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

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

* * *

Simon R. has an interesting bit on “outer limits extremists of the human voice”. I've thought about the cold-climate continuity in throat-singing cultures: either far north --
- Tuvan;
- Nunavut -- see Carl W.'s essay on Tagaq up at Said the Gramophone;
- and Lapp -- such as the Euro-Ethno-Techno star Wimme;
-- or High Mountainous -- Tibetan.

I'd include some punks and latter-days like Cobain, and some rockers like the Lennon of Cold Turkey & Plastic Ono Band, as well as Yoko on the Live Peace album, but once you start including punk & rock examples, where do you draw the line? Metal and hard core are whole vocally extreme genres. But if you exclude rock-punk-and-so-on, why?

Fangirl in a comment to a recent post of mine mentioned Diamanda Galas, who would have to be on the list of vocal extremists.

Meredith Monk is terrific, and I need to hear more David Hykes -- I heard some several years ago and want to track down a recording.

There’s a tradition in classical Indian music of singers imitating tabla drums, which requires intense virtuosity. When I saw jazz singer Kevin Mahogany at a club with Ray Brown’s band a few years ago, he “sang” a wailin’ drum solo.

Modal free-jazz yodeler Leon Thomas belongs on any list of massively eccentric stylists. Louis Armstrong covered one of the songs he wrote with Pharoah Sanders; the released version has another vocal overdubbed by Thomas -- it’s a monument of almost-kitsch.

Simon is looking for suggestions. If you have any, please share them!

* * *

‘Round about 1985 I got the idea of singing free-jazz inspired “scat” solos in duet with noise guitar leads -- a sort of parody of George Benson and Slam Stewart. I only recorded one in duet with my own noisy guitar playing -- it was a soundtrack for a collage video by my friend Ross, which maybe some day I’ll post somewhere. (Ross gave me a copy and said I could.) I’ve since recorded some “noise” vocalise improvisations as “solos” in the middle of songs; there’s a hint of it on my solo album from last November, but none on my band’s upcoming album. I have no “extreme” technique, though, just an ex-actor’s bag of cathartic tricks. I love that stuff.

* * *

Between posts from Simon & Carl and a comment from Fangirl, extremist vocals must be in the air -- which I’m all for. A huge stumbling block for me with much indie rock and Adult Contemporary is the ubiquity of resigned, weary, defeatist, over-matched-by-life vocals. I don’t need encouragement to feel that way! If the gods are over-matching you, shake your gods-damned fist at them!

Or, keep singing from under your pillow. The marketplace says -- people like singing like that. And -- I can understand why. Life is hard; it often makes one want to pillow-bury one’s head -- and, it makes sense that the two contemporary genres most closely associated with political liberalism -- indie rock & Adult Contemporary -- should sound this way these days.

* * *

I saw Tagaq and Wimme co-lead a long group improvisation with both their entire bands at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival a few years ago in one of the most moving performances I have ever seen. The Folk Fest puts musicians on different stages over the course of a week-end, so you get a chance to see them in different settings.

Wimme presents himself as a stiff-backed taciturn stoic northern European with a gorgeous, strange voice. His band plays northern Euro techno. Tagaq had been presenting herself as an ebullient whirr of joy. Her band was made up of a group of young Vancouver hippies playing hand drums and didjiridoo. So there was no problem putting the two bands together -- just more rhythm and drones -- and the two stars trading vocals. Wimme, standing stock still, intense, focussed, gripping the mic, leaning forward, singing beautifully; Tagaq, leaping about, waving her arms, intense, singing beautifully; the crowd -- hippies entranced and dancing up a storm. I cried. The group improv came at the end of a set where the two bands had been alternating songs. At the end of the piece, the crowd erupted, and the visually inexpressive Wimme was so moved that he stepped forward, waved, and smiled! Indelible image.

* * *

More Blogville stops on my route:

M runs her dog and pony show on music and the arts with wit and smarts.

There’s always thoughtful, well-informed stuff at ionarts: Music, Art, Literature -- the good stuff. Gimme some of that good stuff!

Scott at Rockcritics Daily gives the impression that Rockville is a humane community -- he knows a lot and cares a lot.

Tim Riley wrote a good book on the Beatles; he has sharp things to say at blog riley: rock culture approximately.

* * *

The painting above is The Music Party by 19th Century American symbolist Elihu Vedder. I was in an Elihu Vedder mood yesterday and found this weird picture -- windblown desolate beach denizens -- music party!

Extremist vocals in the air, indeed. I've been thinking about this a bit lately and now the topic seems to be popping up like spring shoots all over the place. I wonder why this is so? Are we all sick of the anodyne vocals of indieland and AOR, as you suggest? I would think (and hope!) so. I particularly like your point about the liberal tendencies of such genres, and their role then in 'soothing' us.

Hmmmm. Poly Styrene surely would get a guernsey on any 'Extreme Vocals' box set? If one was to include punk? And I hate to be seen banging on about S-K, but Corin Tucker certainly had her moments.

In terms of listening recommendations for the magnificent Diamanda Galas, I would suggest 'The Singer' or 'La Serpenta Canta' for her superb readings of gospel/blues songs, and pretty much any of her other recordings for the extreme, undulating, nerve-shredding sacred opera stuff. In particular 'Defixiones: Will and Testament' or 'Plague Mass'. I had the great fortune to see her perform the former cycle last year and it was extraordinary.

What about The Hafler Trio and their recent series done in collaboration with various vocalists - Blixa Bargeld, Jonsi Bigirsson (Sigur Ros)? Can't remember what it was called but it sounded very interesting. And some of those original dada sound poets, of course. I could go on forever...

Thanks very much for the kind words about my blog and linking to it too.
And my name sake, of course! Famously described (description quoted in Lipstick Traces as having a voice that 'hops over corpses'.
Thanks, Emmy, for the comments. I don't know the Hafler Trio; will look them up.

In my list of genres most closely associated with political liberalism, I overlooked gospel. I read somewhere 10 years ago or so that the majority of American evangelical Christians are political liberals. A huge majority of African American church goers being liberals pushes the total number of evangelicals into the majority.

Needless to say, gospel is not a genre that features pillow-buried singing.
Thanks for visiting my dog and pony show!! I love your site.
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?