Notice

Chorality | The quality of speech being organized by multiple parties. Depending on whether its form is plural or unified, organized or spontaneous, chorality can either constitute subordination to a norm or the live creation of a subject for collective enunciation.

Our first example of chorality is paradoxical: it is an instance of collective prayer in an evangelical church. Alongside the steady hubbub of individuals brought together by a single activity (speaking to God), we can also hear people speaking or murmuring on their own. It is a minimal choral form, one in which individuals are separate and together all at once (see also Va y avoir du monde in the section on Affinity).

This collection will distinguish between two main types of chorality: unison, which can be produced in various ways; and distributed forms of speech, where one discourse is divided between several speakers. This distinction overlaps with another: preexisting collective discourses (ritualized or scripted) and those where choral speech spontaneously takes shape around a shared activity.

Unison

The most elementary form of chorality is certainly unison, where several individuals say the same thing at the same time. A simple way of producing unison is to request that a group imitate a main speaker setting the tone and example, like the head of the Pétainist youth with his disciples, an officiate with his flock, the leader of a group of fans, a school teacher with his students, or even a protester leading a chain of human amplification. Unison also takes root through custom and repetition, as in this ceremony held by a Californian cult.

Sometimes repetition is produced by training games rather than games of authority, as in this excerpt of Down by Law by Jim Jarmusch or in this wrestling scene. When the lead voice disappears or fades into the choral mass, the choir seems almost emancipated, as in the recitation of poetry or multiplication tables at school, in the “haka” chants of the All Blacks, or of course in certain theatrical performances.

A special case of chorality can be found in the example of a leader calling out to a group who responds with a different utterance. This can be heard at mass, in street protests, at the Guignol, in police shooting instruction sessions, in this witch hunt by the Monty Python.

A whole range of written modes of chorality can be heard in this action by the DurEs à Queer collective in Nantes in 2010: firstly, a form of unison (“Where are my rights”), then a form of speaking out, one by one, based on the same model (“I am a faggot where are my rights? I am a dyke where are my rights?”), followed by a collective response to a call (“What do we want? Equal rights!”).

Distributed chorality

Chorality can obviously take more subtle forms than unison. One very common mode is the distribution of a single discourse between two speakers. This is the case with comedy duos or troubadours, orators speaking with interpreters, hypnotists working in pairs, or even, more rarely, Jacques Rivette characters pretending to remember erotically shared childhood memories.

Dual composition seems most common in this kind of pre-established distribution (this is the case, incidentally, in prayer as we hear it, with a leader and a group that follows them). On the other hand, in freer, more everyday forms, distribution and ventilation can be shared between a highly variable number of speakers.

Emerging chorality

These forms of chorality are built on the present moment of speech: several people do the same thing together, each in their own way, while pushing what is being said in a shared direction, that is to say, while sharing an activity. In such cases, we can witness the emergence of a subject for collective enunciation.

These activities can be very diverse:

- learning or rehearsing, like these two-year-old children learning a poem with their parents; similarly, a collective of artists rehearsing a spoken-word choir, or even an actor and director recording a radio jingle (see also Tu me l’écris je peux p’têtre te dire).

- telling a story, like Marguerite Duras and Gérard Depardieu in Le Camion, or this couple recounting a vacation incident.

- observing or describing something, whether in the context of a safari, sports commentary, supervising dance rehearsals, or even in the preparation and simulation of stunts during patrol.

- answering someone else’s question together, like these old companions interviewed by a documentary filmmaker, the four members of Pink Floyd speaking in turn, filmmakers Straub and Huillet speaking in one voice, or these teenagers collectively building a definition of adolescence.

- improvising collective discourse, as in this performance by the W group, or even in this exchange between two babies.

- playing with listing synonyms, as in this excerpt of Masculin/Féminin by Jean-Luc Godard.

- defending or justifying one’s actions before an uncooperative worker, or in the face of a serious accusation that has allowed for the unified emergence of one’s girlfriends.
- thinking together, as in this meeting by the Encyclopédie de la parole.
- simply dining with friends to discuss a dish one may have cooked, or searching for descriptions and translations of ingredients.

Finally, a particularly elaborate representation of chorality which intertwines different speakers, texts, and languages: an excerpt from the play A-Ronne 2 by Luciano Berio.

Index

Un succès qui n’en finit pas

Excerpt from the radio show Une vie, une oeuvre, France Culture, 2016. 

Vous êtes prêts pour le décompte

Excerpt of the show Sur les Docks, France Culture, 2009.

There's a crocodile there too

Scene from a safari, excerpt of a YouTube video, 2007.

Red, blue and white, all right!

Cheerleading competition (TC Wiliams High School), excerpt of a YouTube video, 2010.

Où irait-elle ?

Marguerite Duras and Gérard Depardieu, excerpt of the film Le Camion by Marguerite Duras, 1977.

Mic check

Excerpt of a meeting held during Occupy Wall Street, 2011.

Le seigneur soit avec vous

Catholic liturgy, excerpt of the show La Messe, France Culture, 2011.

Le rossignol d'Aznavour

Jacky Bernard and Fernand Raynaud, excerpt of the recording Les secrets du music-hall dévoilés par Jacky Bernard published by Fernand Raynaud, 1965.

Le luxe

Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, excerpt of the film 6 Bagatelas by Pedro Costa and Thierry Lounas, 2001.