Brand as Voice and Hearing Voices

by Michael Rock and Paul Elliman
2012

Brand as Voice
Michael Rock
2012

“I am large, I contain multitudes.” — Walt Whitman
In one of the emblematic moments of the 2012 Republican primary campaign, candidate Mitt Romney responded to a heckler mocking his stance on unlimited corporate financing of political campaigns with the now infamous phrase: “Corporations are people, my friend … of course they are.” While he was immediately vilified for this position — he was seen already as the prototypical corporate tool — his comment wasn’t completely off the mark. The obsession with branding has increasingly framed the corporate body as an individual, complete with personality quirks and proclivities. It’s telling, for instance, that Nike coined the biological metaphor of brand as institutional DNA, genetic material embedded in every cell of its corporate being. Martha Stewart and MSLO (Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) share one conterminous form: L’état, cest moi.
         The shift from corporate identity to branding represents one of the most significant transformations in graphic design in the past two decades. While corporate identity had developed as a relatively systematic approach to the distribution of graphic elements over multiple platforms, branding endeavors to codify the personality of an organization by shaping all its utterances. In the brand model, every corporate citizen must be trained to sing in the corporate voice. (Continuing the biological metaphor in the branding of the corporate body, individuals actually cease to be and become subordinate organisms that carry out specialized physiological functions.) Because brand attempts to form and generate acts of personality, the gridded logic of modernist identity systems are in fact antithetical to that goal — unless of course the personality is one of gridded precision.
          In the simplest terms, while corporate identity programs attempted to manage a look, brand programs attempt to generate a voice. A look implies an acquired fashion (inherently superficial, coming and going with the seasons), but a voice seems physiologically inherent to the body (actors and impersonators aside). Designing a brand system, then, is the establishment of linguistic rules that can generate infinite acts of speech, while the audience and context determine the tone of the individual speech act. Often, however, the rigidity of an identity system cramps the ability of the corporate body to fully modulate its speech.
          Alan Siegel (founder of Siegel + Gale) claims to have coined — and trademarked — the term Brand Voice™and promises his clients: “When you speak in your true Brand Voice, you’ll always sound like yourself.” The you in this case is “the company” and the sounding like “yourself” is an entirely constructed rhetoric performed by countless corporate workers. Controlling the brand voice is a way for a corporation to sound like, well, a corporation.
          The voice is a powerful device, and that is why powerful organizations take its modulation seriously. This notion brought me back to Paul Elliman, who for the last few years has subtly shifted his project from various typographies — using that term in the broadest possible sense as in a system of differences — to dealing specifically with the voice itself and systematic classifications of sound.

Hearing Voices
Michael Rock and Paul Elliman
2012

Michael Rock
How did you get from typography to voice?

Paul Elliman
You mean it wasn’t the other way around? Or is it better not to think of the alphabet as being too phonetically keyed to the voice — a kind of evil map that tries to control the territory of speech! For me even with typography it was always more about finding ways of locating language in the body: through things that we can touch, an object-world that informs how we speak to each other, or in the sense that we still rely on a gestural language. It doesn’t help much to think of any aspect of language as exclusively one thing or another. Speech or writing. Separating it like that has very little to do with our experience of language, its impact upon us or its mystery.

MR
You don’t think of the voice as primary?

PE
Perhaps in that a child uses the sounds of the mouth first, long before putting a pen to paper or a finger on a keyboard. The voice of a mother is also primary in terms of direct human experience. That must shape our understanding of what a voice is for the rest of our lives. But I don’t think of the spoken voice as something that is ever un-impacted by literacy or other aspects of written or even visual information. Even through that earliest relationship with your mother, we are receiving a language.

MR
So it’s a constructed system, like typography?

