Thursday, 16 August 2012


I have had it in mind for some time to write on the subject of SHOUTING. But I’ve kept putting it off, partly because it’s not a pleasant topic (and we like to keep things nice here at Tingtinglongtingtingfala) and partly because I was not sure what tone to take to avoid the slightest dab of hypocrisy. The reason is this: I’ve been accused of SHOUTING on stage. Nerves, undoubtedly. And nerves also cause me to be inaudibly quiet on other occasions. This upsets me enough to want to train my voice, as there are few things I hate more than SHOUTING.

My boaphobia undoubtedly dates back to my childhood. The transition from the normal hurly burly of living in a house full of boys to my Dad’s aggressive, often drunk, SHOUTING was a subtle one. To this day, the SHOUT I fear the most is the one that seems to come from nowhere, that gets you in the back of the knee. It signals that communication has broken down. Listening has gone. As soon as that SHOUT is out, it cannot be put back in its box. From that point on, there is no hope.

There is never any need to SHOUT on stage, and this is especially true in improvisation. It is because I fear SHOUTING so much that I have such an exaggerated delight for voices that can be reassuringly big, that can fill great spaces without either force or amplification. (And it always surprises me that modern comedians inevitably rely on microphones to fill spaces that their music hall forebears filled unaided.)

In online communication, the use of CAPITALS often denotes SHOUTING, but here the distinction is even more subtle than that between SHOUTING, lively loudness and good projection, so care is needed. Increasingly, we use text in the same informal and conversational context that we once only used our voices. When we write a Tweet, or a comment on a Facebook post, our thoughts are instantaneously broadcast. Once published, they fill the space they are projected into, and we ourselves have the satisfaction of being the very first person to read them. The dialogue we are engaged in may idiomatically resemble a normal, friendly spoken one, but the same mechanisms of listening and attention that aid face-to-face communication are not yet fully developed in the virtual world. Even without the use of capital letters, the average Twitter feed often resembles a series of megaphone announcements, and a thread of Facebook comments a barrage of non sequiturs. It is possible to be engaged in numerous conversations all at once, to comment on everything that pops up, and to see your own voice (and an image of your own face) repeated endlessly in front of you. It is so easy to seek to generate a greater online presence at the expense of listening. I love social networking sites, but I try to remember that they have poor acoustics, and that all my words risk becoming noisy, SHOUTY echoes.

It is good to express your emotional and intellectual reactions to things in a spontaneous, uninhibited and courageous manner. But for exactly the same reasons that I need to train my voice so I don’t SHOUT when I’m on stage, it is necessary to be a sympathetic and sensitive microblogger.

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