the always broader-than-human conditions of human vocal experience (Eidsheim 2015, p. 27-57), and The Algae Opera (2012), an experimental sound, media, and performance art project that probes participation of operatic singing voice to find forms of survival beneficial to multiple species in the age of ecocrises (Tiainen, 2017).

Synonyms: vibration
Antonym: stability
Hypernym: sound
Hyponym: singing, music

Alaimo, Stacy. (2008). Trans-Corporeal Feminisms and the Ethical Space of Nature. In Stacy Alaimo & Susan Hekman (eds), Material Feminisms. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 237-264.
Barad, Karen (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Barthes, Roland (1989). The Grain of the Voice. In: S. Frith & A. Goodwin, eds., On Record. Rock, Pop and the Written Word. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, pp. 293-300.
Bennett, Jane (2010). Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
Cavarero, Adriana (2005). For More than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Cusick, Suzanne G. (1999). On Musical Performances of Gender and Sex. In: E. Barkin, L. Hamessley and B. Boretz, eds., Audible Traces: Gender, Identity, and Music. Zurich and Los Angeles: Carciofoli Verlagshaus, pp. 25-48.
Eidsheim, Nina Sun (2015). Sensing Sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational Practice. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
Eidsheim, Nina Sun (2014). Race and the Aesthetics of Vocal Timbre. In: O. Bloechl, M. Lowe and J. Kallberg, eds., Rethinking Difference in Music Scholarship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 338--365.
Fast, Heidi (2017). Sanaton ääni ruumiillisena kohtaamisena. Huomioita sensibiliteetistä ja virittäytymisen kyvystä [Wordless Voice as an Embodied Encounter: Notes on Sensibility and Capacities for Attunement]. Niin & Näin - Filosofinen aikakauslehti 3, pp. 22-31. Retrieved from: https://netn.fi/sites/www.netn.fi/files/netn173-05.pdf
Fast, Heidi (2010). An Emergent Tuning as a Molecular Organizational Mode. Inflexions: A Journal for Research Creation 4 (December 2011). Retrieved from https://www.inflexions.org/n4\_t\_fasthtml.html
Leppänen, Taru & Tiainen, Milla (2018). Trans-Becomings in Western 'Classical' Singing: An Intra-Active Approach. Ruukku -- Studies in Artistic Research 9. Retrieved from: https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/372940/372941
Mazzei, Lisa (2016). Voice Without a Subject. Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies 16(2). pp.151-161.
Neumark, Norie (2017). Voicetracks: Attuning to Voice in Media and the Arts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Neumark, Norie, Gibson, Ross & van Leeuwen, Theo, eds. Voice: Vocal Aesthetics in Digital Arts and Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Potter, John (1998). Vocal Authority: Singing Style and Ideology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tarvainen, Anne (2016). Vokaalinen soomaestetiikka. Kehotietoisuuden esteettiset mahdollisuudet ihmisen äänenkäytössä ja kuuntelemisessa [Vocal Somaesthetics: The Aesthetic Possibilities of Body Awareness in Using and Listening to Human Voice]. Etnomusikologian vuosikirja 28, pp.1-39. Retrieved from: etnomusikologia.journal.fi/article/view/60239/21141
Tarvainen, Anne (2012). Laulajan ääni ja ilmaisu: Kehollinen lähestymistapa laulajan kuuntelemiseen, esimerkkinä Björk. [Singer's Voice and Expression: A Corporeal Approach to Listening a Singer, Developed with Björk as a Case Study]. Tampere: Tampere University Press.
Thomaidis, Konstantinos, and Ben Macpherson, eds. (2015).Voice Studies: Critical Approaches to Process, Performance and Experience. New York: Routledge.
Thompson, Marie & Tiainen, Milla (2017). Laughing Matter. In: B. Papenburg, ed., Gender: Laughter. Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks. Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, pp. 377--391.
Tiainen, Milla (2017). Sonic Technoecology: Voice and Non-Anthropocentric Survival in The Algae Opera. Australian Feminist Studies 32(94), pp.359--376.
Tiainen, Milla (2013). Revisiting the Voice in Media and as Medium: New Materialist Propositions. NECSUS - European Journal of Media Studies 2, 2. Retrieved from: https://necsus-ejms.org/revisiting-the-voice-in-media-and-as-medium-new-materialist-propositions/
Tiainen, Milla (2008). Corporeal Voices, Sexual Differentiations: New Materialist Perspectives on Music, Singing, and Subjectivity. In: S. Mieszkowski, J. Smith and M. de Valck, eds., Sonic Interventions. Series: Intersecting: Place, Sex, and Race. Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 147--168.

COST Action IS1307 New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on 'How Matter Comes to Matter'.

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With the changing of societies on local, national and international scales owing to economic, ecological, political and technological developments and crises, a reorganized academic landscape can be observed to be emerging. Scholarship strives to become increasingly interdisciplinary in order to grasp and examine the unfolding complexity of ongoing ecological, socio-cultural and politico-economic changes. Additionally, academics forge... Read more or find out Who's Who

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Genealogies of New Materialisms; examines and intervenes in canonization processes by compiling a web-based bibliography, coordinating the OST 068/13 8 EN... Read more

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New Materialisms on the Crossroads of the Natural and Human Sciences; seeks to develop new materialisms at the boundaries of the human and natural sciences. The group focuses on how European new materialisms can rework the ‘Two Cultures' gap... Read more

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New Materialisms Embracing the Creative Arts; brings together European researchers, artists, museum professionals, and other activists with a keen interest in the material... Read more

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New Materialisms Tackling Economical and Identity – Political Crises and Organizational Experiments... Read more


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COST Action IS1307

New Materialism —
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