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A shout, scream, yell, shriek, hoot, holler, vociferation, outcry, or bellow is a loud vocalisation in which air is passed through the vocal folds with greater force than is used in regular or close-distance vocalisation. This process can be performed by any creature possessing lungs, including humans. There are slight differences in meaning amongst them; for example, "scream" and "shriek" generally refer to a higher-pitched, sharp sound, used by some birds and other animals, and a "hoot", such as emitted by an owl, usually does not involve words.

A scream is often an instinctive action, with a strong psychological aspect, like fear, pain, surprise, joy, anger and others.

As a phenomenon

In psychology

In psychology the scream is an important theme in the theories of Arthur Janov. In his Book The Primal Scream, Janov claims that the cure for neurosis is to confront the patient with his suppressed pain resulting from an experienced trauma. This confrontation gives birth to a scream. Janov believes that it is not necessary that it heals the patient from his trauma. The scream is only a form of expression of primal pain, which comes from one’s childhood, and the reliving of this pain and its expression. This finally appears through the scream and can cure the patient from his neurosis.

Janov describes the primal scream as very distinctive and unmistakable. It is a “strangely low, rattling and involuntary sound. […] Some people are moaning, groaning and are coiling themselves up. […] One screams as result of all the other times when it had to stay still, was making fun of, was humiliated or was beaten up”.[1] Janov also says that the primal scream has series of reactions; “the patients that could not even say “piep” at home, suddenly feels powerful. The scream seems to be a liberating experience”.[2] Janov noticed this with all his patients. Women who seem to have baby-voices during the therapy are developing with their primal scream a very low voice.

Scream as focus of power

Gregory Whitehead, founder of the Institute for Screamscape Studies, believes that the voice is used to focus the power: “scream used to be a psychological weapon both for you and against your opponent […] it raises confidence to the person using it. Creating power with yell is having to affect someone without touching them”.[3] In this case screaming is a protective weapon, as also often used by animals, who scream as an expression of power or during fights with another animals.

Pleasure scream

Screaming is also a means of expressing pleasure. Studies on monkeys have shown that when female monkeys scream during sex, it helps the male ejaculate. An approximation of 86 percent of the times, where female monkeys screamed during sexual encounter, brought a 59 percent of success rate, in comparison to the 2 percent, without the female-scream.[4]

Gayle Brewer of the University of Central Lancashire and Colin Hendrie of the University of Leeds made a similar research with women, that shows that women also do scream often during intercourse as an encouragement for their partner to do ‘’a better job’’.[5]

Birth scream

Gregory Whitehead defines the giving birth scream as a yes scream,[6] because it expresses an opening into the world for a new human who begins life by screaming. Women describe this scream as unpremeditated and a reaction to the surprise of the baby’s head coming out. Some actually call this moment orgasmic pleasure.

This moment is considered by most women to be very euphoric, that apparently some women are screaming of pain, pleasure and enthusiasm at the same time.

Ina May Gaskin, one of the biggest promoters of the natural birth, is also encouraging women to make out with their man during birth as this helps their state of mind.[citation needed]

Reni Celeste, film philosopher and publisher, notes about Michel Chion, composer, that he “locates the scream in the voice of the female and compares it to the female orgasm. The male, he explains, does not scream, he shouts. The shout marks territory, exercising will and structure. Tarzan shouts. The female scream reaches the infinite, it is a sound or cry at the brink of death. The male shout structures, the female scream opens a black hole to the limitless. The male director seeks to master the scream but he cannot-just as the female cannot herself master the scream. It exceeds control of both genders. In the scream speech reaches utter silence”.[7]

First scream

Janov believes that for babies, screaming is the only form of communication he or she can have; it is the only way a baby can express his necessities, that he needs food, he is in pain or he simply needs some love. Janov writes, “screaming is a language – a primitive one, but a human language”.[8]

Communication and language

Diana König, journalist and broadcasting author, writes: “If the scream of babies is their first communication method, then the scream of adults is a recession from communication. By screaming, in the opposite of calling, the voice becomes overloaded and over-amplified, and it loses its control, its fundamental sound”.[9] The scream is there before language and it appears where the language reaches its limits.

Allen S. Weiss, writer, notes: “The scream reveals the chaotic depths of linguistic and vocal systems”.[10] The use of the term “chaotic” makes assimilations to uncontrol or not wanting to control and that, as a vocal expression, is related to scream.

