Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why Freddie Mercury's Voice Was So Great, As Explained By Science





Freddie Mercury, the late frontman for the legendary band Queen, died almost 25 years ago. But he's still regarded as the best rock singers ever. But how did he manage to achieve such vocal range?

A new study in Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology set out with the ambitious task of analysing Mercury's voice. By selecting archive recordings, as well as using a rock singer to imitate, a team of Austrian, Czech and Swedish authors discovered some interesting findings about the voice once described as "a force of nature with the velocity of a hurricane."

The lead author on the study, Austrian voice scientist Christian Herbst, states that Mercury's voice range was "normal for a healthy adult -- not more, not less." Contrary to his popular image, he was probably a baritone who sang as a tenor with exceptional control over his voice production technique. He is known to have rejected an offer to sing as baritone in an opera duet with singer Montserrat Caballé because he worried that his fans knew him only as a rock singer and would not recognise his voice in baritone.
 
In many ways, this deeper scholarly interest and analysis of Mercury's voice moves to affirm many of the singer's stage persona traits. In particular, the study examined the intentional distortion Mercury used to produce so-called 'growl' sounds. With a rock singer imitating this special type of singing, the authors filmed his larynx with a high-speed camera at over 4,000 frames per second, giving them an understanding of what Mercury would have done physiologically while singing these 'distorted' notes. The authors could thus reconstruct how Freddie Mercury, in his flamboyant and eccentric stage persona, drove his vocal system to its limits.

What they found was an intriguing physical phenomenon called subharmonics. This is seen in a more extreme way in Tuvan throat singing where not only the vocal folds vibrate, but also a pair of tissue structures called ventricular folds, which are not normally used for speaking or classical singing. Mercury's more fragile side is also fitting with his hallmark vibrato (a rapid, slight variation in pitch). Most pop/rock singers maintain a regular vibrato, whilst his was more irregular, and unusually fast.

This deeper study into one of the world's best known vocal artists contributes not only to the scholarly understanding of voice but also to Freddie Mercury's continuing legacy.

You might be able to hear that vocal fingerprint in the vocals-only version of Queen's hit song "We Are The Champions" below.



Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Singer Prince dies at 57





Prince, who pioneered "the Minneapolis sound" and took on the music industry in his fight for creative freedom, died Thursday at age 57.

"It is with profound sadness that I am confirming that the legendary, iconic performer, Prince Rogers Nelson, has died at his Paisley Park residence this morning at the age of 57," said his publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure.
Earlier Thursday, police said they were investigating a death at the Paisley Park studios in Chanhassen, Minnesota. They responded to a medical call and found the singer unresponsive in an elevator, Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson said.

A massive outpouring of grief followed on social media. Some are saying the icon's death "is what it sounds like when doves cry," a reference to his monster hit from 1984. Fans rushed to record stores to pick up vinyl and other Prince memorabilia.
Kaleena Zanders went to Amoeba Music in Los Angeles to buy a vinyl edition of Prince's iconic album "Purple Rain" on Thursday. She cried in the car as she drove there. 
 "Prince means the future, because he's changed music, everyone in music, he's influenced every person, and I believe that he represents our future, and it kind of died with him in a way.
 Just this month, Prince made news, but it wasn't for his music. He said he wasn't feeling well, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and canceled a concert date at the Fox Theater in the Georgia city. 
 Some days later, he took the stage in Atlanta to perform in a 80-minute set, unusually short for him. The stage was engulfed in lavender smoke. It was just Prince at his piano. He played his classic songs but kept the mood light and fun -- at one point showing off his skills with a version of the Peanuts theme song.
 After the performance, the singer's plane made an emergency landing, Noel-Schure told CNN. He was reportedly was rushed to a hospital in Moline, Illinois. At the time, the publicist said, "He is fine and at home."

The singer's fame never waned through the decades, but he was considered synonymous with the 1980s. His fame reached a fever pitch with the 1984 film "Purple Rain," about an aspiring musician, his troubled home life and a budding romance. 
He was a prolific musician. Between 1985 and 1992 he released eight albums, one per year, including the soundtrack for Tim Burton's "Batman." He starred in two more movies during that era -- "Under the Cherry Moon" and "Graffiti Bridge." He also put out a concert film. "Sign 'o' the Times" hits theaters in 1987.
 He infamously changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in the 1990s during a dispute with his record label, Warner Bros. He started to become known then as the "Artist Formerly Known as Prince." 

In 2000 when the singer's publishing contract with the company expired, he reclaimed the name Prince.
Prince won seven Grammy Awards and earned 30 nominations. Five of his singles topped the charts and 14 other songs hit the Top 10. He won an Oscar for best original song score for "Purple Rain."
 The singer's predilection for lavishly kinky story-songs earned him the nickname, His Royal Badness. He was also known as the "Purple One" because of his colorful fashions. 
 His sound was as unique and transfixing as he was. He created what became known as the Minneapolis sound, which was a funky blend of pop, synth and new wave.

Controversy followed the singer and that, in part, made his fans adore him more.
"Darling Nikki," a song that details a one-night stand, prompted the formation of the Parents Music Resource Center. Led by Tipper Gore, the group encouraged record companies to place advisory labels on albums with explicit lyrics.