PE
We can imagine a time before we could write but we can’t return to that. A performance artist, even a painter or sculptor, might claim their work, with gestural movements of the body for example, to be something that could have been made at any stage in the history of mankind, but that’s claiming rather a lot. We exist and think and even walk and move under the conditions of our time. The anthropologist Marcel Mauss described how the body is and how it behaves as an embodiment of culture, whether by training or imitation or simply as an adaptation to physical and mechanical requirements of the modes of life that belong to our particular age (Techniques of the Body, 1934). Our language is produced in the same kinds of ways.

MR
The typography of culture?

PE
When I think of what is typographical I’m thinking less about letters than about production. Typography is a language of production that begins in Gutenberg’s moment, as a means of producing language. But this is an assembly line that runs, for about 500 hundred years so far, from there to the supermarket at the end of my road. The clothes we wear, the houses we live in, the cars, the computers, even the food we eat, all exist according to refinements and variations of this production language. And whether or not we like to think about it as such, so does much of our expressive language. It’s not as if the voice, or the way in which we talk, is able to happen independently of the conditions of our time.

MR
I remember a talk where you played examples from recent music in which the voice, either cut up or collaged or sung in a kind of nonsense of vocal sounds, performs a sort of glossolalia. The voices fell somewhere between a childlike babble and the biblical idea of speaking in tongues, being overtaken by the spirit and losing control of what’s coming out of your mouth, becoming an instrument through which the spirit speaks. 

PE
Rather than a conscious being through which the instrument of technology speaks? As (Friedrich) Kittler said, it’s we who must accommodate or adapt to the machine rather than the other way around.
It was as if you were presenting us with examples of a primitive voice in a very modern technical setting. 

PE
I wanted to give a more explicit sense of the typographical production of a voice. All recorded voices are inscribed and re-embodied in technology, technically a kind of typography. The history of the broadcast or recorded voice is a story of microphones and amplification, of effects like reverb, double-tracking, sequencing. Of digital software like Auto-Tune. But also of playback devices, markets, consumer audiences. In terms of voice production, entirely different species of voice-beings inhabit our everyday world via the car radio, mobile phones, MP3 players. These might range from the instantly recognizable voices of certain well-known singers to voices sampled or entirely synthesized. Either way a very spectral voice, or sign-of-the-voice, is something we seem comfortable with, or as comfortable as we are with the written word. You can hold my voice in your hand. But what does that mean? Like writing, the voice now has a kind of inanimate agency, the ghostly remainder anticipated by the myth of Echo and Narcissus.
     The voices in the music I played were intended as a graphic example. Perhaps only the sign of the voice. Or as you put it, only its sound. I played some vocal collages by garage and techno producers like Todd Edwards or Detroit’s Marc Kinchen. Also a few examples of house music based around long repetitions of nonsensical vocal phrases and chants.

MR
One couldn’t ask for clearer examples of the branded voice than from the world of pop music.

PE
That’s for sure. You’ve probably seen the recent New Yorker profile that gave a vivid picture of the songwriter Ester Dean working out songs in a Manhattan recording studio, sounding more like someone in the shower yelling along to Top 40 radio. Except this is her writing hit records for the voices of singers like Rihanna and Beyoncé. Lyrics that are partly stream of consciousness, part random phrases from magazines, ads and TV talk shows. Everything filed in her notebook under categories with titles like Sex and the City, First Love, British Slang. She starts off riffing on non-verbal sounds, whoops and yelps, throws in a blast of advertising tag lines and a few more vocal sounds, fragments of songs from the past. Think of Hey na na, or Cant you hear that boom badoom boom, boom badoom boom …. Millions of people know exactly what songs those lines are from. Both are by Ester Dean, spat out of the same intense and, well, pretty nutty process of crafting commercial songs from the chaos and impulsive vocabulary of a commercial world. Messages of divine inspiration received directly from the city.
     There’s another songwriter I’ll mention, Priscilla Renea. She’s written for Rihanna, Cheryl Cole, Madonna. About three years ago someone sent me a homemade clip Renea had posted on YouTube as a teenager where she’s singing the dictionary. She’s going through the As to the melody of the Fergie song “Glamorous”: Aardvark, abalone, abandoned, abbatoir, abbey, abyss, abject, able, able-bodied, able-bodied seaman, abnormal, abnormal psychology, abolition, abominable, abominable snowman She has an incredible singing voice but what makes it work is her sense of meter. Which is not simply the musical time signature but how you fit a sequence of syllables to it. Very important to the vocal structure of hymns. In hip-hop I think they call it flow.
     Both songwriters offer a kind of abstraction, but they don’t simplify our physical relationship to a world of language. They make it seem both as ordinary and as strange as it is. Ester Dean allows the world around her to disrupt the organizing system of songwriting. For Priscilla Renea, her own voice disrupts the organizing system of meaning that is the dictionary, voice and language twisting together and apart in this unexpectedly ritualistic way. The ecstasy of the alphabet.

