Music Monday: Fidelity and Enunciation

February 22, 2016
Alice Westbrook Mulford

Alice Westbrook Mulford

One of Zoe’s great strengths as a singer is her enunciation: She’s really clear and it’s easy to understand the words she sings. This probably stems to her getting speech training from her grandmother, Alice Mulford, to correct her lisp when she was a little girl.

One thing striking about Blu Holliday’s performance of Born to be Wild is how clipped the pronunciations of words is in the verses. I found them largely unintelligible even with the lyrics on screen. Part of it is, of course, that the words are very “sung”: Lots of melisma and interesting textural stuff going on, but she is also just omitting phonemes and, indeed, whole words. For example, the line “Head out on the highway” almost certainly omits “on the”. This is not necessarily a criticism! It works pretty well with the general eeriness. The words are less important than the sound so she plays with them for certain effects. (She obviously can enunciate perfectly fine: The chorus is very clear.)

In any case, this reminded me of a Regina Spektor song, Fidelity, which makes striking use of a shift from loose enunciation to tight:

The key bridge:

All my friends say
That of course it’s
Gonna get beh-ah
Gonna get beh-ah
Beh-ah
Beh-ah
Beh-ah
Beh-ah
Better
Better
Better

I was having some trouble transcribing the initial pronunciation of “better”. It really lacks all consents except the initial “b”.

(Fun fact! When I played the song for Zoe, this was the bit she really latched on as cool.  Who knew?)

Spektor places with enunciation a lot in this song. The chorus contains extended melisma with key words: “heart” and “fall” from the parallel constructions “break my heart” and “break my fall”. If you listen to the “heart”s, you get the terminal “rt” crystal clear after the extended run of “ah”.

 

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