Running, Breathing, and the Choreosonics of Singing

People always talk about using BPM to help with their workouts, but to me that’s only a fraction of what I rely on music for when I run.

Ever since I read Ashon Crawley’s discussion of “choreosonics”–sounds and the choreographics of their production (e.g., the sound of footsteps and slacks swishing, or the sound of inhaling right before speech, etc.)–I’ve been thinking of how the choreosonics of singing inform the way I breathe when I run. Well, more accurately, it’s the choresonics of specific songs combined with an approach to breathing entirely grounded in my training as a woodwind player. My friend Adriel was talking about breathing technique for runners today on FB, so I wanted to jot my thoughts down quickly and share them.

The woodwind player part is slightly less interesting and complicated than the choresonics part, so I’ll just get that out of the way. Basically, I was trained to relax everything from my chest up as much as possible, especially the back of my throat and shoulders, to breathe from the diaphragm, and to make sure I exhaled built-up air (I was an oboe player primarily, and blowing through such a tiny opening meant there was usually a buildup of air, like a layer under a more shallow layer that got circulated more easily).

The choreosonics part is more interesting because it shows how the mechanics of singing are helpful for my running. There are a few songs I use a lot:

  1. The Clash’s entire catalog, especially the live stuff: There is an urban legend that The Clash’s frontman, Joe Strummer, ran at least one marathon. Strummer has claimed to have run them in interviews, but there’s no substantiation I can find…except in his live performances. Their Live From Here to Eternity album is a staple in my running playlist because Strummer’s breathing on this album is perfect for extended cardio sessions. If you breathe along with him, the pacing or spacing out of your breaths (the musical phrasing) is just what you need when you’re moving around at a high intensity. There’s also the way he punches each lyric out of his diaphragm–in musical terms, it’s like every word has a heavy accent. This diaphragm punch helps me expel built-up air.
  2. Die Krupps & Nitzer Ebb, “Machineries of Joy” (And, frankly, a lot of EBM): This song has a TON of exhaling: grunts, sighs (see 1:14ish, 3:35ish), percussive “huas!” and the like (see around 2:00) McCartly’s English lyrics are delivered with accent/punch similar to Strummer’s.  
  3. The Sisters of Mercy, “Temple of Love” (1992): Like a club Stefon reviewed on SNL, this song has everything: low notes that force me to relax my shoulders, throat, and even sinuses (both times Eldritch sings “the devil in the black watches OOO-VER,” most places he does vibrato); vowel sounds that force me to make what I can only describe as the equivalent of a double-tounging gesture with my throat (the “ka” part of “ta-ka”) e.g. on “Always Over In the morning”), and even a sigh.

In essence, I’m using the choreosonics of singing–the bodily gestures one has to make to sing a particular way–to govern my breathing as I exercise. I figure this approach to running and breathing is either entirely idiosyncratic or patently obvious to anyone who spent serious time as a singer and/or wind player. I don’t think this would be an easy technique to teach to people without that musical background, but it would be amazingly easy to teach to people who already have this breathing practice/physical knowledge. I also am not sure there’s anything here to theorize, especially, except perhaps about the choreosonics of (post-)punk and industrial music…which may actually be something to theorize.

**ALSO, philosophers and New Yorkers, there will be a session on Crawley’s book at the APA Eastern in January in NYC. If you are around you should go.