Monday, September 12, 2005

the beauty of a voice

I just finished watching a Sci-Fi Channel Cable in the Classroom program about war and propaganda, using Sci-Fi's hit series Battlestar Galactica as the way of exploring a fictional war, and the propaganda used by both sides. It was narrated by Edward James Olmos, in Spanish. I understood a few words here and there, but mostly just listened to his narration. The interviews with the actors and producer were in English (no dubbing), as were the clips from the miniseries, subtitled in Spanish. Not textbook Spanish as I remember it, but I'm guessing colloquial Mexican/North American Spanish.

On a brief aside, I know full well that Mexican/North American Spanish is different from South American Spanish, in subtle ways. I read languages better than I speak or hear them, so I could tell from the subtitles of the English dialouge that it was not textbook Spanish from Spain, which is what I learned so many years ago. If I try to speak Spanish, it's ugly. It's this awful French/Spanglish mix that I know butchers all languages involved, so I rarely try. My French is passable, so I try to speak, IM in it.

I don't know which language is Olmos's first language, or if he learned both at the same time. It realy doesn't matter, I can tell he has mastered the English language, and assume he has done the same with whatever form of Spanish he speaks. It wasn't until I couldn't understand most of what he was saying, that I could appreciate the beauty of his voice. The pitch and timbre, the melodic quality of his voice. Olmos's voice is rough around the edges, the sound of a mature man, one who has lived life and still has many years before him, while also having a mellow undertone, finely aged and smooth. You could almost can hear his life coming through, joys and sorrows, triumphs and defeats. It is a voice I could listen to for hours, in whatever language he spoke, and probably regardless of the subject.

Narration, whether it be for a TV show, or the retelling of a story, is a way that lets someone's true vocal qualities shine in a way dialouge cannot. One or two sentences can't capture the true quality of someone's voice, you need to hear them speak for several minutes uninterrupted. It's even better if you can't understand the language, because then you only hear the pure voice.

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