I’m always fascinated by how different my speaking voice sounds on recordings, compared to the way I hear it in my own head. I used to cringe in horror at how unlike me it sounded, but I’ve seen or heard enough footage of me speaking over the years to have eventually become resigned to the fact of how others hear me, however much I myself dislike it.
At some point I’d love to read up on the science behind the proximity of the vocal chords, lips and tongue, to the various sound-box features of the skull, and all this to the ear – and the effect of all of these on how we hear own voices ‘live’, in real-time. But for now, my fascination is pretty abstract.
Using my head and its various physical contents to entertain myself sonically is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I hum, and I’m intrigued by how the sound is modulated by circumstances: recently I’ve had a terrible cold, and was struck but an observation that the gloopy stuff clogging my nose, throat and sinuses had turned my hum into a sound somewhat akin to a bassoon or – at the higher end of my register – an oboe.
Since pre-school age my teeth and jaws have provided me with ready access to a miniature internal drumkit. A certain scraping of the teeth produces a snare drum sound; various clenches, bites and taps of the teeth can be made to sound like kick drum, floor and rack toms.
While I’ve added the odd tongue click or tap over the years for more ‘dancey’ beats, cymbals have a fricative quality that strays too close to the voice, and so I avoid them: I’ve always had the instinct that ‘dental drumming’ was something I needed to do discreetly – unlike whistling, humming, or singing a tune (all of which I will happily do in public without embarrassment), it feels just that little bit too eccentric to indulge in too obviously. So I combine the dental drumkit with a ride, crash, and hi-hat played through the speakers of my mind’s ear.
Playing tunes in my head isn’t just about the physicality of the dental drumkit, however. The mind is involved too. The mental one-woman band is more than just the aforementioned filling in of cymbal gaps. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I can often mentally ‘hear’ songs in their entirety, with complete instrumentation, after one listening. And so I’ll combine the physical beats with a full mental musical arrangement.
I do this both with songs I know (Massive Attack’s Inertia Creeps is one of my favourite tunes to “play in my head”) and with new creations. And it’s been a repeated source of frustration throughout my life that I’ve never actually recorded any of the original musical stuff that fills my head.
Lack of confidence, lack of money, lack of space, inability to multitask or play most of the many instruments I wanted to record, executive dysfunction, simple downright fear – these things have all conspired against me over the years. And these days parenthood, work, and a small terraced house perpetuate this difficulty. But I miss making music, and, who knows, perhaps mobile technology might just make it possible for me to overcome some of my previous barriers and limitations.
In the meantime, I keep on drumming.