Giacomo Lauri-Volpi: Archimedean point

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In this chapter of Mysteries of the human voice, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi reflects on the point of support of the voice and on the resonance, and delves into the fundamental role these aspects play in the creation of vocal sound.


Music is the spirit
and the word is the flesh.
Miguel de Unamuno

The greatest attention should be directed, in the study of the melodic voice, to the search for the point of support: the right point of resonance. Give me a place to stand on and I will move the earth. Here it is, entirely, the intervention of consciousness in singing, above the automatic phenomena of phonation.

Man is endowed not only with intelligence and will, but also with a sense with which, in addition to his body and other bodies, of himself and of his fellow beings, he feels within himself a “vis”, a root that makes him come into existence, keeping him as substance, as point of support, which gives him impulse, inductive projection, to rise to the divine. The world is surface; God is the root, the base, the support. The voice, in order to hold itself, must discover him, coming into its own bottom with evidence for criteria and intuitive method.1

From where it follows that observation, experience and discipline are never enough for the investigation of the vocal phenomenon, in constant development around the stability of consciousness. All the art of singing is derived from the search for the point of support and for the resonance; and the art of resonance concentrates the study of the various parts of the sound mechanism. It consists of the ability to distribute colors. The seven resonances correspond to the seven colors of light, and the table of resonances to the palette of colors. The masterful use of these makes the painter great; likewise, the sagacious use of resonances makes the singer great. The whole secret of singing lies in the discovery of the right point of resonance.

Curiously, several modern phonetics scientists have not made any allusion to the vocal point of support. But, what is the support of the voice, the obsession of disciples and singing teachers and an enigma for the great majority of singers? The difficulty in finding the right support for the voice is so great that many voices, even famous ones, have died down before finding it. It is necessary to form clear ideas in the mind of the student of vocal sounds. A misconception can destroy the healthiest and most powerful voice and divert the most attentive intelligence. […]

But, the right point of resonance is a very personal object, glimpsed by virtue of revelation. By insisting on the human ternary, one can consider the voice to be the soul, or ethereal body; the larynx to be the physical body; the resonance to be the stellar body or the essence of spirituality. The singer’s conscious personality is born from the harmonization of the three elements. In the aerial order of resonance, the voice conforms and adapts to the model perceived by spiritual auscultation.

The singer’s obligation and duty is to translate in the voice the free voice of things, as resonances of a supreme musical idea, mother of infinite ideas. So that everything can exhale a musical idea. For the human voice to reveal and manifest in singing —which is capable, susceptible of all transformations— the designs, the figures and the infinite musical modes, it must elaborate sounds in the same way that the virtue of fire forms, with the liquid crystal, swirls, diaphanous involucres that at the slightest touch generate diverse vibrations and harmonious echoes. In such a way, the voice can ascend, unperturbed, the pinnacles of the range and descend to the widest and least intense and less luminous modulations of the middle and lower notes. Amidst this variety of colors, the voice retrieves the ideas hidden in the realm of matter and restores them to the freedom of movement, and obeys the mysterious impulses of a universal will of being born and of becoming, which feels the urge to manifest its intimate melodic essence.

Number and movement are generators of the universe. From the right point of support —or Archimedean point— the musical voice is generated, and is determined and modulated in number and in movement. The melodic voice, imprisoned in that fragment of matter that the human body is, entrusts itself to the spiritual breath in order to redeem from the accidents of the sensitive life.

Spirit, breath, sigh, blow, inhalation, exhalation, all are equally expressive modes that reflect the idea of the soul anchored in its point of resonance and support in the formation of the voice and the exercise of the essential, substantial or necessary life. The material cause is air; the end is sound, which is multiplied in resonances by tonal influences. Once the center of the resonance is found, which is the focal point of resonance, a world of harmony elevates, which coincides with the universal melodic center. When the sound is focused, as it is said, the voice takes on the form with no weigh or gravity of the stellar body and has its own life in space, as a reflection of the singer’s personality. The whole mystery of human singing is in the work of transforming the singing sound into energy, radiating from the point of support, the centre of consciousness, the centre of spiritual gravity, which is contrary to the terrestrial one, which is counterweight and drags downwards.

Once the contact and attack point is secured, the sonorous voice is able to overcome the “passage” between the middle and upper notes: “passage”,”transit” that is the terror of all voices and which, once discovered, constitutes the soldering of the connection, of the vocal junction. And it is clear the idea of overcoming the extreme intermediate zone, because, in view of that “step”, the voice is prepared for the final jump of the attack of the lower notes that are intentionally placed, beyond the palatal arch, inside the facial cavities. In this way the soldering occurs automatically and the air flow, for any note, passes through the cavity. As the tessitura rises, the upper resonances rise until they make the cranial sinuses vibrate in the extreme high zone of the singing voice. In substance —and this is fundamental— any note, wherever region it belongs, is placed in consonance with the frontal sinuses, so that, in sympathy, the ethmoidal, sphenoidal, maxillary and nasal cavities participate in the resonances too.2 Once the first note is placed, the rest will follow on the thread of the breath that produces the wonders of legato singing.3 A single note that deviates from that curriculum disperses the following. And the musical phrase will appear as a loose fabric.

Once the concepts of the point of support, of resonance and of passage are thus established, you will have a basic, essential idea of the voice, and it will be possible to examine, in particular, the organs that make up the vital and physical body of the voice and concern the phenomenon of breathing and of the laryngeal voice. […]”

1 Interesting analogy: resonance is a word that, in Greek, is translated as catechesis: the method of resonance of oral transmission consisted, among the first Christians, in making the voice resonate. The disciple, thus instructed, was the “resounding” one, that is, the catechized one.

2 In order to offer the image in a plastic and poetic way, the Dantean similarity is evoked:

“As sheep will often start to leave the fold,
first one, then two, then three
… … … … … … … …
and what the first sheep does, the others do…”

3 Translator’s note: Lauri-Volpi writes “las maravillas del cantar ligado y del ligar cantando”. The closest literal translation would be “the wonders of legato singing and of legare while singing”, to join the sounds while singing.

Text excerpted and translated from Misterios de la voz humana, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, 1994.