MR
In both the human voice remains prominent. Whereas in most of the examples you played in your talk it was less clear if they were being sung by a person or a machine.

PE
Glossolalia has been described as the sounds of language taken for a language, as if it was something false. But the physicality and ecstasy that seems to carry it off suggests something real enough, or real to the body of the person involved. Marcel Mauss chose not to include the voice as a technique of the body. Yet who doesn’t sense that it is probably through the voice that we are more susceptible to manipulation and to finding our own manipulative ways, than any other part of us? A discussion of glossolalia would fit well in any attempt to supply the missing category of voice in Mauss’s Techniques of the Body. ‘Speaking in tongues’ refers to a way of speaking in which certain parts of language are connected more emphatically to the body, through noises of the mouth or other unintelligible vocal sounds. The act of saying things takes priority over dialogue: tongues instead of words (Michel de Certeau, “Vocal Utopias,” 1996). Though I chose to play examples that also suggest a relationship to the written word as much as the speaking or singing voice.
     Around that time I was listening to recorded versions of songs com-posed by Saint Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century Benedictine abbess whose visions, as well as her songs and chants, are said to have involved a form of glossolalia. Saint Hildegard invented a 23–character alternative alphabet for her Lingua Ignota or Unknown Language, and many of the songs are written in this secret tongue. Nothing I heard in modern recordings came close to conveying the free-form transcendentalism said to characterize those performances, so-called concerts of the spirit. Who would know how to reen-act the way those ‘songs’ might have been performed, if all we have to go on is the strange typographical glossolalia of her alternative alphabet? But what a typeface. My all-time favorite.

MR
An idea picked up about 800 years later by Kurt Schwitters with his Ursonate

PE
Yes, and think of the graphic connections in all the Dada collage and sound poems, and more recently what about “The Loch Ness Monster’s Song” by Scottish poet Edwin Morgan? I’d like to have heard him singing it in a Glasgow pub on a Saturday night. I don’t suppose it presents much of a challenge to the vocal utopias of contemporary pop music.           
Sssnnnwhuffffll?/Hnwhuffl hhnnwfl hnfl hfl?/ Gdroblboblhobngbl gbl gl g g g g glbgl./ Drublhaflablhaflubhafgabhaflhafl fl fl –/ gm grawwwww grf grawf awfgm graw gm./ Hovoplodok – doplodovok – plovodokot-doplodokosh?/ Splgraw fok fok splgrafhatchgabrlgabrl fok splfok!/ Zgra kra gka fok! /Grof grawff gahf?/ Gombl mbl bl – /blm plm,/blm plm,/ blm plm,/blp.


(From Glasgow to Saturn, Edwin Morgan, Carcanet, 1973)

MR
So if speaking in tongues is at one end of the spectrum — spiritual sounds bursting out of us with no control or mediation — the opposite extreme seems to be the talking machine with its synthesized voice: a manufactured tool of communication designed to elicit a specific response. You’ve referred to the abundance of professional voices throughout urban space, in vehicles and supermarkets, in elevators and all forms of public transport, as a kind of running commentary…

PE
The Shanghai subway system is still the most relentless that I’ve heard.

