Sound, that most primitive of senses, has a physicality to it that vision lacks,” writes Connie Haham in her book Show Me Your Words. “Sound is vibration. We feel sound. Vision develops slowly after birth, but sound comes to us, filtered through liquid, long before we are born.”

The pull and power of sound is undeniable to the human mind. That unborn babies begin to recognise sound while still in the womb is a scientifically proven fact. From the third trimester onwards, babies begin to hear sounds — through the liquid in which they swim inside the mother’s womb, through the layers of skin and fat, they hear the rumble and flow of outside voices, and learn to recognise the lilt and tone of the voice of the human that carries them — their mother. Perhaps that’s the reason why mothers are encouraged to sing to their babies in the womb, even to read to them or pray out loud for them to hear. Even though the baby might not recognise the words, the voice with its intonations gets imprinted on the tiny developing mind. Sound exerts its power over us long before we are formally ‘born’ into this world.

The human voice in particular carries a resounding power in itself. The meanings of words get altered by the mere tone they are pronounced in; people communicate across languages, riding solely on the power of the human voice. But nowhere does the captivating force of voice display itself more fully than in theatre or on the silver screen. The success of the production depends to a large extent on the ability of an actor to modulate his or her voice in a manner that keeps the audience entranced and enthralled. A storyteller weaves a tapestry of images and projects them onto the minds of the listener using only the power of his/her voice. The chanting of mantras and invocation of gods is intricately woven with the power of your voice in delivering those powerful messages. The human voice has boundless power — to soothe, to rouse, to comfort, to cheer, to hold in thrall and also terrify.

The origins of the voice lie deep down, after all. It is finely tuned by the emotions and conveys the slightest change of feeling, loading the simplest of words with complicated meanings. The image we project to the world at large is governed by the pulls of our voice: confidence, mystery, vulnerability, curiosity, persistence and determination — all presented with the mere strength of your voice. Sound, as Connie Haham rightly wrote, possesses a physicality, almost a separate existence of its own.

Because sound travels in waves, it reverberates within us and causes tremors in the soul. You have only to listen to the cricket chirping in the silence of the night to know how the slightest of sound alters consciousness and evokes memories. A chance encounter with notes of a song from the days of your youth might bring back a flood of memories, a rush of wistfulness and a yearning unexplained.

 In several experiments it has been established that random words from any moment in time can be ‘plucked’ out of the ethers, enormously expanding our understanding of sound, our understanding of the ‘eternal’ nature of notes and voices. The words that we speak are not lost from our lips as they pour forth; their frequency merely alters to such an extent that they become inaudible to the human ear — and yet remain floating forever in the ethers, vibrating there and causing, perhaps, minute alterations in the cosmos.

Columnist: 
Zehra Naqvi