BLOG: VOCAL FRY
One unconscious cause of Vocal Fry is the repression of our sexual and vital energy.
This ugly vocal placement is formed by closing the vocal folds and pushing sound back down into the larynx, rather than allowing our voice to gather resonance and sail out our mouth into the air.
If you look at the vocal folds (and you can see them in videos online), you may notice they resemble the interior of the vagina. We all know the mouth is often likened to a “second vagina”, and the larynx, with its delicate pink vocal folds, could be likened to a third.
It is completely natural for young girls to be uncomfortable with their sexual energy at first. After all, it’s the most powerful force in Nature and discovering it within our own bodies can be overwhelming. We don’t immediately know what to do with all that energy and we certainly don’t want to do something shameful! If the girl is growing up with a free-spirited and “enlightened” mother, she may have less difficulty transitioning into a fully sexual woman. But most girls take some time to become liberated sexually – comfortable with their bodies, their sexual desires and needs. They take time to develop the capacity for full, ecstatic orgasm.
Yes...Sexuality has changed a lot since I was young and I am aware that I’m coming from the orientation now described as, “hetero-normative”, but I did grow up in the hippie generation and there was a lot of sexual experimentation going on then, too. I think my generation challenged the structure of the family quite seriously with our communes, and there was a lot of group sex and so on as there is today (albeit it seems to me that the hippies had a very different 'vibe' -- more romantic, perhaps, and less narcissistic i m n h o!) After the flush of those times darkened, many of us returned to the basic format our parents had exemplified. In any case, it seems to me by looking at the number of young women who are studying with my friends who work with women to liberate their sexuality, that many are still not able to experience fully satisfying orgasms, even well past adolescence. There’s usually a lot to learn about ourselves before we become completely at ease with our sexuality.
That said, when a liberated women experiences fully ecstatic orgasms, she express pleasure freely through her voice as well as her body. This is NOT "performed". The sounds escape her - escape any kind of controlling or modifying or "trying to be sexy". I'm speaking about something pon an entirely different level of experience - not something the intellect is involved with -- or the ego, for that matter. If you feel self-conscious when you are having an orgasm you are NOT in the zone I'm describing here. If you yourself are surprised by the sounds that emerge through you - well - yes - then probably you ARE in that zone!
It’s difficult to imagine the wild, deep sounds of full orgasmic pleasure passing from a woman’s body and out at orgasm, and then imagine that she closes back down to speak in Vocal Fry after that, croaking through the days in the more ordinary contexts of her life. Possible…but not likely, because freedom of vocal expression during sex quite literally opens her whole energy system and she is not the same person after these experiences as she was before. The blocks are cleared...She is more of a piece - more whole. Less uptight. More relaxed. And of course just plain happier! Hormones have the power to do that, don't they -- those powerful chemicals change EVERYTHING! Our entire perspective on life!
Something many people have not noticed unless they study Voice is that the voice is generally repressed in our dominant society. Especially women's voices - literally and figuratively. And the voices of people of color, LGBT people, and so on. Those of us who are not in the dominant classes. This repression of the voice - literal and metaphorical - is built into the racism and sexism that is integral to the blueprint of Patriarchy.
My young acting students almost always find it FAR easier to express themselves freely in movement before they can become vocally free, and even though I am a voice coach, I remember feeling very blocked vocally when I started out. Hell . there are still times when I feel blocked!
I suspect this is because the voice expresses through us without our being able to control it during our most deeply intimate experiences…the agony of extreme pain (childbirth, illness, dying) and the ecstasy of extreme pleasure. These sounds, heard in the wrong context by the "wrong people" have the power to shame us because, unless you're an indigenous person, you live in a culture where your animal wildness is discouraged and mental/rational control is valued above all other modus operandi.
Looking “in control” is associated with being successful and while there is much to be said for the ability to remain rational in a stormy emotional sea, I find the idea of always looking "in control" a dangerous one - anti-creative, dulling, conformist.