MR
You wrote this a few years back: (reading) “With the persistence of a running commentary, the friendly female voice of the Shanghai subway follows you from train to platform, to ticket hall, to street, pointing out safety features and directions, suggesting bars, restaurants, and department stores” (Wired, 2003).

PE
That was at least ten years ago. Don’t know how far that voice would accompany you today. Remember the scene in Minority Report with the ads that speak directly to people in the street? Naming them: Hey, Bill Cunningham, you look like you could use a a new camera about now, get a Nikon! Hey, Bill Cunningham, forget these busy streets, lets get away somewhere, Puerto Rico! Though I think we know already that we don’t even have to be named. We’d have less trust in that. As (Louis) Althusser pointed out long ago, we are only too happy to be identified by ourselves when those objects of desire come calling.

MR
Minority Report is set in an undisclosed future, yet those kinds of details, advertising that targets us in very specific ways, hardly seem futuristic now.

PE
I think we’ve become more aware of the voice as a component of socio-economic flows. Not only because of developments to artificial voice production, or the technical ability to deploy voices almost anywhere — machined voices — but through specific uses, in everyday situations, that make the human voice itself perform in very machine-like ways. Don DeLillo is particularly good at describing the electro-sonic infrastructure of our world. One of his characters, an out-of-work actor, has a job reading weather and traffic reports on a New York radio station. She has a slot every ten minutes or so and the narrator compares her voice to the speed and fluid efficiency of a power-tool. The most convincing aspect of this voice is that it sounds more like a push button radio transmission than a person talking (Don DeLillo, The Angel Esmeralda, 2011).

MR
You’ve also addressed the way that a voice, on the subway for example, can become a de facto brand for the city.

PE
It’s only about ten years ago that recorded announcements on the New York subway muscled in on the regional voices of the train conductors. You’ll still get a Caribbean or a Bronx accent on your ride home to Jackson Heights or Prospect Park — more often lost in the glossolalia of a broken PA system. With the more dominant recorded voices it’s not clear where they come from. The male voice, a man named Charlie Pellett, turns out to be English. Not that anyone could possibly know. Sounds like he’s auditioning for Oklahoma or Paint Your Wagon.

MR
Stanclear othe ker-LOW-zindoors pleeze! 

PE
These recordings date back to the late 1990s and are voiced by Bloomberg Radio presenters. This is before Bloomberg became mayor of the city. Then all of a sudden you have this spoken part of the city’s infrastructure linked directly to its offices of civic power. Part of the Bloomberg brand. (In his day job Charlie Pellett is the host of WBBR’s “The Bloomberg Money Show.”) Imagine if all multinational corporations could speak to you from any walkway or vehicle in the city? Oh, that’s right, they do. It’s called branding.

MR
That was one of Bloomberg’s innovations, branding information …

PE
The Bloomberg voices are not distinctly New York voices. Not in terms of dialect. But in terms of what linguists refer to as an idiolect, the way these voices sound — confident, professionally efficient, the business — extends a corporate image that of course many would prefer to associate with the city. Meanwhile, out on the city’s streets, a kind of local vocal insurrection may be in progress. The audio announcements of New York City’s crosswalks, intended to guide visually impaired pedestrians, are voiced by a man named Dennis Ferrara, who sounds like what he is: a lifelong resident of Coney Island. In his day job he’s the supervising electrician at the Department of Transportation. Asked about using a less regionally specific accent, Mr. Ferrara replied, “I’ve got too many other things to do besides trying to change my voice.”

MR
Who better than a tough Brooklyn guy to guide you across the street?

