Friday 4 May 2012

Hearing my voice

AnnalyticaPosted by Annalytica

Over the past couple of weeks, several of us have spent a fair amount of time recording some of our favourite Lashings songs. Now, I'm sure at this point you'll be keen to know how you can get your hands on these recordings, so I won't keep you in suspense: anyone who donates £9 or more to our Wefund campaign can have not one, not two, but FOUR Lashings mp3s!

I expect you'll want to go over there and donate now, so I'll wait for you to get back before I continue with this post.

Are you still here? There are lots of other exciting rewards there too, you know!

OK, welcome back.

So, recording was quite an odd experience for me. I've never really done any before (apart from when I was seven, and my friend had a Fisher Price cassette recorder, and we used to pretend to be radio presenters).  I was struck by just how different my voice sounds to me when I'm singing live, from how it sounds being played back.
I had chosen to record myself singing "Disney Princesses": a song written by Lilka to the tune of Part of Your World, in which a princess living in a Disney fantasy world wishes she could be a real girl. Part of the reason I wanted to sing this song was because I thought it was particularly well-suited to my voice. Lashings gives me opportunities to sing in many different styles - from my Kate-monster impression in Everyone's a Little Bit Privileged to the sultry jazz sound of Eyes of Men (also available as an mp3, by the way) - but the songs I enjoy the most are those that call for pure, clear notes. I feel like I'm really singing when I'm reaching towards the top of my range and trying to make the most perfectly clean sound I can. "Disney Princesses", as it happens, isn't all that high in pitch, but it does call for a certain purity, and I feel that is one of my main strengths as a singer.

So I was surprised to hear that the voice on the recording sounded a lot more like my speaking voice, and a lot less like how I imagine my singing voice, than I had expected. There was something rather prosaic about just how much of myself I could hear in that voice. I had hoped for a neat, clean sound, and it was unsettling to find that was not what I had actually produced. (During the recording, I was wearing headphones to allow me to hear the accompaniment, and these stopped me from really being able to hear myself. Part of me still thinks that maybe it was just on that occasion I sounded like that - surely all the times I've performed that song live, when I could hear myself, I sounded different?)

Lilka and Florestan, both of whom have more musical training and more sensitive ears than I, thought it sounded good, and so I trusted their judgement. Lilka in particular complimented the way I expressed the character, and as she wrote the lyrics, it was important to me that she was happy with it. So I now had three perspectives on my voice - when I hear myself sing live it sounds pure, when I hear myself played back it sounds prosaic, somehow not artistic enough, and when others hear me sing, they hear character.

And it struck me that the very reason I felt uncomfortable with how "impure" my voice sounded was precisely the reason Lilka liked it. I was expressing my personality through my voice, and I suddenly felt very self-conscious and exposed. The pure, clear sound of my imagination does not really have any texture or character in it. I aim for a sound whose perfection lies in the absence of these things: my ideal voice is stripped of emotion and personality, because I find those things.....messy. (I should say that I have had very little musical training, and those who know more than I do about singing no doubt have a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between purity and character. This post says a lot more about my psychology than my singing.)

My fantasy voice, the one that I aim to produce, is pure and perfect and beautiful, but not very expressive. A few times other Lashers have had to gently tell me that, while my sustained notes may sound very lovely, they do take the edge off punchlines. When singing a line like "Look at my tiny and highly impractical feet," the final word is better almost spoken than strung out as a long note, because the audience needs to hear the word more than they need to hear the note. I sometimes have to remind myself that I'm not *just* aiming to make the most pleasant (to me) noises I can, I'm also trying to tell a story.

As it turns out, I'm better at that than I thought. What I heard in those recordings was not a fantasy of perfect purity, but just what my character in "Disney Princesses" always wanted to be - a real girl.


  1. Thanks so much for, er, voicing this - lots of it rings familiar to me as well. For ages I've been really nervous around singing in public, and I've just recently started getting it into my head that it's okay to sing in an average kinda way, rather than like I've just stepped out of Glee?

    I like the comparison to bodystuff as well ('a real girl'), and one thing I love about Lashings is the way that it means that people with lots of bodytypes and lots of singingtypes can be on stage and have a platform and an audience and, kinda, be validated? So much in the media consists of conventional attractiveness and perfect singing, and stepping outside of that, and still being on stage, feels like an important thing to be doing. I'm also still terrified of it, though : )