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Ansa Lønstrup

The Aesthetics and Culture of the Singing Voice

Since the Renaissance the voice has gradually been replaced by substitutes in western European culture: the speaking voice by writing, the singing voice by musical instruments. This process was brought about by the Enlightenment and the priority it gave to objectifying sight, the visual and writing to the disregard of subjectifying hearing, the auditive (acoustic) and the oral. And to the disregard of sensuousness in general.

On this background I find it interesting to examine the current renaissance of the singing voice. It seems as if the singing voice has acquired the status of a cult, exemplified by "the three tenors" and the introduction of other "big" or "mysterious" voices. And in the multi-aesthetic genres like performance, film, video and television, singing voices are featured even more frequently in a central position.

The purpose of my project is to examine current unsettled accounts between voices and ears - ears and culture, and it may be summarized in two main questions: 1) What do we hear when we listen to different kinds of singing voices? and 2) How are we to understand and explain the cultural meaning and function of the singing voice today?

Due to the auditive and thus elusive character of the voice, this project will involve rather big methodological considerations, which will grow out of analyses of especially multi-aesthetic artefacts in which singing voices take part.

This project is part of a larger research project, 'Contemporary Aesthetic Theory', financed by the Danish Council for Research in the Humanities.

Updated 23 November 2000 by smc. Please mail comments to the web editor at Centre for Cultural Research.