Incognita Review

Discuss our reviews or just talk about any old album.

Postby Binks » Mon Jun 26, 2006 5:08 pm

Alright then. I'm beat, let the discussion begin...
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Postby Mahka » Tue Jun 27, 2006 12:23 am

Thanks Deke for the great points, and Binks, thanks for your gracious concession.

That being said, from my own perspective and from running three years of auditions at a school that almost has an Asian plurality (yay for no group even having a majority!), the Asian (Mongoloid), non-trained (and even some trained!) voice does in fact produce a darker, more "back-of-throat" tone. Even for myself, I usually can't reproduce the forward, edgier tone that the Caucasian (Caucasoid) members of the group can even though I try and work at clarifying my tone.

In a way, and again, not to be offensive, I've found that those of African (Africoid/Negroid, depending on which Anthro book you've picked up) descent also have more forward, sharp/edgy tone. An easy way to hear these differences is to listen to recordings of tribal African music and compare that to those of say, Tahiti/Polynesia, the natives of who are classified as Mongoloids. Even when comparing similar style pieces (large a cappella choirs in songs of celebration, etc.), there's a fundamental differnce in the tone quality.

Such observations could definitely lend credence to genetic dispositions towards different builds of vocal cords. Maybe we have a biological anthropologist here? I'm racking my brain trying to think of a possible biocultural evolution explanation, but seeing as it's nearly 2am, I'm drawing a blank. Perhaps something to do with needs to communicate vocally over great distances? A darker tone may resonate better in mountains, which are rather prevalent in Asia, while a brighter tone carries farther over plains? Just throwing out ideas.

But as a result, as Deke and Matt mentioned, there are ways to turn these to an advantage. Although my group was composed of Asians and "Whites" while I was there, we usually ended up giving mellower, ballad-like solos to someone of Asian descent while some of the more energetic, pop/rock songs went to the white folk. Granted, this wasn't always the case (like every situation, there are exceptions), but looking back over solo assignments, it did end up this way.[/i]
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Postby dekesharon » Tue Jun 27, 2006 7:35 am

Here's a question: how would it be possible for there to be a strong noticable difference in singing voice whereas speaking voice shows no difference at all?

I live in a neighborhood and a city and a region of the country that's 1/3rd Asian. Of course I'll hear an accent in a recent immigrant, and perhaps a slight inflection difference in a child raised here by an immigrant, but I cannot say with an extremely large, ongoing sampling that I've ever noticed a sonic difference in an Asian voice.

Consider Sandy Allen, who is Asian and sang a lead role in "Flower Drum Song:" she sounded 100% caucasion to my ear (and fantastic) . Of course, sampling size of one is completely moot for this discussion, but I have to say, listing to BOCA, I've never once said to myself "that person sounds Asian." I have said "That person sounds Black," but that doesn't always relate to skin color; phrasing, inflection, etc. all seem to be involved there.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't hear it. I'm not denying it's possible, but if it exists I'd look first to cultural "nurture" reasons before physical "nature" ones.

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Postby jthelegend » Tue Jun 27, 2006 8:34 am

DekeSharon wrote:I guess what I'm saying is that I don't hear it. I'm not denying it's possible, but if it exists I'd look first to cultural "nurture" reasons before physical "nature" ones.


agreed Deke. I can speak from personal experience with asian friends who speak with no noticeable accent at all, but it appears whenever they sing. My theory on it was that maybe they learned how to use their vocal instrument before mastery of english language/inflection occurred. So then, singing would revert them to something more 'primal' (probably the wrong word here), but to something they've learned earlier in life and is more natural for them than the forced english inflection.
...maybe that was actually a contribution to the discussion thus far.
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Postby dekesharon » Tue Jun 27, 2006 9:12 am

... or maybe the singing is some affectation.

I've noticed that some people (mostly caucasions, actually) sound perfectly "normal" when the speak, and yet when they sing they have some odd combination of unusual vowel sounds and phrasing that's sometimes nasal, sometimes throaty. Doesn't sound natural, but rather like they're trying to _sing_.

The thought that comes through my mind, honestly, is "why do you think that sounds good, or even normal?" Does anyone know what I'm talking about? Granted, we all sound different in our heads due to sonic bone convection (or whatever it's called), but, I mean, really. It's far to affected to be simply compensating for that sonic difference.