Elaine Scarry, writer and literature professor, talks about language in connection to pain and she thinks that pain almost destroys the language because it brings people back into a state where sounds and screams are dominating as they were their means of communication before they learned how to speak. Pain cannot actually be communicated, as it is a personal experience and can only be experienced individually. Pain, as any other concept, is actually an individual experience that can only be communicated as an idea and it also is to be interpreted as. Hegel writes: “The biggest relief when having pain is to be able to scream it out […] through this expression, the pain becomes objective and this makes the connection between the subject, who is alone in pain, and the object, that is not in pain.”[11]



The Scream (Norwegian: Skrik) is the popular name given to each of four versions of a composition, created as both paintings and pastels, by the Expressionist artist Edvard Munch between 1893 and 1910. Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature) is the title Munch gave to these works, all of which show a figure with an agonized expression against a landscape with a tumultuous orange sky. Arthur Lubow has described The Scream as "an icon of modern art, a Mona Lisa for our time."[12]


In music there are long traditions of scream in rock, punk rock, heavy metal, rock and roll and emo music. Vocalists are developing various techniques of screaming that results in different ways of screaming. In rock and metal music singers are developing very demanding guttural and growled sounds.

Scream is also used predominant as an esthetic element in “cante jondo”, a vocal style in flamenco. The name of this style is translated as “deep sing”. The origins of flamenco and also of its name are still not clear. Flamenco is related to the gypsies’ music and it is said to have appeared in Andalusia in Spain. In cante jondo, that is a subdivision of flamenco, which is considered to be more serious and deep, the singer is reduced to the most rudimentary method of expression, which is the cry and the scream. Ricardo Molima, a Spanish poet, wrote "flamenco is the primal scream in its primitive form, from a people sunk in poverty and ignorance. Thus, the original flamenco song could be described as a type of self-therapy.” [13]

David N. Green, musician, writer and composer, wrote in 1987 an essay about musicians using screams as a singing technique in music. He makes the distinction between harmonic scream that relates to the harmony of the music and has components of tonality, the true scream that is atonal, the lyrical scream that is related with the song’s lyrics and the pure scream that is not. The harmonic scream is the scream that is still very clear and has a defined pitch and that I actually relate to a fake scream, as it has no great disturbance, the lyrical scream that is related to words, most of the time swearing and the pure scream or the true scream, that in this case can also be called as the real scream or the primal scream.[14]

Scream in music can also be seen in other ways than just a vocal action. Many musicians use scream as an inspirational source for their playing with instruments. This is usually represented in a loud hit on the instrument’s chords, in the case of the instruments that have chords, or a loud striking note, on the blowing instruments.

Sound art

Pressure of the unspeakable [15] is a radio feature work by Gregory Whitehead. Initiated in 1991 the project started with the founding of the Institute of the Screamscape studies where people were asked through radio and television to call on a hot line and scream. Whitehead notes: “In addition to framing the nervous system, the telephone-microphone-tape-recorder-radio circuitry also provided the key for the acoustic demarcation of pressure in the system: distortion, the disruption of digital codes, pure unmanageable noise. The scream as an eruption in excess of prescribed circuitries, as capable of “ blowing” communications technologies not designed for such extreme and unspeakable meanings”.[16]

Whitehead gathered slowly an archive of screams that was edited and resulted in a theoretical narrative radio feature. Allen S. Weiss notes about his work that “the screamscape lies beyond any possible determination of authenticity”.[17] The people’s vociferations are just manifestations that through their anonymity create a sense of togetherness.


Actors are taught from the beginning of their careers how to scream correctly. They learn how to awaken that uncomfortable feeling in the listener without necessarily having to have any psychological attachment.

Antonin Artaud has a very moving and rough life story that is strongly reflected in his work. He suffered from clinical depression from a young age which resulted in having a lifelong opium addiction, was often in different asylums and psychiatric hospitals where he often had electro-shock therapy, and was described as having schizophrenia. He died at the age of fifty-one alone in a psychiatric clinic.

Artaud is most known for his Theater of Cruelty. He thought that the only way to make the viewer feel something, to produce a break in the false reality that one is living in, is by creating extreme images and sounds on the stage to stir powerful emotions and expressions. His theater was to be an “antinaturalist, antirealist, antipsychological theater, where screams, cries, groans, and all of the dissonant sounds of the human body would bear equal importance with the spoken word”.[18] This is why for Artaud the scream has played a very important role.

