The Voice

July 31, 2016
(was 11.22.2015)

Both practically and symbolically, our voices are one of the primary ways that we interact with the world around us. Since ancient Greece, the voice has represented participatory democracy, and today we still argue about whose voices to include in our national conversations. But even though we might think of our voices as our own—and ourselves as free to use them—it turns out that the voice is one of the most disciplined, trained, standardized, regulated dimensions of human life and expression. This hour, we confront the politics of the voice, from stereotyping to vocal fry. And we also talk to a soundscape ecologist who listens—perhaps closer than anyone—to the voices of the natural world.

  1. Does He Sound Gay?

    David Thorpe is a filmmaker who went in search of his voice. Specifically, he wanted to know why he and many other gay men ended up markers of a "gay voice"—one with precise enunciation and sibilant "s" sounds. He spoke with his family and several speech therapists to better understand, control, and inhabit his voice.

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  2. Hollywood's "Urban" Voice Problem

    Before and since Keith Powell's breakthrough role on as Toofer on the sitcom "30 Rock," he has been forced to confront Hollywood's problem with black male voices. In this interview, he tells us how he works within an industry that desperately needs more diverse voices but doesn't truly want them.

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  3. Sounding Off On Vocal Fry

    In and around public radio there is growing chorus of people talking about "vocal fry," the low vibrations in the voice that usually come at the end of sentences. Critics say it makes for bad sound, but if that's true, why are only women being criticized for it? In this piece, our host, Anne Strainchamps, talks with NPR pioneer Susan Stamberg, podcast star Ann Friedman, and voice specialists about this so-called "problem."

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  4. From Telephones to Auto-Tune

    For as closely linked as the voice is to our body and sense of identity, there are also a lot of external forces affecting our voices, both social and technological. In fact, when we're talking about mediated voices—voices we hear in music, film, and of course, on the radio—we're actually not talking about "voices" any more. We're talking about signal processing. And, as media historian Jonathan Sterne tells Craig Eley, signal processing shapes the sound of all vocal media, from your telephone calls to the music of T-Pain.

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  5. Hearing a Disappearing World

    While we humans are out there making a lot of noise, we're not the only creatures on the planet that vocalize. Birds, whales, frogs and toads—all of these things make noise. But do they have a voice? And if so, what do their voices tell us about our natural world? Bernie Krause is a musician who has been recording environmental sounds all over the world since the 1970s. He recently spoke with Steve Paulson about what he's learned in a lifetime of listening.

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