In the dominant society, orgasm is one of the few times when losing control is considered acceptable or desirable. But the sounds that come out of our mouths when we don’t push them down are feral, strange, dark and powerful – beyond anything we could “do on purpose”. Some people may try to act them – but there really is a universe between the Real Deal and a fake copy when it comes to the SOUNDS of sex. Trying to perform those sounds to appear sexy in the bedroom is NOT convincing to anyone who can hear the difference between performing and EBODYING - between ego and SOUL.
Vocal Fry is NOT the voice of a woman who has been opened (or opened herself) to ecstatic orgasm.
It is not the voice of SHAKTI – the female principle of the Divine that permeates all of Nature and expresses itself through us.
It is the voice of someone who has not yet experienced who she is on the most intimate level of her being: she has not yet known total sexual ecstasy. She may THINK she has -- but the chances are she is still falling short of the Real Deal -- still imitating some cultural stereotype in her mind, the pretty actress or model she wishes she were - whether her desired "style" is sweet or Badass -- it's still a STYLE and not an authentic BEINGNESS.
I'm suggesting that the SOUL of a woman makes Animal - God sounds through us -- sounds that that are beyond anything we could possibly do to control them.
Next to that force, Vocal Fry doesn't stand a chance!
“Fry” is a word used for the lowest of the 4 registers of the human voice. The others are the modal, falsetto and whistle ranges.
Some years ago, we started to hear a lot of people, especially young women in the USA, producing voices that grate on the ear of many listeners, the croaking sound we call “vocal fry”.
Before I give you my thoughts on WHY more and more people speak like this (and there are men as well as women who do this, by the way) let me pass on some basic information about how the voice works.
All humans breathe in, normally NOT speaking on the inhalation, and use our exhalation to support our sound and produce our voice. The exhale travels up from the core of our bodies (the deeper the better), through the body's various resonators, vibrates our delicate vocal folds located in the larynx, and moves up from throat to mouth and then out the mouth into the air.
Our vocal folds vibrate somewhere between 100 and 1000 times per second. By themselves, they only make a buzzing sound not unlike a kazoo; we need to send that sound through one of our body’s resonators to produce a voice with a variety of colors, liveliness, power, beauty -- or even a voice that has a tolerably pleasing quality to a sensitive listener. Because most of us are not professional vocalists, this entire process is normally unconscious.
We all have eccentricities in the manner in which we speak and sing. We are each unique, physically, mentally, emotionally, culturally, etc. I do not expect everyone the world over to produce professional sounding voices! That would be downright weird! I do think it's important for serious actors to be able to change their voices for each character they play, and it's useful for most singers to develop vocal technique as well...but I don't expect professional power from lay people. However, as a champion of the ideal that women should be rights be fully liberated in every sense, I find it a shame that so many young women in the USA have settled on a vocal sound that is psycho-physically distorted, restricted, and (to my ear) truly UGLY to listen to. Personally, I can't tolerate it for more than a few seconds, and turn away from anyone who speaks like this, even if I have to leave a movie theatre to get away from some actor whose vocal fry is spoiling the film.
We all know that speech is a naturally acquired ability for young humans, a result of imitating the people around us - generally our care-takers. We begin by bathing in the sound of our mother's voices when we are in utero. Hers is the first voice we hear and because we hear it in a truly symbiotic relationship where our bodies are truly one, her voice literally gets into our bones. If your mother speaks freely -- which to me means "speaks well" -- then the chances are that you will too. She is the single most important influence on how we will form our own voice, the way we will place it, the music in it, or lack thereof, because we are being rung like a bell in utero, by the sound vibrations of her voice circulating in her - and our - body.
After we're born we imitate other caretakers as well. We certainly don’t analyze how to talk; we just do it -- to the unabashed excitement of most parents. We learn by mimicking. Listening and imitating. Even today, some of the best musicians in the world still learn this way - by listening and imitating. (I'm thinking, for example, of Indonesian Gamelan players who play extraordinarily complex rhythms without ever looking at written music.)
