In 1985 Chloe Goodchild established ‘The Inner Voice’, a programme of sung and spoken communication and listening skills. The aim was to monitor the effect of the singing voice on the transformation of negative emotion into positive human qualities. Travelling to Africa and India, Chloe researched the interface between Western and Eastern Styles of vocal and creative self-expression. She developed a unique approach by using singing as a tool for mediation that incorporates contemplative and therapeutic listening skills and meditative movement that builds self-confidence and spontaneous creativity.
In 1990, whilst in India researching the poetry of human-divine love, Chloe had a direct encounter with her own true nature, or ‘soul’ voice. She named this sound ‘The Naked Voice’. She has researched this work in greater depth with her two co-facilitators – Masashi Minagawa, an international master of Shintaido, and Nicholas Twilley , a world percussionist.
Following her participation in an introductory four day workshop to The Naked Voice, Thérèse requested an interview with Chloe to hear more about her work and to bring something of the richness of The Naked Voice to a wider audience. At this meeting, they were joined by Nicholas.
Thérèse: My experience of doing ‘The Naked Voice’ workshop was that the rhythm of the workshop seemed to access places that, for me, a predominantly talking therapy doesn’t. It seemed to reach into the soul and access through the body a raw experience that allowed shifts to happen without having to use words to explain. I’d like to hear more.
Nicholas: At this moment in time, because of your experience, you have a frame of reference you’re working from that tells you that this touched your soul.
Chloe: I was fascinated by your presence in the group. My sense of you in the group was that you were listening at a very deep level, you were really absorbing a lot. That really is an essential part of the work, to listen with your whole body, heart and soul.
Where we listen from yields different levels of communication. From very self-conscious and largely untrusting, down to deeper levels of listening where there is more of a sense of trust and a safety but nevertheless a safe realm of intellectual intelligence. Then deeper down there is a quality of listening as between two people who have just fallen in love. The whole body is involved. That in a sense is starting to approach the quality of listening that’s going on in these workshops. It is like a love affair with yourself without the need for an outer object of love. People are in a naked place when there’s that feeling of love. The veils and barriers come down. In a Naked Voice workshop we want to know where this depth of concentration is coming from. From such a depth of listening, a field of unconditional awareness is established.
So Thérèse, placing you in that field, you were so receptive. I was aware of you absorbing a lot and not feeling the need to necessarily express a huge amount externally but your listening was nevertheless very loud. I was very aware of the depth of your listening. It’s a wise listening and it brings a real sincerity that builds a trust in the room without you having to do anything.
Nicholas: If someone is in trauma or the starting point is trauma, then the individual closes down for protection. If the soul or the awareness or the intelligence of the individual has been in a traumatic situation, it can’t be reasoned into a different place. The movement has to be experiential. What awakens the potential of a person from a traumatic field is to know the sound of that field which has the capacity to embrace the trauma. So there’s something between this state of love that Chloe’s inviting everybody to enter into in themselves and the individual who is coming from a place of trauma or being stuck.
Thérèse: During the workshop there were times when I had a sense of stuckness either as part of the group dynamic or for an individual. In observing you work with that Chloe, there seemed to be a natural movement or flow through the stuckness. For some therapy offers a space to tell the story, perhaps for the first time. But in the Naked Voice workshop I had a sense that the story itself was less important. There seemed to be a natural, sensitive move towards and flow beyond and into healing.
Chloe: I have spent a long time listening to people’s stories and realise that while there is always something hidden in their stories, there is the capacity to transform the storyline. Within the story is a treasure in every individual’s soul. However traumatised a human being is, our work is to explore the degree to which that treasure is left unharmed. We operate from the assumption that there’s something in the human spirit that cannot be harmed and cannot be destroyed by any amount of abuse or trauma.
