Notice

Residue | Speech elements seen as superfluous or secondary, such as hesitation, stuttering, grumbling, mouth noises, tongue clicks, or breathing—though one can also see residue as a form of resistance and a mark of singularity in speech.

Which speech elements can be described as residual? Signs of hesitation, stammering and stuttering, breathing, vocal tics devoid of semantic value, lisps, excessive spacing, unpredictable diction speed, etc. Though sometimes pathological in nature, these elements are like parasites to a communication norm we can only but imagine. Indeed, speech without residue would be “transparent” speech devoid of bothersome asperities, whose only function (transmitting information) would limit its form and reach.

Three main themes make up this collection: parasites, accidents, and punctuation. The idea of residue is a paradoxical one, caught between intentionality, accident, and value judgment—something which is not as superfluous as it appears to be.

Parasites

When presenting someone at a gathering, I must be as precise possible. In this clip, a woman is tasked with presenting a researcher, but for reasons that are difficult to understand, she is incapable of constructing her discourse clearly. It becomes parasitized with hesitations and a proliferation of the term “so,” (donc) which appears to function somewhere between a vocal tic and a form of phatic recovery (see also Alors d’abord sur en fait, Suivre le mouvement des associations, and Ces pulsions de haine affreuse).

Residue can also be caused by an articulatory problem, whether produced by the ingestion of substances, like David Hasselhoff speaking with his daughter (see also If you actually go there, The biggest in the world), or by a more or less incapacitating pathology (see Ai-le-ron, Le côté, l’enfance, Tous les matins, Une chose enfantine, and La pensée libérale pure et simple).

But parasitic residue can paradoxically dramatize certain instances of speech. This is the case with Erwan, a player in the reality television show Secret Story. It is a process which allows one to make listeners wait while gathering one’s thoughts, like this hypnosis session a speaker tries to reconstruct by using extended spacing, tongue clicks, and onomatopoeia. In an interview for the Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française, Louis-Ferdinand Céline produces continuous speech while softening his point with breathing and murmurs, sounding like Brigitte Fontaine play with melody and timbre. Parasitization can also be used deliberately, as in this interview where Charles Manson uses residue’s capacity for blurring speech to produce a willfully incomprehensible form of discourse.

Accidents

If I am to teach something to someone, I must be understood by the audience I am speaking to. A speaker recorded at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales stammers for several tens of seconds, hesitates, tries to pull himself together, and ends by fearing his audience might take him for a “strange crazy person.” The comedic effect of this accident is something like the public announcement of someone’s death.

Residue can also be caused by a certain form of linguistic incompetence, as when artist Cédric Anglaret asks a Russian speaker to read Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s novel Mort à Crédit aloud. The speaker, who does not understand what he is reading, tries to read the text in wholly phonic terms, which he can only approximate. Articulating certain sounds is difficult for him because he cannot anticipate the sound of what he is reading in the same way a French speaker would. His pronunciation criteria are mostly determined by his own language, Russian (see also Veu wreu rah n'importe quoi).

Punctuation

Certain examples have led us to view residue as a resource (see the entry on Punctuation). The fact that a word is repeated and immediately considered to be parasitic (with regards to a syntactic or semantic ideal) does not stop it from serving as a crutch to someone’s speech. Such is the case in this excerpt, where American artist Dan Graham’s strongly cadenced speech makes recurrent use of the mark of hesitation “ahm.” This mark is always the same: the persistent “ahm” functions as a kind of continuous bass, to use a musical metaphor, a great bell from which intelligible speech can emerge. In pragmatic terms, this case shows us how speech can be founded, and made possible, by residue. Indeed, Dan Graham has a stutter. He must set down this residue in order for his words to take shape. Michael Richards uses this same “ahm” to find the right tone and words for apologizing after an on-stage rant (see also Ces pulsions de haine affreuse).

Residue aestheticization

Lastly, residue can be the basis for entertainment (see also Tchic tchic dah, Y’a deux genres de mec, Moi, qu’est-ce que j’ai comme blé ?). It can also be reconfigured as an aesthetic object, as in this show, or in the Sequenza III for a woman’s voice.

Index

Ummm...

Paul Dutton, excerpt of the album Mouth Pieces : Solo Soundsinging, 2000.

Il avait un salon tapissé d’astrakan

Serge Gainsbourg, excerpt from an interview on the radio, France Culture, 1982

Ai-le-ron

Scene from a rehabilitation process, YouTube video, 2008.

Veu wreu rah n'importe quoi

Excerpt of a personal recording by Gauthier Tassart, 2007.

The biggest in the world

Michael Jackson, excerpt of a voicemail message, 2009.

Sauf sur un point

Marc Kravetz, excerpt of the show Les Matins, France Culture, 2007.

I'm from New York

Dan Graham, excerpt of the film Dan Graham: Beyond by Anat Ebgi and Aaron Brewer, 2009.