The woman with 2 voices

By: Leon Smith - Contributing columnist

It was late afternoon in the spring of 1977 when I stopped to speak to a friend at the local PBS station. What follows is the best reconstruction I can give of what happened.

“I am glad to see you,” Jim smiled as I walked into the control room. “You’re my audio man.”

“Hunh?” I grunted.

“We have a lady in studio B, made up, and ready to manifest an alter ego,” he said. “All the crew is here but the audio guy, who is AWOL. The talent already has her mic, so all you have to do right now is set her audio level. After we roll tape, all you have to do is open her mic, then ride gain on her. When the program is over, all you have to do is pull her audio level back down to zero when I call ‘kill talent mic.’ OK?”

“I haven’t run audio in a long time,” I said.

“You gotta help me,” Jim continued. “She says she has a familiar spirit, she’s ready to go into a trance and show it to us. She is a little nervous, so if we don’t tape now, we’ll never get her in the studio again.”

Not hearing what Jim said, I repeated myself: “I haven’t run audio in a long time.”

“You have to, now,” Jim countered. “It’s tonight or never.”

“Well … OK,” I said. “I guess.”

Jim showed me the audio booth. Through the window, I saw a woman seated in a living-room set on the studio floor. I will call her “Mary,” because I remember her being perky and petite like “Mary Tyler Moore.” I sat down at the audio board, pulled on the intercom headset, and spoke to Jim, who had moved to the director’s seat.

“Director, this is audio. Could I have a mic check for Mary?”

“Yes,” Jim said, and called for her to speak. Her voice barely moved the audio meter.

“Director, can you have Mary speak up?”

He did, but she couldn’t do so without shouting, so the crew chief walked onto the set and moved the microphone high up on her lapel.

When she spoke again, I could hear her voice better, softly feminine, but resonant only from her sinus cavity — with no chest resonance at all.

After the countdown and the “ready” cues, Jim called “Open Mary’s mic,” and I did so. Not knowing what I was in for, I allowed Mary’s voice to morph into a “Snoopy” soundtrack, with no words, only changes only in pitch and volume. But then, over the headsets, Jim said, “Get ready, crew, here it comes.”

“Here comes what?” I said to myself.

“Can’t talk now,” he answered. “Stay on your toes.”

From the studio Mary said, “I’m going to sleep now, so that my friend can come. I will come back when he has finished speaking with you.”

Then she took three deep breaths, closed her eyes slowly, and gently bowed her head.

A few seconds later, her upper body jerked poker-straight, to blast out a sound that pinned my volume meter.

With pitches that rivaled the lowest note on a piano, this new voice slammed out sound like an angry Barry White with the head cold from you know where, with so much chest resonance that the sound reverberated across the studio floor. Between words, the deep voice sucked in hoarse breaths as Mary’s body jerked its head and flailed its arms.

In the midst of this display, the deep voice claimed to have been a warrior who had spent his life in medieval Germany. Sometime later, Mary’s head turned to look around the studio, then snapped back to attention, and said something like “I … become … now … bored.”

Her body sucked in three hoarse breaths, snorted preliminarily, then rattled her soft palate in a snore. A few seconds later, Mary’s body stopped snoring, and her head fell down to her chest.

Perhaps 10 seconds later, Mary raised her pretty head, blinked her brown eyes, smoothed her tousled hair, and looked around.

“Where am I?” she asked. Seeing the camera, she smiled and said, “Now I remember. You’ve been listening to my friend.”

I don’t remember what she said after that, for I was pre-occupied with how a single human being could produce sounds from highest soprano to lowest bass.

After the taping was finished and Jim dismissed the rest of the crew, I hung around.

“What about those sounds?” I asked when he came over.

“Did they surprise you?” Jim smiled. “Mary said she was going to manifest an alter ego.”

“I didn’t hear you say that,” I said, then asked, “Do you think she made that deep sound?”

“She had to,” Jim said, “the lapel mic she was wearing her couldn’t pick up anyone but her.”

He paused for a moment.

“Even if she had stowed a mini-recorder under her blouse, we could tell the difference in sound perspective between her voice and the recording.”

Jim paused again.

“There’s no way a two-inch speaker could reproduce the sounds that second voice made.”

“So she made the sound?”

“Her vocal cords did,” Jim said. “And the hair on my neck stood up when she did it.”

“The blast scared me,” I said. “I never heard an alter ego before. And I don’t think I want to hear one again.” I thought for a moment. “What about the medieval warrior?”

“If he came from the nether regions, he was lying,” Jim said. “He might have been a second-rate opera singer from 1930, but he’d still be lying.”

“Whatever he is,” I said, “I’m surprised she’s putting him on TV.” I paused, then added, “I can’t believe she did that. Did she sign a release form?”

“I’m sure she did,” Jim replied. “We can’t produce a program without signed permission forms.”

He had more work to do, so I said “good night”and drove home. It was a couple of weeks before I saw Jim again.

“When you gonna’ run that program?” I asked.

“The Woman with Two Voices?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Probably never.”

“Really?” I asked. “I’ll bet I know why.”

Jim nodded. “A couple of days after we shot the program, Mary called to say she didn’t want the station to broadcast it. She did not want her neighbors to find out that she could channel a medieval warrior.

“The manager told her he had a couple of thousand dollars invested in that program,” Jim continued, “and our small station couldn’t afford not to run it. Mary replied that she did not want her neighbors to see that program, so he’d better find the release form, and if he couldn’t, he’d better destroy everything we shot that evening. Otherwise he would hear from her attorney.”

“If Mary really did sign a release form,” Jim continued, “we could never find it, no matter how many desk drawers we opened, no matter how many files we scavenged through, no matter how many minds we racked.”

The program was never broadcast.

Until I wrote this article, I always assumed Mary did not give the station permission to run her program. But now, more than 40 years later, I am not so sure. Although I might have asked Jim whatever became of the woman with two voices, I never did. I wonder why? Maybe it was I was afraid to hear the answer.

I never heard from her again.

Leon Smith, a resident of Wingate who grew up in Polkton, believes the truth in stories and that his native Anson County is very near the center of the universe.

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Leon Smith

Contributing columnist