Of course, career vocalists almost always need to train their voices to achieve truly professional levels. They build their breath capacity, develop their resonators (chest, head, face, etc.) so they have power and color; exercise the articulators (lips, teeth, tongue) so their diction can be more precise and expressive -- all in order to be able to produce voices that can express the broad range of intellectual ideas and emotions needed for their work.
But those who speak with “vocal fry” make an ugly, frog-like croaking or cricket-like buzz while speaking, sometimes so much so that the timbre actually makes the words difficult to understand – defeating the point of verbal communication from the start. If you can't be understood, what's the point of speaking? This is my first problem as a coach with actors who have vocal fry: I don't always understand their words! They are not clear. And hence, they are not doing the most basic job of a professional: speaking audibly and clearly.
From the technical point of view, "Vocal Fry” results from restricting the vibration of our vocal folds. Instead of allowing the breath to rise up from the lower abdomen, supported by our core muscles, gathering beauty, power and color in the resonators and then allowing it to sail freely out the mouth into the air -- a steady energetic stream that is neither squeezed nor trapped at any stage -- we bung up the works. We push the energetic stream of sound back down onto the larynx. We “sit on” our voice, limit it to a croak -- a monochrome, grating crackle.
In effect, we are maiming our impulse to communicate. We are betraying it. Neutering it. Repressing it... Hiding it...Killing it dead.
When humans are capable of allowing lively and expressive sounds to flow from us to another person, sounds that communicate a vast range of subtle ideas and feelings, why would anyone choose to limit herself to an ugly croak that interferes not only with cognition but with the PLEASURE of listening to a fellow human being communicate his ideas and feelings? The whole point of communication is to bring us out of isolation, out of our solitary consciousness and into community. If it is unpleasant on the sensual level to listen to someone speak, I for one don't care what her content is; I've suddenly remembered I have to run home to rearrange my sock drawer.
Or is Vocal Fry not a choice at all but an unconscious vocal placement expressing a temporary social or cultural phenomenon of some kind...and if so, what is that phenomenon?
What does this voice placement say about the psychology of the speaker and/or the society in which she lives? If you were going to play the character of a young woman speaking with vocal fry, what would you imagine her inner life to be?
And if this vocal placement is occurring mostly among young women, which it is, what could that be saying about the way young women feel about themselves and their world today?
What does the faddish phenomenon of Vocal Fry tell us about our society?
I’ll share my intuitions on this and more in my Blog 2 on Vocal Fry.
BLOG 2 on VOCAL FRY August 14, 2019 Connecticut
At the end of Blog 1 on this topic, I asked why anyone would chose to have the ugly buzzing voice we call “vocal fry”, when we have the potential to speak with freedom, variety and beauty. Or… are the people speaking with Vocal Fry not choosing at all? Is this voice placement unconscious?
From an energetic point of view, trapping your voice in the larynx rather than letting it rise up and fly out the mouth, indicates that you don’t want to – or dare to – speak your mind. Perhaps you don’t have well-formed opinions and perspectives yet because you are young and still exploring, discovering your own "gestalt" as it were. What you think of things, feel about things. Your vision of the world and your place in it. Perhaps you are daunted by some inner belief(s) about yourself and your lack of worth. That your opinion isn't important. (This is very common among women because it is built into the Patriarchal conditioning to feel this way and there are still plenty of girls who have not escaped that conditioning quite quite yet.)
Since the need to communicate in speech is integral to being human, I suspect there are very few people who don’t WANT to do so effectively. After all, speaking is one of our most important ways of making relationship and we are social animals. So, let's assume that most people WANT to communicate. If we DON'T, it's usually because we are afraid.
We must all communicate to survive, of course. But it is very common to lack the courage to speak out fully -- clearly, passionately, as yourself, sharing your truth with the world.
There are a thousand reasons to be afraid and I will address that in another blog. Suffice it to say for the moment that speaking up takes real courage . -- and quite often it takes decades to acquire that courage.
