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Love at First Sound
Some time ago one of us was a guest on a television program in Cleveland, and Julie London, the singer and actress, was another guest on the same program. We talked a bit while waiting in the Green Room and became quite friendly. A few weeks later, flipping the television dial, we heard Julie London delivering a commercial for a popular beauty product. The extremely sexy voice she used was not the voice of the woman in the Green Room-and yet it certainly was Julie London. Had her voice been dubbed?
No-it became apparent she had simply lowered her register, resonated from her chest instead oh her head, and achieved a husky, sensuous quality- clearly calculated to exert a Sexual Chemistry on any male viewer. This was slightly paradoxical, because the users of the beauty product were women.
However, advertising, in this area, often seems to display this same paradox: a beautiful woman establishes a sexual chemistry with men to sell products designed for women, or a handsome man projects the same chemistry while huckstering a man's product. The answer, of course, is identification. Women identify with the sexy-voiced Julie London, just as men might identify with the handsome male model.
Watching Julie London led us to begin studying the vocal delivery of women news commentators on television, and it soon became apparent that those women who had managed to lover their registers and get rid of the nasal quality and high-pitched tones of their voices were more successful.
The voice has the power to communicate over and Beyond The Spoken Word the meaning of the words we use. A loud voice can signal any one of a number of things -anger, strength, authority, stress, fear-while a soft voice signals conspiracy, intimacy, secrecy, gentleness, or fear, too.
The words we speak have additional elements that shape and modulate them and add a tremendous amount to their meaning. It's not uncommon to have strong feelings for a disembodied voice; in fact, people have fallen in Love and the Amphetamines with voices. A friend of ours, a ham radio enthusiasts, told us that he met his wife by radio.
"She was from Nova Scotia and we met by ham radio. She was a bug about it too, and we'd talk half the night away. there was something about her voice- it always seemed to have a little laugh behind it, and she had that delightful Nova Scotia accent.
"Of course, there was the way she thought, too- we were both on the same wavelength- but in the final analysis it was her voice, soft, buttery, and with that little hint of amusement. 'This has to be one hell of a lady,' I decided, and on my next vacation I decided to go biking in Nova Scotia and meet her."
"And were you disappointed?"
"Not a bit. I was really in love before we met, and once we got together everything fell into place. We were married four months later. "
The Keeping Sexual Chemistry Alive between these two was ignited over a long distance without either seeing the other, and if we have any doubt that radio, projecting the voice alone, can do this, ask any popular radio figure how many marriage proposals he or she receives, how many effulgent fan letters, how many declarations of love. Indeed, sometimes the elimination of everything except the voice can make the sexual attraction stronger and more intense.
Let Me Count The Ways
Let's consider some of the ways in which the voice can carry its message. First of all, there is the emotional overlay. No matter what our words are. , the emotion behind them carries a message. It can be harsh, gentle raucous, pleasant, sarcastic, wheedling, shining, or any one of hundreds of others.
A friend with a daughter at college tells us that when she calls home he knows from the first two or three words whether or not there's a problem. "A whine usually means she's going to ask for money. A flat, depressed tone tells me things are going wrong with the boyfriend, a defensive note that she isn't doing well with her subjects. A high, bright overlay says everything is fine. Her voice, no matter what she says, is the true barometer of her feelings. "
That overlay can also be the spark that ignites sexual chemistry in a new acquaintance. Take Allison. At a typical large cocktail party where everyone is sizing each other up, Allison selects her target for the evening, a man who appeals to her for one reason or another. she comes up to him and says, "Hi. I'm Allison," and he looks up with quick interest, and you can see that something is starting to percolate.
Just what did Allison do to capture his attention so quickly? To begin with, her "Hi" was breathy, drawn out, almost two Labeling, and it ended on a rising note, a bright sort of promise. Her "Allison" went down the scale, a warm announcement of her own identity. The three words are packaged in a complex manner, and there is a metameaning in them, a meaning above their actual meaning. You interest me. We could have a good time together.
In answer to Allison, the man she approaches says, "Well, hello there!" and the three words- the drawn-out "Well," the upward inflection of "hello there' -send out a message of pleased discovery. How great to find someone like you.
Every statement we make carries some sort of metameaning that adds a different dimension to our words. With the daughter calling home from college, it told what her real feelings were. With Allison, it was a heady promise of a lot of fun. With Elaine, a no-nonsense type at the same party, the message is very different. Elaine, when she meets someone, will say, "Hi. I'm Elaine," but her "Hi" is short and direct, and "I'm Elaine" is a statement of fact with no attendant frills. Her metamessage is straightforward- Take me for what I'm worth- with no fancy promises.
Will Elaine's metacommunication start the same spark that Allison's did? Only if the man she approaches happens to like straightforward women. But Elaine wouldn't want any other kind of man, so her direct message serves its purpose.
In turn he responds to her opening with "So you're Elaine. " It's said without the artificial inflection of the man who responded to Allison. It's a simple acknowledgment, but his choice of words gives what he says a sense of appreciation, as if Elaine were someone he wanted to meet, and it is also reflection of her identity, an assurance that this will be a no-nonsense meeting. The groundwork has been laid for sexual chemistry of a different sort.
These metamessages run through everything we say. Listen to an adult talk to a bay and you realize that it's less the sense of what's being said that's important than the manner of saying it. out voices usually change when we talk to very young child. Sometimes we lapse into baby talk, meaningless syllables, or simply noises. The words mean nothing at all; the metamessage in our voice, the caressing and soothing sounds, penetrate to the baby's consciousness.
But the metamessage in our voice works on adults, too. How many husbands and wives go through the "I'm not angry" routine while their voice drip with controlled fury? And how many children pick up the annoyance and distance in their parent's voices during these "discussions" that aren't really "fights"? "We never quarrel in front of the children," but the children know. No matter how neutral the worlds are, the packaging of the words comes out as cutting and cruel.
The packaging, the metacommunication, can be an emotional overlay, but it can also be a cultural bias. To an American, an accent different from his own can spell out a variety of things and send out a variety of messages. A young man who attended a coed camp when he was younger told us that he developed a terrible crush on a young lady because of her Southern accent. "It seemed so-well, sexy. That drawl caressed each word, and I used to get hot just thinking of her whispering sweet nothings to me. The hell of it all was that I discovered that she was no more Southern than I was. She had gone to a college down South for one semester and had come back with that sexy drawl. It didn't matter. I was ready to play along with her fantasy!"
The fantasy is what really affects any of us when we hear a regional or a foreign accept. This young man fantasized a Southern drawl as sexy through the sex therapy . A young woman we know found a French exciting. "It just turns me on. I saw an old Charles Boyer movie on TV the other night, and I was just wiped out! And Belmondo! What he does to me. . "
For others the turn-on is an Italian accent, or a Spanish one. Very rarely is a German accept considered sexy. It usually symbolizes humor, the crazy professor, the loony scientist. But of course there's always Marlene Dietrich. In the end, it's a combination of how the accent is delivered and your own inner world of fantasy.
A cultivated English accent can signal, among other things, intelligence and sex education . A businessman we know insists on hiring English women for receptionists. "They give the place class," he confided. "I've had customers tell me that a voice like that on the phone changed their entire attitude about the company. "
The accent in a voice cannot only change one's attitude, it can also trigger release of the chemicals that buzz your brain, just as easily as a pretty or handsome face. A poll of American servicemen taken during World War II showed that among those who dated English girls, the accent was as strong a factor as any other single element in exciting their interest.