It struck me recently like a lightning bolt: I miss live voices. For almost a year, the vast majority of voices I have heard have come through a speaker. Quarantine has resulted in very little in-person conversation for me, even less without the auditory filter of a mask.
While electronic speakers convey enough auditory information for us to comprehend the words, they do cut out some of the acoustic spectrum so we are hearing only a piece of the true voice coming though them. We get the information and lose some nuance. But there is much more to the problem.
Let’s consider how we hear sound.
The sound waves that come out of your body as you speak create a vibration in the nearby particles in the air.
This action leads their neighbors to start vibrating as well, and this oscillation travels through the air. The particles are moving in a tangible way.
The eardrum is set into vibration when these shimmering air particles hit it, transmitting that movement through the teeny, tiny bones of the middle ear into the inner ear and cochlea, where the vibration is turned into electrical impulses that move through a nerve to the brain for processing. Schwoo!
But we also FEEL sound.
Have you ever had your ear or hand on someone’s body and felt the vibration of their voice? Some resonant voices can even be felt from across the room.
The human voice can shatter a glass, for pete’s sake! (Okay, I’ve heard people say this isn’t actually true, but I have yet to see proof it can’t be done. So I continue to believe this one).
The vibration in the air that I talked about earlier hits our whole body as well as the eardrum. We don’t typically perceive the impact it has when we hear a person speak, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
When we go to a concert, we are more easily able to perceive the vibrations of sound in our bodies. But it happens when we hear someone speak as well.
When I help actors discover the possibilities of their voices, I remind them that the only way they can physically touch the audience in a performance (usually!) is through the voice. The sound waves you emit literally touch the listeners’ bodies, Your voice CAUSES their body to vibrate.
That is powerful. Many of us are lacking in that experience these days. And we are losing something valuable.
Everything is vibrating all the time, at various frequencies. Every object (including the component parts of a human body) has a resonant frequency, meaning the frequency at which it vibrates if it is disturbed.
Sympathetic vibration is the term for one vibrating object setting another object into vibration. It’s everywhere! And it can have a healing effect.
Ultrasound is commonly used by most medical specialties for imaging (like sonograms), diagnostics, and treatment. It is “simply” a really high frequency sound/vibration.
Studies (on mice and rats, sorry if that bums you out) have shown vibration can speed wound and fracture healing.
Music therapy, sound healing, chanting… there are myriad ways that people experience sound as a healing modality. The voice has a subtler level of vibration than most of these modalities. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t meaningful.
So these days I am grateful to be able to hear people talk through my electronic speakers. And yet I miss hearing live, with my whole body. It makes me really appreciate the healing power of sound.