Sound & Voice (Upd: Aug 13, ’21)

“You hear the pipes of men, don’t you, but not yet the pipes of earth, the pipes of earth but not yet the pipes of Heaven?” – Chuang-tzu¹

We can resonate not only with music, but with silence. Animal sounds, chatter, traffic, and all the sounds of both the natural and modern world can inspire and manipulate the way we move. We also have the option to block out all sound. Just like we can do movement mirroring (copying another’s movements), we can also attempt to sound mirror any and every sound, even if they are industrial.

The following is a list of body sounds: smacking lips, teeth chattering, humming, tongue clicking, tamping, clapping, finger snapping, hands rubbing on body parts, slapping of body parts.

This all is resonance with the audio channel.

The following are Hijikata’s butoh-fu which have mention of sound/voice. They are translations by Waguri unless otherwise footnoted:(1) The Blind Girl; (2) Ghosts; (3) The Choir Girls; (4)  Ear Walk; (5) A Strange Neurotic; (6) The Appearance Of The God Maya Made Of Nerves; (7) The Nerve Walk; (8) Auschwitz Walk; (9) Quiet House5; (10) Sick Dancing Princess (Ch. 1)6; (11) Flamen Matiere10; (12) Ailing Terpsichore11.


“You must assume an alien mode of speech and snarling voice, just like the yapping of a dog.” – Lucian Blaga Depicting Diogenes of Sinope8

When we deterritorialize the human voice or utilize reduction & regeneration, we get into the sound of the body cavities, of which there are several. Experiment with creating sounds from various parts of the throat, sinuses, and other body cavities, which are not ordinarily observed/accepted as part of the human voice.

A major re/deterritorializion/reduction is the silent shout. Or try out a ghostly whisper. Another is the gutteral/drain/”toilet vocals” sound such as that often used in the goregrind genre of extreme metal.

Exercise 1: Voice to Body Contradiction

Whatever qualia the body is engaged in, do the opposite in voice. For instance, if the body has entered into a state of a feather, make the sound of something heavy such as a moving boulder or an elephant.

Exercise 2: Drone Base

One can use one single tone, drone, or hum that is always consistent so we do not have to worry about trying to use the voice. We simply only have the one sound and one lets the body do what it has to do. Depending on what the body is doing, the character of the sound may naturally take on varying characteristics, even if they are subtle. It’s a great starting place to start connecting sound with body movement.

Exercise 3: Body Shaking Sounds

Sounds edited directly via shaking the body literally in different forms can be a rich form of research.

Vowel Gradients

The major vowels are A O U E I. With each vowel, we can form a pitch gradient, going from our natural lowest to highest.

Here is an example of A from my lowest to highest pitch.

Once we have gone through each vowel, we can then begin to flow through them.

There is a gradient, for instance, between A and O.

We can do the same from O to U and so forth till we have a fluid flow and loop between all the vowels.

Here is an example of going through the vowels in a fluid manner.

A O U E I A O U E I . . .

The final step we can try is to go through the vowels in a fluid manner while gradually shifting from the lowest to the highest pitch.

These are good exercises for opening up the playing field in order to shift endlessly between pitch and vowels. You can also experiment with m hum pitch shifting and connecting to vowels as well, e.g. emmmmm or the quite familiar ommmmm.

Space Pitching

We can also connect the space to the pitch gradient. For instance, we can start at the A low pitch from one side of the room and by the time we get to the other side of the room, we meet our high pitch. The movement should flow smoothly along with the pitch gradient. This exercise is similar to the Breath Across Space aka lunging.  After, you can experiment with stopping (which holds the note), and playing with the pitches.


What shape is one’s sound? Can one speek, simultaneously speak (vocalize) and peek (see)? Such is the claim of some indigenous tribes such as the Shipibo Shamans whose sounds are simultaneously visuals. And the other senses?

Exercise 1: Sound Qualia Transition

Pick any two qualias, each with its own associated sound. Transition from one qualia to the other utilizing the sound channel. Stretch out the transition to really get a feel for the in-between nature of the two qualias.

Exercise 2: Audio Channel Contradiction

The following is when one engages the audio channel at the same time as another that contradicts it, e.g. sad sound (audio channel) with excited emotions (emotion channel). See the 8 channel model here.

Peter Brooks’ Sound Communication

One of Peter Brook’s exercises involves wordless communication. The following is from his book The Empty Space:²

An actor sits at one end of the room, facing the wall. At the other end another actor, looking at the first one’s back, not allowed to move. The second actor must make the first one obey him. As the first one has his back turned, the second has no way of communicating his wishes except through sounds, for he is allowed no words. This seems impossible, but it can be done. It is like crossing an abyss on a tightrope: necessity suddenly produces strange powers.