Pierre Boulez talks about Artaud’s importance also in the musical field at that time: “The name of Artaud immediately comes in mind when questions of vocal emission or the dissociation of words and their explosion are evoked; an actor and poet, he was naturally provoked by the material problems of interpretation, just like a composer who plays or conducts. I am not qualified to thoroughly investigate Artaud’s language, but I can find in his writings the fundamental preoccupations of current music; having heard him read his own texts, accompanying them with screams, noises, rhythms, he showed us how to achieve a fusion of sound and word, how to splash out the phoneme when the word no longer can, in short, how to organize delirium. What nonsense and what an absurd of alliance of terms, you’ll say! Would you believe only in the vertigo of improvisation and the power of an ‘elementary’ sacralization? More and more, I imagine that to effectively create this we must consider delirium and, yes, organize it.”[19]

To have done with the judgment of god was Artaud's last written work that was recorded by him for the French radio in 1947. One day before it was scheduled, the director of the radio prohibited it for strong anti-religious and anti-American reasons. This action resulted in a long after debate that also continued after Artaud’s death, which happened one month after. The piece consists of intensive texts with interludes of instrumental and vocal improvised sounds and screams. Allen S. Weiss writes about Artaud’s scream: “the scream is the expulsion of an unbearable, impossible internal polarization between life’s forces and death’s negation, simultaneously signifying and simulation creation and destruction […] scream, as a nonmaterial double of excrement, may be both expression and expulsion, a sign of birth creation and frustration […] the scream is the desublimation of speech into the body, in opposition to the sublimation of body into meaningful speech”.[20] The extreme character of the scream has a life danger element that stands for denying of death. In Artaud’s case, a person that was always very close to death and has been calling himself so ever since having strong shock therapies, the scream represents exactly this border between life and death, creation and destruction, of art work and of oneself. Artaud’s screams are mostly related to words. The small interludes that are in between the texts parts sometimes contain screams.

Performance art

In performance art there is a big tradition of pain as a way of communication. Pain is used as an image. The performer is developing this image throughout his action, making it in the same time more and more painful and more and more shocking for the viewer. Although pain is strongly related to scream, as scream is the means of communication for it, performers mostly try to repress screams out of pain in their performances. Some performance artists use screaming as element in their performances for the purpose of demonstrating a concept.

Marina Abramovic used scream as an element in different performances: together with Ulay in AAA AAA, the two are facing each other and are gradually screaming louder and louder while getting closer and closer to each other's face, until they both lose their voice; Freeing the voice, where Abramovic is staying with her head upside down and screaming till she is left with no voice anymore.

Another artist that used scream in one of his works is Absalon. The artist worked mainly with spaces and designed small living very geometrical spaces for humans. He also exhibited small models, drawings, paintings and video works. One of his video works consists in him looking at the camera and screaming.

Other aspects


Some people, when arguing begin to raise their voices to the point that they are screaming at each other in anger while continuing their debate exchange. Terminology includes "shouting match".


Drill instructors frequently shout orders at trainees to train recruits into the military culture whilst fostering obedience and expedience.

Audio level

The volume levels of outcries may be very high, and this has become an issue in the sport of tennis, particularly with regards to Maria Sharapova's loud tennis grunts which have been measured as high as 101.2 decibels.[21] The loudest verified scream emitted by a human measured 129 dBA, a record set by teaching assistant Jill Drake in 2000.[22]

See also


  1. Janov, Arthur (1970). The Primal Scream. New York. p. 90.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Janov, Arthur (1970). The Primal Scream. New York.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Gregory Whitehead quote from the Radio Play “Pressures of the unspeakable”; Sydney, 1992
  6. Gregory Whitehead quote from the Radio Play Pressures of the unspeakable”; Sydney, 1992
  7. Reni Celeste originally published in “Quarterly Review of Film and Video”, 2005,
  8. Janov, Arthur (1991). The New Primal Scream; Primal Therapy 20 Years on. Wilmington, DE. p. 336.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. König, Diana (2011). Das Subjekt der Kunst: Schrei, Klange und Darstellung. Bielefeld.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Weiss, Allen S. (1995). Phantasmic Radio. Durham and London. p. 83.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Michel, Karl Markus (1988). Von Engeln, eulen und Sirenen. Frankfurt am Main. p. 380.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Arthur Lubow, Edvard Munch: Beyond The Scream, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2006, (retrieved 29 March 2013)
  13. Molina, Ricardo (1967). Misterios del Arte Flamenco.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Weiss, Allen S. (1995). Phantasmic Radio. Durham and London. p. 81.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Weiss, Allen S. (1995). Phantasmic Radio. Durham and London. p. 84.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Weiss, Allen S. (1995). Phantasmic Radio. Durham and London. p. 18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Boulez, Pierre (1966). Releves d’apprenti. Paris. p. 62.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Weiss, Allen S. (1995). Phantasmic Radio. Durham and London. p. 24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Tennis grunters told to stop the racket, by Linda Pearce, The, retrieved December 19, 2007
  22. "Classroom assistant pierces world record for loudest scream". October 27, 2000.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>