Brandon LaBelle








Voicing and the Mouth

It is my intention to examine how the gestures of the mouth can be understood to significantly lend to acts of verbal and non-verbal communication. By focusing on the paralinguistic and kinesic attributes surrounding speech, I'm interested to highlight the mouth as an extremely vital focal point for understanding and querying voice and the signifying body.

The emergence of discourses on the topic of the body has deepened understanding for the ways in which subjectivity is circumscribed by social or ideological structures. From Foucault's important work on power to Judith Butler's research on gender, to name a few, the body has gained enormous discursive weight as a performative project.

Such research, while circling around the topic of voice and speech acts, has lacked greater probing into the paralinguistic. While the speech act, and notions of address, have been integrated into examinations of subjectivity, much of the body in voice has gone missing. I'm interested to address, and redress, the paralinguistic operations of voice and voicing by tuning in to the fluid, primary architecture of the mouth. If voice is an embodied, oral action, what kinds of performative significations can be found in its highly flexible and elastic movements? Might we identify important modalities of communication within the yawn, the laugh or the sigh? And might the consequences of such inquiry lend to a greater critical view onto voice and its ontological status?

To explore such questions, the project sets out a series of analyses each devoted to a particular oral modality, or "micro-orality". My particular method has been to closely follow these micro-oralities, these mouth movements, giving critical attention to their physicality, and their expressivity, while associating each with specific cultural histories, theoretical materials, and related sonic and performative projects. In this way, I hope to build out an expanded view of "voice" as sounded, gestured and performed. The mouth is subsequently detailed in all its viscoscity, its gestural actions, and its resonant soundings.

From questions of the edible to the inedible, the somatic and the semiotic, to experiences of attachement and detachment, love and loss, I chart a cultural study of the mouth, capturing orality as an extremely dynamic relational grammar well behind and in front of the linguistic. In doing so, I intend to contribute to research in sound and voice studies by reminding that to hear the voice, and to consider a politics of speech, is first and foremost to assume the mouth.

The project has been developed in tandem with a course I've been teaching at the Bergen Academy, in collaboration with Ricardo Basbaum and his class at the State University, Rio de Janeiro (2013-14).


The project has led to the publication of my book (2014): Lexicon of the Mouth. The Introduction to this publication can be downloaded here.

A related lecture series, presented at W139 in Amsterdam, was presented in February 2015. The series – Vocal Stresses – included talks by Imogen Stidworthy, Piersandra di Matteo, and myself. An upcoming publication from the series is currently being developed, and will be documented here.