Visiting vocal practices

In the context of my research, I visited a workshop for actors with world famous voice guru Nadine George, founder of Voice Studio International Two actors at a time were invited to perform a written dialogue while the rest of the group followed the proceedings in silence; except for Nadine George who spoke incessantly. She alternated between encouragement and demand, following up every positive comment with a request for the performers to try something different. Yet her instructions never seemed to disrupt the flow of the dialogue. An unspoken agreement seemed to exist between her and the actors where her voice, her instructions, her suggestions were in complete support of both them and their performance.

I also visited one-on-one voice tutoring sessions with Robert Hyman, an opera singer and assistant lecturer of musical figuration in the Opera Department at SKH, and his students. Like N. George, R. Hyman spoke whilst the students were singing, offering considerate insights without seeming to interrupt the singing student. But the focus of his feedback was different from N. Georges. R. Hyman focused on the physical capability of each student, identifying and exercising precise muscles which could support the creation of a specific sound. The students were encouraged to work with anatomical knowledge in order to find vocal expressivity, exercising muscles which could physically support the evocation of a particular sensation.

Also, at SKH, Wilhelm Carlsson, Professor of Musical Dramatic Performance at the Opera Department, led a research project exploring how voices compel us to listen not only to the language itself but to the embedded thoughts, emotions and memories that the singer/actor is both consciously and unconsciously conveying. W. Carlsson explored relationships between singing and speaking voices, between operatic and realistic modes of performance, between notions of performativity and authenticity. I had already come across this issue of performativity in relation to authenticity before I was accepted as doctoral candidate at SKH. In 2004 Birgitta Abu-Asab conducted multiple interviews with several different generations of actors which uncovered contrasting stylistic preferences. Older actors expressed concern for the state of vocal technique training amongst younger generations, whilst younger generations mocked the old-fashioned theatrical approach. Aesthetic preferences shift with time and from my own experience with projects within my research, I can say with much certainty that vocal preferences are as diverse as the audience members.


The sound studio

Three professions are sharing the space: the sound engineer, the director and the performer, or it could be the sound engineer, the producer and the journalist depending on what kind of work is at hand. The sound engineer has knowledge of the technical equipment in the room, a profound understanding of both acoustics and editing tricks that can achieve the desired result. They also know their way around the facilities, where to get coffee and where the toilets are etc. These knowledges give them a kind of implicit authority, consciously or not they become a kind of informal host for the gathering. However, they usually have very little information about the creative work that is about to take place which reduces their ability to plan and prepare more in depth for the encounter. The performer – usually an actor or journalist, comes with the one thing that is absolutely necessary for the studio encounter: the material to be recorded, the voice. The performer position has a fascinating duality. They are at once submissive, eager to satisfy the needs and demands of both the director and the sound engineer and at the same time indispensable, both the director and the sound engineer are totally reliant on their compliance. The director or producer holds the main responsibility for the project. They have usually invested emotionally and professionally over a long period of time and so have the greatest understanding of what is at stake. Sometimes they are even economically implicated. They might have the most to lose if the final result is a commercial failure or a cultural reject. However, the director can never completely control how the material is performed or recorded nor do they have the ability to conduct the work without the other two experts in the room.


Sound engineer expertise

Several capacities and skills are gathered under the label sound engineer, here is my understanding of what they may be.

There is the technical expertise. This concerns knowledge of analogue 'practicalities' such as soldering cables or understanding how speakers and microphones are constructed, as well as a comprehension of digital technology necessary for operating high end digital equipment and computer software. The physical skills of the sound engineer are perhaps less evident but parts of the practice require rather advanced bodily coordination, strength and stamina. Boom operating for example - moving in relation to the camera team, being careful not to dip the microphone into the frame, keeping the extended boom over your head for a lengthy period of time, taking equal care not to damage the sonic signal - all of these things call for a certain bodily control. Foley artistry, mimicking the movement of an actor to recreate the sounds they make, is another area that requires both a capacity to ‘read’ rhythm and rather sophisticated coordination skills. As soon as there are moving bodies and microphones mingling, a certain amount of precision choreography is called for.

Building sound-scapes and creating sound narratives reorients the necessary expertise from the physical to the intellectual. Selecting, rearranging and negotiating sound levels and engaging in the interplay between what you hear and how that resonates within you, combines noetic, poetic and somatic expertise via practical handling. The practice of sound editing requires a sophisticated ability to recieve, observe and translate sound in order to master the ephemeral communicative potential of sound aesthetics.


Elsewhere is the virtual manifestation of a project that architect Alexander Furunes, theatre director Tuomas Laitinen and myself first imagined as ‘The Apparatus’- a physical object designed for in-real-life encounters in public spaces.  During the Pandemic we were obliged to reimagine the project for the virtual realm, to explore it visit


The Danderyd Lyssnar project is presented in its entirety on the webpage created for the umbrella project ‘smart kreativ stad’. Here is a link to that web site:


In order of appearance

                      NOTE 4

Automated Listening

There is a particular application of listening going on in the practice of sound engineering, one where you hardly recognise what you hear but merely appreciate how it sounds. More or less automatically you operate the computer or the mixing table in order to achieve your preferred sound quality.

I recognised a similar kind of automated reaction to what is heard described at an art talk I attended at Bonniers Konsthall in September 2021.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan presented his exhibition ‘A thousand white plastic chairs.’ The scenography was based on recordings made during the post WWII Nürenberg trials and Hamdan examines the entangled relations between the harrowing testimonies themselves and the simultaneous translation technologies which shared them with the world. Abu Hamdan describes how the interpreters were so consumed with the act of translating that they didn’t recognise the sheer scale of the horrors they were relating. They didn’t hear what they translated. Not until several years later did they begin to understand the magnitude of the traumas they had translated and to truly comprehend what they had been a part of.

Without claiming any other similarities, especially not in relation to the labour of trauma, this automatised understanding of something heard is an ability sound engineers also have. In many parts of sound engineer routines, the body and the ear collaborate faster than the mind can possibly compute in relation to interpretations of the work.

Similar to the way interpreters work with simultaneous translation and lose contact with the content of the material they work on, sound engineers listen for specific qualities in a voice and don’t necessarily connect with the content or the context of the material. Sometimes this automized listening is the only part of the sound engineering work that is budgeted for in a film production. Such timeframes mean sound engineers have little chance to develop a nuanced understanding of the content of the work and so are denied the opportunity to contribute to the shared task of meaning making.

                 NOTE 6

Foley happens separately from the rest of the sound editing process. It is conducted by specialized sound engineers, foley artists, and created in specialized recording spaces then added in before the mixing.

Foley recreates human sounds, sounds produced by the actors, such as footsteps, fabric movement, porcelain rattling etc. sounds which were eliminated from the shoot situation in order not to disturb or destroy the dialogue.


ADR (Automated Dialogue Recording or Additional Dialogue Recording) is a routine used in film and television post-production to rerecord damaged or inaudible dialogue and to record additional dialogue. In Sweden, most filmmakers try to record as much usable dialogue as possible at the shoot, so ADR is most often something film makers have to do rather than want to do.