The Voice in the Headphones

The Voice in the Headphones is an experiment in music writing in the form of a long poem centered on the culture of the recording studio. It describes in intricate, prismatic detail one marathon day in a recording studio during which an unnamed musician struggles to complete a film soundtrack. The book extends the form of Grubbs's previous volume Now that the audience is assembled, sharing its goal of musicalizing the language of writing about music. Mulling the insight that “studio is the absence of pushback”—now that no audience is assembled—The Voice in the Headphones details one musician's strategies for applying the requisite pressure to the proceedings, for making it count. The Voice in the Headphones is both a literary work and a meditation on sound recording, delivered at a moment in which the commercial recording studio shades into oblivion. It draws upon Grubbs's own history of several decades as a recording artist, and its location could be described as every studio in which he has set foot.

from The Voice in the Headphones

On this winter morning, pitch modulated performance and concrete sound fuse electronically and jointly countermand years of weekends of words and attempts at song. Stay and rumble awhile

up the snowy hill and back with minimal alteration to its surface. Project yourself into the view, there’s nowhere else to be, and let it carom back to the performance; allow it to impress itself

upon the take. Enmesh yourself in a music where it’s nearly impossible to take a wrong step. It’s understood that one can always fuck it up—every soul has a genius for doing wrong. But the present situation demands only that you place one foot in front of the other.

A music like walking.

A music as peculiar as walking.

Walking out the sliding door and up the hill


A music like a walk in the snow.

A music like the sound of a walk in the snow.

A music regulated by breath during a walk in the snow


A music like walking atop the snow.

A music like snowshoes, for scampering across.

A music for hiding and haring across


A music to take with you over the mountain.

A music that takes you over the mountain.

Denuded succession and air

congeals to rime. Defines blurred cold friction.

Take a drag through the snow. The fog freezes and a stream sounds beneath the faint outline of a bridge. Two hundred shades of white. When you’re confident that the time has come, the decision is yours to reverse course. A music obscured by scrim, a music that ceases to refect readiness. Before you’re completely frozen

turn this ship around, one foot after another. With a nagging sense of detour, with continued detour and perpetual listing aim for the studio.

Find the precise spot at which it ceases to be

a journey outward, the point where the tether most powerfully strains. A sudden perimeter, an echoed antipode. Attune yourself to that location your body knows to be the most distant and most demanding, and plot your return from the furthest farthest. How deeply can you sleep when you know you must be leaving soon?

The streetlights extinguished, the sun not up.