Pascoe’s the Sarah Siddons Audio Files, makes me think more about the connections among voice, space, and time. In Chapter 4 and 5, Pascoe examines the position of the actress in different circumstances, and how this might have affected how her voices sounded to her audiences. With the recorded voice from Sarah Bernhardt, Pascoe seeks to imagine how Siddons would have sounded like if she is recorded. However, she denies the possibility of fixing Siddons voice on a phonograph becausethe place where the voices were uttered makes all the differences. Speaking directly into a phonograph is completely different than speaking in a grant theater. Therefore even if Siddons’ voice is recorded on a phonograph, it is still not fixed in time. Her voices that filled the 19th-century theaters are unimaginable from the recording.
Barthes directs our attention back to the singer’s body and to the listener’s bodily pleasure. –Pascoe, 42
One helpful concept is “the Grain of Voice” from Barthes. Embodied voices have grains. They are the mark of voice-generating mechanisms, be it corporeal or mechanical. In my understanding, voices’ grain is spatial. It means that the soundwaves have touched something. And anything, even the air, can deflect its timbre. Voices are circumstantial. Just like Pascoe has shown, any attempt to fix it to a specific point in the spatial-temporal coordinate is futile.
Pascoe’s search reveals two types of temporal experiences, linear and cyclical. The fading voices that Pascoe is not able to revive point to the linear experience of passing time. The unrecordable theatrical voices of Siddons remind me of Wiener’s article, Spatio-Temporal Continuity. In physics, voices exist in a continuum. When it is fixed temporally, it is vague spatially and viceversa. The grain of Siddons’ voices changed when she moved. Even if the voices can be recorded, it is not the same. There is something similar in the Buddhist experience of time, (according to my understanding, might be off). In the Buddhist view, being means here and now (當下). In Chinese Chan (禪), time is always associated with the analog of flowing rivers, which is very close to the beginning of Ode to a Nightingale. One who stands in front of the river can only influence over the fleeting moment. Like the flowing water, the future cannot be imagined or predicted, and the past cannot be modified. Pascoe shows that Siddons’ fleeting voices have a similar quality. It only happens there and then, in the Romantic Theaters of England.
The cyclical experience of time lies in repetition. In Chapter 10, Pascoe shows how the Romantics tried to fix the theatrical voices through a programmed set of the associated gestures. For Pascoe, the purpose of Austin’s scheme is “to freeze an actor’s performance in time and to render it available for replication.” In Ode to a Nightingale, the transcendental songs of Nightingale that were heard by ancient generations of kings and clowns are also sung by generations of Nightingales. The bird is mortal, but the song is not. The body of humans and animals can almost serve as corporeal recording devices. Memory can also be passed from one body to another. Is it less credible when the bodies are corporeal? Between the repetition of birdsongs through generations, and the digital records of voices to which we are accustomed, which is more authentic?