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voice in music

let’s talk about the usage of voices – vocals, lyrics, and such – in music. in general.

first of all, we should get a brief conception about the definition of “music”, as this is key to the following essay.
sure, this is a hard to define term, music. don’t think about it too loosely, because it’s not just melody. there is a vary wide range of things that alone can define if sound(s) can be referred to as ‘music’. melody may be the most common, or maybe it is rhythmics. think about it only for a second: humming a song you know is as much as music as for example when you tap with your fingers in a specific rhythm – which is strange enough, as those two have no elements in common. still, both are music.
and even a step further, music can actually be LESS (or more) than that. think about ambient, like the score of a movie (which often consists of light noise for most parts – still, score is music, too), or think about noisecore, which is HIGHLY a-rhythmic and still sounds like it is music. hey, you can even consider the reading of a poem to be ‘music’ very easily. and that is were this essay comes into place.

see, i came across a strange reaction that always confuses me a lot every time i get this. as you may or may not know, i am a big fan of very strange kinds of music, most noteworthy of the post-rock genre. experimental, artsy, long, complex. i LOVE music that does take itself serious as music, and is being as complex as possible. and about music, content-wise. so it happens that most of my favorite bands and songs rarely use vocals at all.
and from time to time i show someone how “my” music sounds like, and they would likely go kinda impatient on me, asking me when the hell the song finally starts, 3 minutes into the song. (side-note: many post-rock songs tend to be longer than your average pop song.)
so, here is what happens: he or she is so used to the usage of voice in music, that he/she can hardly think of any music without it. farther more, and that is what is REALLY bothering me, they tend to REJECT it, if it does not fill that urge of having sung elements in it.

bad enough that people get impatient when a song lasts for more than the attention span of a house fly, EXPECTING to have vocals and lyrics in songs is very… strange, when you think about music in general.
i sure understand WHY it is present in most of the modern genres, and i will tell you why this is: most of all, it is the easiest way to jam content into a song. it gives the certain song a greater volume, content-wise, for the lesser music-interested. it is quite easy to simply know what the song is about, when the leader singer just gives away what he is trying to say by, well, just singing it. but for example, think about the song… eh… “I’d do anything for love” by Meatloaf. even the title gives you the core of the song, and every single line just underlines the main  statement of the song by further explaining it. BUT imagine the song without the lyrics (and with another title, of course) and suddenly it is nearly impossible to know what the song is all about – but still its major themes are still present – in the overall sound of it, the atmosphere, riffs and epic melody. but you have to put an incomparable amount of effort to understand the song now, and the average music listener does not want to spend this kind of effort. so, SINGING about what is on the artist’s mind… is the most obvious and shallow way to express what the song is about. shallow stuff, i say.
also, singing is something that we can more easily relate to. a HUMAN VOICE is something we love, because it reminds us of other people, somehow. well, it is some sort of relation we have there when we hear somebody sing. (maybe it is just good to feel slightly less alone? i don’t know…) anyway, you probably can not play an instrument and are more likely to be able to sing. and a guitar is not able to give us CONTENT WE CAN RELATE TO, as much as the voice does. at least not nearly as easily.

as an artist i really love subtleness and the complexity of things. i see every kind of art as some sort of expression in which an artist states information in other ways than usual forms of expression can possibly do (“a picture says more than a thousand words”). so the usage of vocals has always been a small thorn in my thumb when it comes to music, because it just is the most simple way to express oneself. it is so close to a normal conversation than it can get, for music.
if i am thinking of giving away meta information in text form, i more think of prose (poems and such), or maybe even novella. you know, content in text form, but without the element of music.
music with vocals is like a read poem, accompanied by music and read in a melodic way, anyways. and take away the melody, et voila, you get hip-hop.

oh, that is an interesting piece of music. music i really dislike a lot: hip-hop and rap. because it is probably the last genre of music which earned to be called ‘music’ at all. rap especially does not require melody at all, just some basic kind of rhythm, like poems. and yeah, now that i have gone that far i can also state you my solution of this thought chain: rap is read poems, and nothing more! it can be considered to be some sort artistic reading, but NOT as music. in my opinion. but like i said, that pretty much depends on your personal definition of the term ‘music’.

the only two differences (for me) between hip-hop and all the other genres is for once that it does not depend on melody, and most importantly actually REQUIRES voice. it is in its own definition to require vocals.
hence, and this is something that most don’t realize, every other kind of music does NOT require vocals. at all. remember that!

a strange thing i noticed about the most shallow pop songs is that the primary melody of the sung voice and the primary melody of the instrumental part of the song often is IDENTICALLY. which always bugged me, because it renders one of them completely USELESS. even as a child i pondered what the reason is for those songs to have the exact same melody twice.
and than it kinda struck me and i saw the usage of voice on another scale when i came to the conclusion that you CAN see vocals just as another kind of INSTRUMENT!

yeah, does it REALLY matter what you sing? of course not! because it is not important to the music!
i love when bands actually use that to their advantage and sing about random stuff that was never intended to make sense, like System of a Down or The Silversun Pickups, who use to make dada-istic lyrics up that just should accompany the song. they sure cannot think about music without lyrics, too, but hey, i already made up enough reasons for it to be present. but those bands tent to be less shallow, hence it is a clever move to not ruin their own songs with dumb and flat texts. it just has to sound good – have a nice rhythm and feel to it, fit the atmosphere of the song.

it is hard to write good music AND be a genius with the written word (for content!). i mean, just think about bands like Nine Inch Nails or MUCC, which happen to have really deep lyrics, as complex as their music. but not every band is able to do that. and as it is not necessary at all, why bother with it in the first place?

that does not mean that all the bands which don’t rely on vocals are not able do be poetic or such – they just decided not to depend on COMBINING their music with vocals, and the inevitable content of it. and to a good cause, as those bands can more concentrate on the complexity of their songs in the original way: complex in music, not in literal content.
bands like 65daysofstatic or Mogwai can do really, really well without the use of vocals. and i am glad it is the way it is. even if they use a light amount of vocals every now and then it is still about the music itself, not what it is sung about. especially Sigur Rós, which use to make up their own language! that is kinda martyr-ish to the concept of forcing lyrics into songs, isn’t it? i love that, it is like a slap to the face of everyone who cannot out-think sung voice from their favorite songs.

and then there are the real hidden pearls of rareness, who totally screw up the average conception of music, like From Monument to Masses, who have an advanced use of sampling political speeches into their songs! which shows us, that you can easily put text into music which does neither have a rhythm, nor a melody, and it still works! because the music comes from the actual music, not from the vocals. it is the music that defines the tempo, tone and rhythm of the song. yet again, the voice renders itself to be completely unnecessary.

to conclude the whole essay to its core propositions: voice in music is not required, and it is often used as a cheap element to stuff shallow content into songs, so you can stop thinking. that’s that, bye.


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last modified: 2011-Mar-05, 20:27:22
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