On the Sonics of Writing
Photo Credit: Ashlie Michelle Busone
I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of music on my writing and public speaking. Some folks don’t know this but I played trumpet for most of my life and now play cuatro and bass. And on the daily I’m bumping hip-hop/rap in English from US/Europe and Spanish from US/Latin America/Europe.
The thing about hip-hop/rap is that there are multiple tensions constantly being held: the tension between the artist and the audience, the tension between the *texts* the artist has engaged and the hood that birthed them, the tension of heavy poetics and accessible language. I honestly listen to Black Thought’s freestyle on Funk Flex once a week because it’s such a praxis. In that freestyle Black Thought engages heavy history/social theory (from Egyptian mythology to eugenics) all while drawing references to his hood. When PJ Sinsuela spits about Puerto Rico he drops serious theory and history about colonialism on the island in a way anyone engaging it can understand. When I sit to write I think about hip-hop/rap. How does my writing engage serious theory/history without forgetting the community that raised me? How can I write in a way anyone that engages this can understand? How can I poetically engage the audience so they can jive with me?
Though I think about these things when public speaking, I draw on my years playing trumpet and now cuatro and bass when I’m public speaking. Because when you play an instrument in front of people you know it’s not just about the notes but the mood you sonically cultivate. When I write a speech I sometimes literally draw in crescendos and diminuendos and staccatos on the page. I think of the speech in beats per minutes thinking about when I need to speed up or slow down. I ask when we need a coda to go back and repeat. And I’m always ready to improv depending the feel of the room. When I do public speaking (including the occasional opportunities to preach) I think of my voice as my instrument. Through it I evoke something in the audience which requires me to constantly be attentive not just to the notes (my words) but the affect in the room. I don’t know much about sound studies (though I’m slowly learning thanks to dope work on Sounding Out Blog that Vanessa K. Valdés pointed me too) but music changes how you see and engage and embody the world. And I think about this every time I write and give a speech.