Singing and Sound
Today we turn again to looking at music as sound/noise. What makes something “sound” as opposed to “noise”? Both are created by some sort of process of moving sound waves, and then those waves being heard/experienced by us via our ears and our bodies. Is it sound? Is it music? Is it noise? Usually, the definition is down to personal perception. What is deemed “music” by one person has often been heard as “noise” by another. (I am sure you have had this experience. This debate has happened most often when someone begins to introduce new sounds into music. Think polyphony, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, John Coltrane, John Cage, Ornette Coleman, rock and roll, etc.)
This recent article in The New Yorker is about vocal music, with a focus on the vocal group Roomful of Teeth, and associated composers and musicians. Here is a wonderful snippet from the article, describing the human voice:
“The human voice is the world’s most astonishing instrument, it’s often said. It’s capable of everything from a trill to a bark to an ear-splitting scream, from growling harmonics to liquid acrobatics, lofted on the breath like a lark on an updraft. Instrument is the wrong word, really. The voice is more like a chamber ensemble: winds and strings and blaring horns, strung together end to end. It’s a pump organ, a viola, an oboe, and the bell of a trumpet, each instrument passing the sound along to the next, adding volume and overtones at every step. Throw in the percussion of the lips and tongue, and the echoing amphitheatre of the skull, and you have a full orchestra playing inside you.”
This idea of the human voice and its possibilities is at the core of Roomful of Teeth. The article covers the origins of Roomful of Teeth, while also presenting interesting side trips into the history of singing and vocal music. The sound/noise issue arises from the discussion of the different and innovative ways Roomful of Teeth uses its voices – some would say they are not making music but noise. (e.g., using throat singing techniques rather than traditional choral techniques.)
Listen to Roomful of Teeth and see what you think. Music? Noise?