Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Saturday, April 22, 2006

without some portamento the melisma becomes unbearable to my friend
[update: links fixed -- sorry!]

Until I saw her on the Grammys a couple months ago, the only things I really knew about Mariah Carey was that she was hugely popular and that respectable rock critics hated her music. One respected critic said a few years ago, “I don't think that there is anyone who can say a good thing about Mariah Carey.” Anybody that popular receiving that much critical disdain pricks my interest, and though it didn’t interest me enough to actually seek out her music, when I saw her on the Grammys, I paid attention and I dug her. Not only does she have crazily gifted pipes, she sang like a woman possessed.

I was glad to read Sasha Frere-Jones’s informative, sympathetic piece in The New Yorker a couple weeks ago. She’s more popular and more influential than I knew, and Sasha confirmed my intuition that her musicianship overshadowed Christina Aguilera’s.

Sasha’s article got me thinking about a very sharp-eared musician friend’s complaint about modern R&B. My friend contends that the melisma of today’s singers sounds aggressive. Robert Christgau’s observation -- from a page disdaining Carey’s music -- that Carey’s mother was an opera singer, along with the news (to me) about her vast influence, may point to the reason for my friend’s discomfort. Operatic technique downplays portamento -- the smooth gliding from one note to another -- in favor of a clearer articulation between distinct notes. Melisma gives many notes to a single word, and R&B and gospel singers before Carey had a smoother articulation. It’s the operatic angle that makes the recent and current singers sound aggressive to my friend.

In case you were wondering.

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In honor of Earth Day we planted our potted Christmas tree today after a few years of service. Afterwards we went out for lunch and my beloved spouse and I decided on a Greek restaurant.

“Are falafels like waffles?” the three-year-old asked.
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