Sound Design: Speaking Without Tongues

Hidden Voices: Speaking Without Tongues
My Role: Sound Designer, Composer
Director: Kathy Williams
Script by: Lynden Harris
Performed at: The ArtsCenter (Carrboro, NC), UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina Central University, Duke University (Reynolds Theatre)
Hear an interview on WUNC’s The State of Things

Hidden Voices is a non-profit theatre organization whose mission is “to challenge, strengthen, and connect our diverse communities through the transformative power of the individual voice.” Speaking Without Tongues uncovers the stories of female survivors of domestic violence. The stories are performed by survivors themselves – not by professional actors.

The performance is based on the fairytale “The Woman Without Arms,” told through recorded narration. The survivors’ stories are interspersed between narrations and relate to the idea of powerlessness and, eventually, regaining a sense of power and self.

Descriptions below the SoundCloud Player:

Speaking Without Tongues by soundslikeshannon

Track 1: SWT Opening
Song written and performed by: Shannon O’Neill
Narration performed by: Lynden Harris
Recorded, edited, and mixed by: Shannon O’Neill
℗ 2008 Shannon O’Neill

The production included original music from local songwriters. For this opening theme, we used Other Side of the Mirror to bring the performers on stage. The main idea of the song is a woman who looks in the mirror and wishes she had the strength that she sees on the other side.

After the lyrics comes the first narration of the show. We let this opening cue be relatively long to get the performers on stage and so that they could get settled and focused once they got on. Many of the performers had not been on stage before, and given that they were about to perform deeply personal stories, we wanted to give them some time to adjust to the space.

Recorded with Groove Tubes GT-55 Microphone, through an M-Audio FireWire Solo recording interface into Logic Pro.

(Note that there is 20 seconds of silence at the end of the track. This is because we had to run the shows off of CDs because we didn’t have a computer to dedicate to running sound. I built silence on the end of tracks meant to play all the way through so that they wouldn’t accidentally skip to the next track. I leave it on there now in hope that someone will see this and donate a Macintosh laptop to Hidden Voices so that they can have a computer dedicated to sound. Contact me if you are willing to donate and I will put you in touch with Hidden Voices.)

Track 2: Mother Words
Voices: Marie Garlock, Kathy Williams, Lynden Harris,
and Shannon O’Neill
Recorded, edited, and mixed by Shannon O’Neill
℗ 2008 Shannon O’Neill

This cue came during a time when the performers were talking about things they heard while growing up. The voices were recorded on an M-Audio Microtrack 24/56 with the stereo microphone included with the recorder.

Audio files were brought in to Logic Pro and continually panned left and right in an attempt to create a creepy, “bad memory/bad dream” effect.

The cue was removed quickly in conjunction with a light change as the performers “snapped out” of the bad memory and back into the story of the performance itself. The track itself is much longer than it was on stage, as I err on the side of writing cues way too long, in case something happens and it needs to run. Generally, though, it was only in for 10-20 seconds.

Track 3: Take Me Down to the River — SWT
Music and lyrics written, recorded and edited by Shannon O’Neill.
Guitars, Vocals: Shannon O’Neill
Bass: Wendy Spitzer
Djembe: Ali Colleen Neff
℗ 2008 Shannon O’Neill

A mix of documentary-style and traditional songwriting, I wrote this for Speaking Without Tongues, a Hidden Voices production that premiered in 2008 in Carrboro, NC. This particular song was inspired by a story that didn’t make it into the show, but stuck with me, nonetheless. Details about the story (location, etc.) have been changed, and the river portion was a device added in based on the stories of many of the women who were involved in the production. There seemed to be a pervasive theme of cleansing (more figuratively than literally) as the women left situations of abuse and worked to create new lives for themselves. It lead me to think of baptisms in rivers, though in my case I was thinking of baptism in a more secular sense — a general renewal and a starting over, rather than in terms of Christianity.

I modified a term within the song to fit the show. (This is the modified version. The original is here.) When I wrote the song, the participants did not like the line “For all of those I’ve sinned against,” and they came up with the line “Wash away that voice, those hands.” That is what we used in the show.


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  1. […] mix of documentary-style and traditional songwriting, I wrote this for Speaking Without Tongues, a Hidden Voices production that premiered in 2008 in Carrboro, NC. This particular song was […]