The voice as instrument

DannyL

Wild Horses
Inspired partly by Barty's Migos thread and partly by a mate sending me this compelling Eek A Mouse impression last night:


What are people's favourite examples of songs where the voice breaks down, escapes the suffocating cage of meaning and does something else entirely?

Vocal textures rather than clever lyrics - which I think is an inescapably rockist notion. I was going to try and make the argument that this is a black music thing but then I remembered Tim Buckley and the Cocteau Twins. Was on the fence about including The Fat Boys as beatboxing is really just substitute percussion/imitation rather than pushing the outer limits of vocal range but I don't know.

That Horseman track slips back into meaning and out again. The best bits of the song are those which lack meaning and surrender to nonsense though.

Thoughts? I can accept my basic field of enquiry is poorly defined so help me define it.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
Good thread idea. This used to be one of Simon Reynolds' specialist topics back in his Blissed Out 80s.
 

droid

Beast of Burden
So much of this in reggae.

Check tiger towards the end of this, completely breaks down:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4ch9wSbiiE

Cant sleep on mackerel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnRihFG95-A

And of course a lot of this stuff was inspired by technology:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4teLlNVngg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OT4yvlcMqo4

If you dig deep enough into novelty dancehall territory you find the voice under assault from every kind of imaginable deviance - often in radically avant garde styles.
 

Leo

Well-known member
perhaps a less extreme example but Joni Mitchell has a distinctive vocal timbre. unfortunately, to me it overwhelms her songwriting and serves as an obstacle that prevents me from appreciating her work as much as other do.
 

jorge

Well-known member
Arthur Russell is the first thing that spring to mind, he sings almost like he plays the cello, which I think stems from his training in Indian music, in 'this is how we walk on the moon' his voices follows the trombone at one point and are almost indecipherable from each other. Like Joni Mitchell his voice is irritating to some, my gf can't stand it and took a while for her to get into Joni's vocals. I love both of em, so dynamic and expressive

There's an amazing documentary called 'echoes of home' about various musicians who are doing 'experimental' yodelling. Christian zehnder is one of them and does some incredible combinations of yodelling and overtone throat singing. In the doc he goes to Mongolia and jams with tuvan throat singers in a yurt, which is class!


https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=skj-f8nwGt8

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=i417rBvYtZ8

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-4w5LXN4as4
 

Corpsey

bandz ahoy
'the suffocating cage of meaning'

This is a phrase/idea worth examining. I would guess that third would balk at this notion - this was the interesting angle he opened up on the Migos thread I think? The idea that actually meaninglessness is the cage that artists are obliged to get into if they want to be accepted by the mainstream. It has got me thinking about the way rappers are experimenting with inarticulacy these days, what that might mean about rap music, if a formal gain has necessitated a loss of substance and power.

Nahmeanuheard?

Edit:

I remember when I went off rap music and got into dance music for a while I didn't listen to ANY vocal music at all. It seemed to interfere with the abstraction.
 

Corpsey

bandz ahoy
I should watch out with my use of 'inarticulacy', with its suggestion of mindlessness. I don't mean that. I mean not using words, or misusing words, smudging words.
 

DannyL

Wild Horses
Droid: I fucking love Tiger. I've only got his first album but it's a "never even thinking of selling" keeper for all time. Had it for 20 years and I'm still not sure what he's talking about on 50% of it. Looking forwards to digging into these.

Corps: Yeah, I think what got me thinking is that this kinda thinking about rap, the breaking down of language is the kinda thing that when white artists do it, it comes with a load of avant garde styling. When black artists do it, it's just rappers (or dancehall artists for that matter) being weird - seems like an odd double standard. I was trying to skewer meaning a bit 'cos of associating it with rock music's literary pretensions.

Linda Sharrock is another one:


This track has echos of "freedom songs", clearly drawing on gospel etc though she goes completely off the edge into something much wilder in some of her other music in the same period. Real primal screaming. Had a new album out last year that I should check.
 

DannyL

Wild Horses
The Youtube for the track above is just hot black women in swimwear not sure I get the link.

Here she is on Monkey Pookie Boo (though sounds quiet in the mix on this recording, my vinyl has the vox much more prominen):

 

droid

Beast of Burden
Droid: I fucking love Tiger. I've only got his first album but it's a "never even thinking of selling" keeper for all time. Had it for 20 years and I'm still not sure what he's talking about on 50% of it. Looking forwards to digging into these.

There's a tune on his Bam Bam album called 'Presto' which is pretty much his most insane vocal performance. Worth checking out. I wrote most of a big piece on novelty DJ's for the aborted issue 5 on Woofah, mostly inspired by Tiger.
 

Corpsey

bandz ahoy
Related?

According to biographers of McCartney and the Beatles, McCartney composed the entire melody in a dream one night in his room at the Wimpole Street home of his then girlfriend Jane Asher and her family. Upon waking, he hurried to a piano and played the tune to avoid forgetting it.

McCartney's initial concern was that he had subconsciously plagiarised someone else's work (known as cryptomnesia). As he put it, "For about a month I went round to people in the music business and asked them whether they had ever heard it before. Eventually it became like handing something in to the police. I thought if no one claimed it after a few weeks then I could have it."

Upon being convinced that he had not robbed anyone of their melody, McCartney began writing lyrics to suit it. As Lennon and McCartney were known to do at the time, a substitute working lyric, titled "Scrambled Eggs" (the working opening verse was "Scrambled eggs/Oh my baby how I love your legs/Not as much as I love scrambled eggs"), was used for the song until something more suitable was written.
 

kumar

Well-known member

Nicholas Bullen has written some good things on this
http://www.sinisterdexter.org/MEDIA/PDF/WBPR08.pdf

"The voice (the conveyancing mechanism of language in aural terms) becomes
almost unrecognisable in this music, moving beyond the status of the voice as site
of communication and meaning to become an object attempting to erase subject.
This voice seeks a mode of communication which operates precisely through its
own loss of expressive capability: it simultaneously alienates itself from expression
and expresses alienation, becoming an expression of language which is against
language in the manner of Glossolalia (the practice of speaking in tongues). In this
process, the garbling of the larynx becomes an aural blast denuded of meaning,
reducing the function of the vocal chain to that of pure sound (pure utterance)."
 

Slothrop

Tight but Polite
There's an amazing documentary called 'echoes of home' about various musicians who are doing 'experimental' yodelling. Christian zehnder is one of them and does some incredible combinations of yodelling and overtone throat singing. In the doc he goes to Mongolia and jams with tuvan throat singers in a yurt, which is class!
A thing I only found out recently is that Sardinia actually has a throat-singing tradition:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F45yNv7OeBw

Also, it's sort of a stretch in that in a literal sense it's totally about the words, but I've been tracking down a few odds and ends of the improvised style of Gaelic psalmody from the Outer Hebrides recently and the vocal textures it creates are incredible. Sort of a missing link between gospel, qawwali and your local church choir:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMqKxpq6QAE&list=RDfMqKxpq6QAE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZBgjepiRJc&list=RDfMqKxpq6QAE&index=2
 

Corpsey

bandz ahoy
A Korean song came on my Spotify last night and it got me thinking about this thread - how, when you can't understand the language somebody's singing/rapping in, you are 'forced' to pay attention to the 'formal' music. The same holds true for poetry IMO - a great way of understanding poetry's musical qualities is to listen to a poem you can't understand.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Great idea for a thread, Dan. I really love that first Sonny Sharrock tune you posted.

I think I've played this to you before - it's one of the most genuinely unearthly things I've ever heard:

 
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