Milla Tiainen – The voice as transversal rhythmics

Event date: 29 October 2011 
King’s Anatomy Theatre & Museum, 
6th Floor, King’s Building
King’s College London, 
Strand Campus, 
London, WC2R 2LS



Rhythm and Event


Milla Tiainen (Anglia Ruskin):
The voice as transversal rhythmics

Milla Tiainen (Anglia Ruskin University)
The voice as transversal rhythmics: Rethinking vocalities in contemporary arts and culture
The voice has figured as a multifaceted problem in contemporary, especially deconstructionist and poststructuralist, philosophy, social theory, and the study of culture and arts. The issues examined in connection with voice have stretched from presence to subjectification and language, gender, sexuality, mediation and more. All these approaches have nevertheless pondered the peculiar relationship(s) of voice to the body and society. Often, they have inquired the very ways that the voice plays out at and occasionally challenges that intersection. Of keen importance here has been voice’s inherent traversing of conventionally, even foundationally, separate categories: its simultaneous unfolding within and attachment to inside and outside, signification and ‘pure’ sonority, bodily sensation and thought, subject and the other, biological matter and culturally embedded techniques.

Existing perspectives, from Jacques Derrida’s critique of phonocentrism to Adriana Cavarero’s political philosophy of vocality, have incisively attended to the workings of the voice at the above intersections or to its transversality. Yet this article claims that the idea of transversality would need to be pushed further and new conceptual tools developed to even more effectively address the entanglements of individual enunciating bodies and wider social realities, as well as the interactions between various kinds of bodies, within events of vocal expression, transmission and reception. This holds particularly for the voice’s modes of emergence and affective capacities in today’s techno-cultural, hypermediated milieus of social existence and artistic activity. To this end, I propose a distinctly defined concept of rhythm that draws on the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Elizabeth Grosz, Brian Massumi, Amy Herzog and others. Essentially, rhythm signals, in these frameworks, temporary groupings of heterogeneous material/sentient elements or agencies. It is what moves between the elements, coordinating their participation in shared events while not annihilating their mutual and internal divergences. This concept of rhythm is crucially useful when trying to rethink the voice beyond traditionally anthropocentric scenarios in terms of the current “enlarged ecologies” (Braidotti) of its becoming that contain a range of different, interacting components and ‘bodies’ from technical devices and environments, individual embodied agencies and emergent social collectives to (mediated) memories and multisensory impressions. I will mobilize the concept in relation to some examples from avant-garde vocal art and popular music/video art that point instructively to the broader sensual, social and political ‘rhythmics’ that the voice, in its contemporary incarnations, may be involved in and generate.

Milla Tiainen lectures in Media and Film Studies at Anglia Ruskin University, and she’s the Pathway Leader for Media Studies. Her publications – a monograph, an edited collection of essays, and various articles in English and Finnish – have dealt with musical and dance performance, theories of bodies in movement, affect, the voice, and neomaterialist cultural analysis.


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