I don't know exactly where people learn these affectations, but perhaps it's entirely cultural (from parents? from lullabyes when young? from the kind of music you listen to? from your elementary choral teacher?).

Don't have the answers; just thrashing about with questions.

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Postby armstrong » Tue Jun 27, 2006 9:39 am

JtheLegend wrote:I can speak from personal experience with asian friends who speak with no noticeable accent at all, but it appears whenever they sing. My theory on it was that maybe they learned how to use their vocal instrument before mastery of english language/inflection occurred. So then, singing would revert them to something more 'primal' (probably the wrong word here), but to something they've learned earlier in life and is more natural for them than the forced english inflection.

So are we discussing only Asians in America who are originally from Asia, as opposed to Americans of Asian descent who have been in the country for generations?

Asia's a pretty big umbrella term. Does anyone notice vocal singing differences among their Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Filipino friends?

Does anyone notice a similar phenomenon with Asians in other countries?
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Postby jthelegend » Tue Jun 27, 2006 10:15 am

armstrong wrote:So are we discussing only Asians in America who are originally from Asia, as opposed to Americans of Asian descent who have been in the country for generations?


sorry, i should have clarified. i've noticed it with friends who were born in america, but their parents immigrated and also with friends who are immigrants themselves.
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Postby mattootb » Tue Jun 27, 2006 10:53 am

Mahka wrote:But as a result, as Deke and Matt mentioned, there are ways to turn these to an advantage. Although my group was composed of Asians and "Whites" while I was there, we usually ended up giving mellower, ballad-like solos to someone of Asian descent while some of the more energetic, pop/rock songs went to the white folk. Granted, this wasn't always the case (like every situation, there are exceptions), but looking back over solo assignments, it did end up this way.[/i]


We have two Asian members in our group.

Their current solos are as follows.
1.) Accidentally in Love (Counting Crows)
2.) Superstition and Fat Bottomed Girls

Just to contrast the above :)
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Postby brianhaverkate » Tue Jun 27, 2006 12:41 pm

Good points taken and digested all around. I can't help feeling like I'm in "Teaching Multi-Cultural Students of Today" music ed course! ha.

I was a part of an 80-person choral group at Florida State and all of these different ethnic sounds were talked about on a daily basis. Not only that, but you had members of the choir who regularly played leads in the opera who were told in front of the choir, "this is not an opera, lose the huge vibrato and listen to modify with the rest of the group!" Depending on the literature, the white kids were too bright and nasal, the black kids where too dark and throaty, the hispanic kids were lazy with their consonants, etc. No one had a problem with it (at least not publicly) and the choir was better for it because we modified our unique sounds to create vowels and consonants shaped and attacked the same way. The white kids gravitated towards a darker throatier sound on the spiritual and gospel literature, the black kids leaned toward a white anglo sound on the Bach motets, etc.

If you are doing an Asian Pop song and the white kid in your group can modify their sound to match the recording and sound closer than any Asian member of the group...then I guess they get the solo, right?

The bigger question here (and one that I've quietly questioned along the way) is... SHOULD we be having students of other cultures modify their sound to match ours, or would we end up with a more unique sound without the modification???

Taking ethnicity and race out of it altogether. Are you doing a service or diservice to the song by having a soloist sound exactly the same as the recording? I'm white and Jason Mraz is white too, but I'd have to work pretty damn hard to sound like him.

I think this country's yearning to sound exactly like the original is ultimately contributing to the aweful Jekyl and Hyde sounds Deke was referring to when he was contrasting a person's spoken vs. singing voice. For example I had a little 6th grade student this year who decided she was going to audition for the solo part in Season's of Love from Rent (which we were working on in class at the time). She had been doing great work for me all year and had a very age-appropriate sound singing with the choir, so I wasn't worried. When the time came to audition, she morphed into a singer trying to mimic the recording and was ultimately unsuccessful. It turned into a wonderful teaching point, however.

Furthermore, should our arrangements be exact duplications or should we utilize our unique upbringing and music training. What if I felt it would be really cool to do a Beach Boys version of Bring Me To Life? I was brought up on the oldies. Should I avoid this creative thought because it would be a different sound than what is expected? I don't know.
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Postby Mahka » Tue Jun 27, 2006 3:00 pm

armstrong wrote:
JtheLegend wrote:I can speak from personal experience with asian friends who speak with no noticeable accent at all, but it appears whenever they sing. My theory on it was that maybe they learned how to use their vocal instrument before mastery of english language/inflection occurred. So then, singing would revert them to something more 'primal' (probably the wrong word here), but to something they've learned earlier in life and is more natural for them than the forced english inflection.