At a workshop in Belfast I asked, ‘can you imagine using this work with victims of trauma, with the people you’re working with?’ A guy who had sat very held, suddenly let out this rip-roaring cry, almost like a vertical take-off that hit the ceiling. His whole body opened and it was just this incredible cry. Then he resumed his original body posture and carried on staring into space. I said, ‘wow, that was really amazing.’ He seemed surprised at himself and said, ‘this is really amazing work because that sound just got right behind my storyline.’
So we look at how the voice can be used in traumatic situations or with traumatised individuals. What I’m learning so far is that what people need initially is to be bathed in sound – what we call ‘the unchanging sound’ or ‘unconditional presence’. At this point, most don’t feel ready to even utter a sound. We need to build from simple beginnings. Every cell in the traumatised body needs to change and we need to go through a stage of very deep self-care in relation to this sound. Self-care and self-nourishment is an essential first doorway into this Naked Voice work for people who have been at a very profound level of trauma.
This listening capacity and the development of a listening field is absolutely essential to the work. When there are more than two or three people in a room where there is trust, safety and where there is quiet, any amount of magic can happen. The more I listen into whoever is in front of me, the more the person can come into a place of complete presence with themselves. And in that moment of presence with themselves there’s a metanoia, an inner turning. The reason we use the singing voice is that it is the most direct, healthy, and effective connection with oneself. It’s the most intimate vehicle of the human spirit
Nicholas: The moment an individual utters sound, there is a move out of a normal or habitual identity with themselves. The spoken voice reinforces a certain field of communication within and with others. It permits the exchange of ideas. As soon as the field of communication moves to a singing field you move the territory out of the every day world, out of the history of each person present in that moment. Suddenly you are in a place of all possibilities. The intelligence of the personality is awoken to something that was behind his/her story. A lot of our negotiation is between these realms, what we call the relative and absolute realities.
Chloe: We’re moving from a conceptual or intellectual intelligence, through and into an emotional intelligence, and again through the field of emotional intelligence into what you might describe as a spiritual or mystical intelligence – a soul intelligence or the intelligence of the self. I love to use the words, ‘the core self’ because this singing takes you directly to the core self.
Nicholas: So it’s quite like birth. At the outset it mirrors a lot of the whispering sounds that we make, the sounds of care around a new-born child. So you’re restoring the memory of the place of trust and innocence for the individual and they remember it. It’s very difficult for most individuals; that moment holds incredible memory. The cellular intelligence of the body holds that memory and will willingly go there again if you can steer it there or if you can be steered into it.
Chloe: At that point you’re accessing the essential authority of the human being. It’s a natural authority that is the right of every being.
Nicholas: There’s a wonderful coming together inside the psyche of an individual at that moment. Everyone is looking for this experience, knowingly or not. It is a moment of deep acceptance and internal unity.
Thérèse: Do you think that this coming together in the psyche can only happen through an integration of the elements that come together in The Naked Voice work – as in, sound, rhythm and movement? Or can this coming together in the psyche occur where perhaps only one or two elements are in the field of conscious awareness?
Chloe: In The Naked Voice we’re looking at the possibility of accessing a direct dialogue with one’s core self triggered by the integration of any of these media in the voice. The three of us, myself, Nicholas and Masashi are three quite stubbornly individualistic people. We are also three quite private people, three people who very much love their own space, but three people who have great love of human beings. We’re each very confident in our own respective worlds whereas twenty years ago we were looking and questioning and wondering who we were. We have been really quite driven by a sense of vocation, often against quite severe odds in terms of society’s recognition of it. Now it seems that we’ve created an integrated body of knowledge and understanding which is essentially grounded in unconditional love and a lot of humour. Humour is a really crucial dimension in this work. A lot of the transformation happens when there’s something very light in the work as well. Humour can be a very telling kind of music
Nicholas: For anyone working out of a position of trauma, there is firstly a process of licking one’s wounds. It’s like a cut. It’s going to take a certain amount of time for the whole cellular body to repair itself. But it can do it.
