Tag Archives: Cher

The Future of Music is Vocal

27 Sep

I was waiting to go onstage at the Gold Coast Arts Centre watching a girl my age belt out a Whitney Houston song complete with fast gospel flourishes and big vibrato.

This was at the one and only Eisteddfod I ever completed at. From memory, I sang ‘Just You Wait’ from My Fair Lady in the Musical Theatre category, ‘A Piper’ by Michael Head in the Art Music category and ‘Georgie Girl’ by The Seekers in the pop category.

I vividly remember feeling vocally old-fashioned next to mini-Whitney, and kind of amazed that she had so quickly integrated these ‘new’ r’n’b pop vocal sounds into her style only a year or two after the song was released.

Today I was reading a cool Pitchfork article on how Auto-Tune, the now-ubiquitous vocal-bubbling software made famous by Cher’s Believe, has revolutionised the music industry. In it is a link to a video by Emma Robinson who has learned to sing like Auto-Tune sounds.

I felt again exactly like I felt standing sidestage at the Eisteddfod, like I was watching the future of music happen without me in my specialist area. (For the technically-minded, she’s precisely manipulating her voice’s ‘yodel’ capacity, where you flip your focal folds from thick to stiff vocal mass.)

I’m a singer by both inclination and training. I’ve been thinking a lot about the place of vocals in contemporary music, and my vocal sound in particular, this year. It’s not like there’s a good vocalists magazine to read, like guitarists have, that talk about our artistic process as singers. In fact, as visible as we are in music, there’s still a huge veil of mystery over how we decide on the sounds we make.

If you’re on the mailing list, you read in the last Wasp Summer newsletter, that the vocals are the last thing to do on my endlessly upcoming ‘Mitropa’ album, and I was stalling out of fear. I just did an intense 5-day Estill Voice course where I got to workshop vocals I’m recording for the ‘Mitropa’ album. I would say I write lyrics and melodies very much for the flexibility of my voice, but I would never have described myself as using my voice impressionistically as an instrument until I was demonstrating the songs to other singers, and getting their feedback and questions on the qualities I chose.

In the Pitchfork article, the writer says, “doing weird shit with the human voice has been the cutting edge for well over a decade now”. As a fan of Bj√∂rk, Meredith Monk, Diamanda Galas and the Cocteau Twins, I would argue that it’s been cutting edge longer than that, but we keep getting caught up in the pleasant, polite and faux-rebellious.

Two vocal recording microphones - an AKG pencil mic and a Neumann condenser.On and off since June, I’ve been recording vocals with the lovely Chris Lastelle from Pebble Music. He keeps telling me what I hear as ‘imperfections’ are part of the character of my unusual voice. As, essentially, a pop writer, I think I got caught up in the idea of pleasantness even while writing vocals that challenge me to push the limits of my pop melodies and lyrics. But somehow, today, I feel less anxious that my voice should sound some other, cleaner way, and happier with what is – the sound of the voice I’ve created and use intentionally to convey meaning.

And, as of yesterday, we’ve put Stolen Kisses, Hot Engine and Two Horses in the can. 3 of 10 down. 7 to go. I’ll tease the sound of the new record when we’ve got mixes next month.

If you want to catch up more often, Wasp Summer is on Twitter or Facebook.

You can also check in on my Berlin house concert series Sofa Salon on Facebook or Instagram, and you can find out about Kreativ Workshop Berlin, the company I co-founded with James Trottier to teach creative problem solving through songwriting, on Twitter and Instagram.

Cheers,
Samantha