So are we discussing only Asians in America who are originally from Asia, as opposed to Americans of Asian descent who have been in the country for generations?

Asia's a pretty big umbrella term. Does anyone notice vocal singing differences among their Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Filipino friends?

Does anyone notice a similar phenomenon with Asians in other countries?


Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes. Of note should be that all of said friends are second-generation Asian/South-Asian Americans, meaning that they are the first to be born in the US to immigrant parents. However, again, there are times it's difficult to separate possible ethnic/cultural influences from pure genetic variation since my sample size is so small.

Deke wrote:I don't know exactly where people learn these affectations, but perhaps it's entirely cultural (from parents? from lullabyes when young? from the kind of music you listen to? from your elementary choral teacher?).


Maybe, and it's a good point. I just realized that in all of my own observations regarding Asian tonalities, including my own, even though the vast majority are second-generation, all also speak, or at least, understand, their parents language. Even if English was their first language (as is mine), I'm sure there are linguistic influences upon the way people sing. I've heard from several sources that those who speak Mandarin have an easier time learning how to pronounce French due to similar linguistic sounds that originate from the back of the throat/nasal resonance. Has anyone noticed tonal qualities of native French singers? Maybe Celine Dion?
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Postby dekesharon » Tue Jun 27, 2006 4:26 pm

Mahka wrote: Has anyone noticed tonal qualities of native French singers? Maybe Celine Dion?


I've noticed that she sucks, and I wish she'd move to somewhere in Asia...

Like North Korea.

Does that help? It sure helps me.

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Postby jesset » Tue Jun 27, 2006 6:51 pm

Deke makes me laugh at work and causes my co-workers to look at me funny.

Keep in mind that Celine Dion is French Canadian, the accents of whom are worlds apart from the European French. (To the degree that European French speakers have severe difficult understanding the rural Quebecois accents)

Her, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain...us Canucks have way too many musical strikes against us.

I suppose there's always The Guess Who.
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Postby borski » Tue Jun 27, 2006 7:32 pm

Jesse wrote:Deke makes me laugh at work and causes my co-workers to look at me funny.

Keep in mind that Celine Dion is French Canadian, the accents of whom are worlds apart from the European French. (To the degree that European French speakers have severe difficult understanding the rural Quebecois accents)

Her, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain...us Canucks have way too many musical strikes against us.

I suppose there's always The Guess Who.


Don't you dare diss Shania Twain. You just made me cry a little bit on the inside.
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Postby jesset » Tue Jun 27, 2006 8:10 pm

borski wrote:Don't you dare diss Shania Twain. You just made me cry a little bit on the inside.


But listening to her makes me cry on the outside.
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original review comment

Postby randomval » Thu Jun 29, 2006 4:29 pm

wow...i haven't checked this thread in a while, and it's progressed a lot. in my initial posting, i didn't want to bring up my personal "stats" because that wasn't the point, and i didn't want to detract from my objection by making it a personal issue. but now that it's become a discussion about ethnicity and genetic voice differences and style differences, etc., i wanted to provide an example for discussion. my voice is one of the two about which the original comment is made, however:
1) i'm only half Asian
2) i'm classically trained (SF Girls Chorus since i was 7, for those who have run across SFGC alums and know what that means)
3) a random fact regarding the Asian-French connection: my mother is French, and I speak some French, with a good accent...but I speak no Chinese.
so...yeah. does that mean that no amount of training can overcome "one drop" of Asian genetic material? or did my inner Asian voice only emerge when singing a pop solo?
i'd also like to reiterate that my original issue was not that generalizations are evil and universally false, but that this particular generaliztion had no place in the review. i don't think that a reviewer would say outright that a soloist had certain vocal qualities because she was a certain ethnicity; merely implying it instead doesn't make it a more acceptable statement. it's just as easy, if not easier, to make the same comments about the sound of the album without bringing in speculation about the ethnic backgrounds that may have resulted in that sound.

on a side note, i also kind of wonder how it was determined that the other RV soloist in question and i are Asian. last name? picture? because her last name doesn't look Asian...and my picture doesn't look Asian...
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