Liminal Utterances: Between Speech and Song
23rd ICTM colloquium — organized by the CREM
20-22 May 2015 — Salle du conseil, B Building, Nanterre University
But five decades after List’s foundational article, the topic continues to inspire discussion. The reason may be, as Anthony Seeger suggested, that the separation of disciplines that study different aspects of “vocal and verbal art has had a disastrous effect on the development of our thinking about them” (1986: 59). The wish to reconsider this separation has been pointed out for decades. This is particularly the case for studies focusing on liminal utterances, such as glossolalias or scat. Described by practitioners as an “event occurring in my throat” (Certeau 1996: 38), glossolalias are cases of vocal production without clear semantic meaning which multiplies the possibilities of speech. The decomposition of syllables and the combination of elementary sounds in games of alliteration create “an indefinite space outside of the jurisdiction of a language" (Certeau 1996: 42). In his study on scat, Brent Hayes Edwards (2002) also argues about an extended vocal space: a continuum between instrumental uses of the voice and vocal uses of instruments. In jazz, both are supposed to narrate stories.
But still very few studies build their analysis on the intimate link between the semantics and acoustics of voice production. As pointed out by Steven Feld and Aaron Fox (1994), most studies in ethnomusicology have difficulties in simultaneously taking into account the words and sounds of vocal production, and combined analyses of the semantics and acoustics of vocal production are still very few and mostly unsatisfactory.
To try to take up this challenge, this colloquium will focus on liminal utterances, at the border between speech and song. We will consider utterances such as laments, nursery rhymes, Qur'anic chanting, recitative or the use of the monotone voice in liturgy, iconicity of language, scat, glossolalias, melodized narrations, sung tales, vocal intonation in poetical performances and in political discourses, among others. Special attention will be given to a deeply combined analysis of the acoustics and semantics of these utterances.
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