One of the more niche contemporary works in which I have not only taken part but played a star role is Jack Body’s Intimate histories no.2: Ssteve.
We met at the CHIME conference in Paris in July 2004. He came up to me after my somewhat s-stop-and-s-start presentation, and I braced myself for the usual polite compliments or tedious academic queries. Charming as he was, far from the pious well-meaning sympathy of us Brits, pretending to ignore my herculean struggles (immortalized in A fish called Wanda), he came right out with it: “Hey SSSteve, that sure is an impressive stutter you’ve got there!” For me at least, that’s already half the battle—helping me get it out in the open. Jack was more Kevin Kline than John Cleese.
We had a laugh and a chat, and he asked me if I’d be prepared to record an interview based on my reflections on both my imp-p-pediment and my route to Chinese music, that he could use as the basis for a new electronic piece. I thought it’d be a good way of publicizing the whole issue of stammering. As you see from his notes, we recorded my ch-ch-ch-chat on a break from our 2005 sessions at SOAS with the amazing Hua family shawm band.
Listening now, I am struck by how much more fluent my speech has become since then. Now, for Jack’s purposes I might even have to fabricate a speech impediment—which indeed is one of the most fascinating ways whereby some speech therapists suggest that we can move towards greater fluency. It is the most amazingly liberating feeling to stammer on purpose, varying the severity and style of the blocks, taking control at last—I do recommend it to fellow-sufferers, even if it takes work to sustain and then modify.
Having exposed my most discomfiting “secret” (sic), I could hardly refuse to further embarrass myself by giving him a few samples of my rubbish erhu and shawm playing too.
In the end I didn’t entirely concur with Jack’s treatment—sometimes I found his musical dramatization of my stammer rather too sinister. And I can’t judge its impact on the listener as a composition. But it makes an interesting take on my distinctive sound, and an intriguing byway in my biography.