PE
Voices used for announcements in public spaces are instructive by definition. I mean beyond the informational, where you are, where you’re going. The skills of a trained voice are used to re-render inanimate objects and spaces with the language of gendered speech. For the New York subway certain kinds of messages are spoken by a male voice — Stay alert and have a safe day — while more informational messages are spoken by a female voice — Transferis available to the E train. The MTA says it wasn’t planned, that it just happened to coincide with the claim by some psychologists that people are better at receiving orders from men and information from women. Which men? Which women? The U.S. Air Force takes the line that female voices are more authoritative to male pilots. F-16 fighter jets and Apache attack helicopters carry the warning system voice of Erica Lane, also known as Bitching Betty. Obstacle ahead, fuel low, pull up.

MR
In most cases, it would seem that the spoken branded voice can’t help but take its cue from a world already humming with celebrity voices. James Earl Jones’ distinct Welcome to Verizon, for example…

PE
Hollywood is the central-casting resource for those corporate voices … although one of the most familiar voices in America, the voice of AT&T, Pat Fleet, is not a famous person; few people would recognize her in the street. Think about navigation software: placeless voices directing us through the street and further erasing our own sense of place. Currently that tends to be a combination of celebrity voices and a sort of branded version of ‘ordinary’ folk. Look at any menu of character voices available to guide us on these strange journeys: The Hockey Mom; Billy Bob the Redneck; the President; the Islamic cab driver; Beavis and Butthead; Sassy Jill the sexy teenage Catholic school girl; GLaDOS, the corrupted system voice of the video game Portal; Jesus; Jamal the ghetto pimp; Valeria Satnavkov the Russian spy; Clint Eastwood. If the crew of the Pequod (Herman Melville, Moby-Dick) can be described as a cross-section of an emerging U.S. society, here it is updated as a cast of avatars of the American public today.

MR
In your work you evoke the play between human voice and mechanized world: a human imitates a machine and a machine imitates a human; a human imitates an animal whose ‘voice’ has already been transcribed for a musical instrument. It seems like part of your interest is the point where the voice becomes mechanized or formalized or branded in these ways. Not whatis being said so much as how it is uttered.

PE
It’s often at that point that I feel antagonized, but also curious about where the voice is going without us. You’re right about other messages being conveyed by the sound of the voice. By what the voice says despite what it is saying.

MR
The form speaks, which is something I was hoping to get at in this conversation: a designer designs inflection and tone that colors content.

PE
For me the division between form and content is counterintuitive. But yes, if we are talking about instrumentalizing the voice then modulations of tone are almost everything. That could be made to happen by design. It could happen through human instinct as well. I’m thinking of Gatsby, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, when he says of Daisy Buchanan: “Her voice is full of money ….” It’s not that it doesn’t matter what Daisy says. It matters very much. But it’s in that inseparable fusion of her world, her body, her thoughts and the tone with which she expresses them. She is a kind of product of her social milieu. A wealthy, carefree, glamorous voice produced with the same end result as a Tiffany diamond ring, just as vulnerable to desire, envy, crime, even social and moral bankruptcy. The subject of Daisy’s voice may have more to do with her social class, but isn’t that a kind of branding in itself? Something we should all desire and aspire to be or take part in: to consume the very privilege of being able to consume.
     George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, later recast as My Fair Lady, is another tale of class-conscious construction —  and reconstruction — of the voice. You might call it a re-branding exercise for the cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle. The linguist Henry Higgins sees Doolittle as nothing more than a walking specimen of language from the gutter: “So deliciously low, so horribly dirty!” After her metamorphosis, Eliza recalls her old way of speaking as if it were a part of the city of London she can never go back to.

MR
A perfect example of rebranding.

PE
In more mechanistic terms of designing or building a voice there’s a fabulous ‘primal’ example in the constructionof the Tarzan yell for MGM. Though we ‘see’ it coming out of the mouth of Johnny Weissmuller, one claim is that it was the result of a complex formula, studio-engineered to merge the voice of an opera tenor named Lloyd Thomas Leech with the growl of a dog, a note played on a violin’s G string, the trill of a soprano and the recorded howl of a hyena played backwards! Don’t we all speak that same unholy fusion of animal sounds, musical instruments, a trained male voice with a dash of androgenic soprano, some technical trickery with the tape recorder? And with more than a hint of Frankenstein devil-may-care, Oh, to hell with it, lets just build the voice out of whatever parts weve got!

