The Screaming Fields

Zoom class of people screaming, dog staring at its owner worriedly as she screams into a pillow

It’s been a year since the world got assimilated onto this “Ronacoaster.” I researched some about what happens to the body when you scream. What is the true function of screaming? I turned my findings into something you can use. You have permission to scream if you need to.

I’d like to express my gratitude for all the people who’ve powered us through 2020-1:  healthcare workers, essential workers, all those whose work is “now seen.” I am so thankful for them and the perils they faced putting their lives at risk to simply “go to work.”

May we use what we learned and from what culminated with Coronavirus to correct the systemic inequities we are all part of and still contributing to.

The following years promise a blended reality along with 2020’s awakenings. This post is also a tribute to those who are still here, those who lost their loved ones, those who are still home isolated and trying to protect their health as they await the vaccine. You may still want –very much– to scream. These 6 minutes are to say “I hear you!”

To listen to this episode as a podcast, search for Agile Vocalist wherever you get your podcasts.

Listened to the episode and now you’re ready to play?

Ahhh, yes! Click below to visit the interactive audio map.

interact button, clickable

It’s just as fulfilling as a scream, but with less anxiety created (at least a bit more predictable).

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I get the sense there is more to discover about screaming. Maybe for Halloween? What do you think?

Agile Vocalist Compact Audio Memoir Transcript

Rachel Medanic:  It’s okay to want to scream, really. For most of us, give or take a few weeks, it’s been a year since we were all assimilated onto the Rona coaster. That’s one of the many terms I use to describe COVID 19. For the past month, my husband’s been working on a song with the Oakland Jazz Chorus, virtually. In other words, he’s wearing headphones and singing together with folks using a hardware solution that bridges the internet gap. That gap keeps people from singing together with their friends on the internet. It’s called JackTrip. We’ll talk about it in a future episode.

One of the chorus members has rewritten a song from 1980. I’m not at liberty to tell you what song, that in one part, my husband’s part for the bass, he exclaims loudly, “Socks.” However, our house is small, so sometimes when the earworm moments of these rehearsals come back to me, like when I’m doing dishes, I’ll parakeet his part loudly:  Sucks. It helps to move through feelings. It’s also an inside joke that makes my daughter giggle.

Speaker 2:  Sucks.

Rachel: As a sound curator, I’m obliged to inadvertently notice things like where to go to be silent, or at least be truly alone.


There is such a place in my town, Oakland, California. It’s a secret that’s not shared widely. It’s called The Screaming Fields. It’s a place where you can go and not be heard. The Screaming Fields are walled in by sound that ebbs and flows. It’s a place surrounded by the noise of surrounding traffic. Traffic is unpredictable for creating a place where you can’t be heard. I had to go check it out myself, just to see if it was real. The Screaming Fields raises an existential question, does a sound that no one hears exist? There’s a song I love about this called The Druid Song. It’s by a favorite acapella group of mine called The Bobs.

You’ve heard the expression, if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? Well, in The Druid Song, there’s a verse of the song that goes like this, [singing]

“If a tree falls in the forest, do we care if we’re not there? If a tree falls listen, only air if we’re not there.”

It’s off their album, Coaster, you should definitely check it out. Like the zaghareet, which I’ve written about and demoed here previously, screaming encompasses a body of types of expression that have multiple meanings. Screaming as a word gets a pretty bad rep. Its definition is subjective. Who you are, how you scream, volume, how you were raised-that’s a huge one for me.

I feel like screaming serves many purposes. Surprise, fear, joy, anger, frustration, delight, pain. And what about exhilaration and emotional arousal? Anyone remember Howard Dean getting dinged for politically screaming at the microphone?

Howard Dean political really audio recording:  “….take back the White House. YAH!!”

Let’s get back to you and permission to scream. I was recently attending an exercise class where we began our workout with screaming. We were told, “Go get a pillow.” Go get a pillow, I’ll wait. Really, you think mostly podcasts, blog casts can’t be interactive? Work with me. You know you need this. While I wait, the rest of you that I know are blowing me off right now can stare at this cute screenshot image of one of my classmates’ dog.

Her dog made this funny expression as she watched her owner scream into a pillow. Afterward, there was a lot of deep sniffling and investigation of that pillow that had been screamed into. “What did that pillow do to my mom?” Better yet, what are you doing to your pillow now?

Here’s what I found. First off, there’s a new COVID test you can take by screaming, thanks to a Dutch inventor. Great, remind all the vocalists and sound makers out there that we are super spreaders. Thank you so much. Second, there was some other research done by an NYU professor on scream science.

It measured the qualities of screaming compared to normal conversation. They looked at volume and analyzed how volunteers’ brains responded to hearing screaming. Screaming gets processed differently than other sound. Normally, hearing a sound is sent to a part of the brain that then has to make sense of the signals, but instead, screams go from the ear to the amygdala where the brain processes fear. Screams get processed as a signal for us to heighten our awareness.

The research defines screaming as between 30 and 150 Hertz, and the higher the sound variation, the more terrifying the scream is perceived as. The role of screaming is to convey danger and make the listener afraid and even more aware of things they should respond to in their environment. In my quest to find cool things that gave screaming a more broad scope and pull it out of fear and surprise, I found something far better from the friendly neuroscience researchers at UC Berkeley.

[Emotion sounds. Various types of screams or sounds of surprise]

They found that the human voice can communicate 24 emotions. 24? Just 24?

For our post-scream listening pleasure, they also put together an interactive audio map of nonverbal communication. Brush your cursor quickly over this. It’s super fun to go fast and to dwell in the emotions that are most intriguing.


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