I have an intuition that Vocal Fry as a speaking style (technically a "voice placement") was created unconsciously when it first emerged. Like most new ideas it emerged through one person first. Then a few more. Then many. But it quickly began to be imitated until today it has taken on the quality of a widespread fad or sub-cultural tribe-building mechanism.
There are many influences on the creation of each person’s individual voice, beginning with the influence of our mother’s voice when we are in utero. Mother’s is the first voice we hear and the ONLY voice whose vibrations quite literally ring through our bones all day every day for an entire 9 months. The importance of her influence -- her SOUND can’t be over-emphasized. IF you have good, sensitive hearing, and she speaks freely, with great vibrancy, the chances are you will be blessed with that kind of voice as well.
But our voices are also shaped by individual morphology; by the voices of the other close members of our family whom we hear every day; by our educators; by general social conditioning and culture; the Media, and so on.
For the moment, let’s consider only one influence: the unconscious mind of the speaker. And let’s hone in on that one influence only as it pertains to young (12-30) women in the USA in the past 15 years or so.
Intuitively, I sense that Vocal Fry is an attempt to communicate a variety of messages that young women in this time period may feel a pressure to project, starting with the Impression that they are in control.
There is a huge pressure on women of all ages today to “have it together”. Women everywhere are coming into their own, taking powerful positions, earning more money, calling out abusers, striving with more success for economic equity, and so on. This is the Era of the Me Too movement, the Era when women seem to be saying: We are DONE being second class citizens . Being disrespected, effaced, minimalized. Our opportunities are broader than ever (at least for the past 5 or 6 thousand years) and expectations have risen alongside those opportunities. I’m not claiming there is parity with men yet -- certainly not. White men in particular still dominate the power structures in the USA - but there is indication that is almost over. It has become INTOLERABLE in a country based on the value of inclusivity to be ruled by a gender and race that is so outnumbered. We are NOT a white, male, Christian country any longer.
In this moment, therefore, Vocal Fry is first and foremost, I think, a voice placement that attempts to make the impression "I am a woman of strength, power and authority."
The problem is: REPRESSION is not the same thing as strength - and this voice placement is repressed. More on that anon in the next blog.
A second perspective:
Vocal Fry also projects a kind of BOREDOM – the kind of boredom young women may use as a pose as sophistication. Vocal Fry sounds like a vocal persona or mask -- a mask that tries to convince the listener “I've seen it all”. “I’ve been around.” “I’m hip.” “I’m no pushover.” "I'm one step ahead of you." Even if the person speaking is only 18 years old, she sounds like she is trying to convince others that she is worldly and sophisticated.
The problem is: it’s not convincing to those of us who really ARE worldly.
In my view, a woman can’t be sophisticated until she has fully lived many experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant. It helps to be familiar with different cultures. To have lived
in several circumstances, several cities, several kinds of communities and strata of the class system. To speak more than one language. To have been shot and survived without rancour; to have made speeches at the UN or on the campaign trail; gone to university and graduate school and seen exactly how much intellectual achievement is worth; performed on a Broadway stage; paid bills; found love, lost love and found love again. To have raised children. To have lost people and beloved pets to illness and death and know the deep taste of grief. To have questioned one's own behavior in psychotherapy; mastered a Martial Art; acted on impulse and passion at times and proceeded in a disciplined and well-organized fashion at other times. Succeeded at a career, failed at a career, and then succeeded again. Bought property. A sophisticated woman has earned her own living; fought for social justice; challenged sexism; recovered from disasters; performed acts of heroism; performed acts of humility; tended a garden; kept a family together; assumed responsibility for her moral failures; learned to apologize; learned to withdraw expectations and projections on others (especially lovers and children); conquered addiction; liberated her sexuality from all guilt and shame; climbed mountains; studied the hormone system, the nervous system, the solar system; kept verbal commitments consistently; lived well poor and lived well rich; learned to love deeply and without guile; assumed leadership positions; worked for years to perfect one piece of Art; read widely from a variety of writers --- and so on. In short, a woman needs several decades, or even several lifetimes, to acquire a broad enough human EXPERIENCE to be "sophisticated".
