Searches That Brought You Here


What is the frequency spectrum of a hip hop kick. This search brought you to my 2012 post on bass frequency-heavy Beats By Dre headphones. What I wrote still seems to apply to why people wear them:

“How to explain the popularity of the Beats? One explanation is that our bass-heavy musics–hip hop and also other varieties of electronic dance music especially–really shine and thrum with the bass turned way up. It just feels good to listen to those musics like this. Riding that slow oscillating wave of bass throb goodness it can almost feel like you’re floating. Another more pragmatic explanation is that the noisy soundscapes of the city require us to either plug our ears, wear noise-canceling headphones, or otherwise compete with booming bass. From what I see around me, a lot of listeners are choosing the bass option.”

Quotes from ordinary affects. This search brought you to my 2010 post on anthropologist Kathleen Stewart’s subtly observed book, Ordinary Affects. I wrote:

“Yet another way to think about ordinary affects is to think about your own everyday experience, especially in terms of those moments when you suddenly realize something is happening (or just happened): a micro-turning point, a significance emerging, a time made present, a potential revealed, a feeling made palpable.”

It sounds fake when I sing. This search brought you to my 2012 post on how we know when a singer is singing in a “fake voice.” Amy Winehouse was one the examples. I wrote:

“What does Barrow mean by singing with a ‘fake voice’? How do we know when a singer’s or instrumentalist’s artistry is fake or authentically the real McCoy? And what does it mean to change one’s singing voice while remaining oneself?”


That Voice

The woman at the grocery checkout
is the superstar of the place
running on charm

from Spanish to English inflected
—How are you my dear?—
moving accents offbeat,
making thyme a sensible purchase

that voice shape shifts and calibrates
a thousand sensations,

that voice bears gifts
of depth and presence,

that voice was randomly assigned
but its goodwill exceeds anything I can buy.

On Unconventional Measures: That “Selfie” Song

By conventional measures, “Selfie” by the DJ duo The Chainsmokers is a clichéd, threadbare, and annoying piece of music. But if you can endure it, it’s also a fascinating bit of meta-commentary on the rituals of nightlife and club culture circa 2014.

The song enacts its stance through copious use of voice samples of a fictional female clubgoer voiced by Alexis Campisi, a real world friend of the DJs. Campisi doesn’t sing, but just sort of rants on about whatever she’s thinking about at the moment. Her character articulates the drunken musings of a generic clubgoer contemplating the exigencies of the moment. (“Is that guy sleeping over there? Yeah, the one next to the girl with no shoes on…” Etc.) On the one hand, the whole thing–the music, Campisi’s spoken word–is ridiculous and easy to make fun of. On the other hand, it’s such a direct way to voice a song. Why waste time with melody when you can just enumerate the issues that listeners in the song’s intended performance space are consumed with? Maybe this song is not about the music at all–maybe the music is just a generic supporting character in the Selfie woman’s unfolding drama? And this drama, strangely enough, is somewhat compelling because Campisi’s voice is so expressive and exaggerated in all the right (and annoying) ways. To my ear it sounds like the last word of every one of her phrases is audibly italicized.

All this to say that “Selfie” raises questions. Is the song making fun of club culture? (Probably, yes.) Is it a kind of faux ethnographic dance music made with the intent of cashing in? (Probably, yes: after all, the song made the charts around the world and has been watched on YouTube, oh, 90 million times.) Alternately, is the song for real? (Again, probably yes!)

Listen at your own risk. Here is a YouTube video of the song that displays the lyrics only:

On Michael Jackson’s Vocal Artistry

A real audio gem recently appeared via a blog devoted to Michael Jackson. The gem I’m referring to is a clip of Jackson singing one of his biggest hits, “Beat It.” But it’s not the finished song we all know. It’s a demo of Jackson’s ideas for the yet-to-be song. It sounds like he’s in the studio, demonstrating the harmonies for the vocal parts. As the tumblr author reminds us, Jackson “would sing and beatbox out how he wanted his songs to sound by himself on tape, layering the vocals, harmonies and rhythm before having instrumentalists come in to complete the songs.”

What is wonderful, in my opinion, about the recording is how it shows us the roots of the song. Not surprisingly, it’s not very different from the finished version. Even as an a Cappella, everything here is intact–actually, more than intact. Jackson’s performance is crystalline: melodies perfectly in tune, the parts already set, the groove sitting just right.

You can listen to the demo here.


On Ken Dryden’s “The Game”

Ken Dryden

When my brother and I were kids, we spent a lot of time playing ball hockey in the driveway, taking shots at one another with a fluorescent orange “sting” ball that really did sting when it was frozen from the cold and hitting you in the face. One of our always followed conventions of the game was that we would announce which famous player we were that day, and both of us always wanted to be “Dryden”–as in Ken Dryden, the goalkeeper for the Montreal Canadians during the 1970s. Dryden was an iconic figure for us because of his great athletic skills and his mysterious identity hidden behind that tribal-looking protective mask he wore while playing. A superhero with precision reflexes who stopped pucks like no one else, Dryden captured our imagination.


