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Lynne Kendrick

Head/Phone: listening and the proximate voice
The sight of headphones is a ubiquitous sign that the listener is engaged in something other than just the quotidian; from Hosokawa’s Walkman effect, to the gallery in-ear description or the urban audio walk, the proximity of sound to our heads is the essential kit for the transportation of the listener. This potential for listening beyond that immediately heard – the invitation to listen across and away from ourselves – actually commences with adjacent sound, often carried by voices closer than we would ordinarily tolerate. The changing relations between voice and listener, via the head-phone, generates an aural intimacy that invites listening in ways that the everyday environment often disavows. Headphone theatre and performance has recently adopted the tactics of proximate vocality and intimate listening in ways that alter the practice of audience. Yet, in theatre in particular, the proximity of phone to the head is more than a sound designer’s gimmick; it is used to trouble the encounter with meaning, by radically repositioning the voice in relation to the ear amidst the auditorium. From the simple questions of whether a sound is live or recorded, a voice is spoken by the person we see or not, or whether our ears hear attentional or intentional sound, the introduction of headphones into auditoria is a fundamental means of questioning the relation between perception and meaning. Working through some contemporary theories of the affective proximate voice (Bennett 2019, Voegelin 2019) and focusing on Adriana Cavarero’s relational ontology (2005), this paper will consider how meaning in theatre is a practice formed through the intersubjectivity that listening across offers and how this new relational ontology of theatre – formed by the performance of voice for the ear – can offer space for identities not ordinarily heard.

Dr Lynne Kendrick is a Reader in Theatre and Performance at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and Course Leader of the MA/MFA in Advanced Theatre Practice. Publications include: Theatre Aurality Palgrave Macmillan (2017); ‘Aural visions: sonic spectatorship in the dark’ in Theatre in the Dark: Shadow, Gloom and Blackout in Contemporary Theatre Alston, A., & Welton, M., (eds.) Bloomsbury (2017); Theatre Noise: the Sound of Performance co-edited with David Roesner CSP (2011).