This brings us back to our young women...the young beauties who spend fortunes on their physical grooming and then, instead of speaking like the gorgeous Goddesses they are..barely open their mouths and CROAK!
Youth is that shimmering moment when we are all beautiful.
But the power greater than beauty in any stage of life is the power of integrity: being courageous enough to stay present when we feel vulnerable and unsure. We need courage just to sit with our discomfort. To release our shame. To toss off the ideas that come from the Patriarchy that would enslave and limit us. To admit how afraid we feel. To cry and even sob. To tremble and endure confusion. To refuse to critique our bodies when the culture hypnotizes us all to believe we are somehow inadequate. To feel what we feel and NOT divert those feelings. NOT avoid them. Not develop some pose – physical or vocal – where we pretend to be more worldly than we are. More powerful. More in control. Thinking you need to be in control is "masculine" culturally speaking. You don't. The only thing you need to be is your true self. And that is NOT something you can understand immediately in life. Give yourself a break!
Being humble enough to admit we do NOT have all the answers, being open to learning and expanding our approach to life, being willing to leap into real transformation and healing -- all of that is far stronger than posing as a Titan.
In sum:Vocal Fry does NOT convince the world that you are powerful, in control or sophisticated.
It suggests the opposite.
BLOG ONE on Vocal Fry
A Love Letter to Young American Women Aug. 11, 2019 Connecticut
“Fry” is a word used for the lowest of the 4 registers of the human voice. The others are the modal, falsetto and whistle ranges.
Some years ago, we started to hear a lot of people, especially young women in the USA, speaking through closed vocal chords (‘vocal folds’) making a sound that grates on the ear of many listeners, a sound we now call “vocal fry”.
Before I give you my thoughts on WHY more and more people speak like this, let me pass on some basic information about how the voice works. All humans breathe in, normally NOT speaking on the inhalation, and then use our exhalations to support our voice, passing the breath through our body’s resonators. The air must travel up from the core of our bodies, through our delicate vocal folds, located in the larynx. The folds vibrate somewhere between 100 and 1000 times per second. By themselves, they only make a buzzing sound not unlike a kazoo so you need to send that sound through one of your body’s resonators to produce an expressive voice with a variety of colors. Or even a voice that has a tolerably pleasing quality. e all have eccentricities in the manner in which we accomplish this and I do not expect the entire world to produce beautiful, powerful voices. But I do think it’s a shame, being someone who cares about women and our well-being, that so many young women have settled on a vocal style that is psycho-physically restricted -- and just plain UGLY to listen to.
We have several resonators in our bodies which I can speak about in another blog, but for now, let’s remember that speech is a naturally acquired ability for young humans -- a result of imitating the speech we hear from the people around us, our care-takers. As tiny tots, we don’t analyze how to talk. We just do it. We imitate the people in our environment and conjure our capacity for language, which is coded in our genes.
Professional vocalists learn to free up their voices by building their breath capacity, exercising the various resonators (chest, head, face, etc.) and articulators (lips, teeth, tongue etc.) in order to increase the ability to produce powerful and beautiful sounding voices.
But those who speak with “vocal fry” make an ugly, frog-like croaking or cricket-like buzz while speaking, sometimes so much so that the timbre actually makes the words difficult to understand – defeating the point of verbal communication before you even begin.
“Vocal Fry” is the result of restricting the vibration of our vocal folds. We trap our breath in the larynx so it cannot circulate through our body’s resonators. In effect, we “sit on” our voice, pushing it back down into the throat rather than allowing it to fly out of us into the air.
The question is, when humans are capable of making lively and expressive sounds with our voices, why would anyone CHOSE to limit him or herself to an ugly croak? Or…is Vocal Fry not a question of choice at all – but an unconscious “vocal placement”?
I’ll share my thoughts on this and more in my Blog 2 on Vocal Fry.