Chloe: We work from an understanding that has come out of an integration of Eastern and Western understanding inspired by the question ‘who am I? How attached am I to being the doer? As soon as voice is falling out of your mouth and you’re singing, the question just comes in so fast, ‘who was that? If I don’t know ‘who that was’ then, who am I and who is singing? A lot of self-enquiry goes on in this work. For someone who has been very traumatised, looking at the possibility that the trauma was a blessing to shock me into myself rather than out of myself can be an intense journey.
I’m very interested in investigating and challenging the whole notion that one’s family history is responsible for everything. James Hillman’s book. The Soul’s Code, highlights the lives of people who have had really abusive upbringings, who are shining radiant individuals. The Naked Voice loosens the historical paradigm that there is only a historical explanation for one’s condition.
Nicholas: Often a person holds onto a story because they don’t know where else to go. So the opening offered by the Naked Voice is a very real opening into nothingness which can be quite scary because there is huge uncertainty. Everything suddenly becomes possible but also that means everything therefore could collapse. Such experience can be a chamber of reflection that people can allow a new story to come in.
Chloe: The Naked Voice brings with it new tools of awareness for communication, and for developing resonance in the body. I’m thinking of the various maps that we use. In the Shintaido world, Masashi’s Shintaido maps assist the body to recreate the five phases of your life from birth; reaching your highest aspirations, realising your ideal, managing and developing your vision in the world and then completion by offering it up and returning back to nothing again.
Nicholas: The positive role of trauma and the positive role of shock, is to see that trauma is like a note. It has a resonance and it keeps on echoing. When Chloe invites the repetition of the seven scale notes a density can build up. This can start to overwhelm the density and the mass of the old notes as they were.
Chloe: Vibrational maps can help the individual to go to a certain place in the body and work with that through sound. The traumas of our lives are the music. They create a certain music however appalling. Then we explore with anger or rage what happens when you actually sound trauma. This is very powerful energy of anger that is often left in a negative place. However, if you actually start to welcome it, actually go into it and engage with it as music, it has its own way of transforming itself into something that really serves and strengthens the individual. So then you move into the realm of musical homeopathy where the sound itself becomes almost a homeopathic medicine that accesses the wisdom that is within and behind the pain. Pain is an incredible music and somehow the antidote of that pain can be accessed very fast through the sounding. I can’t say exactly what is actually happening except that there is a spiritual intelligence in the body that knows how to transform pain through sound.
Thérèse: Something that strikes me as I listen to both of you is your relationship with humour. There seems to be a humour or lightness attached to this approach that can be absent in other approaches.
Chloe: I invite participants to accept their own willingness to play without any attachment to the outcome.
Nicholas: Humour is really enabling and can take the weight out of the depth of the material.
Chloe: Sound is so extraordinary. When I think of when we were in Belfast with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, there were a lot of different levels of tension presenting collectively and personally. Our practice was simply to keep repeating the chant, ‘To Tara.’ In Ireland Tara is a sacred place and in the Buddhist world Tara is the Goddess of compassion. So there was a sense of meeting between these two worlds. To my fascination, the more we sang this chant the more all the tension of the situation started mellowing. I remember the paramilitary looking really official and twenty minutes later they had lowered their guns a little and were just trying to listen to the music. The children who were supposed to be throwing stones were singing with us. And those in wheelchairs, some of them victims of the war, were singing. In a rare moment of unity together, His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived with the catholic and protestant leaders. They both had beards and His Holiness was standing in between them holding and shaking their beards as he drew them together. In no time they were laughing together and with this came a releasing of fear; the most basic fear of all, the fear of death itself, the fear of our own death, of our own mortality.
Chloe Goodchild studied Music English and Education at Cambridge University. Chloe is a singer, performer, educator and communications consultant. In May 2004, The Naked Voice became a Charitable Foundation, ‘established to promote the moral and mental improvement of humanity’.
Nicholas Twilley is a world percussionist and has an MA in Music and Fine Arts. www.thenakedvoice.com