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    “This is Moscow calling”: on the vocal aspect of authority

    | 2006-06-09 | 12:01
    temos: VMS

    It was noticed by participants of the Vilnius Media Seminar, that the film “Lithuania” (rus. “Litva”) is pretty boring in a visual sense. Actually, this film is a long-lasting report in the genre of TV news with a short playful introduction. With the exception of catastrophic “breaking news” where the visual part is of great importance and which supports our decreasing interest under conditions of informational overdose, other blocks of TV news could be perceived auditively.

    The genre of TV news is a sphere, where natural characteristics of the voice as well as rhetorical techniques are crucial for broadcasting and perceiving the information, which pretends to be objective. The role of the voice of television or radio announcer is ambivalent: it intensifies the “objectivity effect” in the news, while communicating a certain position. One can easily find, that there is a crucial difference in timbres, rhythms and notional intonations on different TV channels, though none of the official news announcers reveals his or her “emotional involvement”.

    The voice-over of the film “Lithuania”[i] (as well as unobtrusive soundtrack) insensibly shapes the perception of statistic material, though the nuances of its rhythm and intonations maybe are too subtle for public screening: as it was mentioned, the film was created for demonstration on TV, i.e. for home screening. The rhetoric of this voice-over is pretty recognizable: it reminds of the soviet announcers’ tradition.

    The voice is a mass communication medium per se. It is no wonder, that the selection of the radio announcer was a matter of the state importance in the Soviet Union: the voice of the announcer was (and in some cases still is, despite nowadays hegemony of the visual) the voice of authority. Some voices were an essential part of propaganda – let us remember famous radio-phrase, which includes a certain low timbre, measured tempo and triumphant regular intonation: “Govorit Moskva” (“this is Moscow calling”).

    For about the half of the century the voice of radio announcer Yuri Levitan has been signing every crucial moment in soviet life: was it the events of World War II, the first space flight, or Stalin’s death. Broadcasted voice of Levitan influenced listeners emotionally in a way that could hardly be imagined in the context of TV culture: the voice itself was an event, and it provoked an intense waiting.

    Marshall McLuhan neatly called radio “the tribal drum”: the power of a broadcasted voice gathers people into a crowd. The crowd, tensely listening to a street loudspeaker is one of the usual themes in soviet photography; the mass exultation and sorrow are vividly described in various memoirs on that period. The euphoric state of unity and equality, that was initiated by broadcasted voice, is a key characteristic of the crowd (see Elias Canetti’s “Mass und Macht”); keeping in mind the importance of the rhetoric of unity and equality in the soviet model of society, one can find, that there were no better media for the organization of everyday space than radio was.

    One-channel home radio sets and urban loudspeakers were important elements of the interior and exterior of soviet city: the voice of authority penetrated both private and public spheres. The voice of authority was omnipresent; one-channel radio set was an integral component of soviet living-space – as plug socket was. There was a soviet anecdote about the man, who was afraid to switch on electric devices in his room – as far as they could start speaking in a manner of soviet radio.

    Amazingly, in soviet times there were a lot of anecdotes, reflecting the mechanism of soviet system, in this case, the functioning of auditive mode of authority (what we could call after E. Canetti “the domestication of command”). But could we remember any anecdote, which reflects nowadays structures of authority, for example, citizen’s relations with urban video cameras? Hence some questions emerge: does the absence of anecdotes sign the lack of reflection? It could be that the same form of popular social-political critics has changed, but what is the most popular form of nowadays reflection then?  It seems that at least in Belarus the form of critic political anecdote should be still efficient.

    It is common to use primarily visual categories analyzing power relations, which refer partly to a Foucauldian conception of panopticon. But alongside with panoptical model of spatial politics there is another one: omni-vocal. “To be watched” and “to listen to the Voice” are different modes of participating in power relations. Nowadays the auditive type of social control is displaced by the visual: incorporeal voice is pushed aside to a sphere of public transport, where it shows a heightened concern about safety and comfort of passengers, in some cases building up the sense of danger (e.g. vocal warnings about “ownerless things” in metro and trains), which is one of the tactic of building authoritative relations.

    As a matter of fact, aural discourse is not developed as well as visual is: pointing out the domination of the ontology of the image, some researchers state “the lack of an autonomous theory of sound”. The deafness of contemporary theoretical discourses (it concerns the discourse of cultural and media studies particularly) complicates recognizing and discussing the cultural and social referentiality of sound phenomena. Maybe that was the reason why the technique of “objective tone” of the voice-over from the film “Lithuania” for some participants sounded and was characterized as “emotionless”, “expressionless”, monotonous, etc., what made me to offer a brief sketch of a contexts for hearing the voice-over.

    [i] For those who haven’t seen the film: it is built of several informational blocks, which include some statistics and commentaries of politicians, economists, businessmen, a journalist, a writer, a teacher and a physician, etc. on the situation of Lithuanian economy, education, agriculture and industry, demographical problem and politics.

    Most of the commentators are well known to Lithuanian public, so that their appearance on a screen stimulates certain reactions; at the same time for Belarusian audience they appear as neutral unknown speakers. Also, there is a journalist from Belarus (the author of the film) who appears on a screen at the beginning of informational blocks with short introducing commentaries – and a voice-over (the main narrator).

    In general, the informational collage on nowadays life in Lithuania appeared to be quite pessimistic (as someone from the audience has remarked, “if we show this film on Lithuanian TV, it will increase the immigration”), with a flavour of nostalgia for a common soviet past.


    temos: VMS |

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    1 komentaras ““This is Moscow calling”: on the vocal aspect of authority”

    1. Vilnius Media Seminar » Blog Archive » “This is Moscow calling”: on the vocal aspect of authority rašo:
      17 balandžio, 2008 at 6:46 am

      […] voice-over of the film “Lithuania”[i] (as well as unobtrusive soundtrack) insensibly shapes the perception of statistic material, though […]


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