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    Both sides, now: voice, affect, and Thirdness

    Winning, Jo (2019) Both sides, now: voice, affect, and Thirdness. In: Charnock, R. (ed.) Joni Mitchell: New Critical Readings. London, UK: Bloomsbury, pp. 65-82. ISBN 9781501332098.

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    This essay seeks to understand the complex connections between voice, arrangement and affect in the recording history of one of Mitchell’s most notable songs, ‘ Both Sides Now.’ Written in March 1967, recorded first by Judy Collins on her 1967 album Wildflowers and then by Mitchell herself in 1969, on the album Clouds, the song was finally arranged and recorded in 2000 as the title track of the concept album Both Sides Now, a collection of Jazz standards co-produced with ex-husband Larry Klein, orchestrated by Vince Mendoza. This essay begins with a cultural case study, the deployment of the song by Richard Curtis in his 2003 film Love Actually. Curtis describes the emotional terrain of the song, focusing particularly on the voice which he argues shifts from ‘precocious’ youthful philosophising without sufficient grounds of maturity to a revisiting 30 years later with ‘the voice that has smoked a thousand cigarettes’. As if Mitchell has at this point, won her stripes, earned the right to vocalise experience, pain and loss and do so in a voice profoundly affected by life and age. What does it mean to talk about the song as moving, powerful, deeply felt, ultimately as affecting – saturated with affect – Mitchells’ affect – but also drawing out our own, as listeners? This essay considers the question of affect by examining both voice and orchestration, as well as the seeming binary opposition presented in the lyrical arc of the song. In Allen Sides’ mix, the voice is brought right forward so that our encounter with it is full, intimate, inescapable. Mitchell’s 57 year-old voice foregrounds the timbre of age, its tessitura having dropped radically, from head to chest, by an interval of a 4th and a key change from Gmaj to Dmaj. The 2000 version involves much less vocal production and loss of suppleness that the words at times appear almost spoken. In reading this production, I explore Mitchell’s vocalisation against the Sprechstimme style popularised by the Viennese vocalist Albertine Zehme. I also explore Vince Mendoza’s orchestration of the song, both in terms of aleatoric form (the arrangement as a swirling sound mass) and as a tone poem. Mendoza’s orchestral scaffolding for Mitchell’s voice via an aleatoric tone poem is of course entirely in keeping with the philosophical premise of the song, that clouds, love and life are unknowable, open to chance, that the most profound state of human subjectivity and experience is structured around loss and illusion. The essay concludes by arguing that in ‘Both Sides Now’, we see Mitchell’s refusal of the binary, in its place, her espousal of ‘both sides’, seen and understood. It is an invocation of the in-between. This might be a place to start to understand the affecting nature of this version of ‘Both Sides Now’ – certainly its affective power as it exists in the in-between Mitchell’s timbre and Mendoza’s tone poem. If we frame the notion of the in-between in psychoanalytic terms (specifically Jessica Benjamin), we come to the figure of the third, the experience beyond the binary of self and other, the notion of co-construction. The metaphor of music, particularly musical improvisation helps Benjamin conceptualise the complex transmission of affect that takes place between two human beings, the subtle ‘two-way traffic’ through affect is created and channeled. In these terms we might understand the affect as both Mitchell’s and our own, and yet also neither, both sides now; the song as shared space of a soundscape.


    Item Type: Book Section
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Creative Arts, Culture and Communication
    Depositing User: Jo Winning
    Date Deposited: 22 Jan 2020 13:00
    Last Modified: 09 Aug 2023 12:47

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