In his stellar sports memoir-ethnography, The Game (1983/2013), Dryden renders with lazer detail his experience playing his last season with the Canadians. It turns out that during all those games when his teammates were dominating their opponents at the other end of rink, Dryden, alone in his goal crease and leaning against his propped up stick, was observing and thinking about everything going on around him on the ice. In many ways, The Game reads like a micro-study about the performing artist and human behavior. Dryden conveys the mix of attention, anxiety, and flowing, in the moment thinking/non-thinking often felt by expert performers at one time or another in their work. But unlike many a memoir, Dryden backs up his personal observations and reflections with deep historical perspective on the past, present, and future of his sport. Most athletes and performers don’t have the ability or interest to get outside themselves like that–to see, describe, and analyze the contexts in which they work. In this way, The Game provides a masterful insider’s view of dozens of different people, situations, and dynamics, while maintaining a guiding authorial voice.

Speaking of voice, sparkling here and there in Dryden’s text like little gems are sentences that articulate new ideas, have affect, and provoke thought. Reading them as gems of advice, here are a few that I enjoyed:

Then the present slowed down and the future changed direction.

It had to do with what he did and what he didn’t have to do because of how he did it.

It is in free time that the special player develops.

He invents the game.

On Voice In The Tour De France


“Why do you watch this? It’s pretty repetitive.”

“I just kind of trance out.”

“Do you like it because it’s soothing and mellow?”

“Yes! It’s all about the scenery and especially the voices.”

“Okay..Can we watch Wimbledon now?”


When July rolls around, the world of professional cycling rolls into our apt, bringing the bright colors of the Tour de France peloton and the French countryside through the TV and straight into my imagination. I can watch it for hours. I have written before about the Tour, but this year my fervent watching and listening have reconfirmed one of the best things about the event: the commentary and voices of Phil Leggett and Paul Sherwen.

Leggett, who has been commentating for some forty years now, is the steady calm voice of observation. He talks as if viewing the proceedings from a perch at 10,000 feet above looking down, making easy notice of the scenery (“Here they are skirting the Camargue, which is famous for its wild horses and pink flamingos…”). But when the action heats up–a surprise breakaway from the peloton say, or an unexpected sprint finish–Leggett can find a higher gear, raising his voice abruptly and almost running out of air so long and continuous are his sentences that track the unfolding action in a feverish pitch.

Sherwen is a little more intense. There’s an urgent quality to his voice, and he often begins sentences by agreeing with his co-host, but then pointing out a potential difficulty ahead: “That’s absolutely right Phil, but [name of cyclist] has got to pace himself and be very careful here…”–with the emphasis always on the word “got.” Sherwen also has a lower verbal gear in which he recites facts about the passing landscape such the names of centuries-old churches and the precise height of their spires (in European metric). Great TV if you ask me.

As you watch the Tour and listen to Leggett and Sherwen’s commentary, you notice a clear call and response quality to it as their voices alternate back and forth just as reliably as the cyclists’ legs move up and down. Occasionally, when there is a brief (2-5 second) lull in the talk, you can hear the road hum of the bicycles buzzing up and around mountain ranges and the cheering of the spectators lining the course. When either Leggett or Sherwen return to continue weaving their real-time narrative, you realize how important their voices are to making sense of the Tour’s relentless repetition over thousands of miles. Without their voices describing and animating the action, it would just be a very long and taxing ride.

On Influence And Voice

This is a post about influence and voice.

It’s about how each of us is influenced by one another–by other writers, musicians, teachers.

By voice I don’t mean our actual speaking voices (though those can have their influence too).

I mean that something in the character and essence and presence of each of us that resonates outward and affects others–whether we know it or not.

I think about this because it amazes me how deeply I can be influenced by just a single voice.

Which reminds me: voice is always singular.

By influence I mean a process of immediately taking on some of the qualities of another’s voice in one modality or another.

In being influenced we become ventriloquists of sorts, channeling and re-voicing those who have influenced us. I’ve explored this idea of ventriloquism in my Ventrilo-Dialogues, such as this one.

I have encountered a small number of influential voices in my orbit of experience, and I continue to discover new ones, though not very often now. Sometimes the voices are those of people I know, sometimes they are musical voices, and sometimes they are writing voices.

What is most significant about the influence of another’s voice, though, is the metamorphosis of its influence into immediate change. As you assume the voice, you assume persona, inhabit gesture and space, and take on affect in a new way. Like when a music teacher shows you something and says: “Do it like this.” You do it like that and immediately assume a new voice–or at least get a glimpse of what that voice feels like. Not on you, but as you.

So, as this is a blog post about influence and voice, it is also about how malleable we are.

All we need to do is pay attention to the process.