- Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies by Dylan Robinson, and: Multivocality: Singing on the Borders of Identity by Katherine Meizel, and: The Performative Power of Vocality by Virginie Magnat
In the introduction to his stunning new book Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies, a few lines below a Halq’eméylem epigraph with no English translation, Dylan Robinson writes, “My words gather; together, they are an act of gathering, of gathering strength and acknowledging Indigenous voices and bodies, rather than acting as a container of Indigenous content” (25). Robinson’s lucid writing works to invite and perform resurgent, apposite structures of bearing witness to sound, and what sounds create, beyond the ravenous acts of consumption and extraction advanced by settler colonial philosophies. By different means, Katherine Meizel’s Multivocality: Singing on the Borders of Identity and Virginie Magnat’s The Performative Power of Vocality also invite readers to rethink what it is to experience voice and sound, beyond particular longstanding and limited cultural expectations. Meizel refutes the widespread belief in a singer’s one true voice — vocality as singular coherence of self and agency — to consider what it is that singers do in the process of navigating the borderscapes of multiple vocal identities. Magnat calls for greater engagement with experimental and cross-cultural approaches to vocality in the field of performance studies as more than a mere coda to actor training. Together, these books open up space for dwelling more deeply with what vocalities and sounds occasion for those who voice and listen to them, constituting a diverse set of entries in the interdisciplines of voice and sound studies.
In Multivocality: Singing on the Borders of Identity, ethnomusicologist Katherine Meizel proffers a compelling ethnography of singing attuned to the ways that singers navigate vocalizing along and across the boundaries of multiple experiences of vocal expression. “Because the participating singers [each] do their work through many voices,” she writes, “there is no singular authentic voice to locate” (19). This assertion stands in stark opposition to well-worn tropes in classical vocal pedagogy and popular discourse around “finding one’s true voice.” The book opens by mapping the way that Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops has navigated her multiracial heritage and movement across genres from opera to folk and roots music. Beyond overemphasis on individualism and a notion of the singer as a multitasking virtuoso, Meizel argues that practices of multivocality can allow for placing value in a self that is articulated via intersubjective vocal process. Thus, the performances of singers such as Giddens who sing with “many voices” both result from and resist neoliberal expectations.
The introduction includes a useful genealogy of the term “vocality” from origins in psychoacoustics to subsequent deployment [End Page 174] in musicology. Meizel derives her use of “multivocality” from Victor Turner and Mikhail Bakhtin, finding especial utility in the term’s operation in excess of the purely linguistic. The nine chapters address singers trained in European classical voice who then vocalize in multiple genres, Vegas impersonators mobilizing voices associated with bodies vastly different from their own, the embattled relationships to voice around which d/Deaf singers must maneuver, singers negotiating the impact of shifting religious allegiances on vocal practice, performances of trans vocalists who experience voice in the plural, and accounts of singers grappling with voice loss, concluding with reflections on aggregate multivocality in the songs of intersectional youth and feminist activists. The two chapters dedicated to voice loss are particularly striking for the clarity with which Meizel details the stakes of equating voice with self and agency, also drawing on her own lived experience with this kind of loss. For singers who encounter the loss of a singing voice...