Robert Lewis’ Inner Worlds: The Vocal Terrain/Vocal Landscape Exercise

The following comes from the appendix of the book Sonorous Theatre: Dark Voices in Revolt.7

Send only air across the different places of the vocal terrain: the larynx, uvula, soft palate, tongue, hard palate. Let the speech organs (lips, teeth, tongue) effect the outgoing and ingoing breath Varying force, inhale or exhale, continuous or stuttered. The main point is to try one way of channeling the air and then listen for the place where the aspirate sounds (sounds with air) change:

  • Gasps
  • Changes in pitch
  • Creaks
  • Vibrations
  • Gurgles
  • Stutters

Discover more ways in which the air can be changed through the vocal terrain. Feel how very small changes in the anatomy begin to affect sound, for example, the lifting of the uvula, narrowing of the hard palate, movement of the tongue.

Repeat the same exercise with sound. Experiment with how the placement of the body, movement of the organs, jostling, tensions, vibrations of the physical body alter the sound emitted from the vocal terrain. Now make connections with movement and the body by ‘moving’ the sound down through the body, e.g., vocalising to various body parts. Go through this process on the floor, standing, with tensions in various parts of the body.

Grotowski’s Body Resonators

Grotwosky went beyond voicing from the throat, lungs, and belly, and encouraged adding all the other parts of the body. He stated that the actor ought to experiment in how to send air to other parts of the body so that those parts can amplify the sound and be a resonator.9


We deterritorialize the human word by engaging our gibberish or baby babble. An inspiration also can be that of glossolalia, speaking in tongues, which is associated with the Pentecostal Christian church. Another inspiration can be the schizophrenic.

J Leff on speaking about schizophrenese, says that the words are clear but their connections are not. The meaning, then of the words, despite their intact units of speech are vague or confusing. J Leff’s schizophrenese example from a patient: “In my mind is a gist of something that’s coming you see and to get them prepared unto on and then when the Lord is ready that gist that’s back in my head when the Lord says so my Lord there’s then supplied the people who who’s ready to who have been applied to come in and coincide their in on the thing the Lord bringeth forth to for me to say on that day on how and how and there and when to coincide their in unto with me.”³

Exercise: Gagged Intellectual

Read out or recite some intellectual material as you are gagged (such as with a piece of cloth). Talk as if it were not the case that you were gagged. You are a very respected intellectual.


One can shift from hearing the surrounding or ignoring it. One can also shift to hearing one’s internal body, especially in the mouth if the tongue/lips are moved around.

Exercise 1: Worst Soundscape

Resonate with the most unfavorable music or soundscape such as dogs barking and/or babies crying.

Exercise 2: Life Whispering

The current setting or entire culmination of life to this point is whispering in your ear. What is it whispering? Dance the answer.

Tatsumi Hijikata’s Strange Talking

Heart Dance Beat

Palplate your body in any of the pulse points to feel the beat. This is your dance beat.

De/Reterritorialized Audio

A deterritorialized audio channel is when the vocal cords or auditory system get deterritorilized from their usual human position and move somewhere else. Figuratively speaking, this often happens, e.g. “listen with your heart.” In butoh, however, we dance as if this were the case literally. What would your shoulder do if it were to speak? Can we move all the muscles, memories, habits (qualia cloud) that go into speaking but at the shoulder?


¹ Zhuangzi, , and A C. Graham. Chuang-tzŭ: The Seven Inner Chapters and Other Writings from the Book Chuang-Tzŭ. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981. Print.
² Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. New York :Atheneum, 1968. Print. Page 59.
³ Leff, J (1993) Comment on Crazy Talk: Thought Disorder or Psychiatric Arrogance by Thomas Szasz. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 66, 77-78.
4 Waguri, Yukio, Butoh-Fu CD-Rom. 2006.
5 Lee, Rhizome. The Butoh. 2017. Pages 120 – 137.
6 Ibid. 337 – 354.
7 Lewis, Robert. Sonorous Theatre: Dark Voices in Revolt: Uniting the core, proximity and the human voice in crisis. PhD Dissertation. Volume 2. University of Tasmania. 2001. Appendix 1.5. Page 4.
8 Diogenes Laërtius. Diogenes the Cynic: Sayings and Anecdotes. Translated by Robin Hard. Oxford. 2012. Page 97.
9 Grotowski, Jerzy. Towards a Poor Theatre. Hoboken. 1968. Page 35, 36.
10 Hijikata, Tatsumi. Translator unknown. Retrieved by Rhizome Lee at unknown date. Date retrieved from Rhizome Lee: 10/22/2018 at the Subbody Butoh School in Dharamsala, India.
11 Baird, Bruce. “The Book of Butoh; The Book of The Dead”. The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 2018. Page 171-176. Translation of: Uno, Kuniichi. 1986. “Butō no sho, shisha no sho.” Yurīka no. 237 (18 July): 30–37.
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