Distant Voices: Making Sense of Vocality in the Human Sciences

Friday and Saturday, July 1–2, 2016
at the University of Chicago, Center in Paris, 6 rue Thomas Mann, Paris 13ème

Vocal performances are often at the center of exceptional situations or rituals, and they are often endowed with religious, aesthetic, or therapeutic values. These exceptional situations produce a wide range of phenomena, which, in turn, challenge the disciplines and knowledge of the human sciences in fields such as anthropology, history of religion, musicology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis. There are numerous examples: the use of diverse vocal techniques in ritual or therapeutic contexts (monody in Greek tragedy, diphonic singing, polyphonic textures of sacred Western music); virtuosic singing resulting from manipulation or mutilation of the singers’ body (e.g., castrati in European music since the 16th century); even phenomena often considered pathological such as acoustic hallucinations (prophetic voices) glossolalia or speaking in tongues. Within the discourse of the human sciences, voices appear as distant and difficult objets. They appear as historically distant when the subjects in question are absent or dead (the voices of the past), or as culturally distant, when the subjects belong to a different world (other voices). To cope with this distance, various techniques of fixation, interpretation and conservation have been developed within the human sciences (notation, transcription, registration). We propose to interrogate these techniques in both an epistemological and historical perspective. Thus, this conference will aim at contributing to an historical anthropology that develops a reflexive attitude towards its own cultural, social, and material (technological) conditions of possibility.

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