MR
The idea of a branded voice dispenses with our perception of what a voice is in both a bodily and individual sense?

PE
It must operate within an idealized frame, according to certain prescribed conditions, yet seem somewhat ‘natural.’ Or as if someone were speaking to you quite freely. Siri knows my name but she’s not my friend. She’s not even a she. She’s a team of engineers from the Stanford Research Institute now owned by Apple computers. Then again, ‘natural’— how do we even negotiate the glass walls around that word? It makes me think of the seven-second broadcast delay of so-called live radio.

MR
The so-called profanity delay.

PE
Arseholes, bastards, fucking cunts and pricks!

MR
Ian Dury?

PE
Thought I was channeling Dr. Johnson’s Tourette’s. Imagining the kinds of things he would constantly mutter while writing his famous dictionary. Do you know that the compiler of the most important early lexicon of the English language was a compulsive copralaliac? Daisy Buchanan might have had a mouth full of money but the great Samuel Johnson, legal guardian of the English language, had a mouth full of shit. Though the condition was not medically recognized at the time Johnson is known to have had extreme symptoms of what we now call Tourette’s Syndrome, characterized in his case by a constant stream of foul-mouthed swearing and a less verbal but no less vocal repertoire of sounds and tics. Friends describe him clucking like a chicken and constantly opening and closing his mouth or stretching it with his tongue while he spoke. Though his language could be wise, scholarly and famously elegant, Dr Johnson’s speech was a mess.

MR
Form and content were two separate entities?

PE
Between his mind and his speaking voice, perhaps. But studies have shown an important link between Tourette’s-associated coprolalia and the way that the brain processes language. And it turns out to be no different from people without Tourette’s. It seems that swearing is not a language use. It belongs to the part of the brain that deals with emotions and instinct. Even though it involves words and the vocal tract, it is an emotional motor activity of the body. This shares something with definitions of glossolalia as more body than language. Swearing is believed to have originated in forms of word magic, hence cursing, or legally swearing an oath. This residue of a much older belief in the power of spoken words remains as part of our language but in the form of a more direct emotional outlet, or as a way of communicating aspects of identity, masculinity for example. Dictionaries are still sheepish about profanity. Though apparently most terms now thought of as vulgar only began to be more firmly categorized as obscene after the 18th century, coinciding with the institutionalized organization of dictionaries. I’d like to hear Samuel Johnson in full flight on the London Underground. That might derail a few ideals.

MR
The British set so much store in the voice. How does that play out on the Tube, still Minding the Gap?

PE
Still minding the gap between the social classes.

MR
We’ve recently been getting a very phonocentric view of British culture from movies. Both The Iron Lady and The Kings Speech, for example, raise interesting issues about the affective values of certain voices of power.

PE
I struggled with the Margaret Thatcher film, couldn’t find a way to suspend any disbelief. Meryl Streep talks about being taught to bring it up from the place where the conviction lies. I wasn’t sure if she was referring to Maggie or herself. In The Kings Speech, an entire population’s emotional anxieties are focused not on the anticipation of the collective indignities of a brutalizing war, but on whether or not the stammering King could announce the declaration of that war with his own dignity intact. Surely the only listening audience for that narrative is the one watching the movie. I’m not disputing the powerful role of the broadcast voice during that period of history. The walkie-talkie was developed during the Second World War (Motorola, 1940). Mobile phones, in other words. British historian Raphael Samuel has written about how the role of national radio in Britain during the war helped shape the way that defining moments of modern history can no longer be dissociated from broadcasting events. And maybe The Kings Speech is interesting as some kind of allegory for another transition between the inability to speak and the powerful voice of active words — I mean the shift from Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement to Churchill’s defiance? A politically out-of-favor Winston Churchill was asked to be the wartime Prime Minister partly because of his experiences in the previous war, but he was also already known for the inspirational power of his speeches and radio broadcasts.

