Friday, 16 November 2012

The timbre of Roy Orbison

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Roy Orbison was a very interesting pop music phenomenon, because (I think) people liked him almost wholly due to his vocal timbre - the recognizable quality of his voice - especially on long high notes.

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When listening to an Orbison song, I find that everything else is subordinated to the expectation and enjoyment of the sound of his voice on certain notes.

The rest of the song is merely a frame to enhance these notes .

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I think this is close to unique among popular singers - most of whom are known not least for their looks or style; but if for singing more for their ability to put a song across, power, phrasing, pleasantness of production, extreme range, maybe pyrotechnical agility - but hardly ever for just the simple sound of the voice as revealed in long notes.

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Timbre is not possible to describe with precision - Orbison had a tenor voice in which falsetto was mixed, and which has a rapid tremolo - mostly not vibrato, which is a variation in pitch; but instead a variation in volume.

The combination was thrilling, and also somehow tragic - perhaps due to the falsetto elements which implied a boyish vulnerability.

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