I think what stays with me is Vanessa’s voice. Her delicacy, which seems all the larger, all the more significant in memory, leads me to thinking about voices and bodies, about how we connect them, make sense of them and ruthlessly weld them together. With every phone message (poor Vanessa was always chasing me down for something I hadn’t done – it must have driven her nuts) she began ‘hi sweetie…’.
Her voice was delicate, to be sure, but also textured, strong, vital; it was tinged also both with the residue of her Middlesborough accent, her Cambridge education and her long years in Scotland and living with her lovely Scottish husband.
On top of all that, though, of all that placing and marking of her voice by history, there is another history, another narrative that speaks in voices and tells much without us really being able to fully grasp the process; she had a voice that floated a little, as if it didn’t need the energy that could at any moment be called upon to amplify it. I think this is what was most remarkable about her voice: it did not rest, but was constituted as a kind of vector.
Voices seem so resolutely connected to people, so much a part of their life force, that to think of that voice after they are gone is to discover the delicacy of that voice-body connection all over again.
Before we meet someone ‘in the flesh’, we imagine what someone might look like from their phone voice (it’s interesting sometimes how vivid these imaginations can be) and when we meet we are invariably surprised by the mismatch between body images as by voice and body as encountered. But once we have connected the voice and the body, they are resolutely fused.
I am interested in what happens in the memory of voices - the intensity of the sound image in the memory is striking. Vanessa’s voice seems so palpable, so fleshy, so intensely present, that it sometimes seems almost to promise to erode her passing and to conjure her up right in front of me. I’m not ‘seeing’ her, as it were, or being haunted by her, but I do feel something very strongly in that memory of her voice.
I wonder how mediated by the advent of recording technology this kind of memory is. How is it that this almost digital image of a lost voice can persist within me?
Perhaps one approach here might be to think about memories as always in some sense externally modelled for us: there are numerous monuments and rituals that seem to be compensating for the unreliability of memory, as if to incarnate the loss, to mark it, to ritually repeat it were in some sense to mitigate it, but also to act as a kind of imprinting, or intensification of memory.
And beyond such rituals, the better part of the great wealth of ‘technological advancement’ (or technological change) seems to have been about just this remembering, repeating, holding on to the line. If our technologies colour or intervene, or at least constitute at least one of the agencies that shape our imagination of personality, then there might be something in this crystalline image of Vanessa’s voice that continues to stay with me of these technologies, their peculiar repeatability, their emphasis on exactitude, and the great sum of energy that has been expelled in avoiding the degradation of the sound image.
It’s not haunting me, this voice. This is not a visitation or a ‘presence’ in the sense that spiritualists might understand it. It feels more like a strong imprint, a good match, a reliable copy of the original, a kind of comforting image that persists with a purpose to held me together. In that persistence, in that clarity and intensity of the sound image, there is no body, no presence, but something else. What it is I cannot say, but I am grateful for it.