MR
There’s a branded voice.

PE
The Churchill Insurance Company, with a bulldog for its logo! In his book about the history of the vocoder (also invented during World War II) Dave Tompkins refers to Winston Churchill as Britain’s secret weapon, a ready-made human-speech synthesizer. In fact, Churchill’s trademark voice was built at great expense. Like George VI, Churchill had a speech impediment, the combination of a dramatic stammer and a distinct lisp. His mouth was rebuilt around a set of loose-fitting dentures specially designed to help him speak more continuously and without losing that idiosyncratic lisp.
     Churchill’s voice would seem crazy today. Lisp and loose dentures or not, it belongs to another age. Even in Britain the more regulated clipped tones of so-called RP (Received Pronunciation) sound like a throwback to a distant and almost mythical past. The ‘Monarch’s English,’ or King’s speech — currently the Queen’s speech — was a model for British spoken language since the time of the Tudors. Margaret Thatcher, although not from the upper classes, emulated that way of talking. It was the normative standard, as a sociolinguist might put it. On the other hand, the ambiguous line that separates one’s own voice from a more idealized model of speech is quite different from the gap between handwriting and typography. Though perhaps the comparison can be made in terms of cultural hegemony and technical processes. The 19th-century English poet John Clare is valued partly for a stubborn refusal to give up the local dialect terms and accents of his spoken language to a more grammatically uniform written language. Clare’s writing responds to the violent upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, particularly the Enclosure movement, which was forcing an end to traditional uses of the fields and meadows. Clare’s rougher, provincial vernacular is often described as being in direct conflict with the smoother mechanical lines of both machined land, and, with the printing press, of machined language.

MR
Benedict Anderson made a similar observation in his Imagined Communities about the unifying power of newspapers both in terms of fixing an official language and typographic standards. 

PE
Going back to Hollywood central-casting, powerful media voices are able to transcend certain notions of class. One of the most celebrated voices of British acting belonged to Richard Burton, working-class son of a Welsh coal miner. In terms of a world around us inhabiting the body and shaping the sound of how it speaks, Burton famously said of his fellow Welshmen,“Our voices were born with coal dust and rain.” Upwardly mobile enough to buy the most expensive diamond in the world for Elizabeth Taylor’s 40th birthday, he apparently dialed in his bids during the Sotheby’s auction from a payphone in a hotel bar.

MR
I hear the telephone. Is that where it all begins for the disembodied voice? 

PE
The phone released the voice like a genie from the lamp. The famous first words ever spoken into a telephone — Mr. Watson — Come here — I want to see you— voice an anxiety for the collapsing space and dissolving bodies the device would specialize in. Some critics believe that the tools of online social networking are essentially unchanged since the telephone’s invention. Allucquére Rosanne Stone’s study of telephone sex workers brilliantly demonstrated human ability to resituate the body in its interactions with network technology, but in a way that said as much about long-existing capabilities of the human voice. 
     In almost all situations we interpret or find meaning by taking advantage of any information we’re not given. Phone sex can only work by exploiting the gaps, mobilizing erotic tension by taking advantage of what cannot be known. Stone describes how telephone sex workers find a way to reduce the necessary information about the human body into a much smaller signal — the tone of a voice, a few words, an intake of breath, a sigh, a few more words — enough for a client on the other end of the telephone line to uncompress the signal into a substantial sensory image of the body.
     By performing these very practical applications of data compression, phone-sex workers translate all the modalities of multi-sensory experienceinto audible form. Into the form of a voice. Yet most people can also perform this magical act of speaking a body into life. Isn’t that one of the objects or motives of branding a voice? I brought up the essay by Marcel Mauss because for me it still provokes many thoughts about language as a technique of the body. How far, for example, are we willing to go for an imaginary corporate body that in its own synthetic and seductive ways, and through all of its modes of ‘speaking,’ is little more than a technique of the voice?