Joy Division and atonality

Discussion on new albums, developing listening skills, critical listening to others' work, as well as TOMB members' MP3 links, online recording critiques

Moderator: cgarges

Judas Jetski
carpal tunnel
Posts: 1578
Joined: Sun Jan 16, 2005 7:30 pm
Location: The US North Coast
Contact:

Joy Division and atonality

Post by Judas Jetski » Sat Jan 10, 2009 8:08 am

OK, so I'm on this huge Joy Division tear again... and I've been thinking about the vocals, which are easily the most challenging part of their music. The instrumental portions are all very pristine--cleanly recorded and precise. But the vocals are just everywhere, both with tone and pitch. Obviously intentionally so. It makes the music hard to listen to, but also impossible to ignore. The Fall probably fits the same model, in an even more over-the-top kind of way.

It's kind of the opposite of pop music these days, where artists go to great lengths (sometimes laughably) to ensure that their vocal performance is on pitch.

Just a thought, I guess. I'm just wondering if anyone else has any thoughts about this--Joy Division in particular, and "off-pitch" vocal performances in general. Does anyone have the guts to do this kind of stuff these days? I can't think of anyone.
Check out the newest Andy Smash release, Black Light / Black Death! http://andysmash.bandcamp.com !


"Avoid trends and clich?s/don't try to be up to date/and when the sunlight hits the olive oil, don't hesitate"

www.AndySmash.com

GoatKnuckles
gettin' sounds
Posts: 107
Joined: Mon Jun 11, 2007 1:11 am
Location: West Chester, PA
Contact:

Post by GoatKnuckles » Sat Jan 10, 2009 3:15 pm

I just don't think Ian was that good of a singer overall, as cool as he was I don't think they were neccesarily going for off pitch vocals.
GYM CLASS HEROES/LADYBIRDS INC.
for Session Work on Keyboards/Programming/Guitar/Bass
contact: TylerPursel@mac.com

User avatar
JGriffin
zen recordist
Posts: 6739
Joined: Thu Jul 31, 2003 1:44 pm
Location: criticizing globally, offending locally
Contact:

Post by JGriffin » Sat Jan 10, 2009 3:51 pm

GoatKnuckles wrote:I just don't think Ian was that good of a singer overall.
Agreed.
"Jeweller, you've failed. Jeweller."

"Lots of people are nostalgic for analog. I suspect they're people who never had to work with it." ? Brian Eno

All the DWLB music is at http://dwlb.bandcamp.com/

Judas Jetski
carpal tunnel
Posts: 1578
Joined: Sun Jan 16, 2005 7:30 pm
Location: The US North Coast
Contact:

Post by Judas Jetski » Sat Jan 10, 2009 5:23 pm

I dunno, I'm starting to think he did it on purpose. I mean, this stuff is pretty blatant, and intentional atonality was a big theme in late '70s punk.

I listened to the Peel Sessions recordings back to back with the "studio" stuff, and the Peel Sessions vocals (recorded live, I believe) were pretty much dead-on. Or if you listen to "Isolation" on Closer, the vocals are straight and the processing is all horrid. Earlier tracks (the more punk-sounding stuff) are pretty much on pitch too--at least in a punk rock sense. Much higher in timbre, too. If nothing else, at least they were not trying to fix anything when the vocals went off-pitch.

I mean, Joy Division's recording sessions are legendary for their attention to detail. Didn't they do things like record drums on one take and cymbals on another, just for better isolation? It seems hard to imagine that nobody would notice that the singer couldn't sing. When I read (in the liner notes to Permanent 1995) that Joy Division was seeking to find "indescribable beauty in absolute ugliness," it kind of stands to reason that Ian's vocal anomaly was intentional.
Check out the newest Andy Smash release, Black Light / Black Death! http://andysmash.bandcamp.com !


"Avoid trends and clich?s/don't try to be up to date/and when the sunlight hits the olive oil, don't hesitate"

www.AndySmash.com

User avatar
;ivlunsdystf
ghost haunting audio students
Posts: 3290
Joined: Mon Oct 18, 2004 7:15 am
Location: The Great Frontier of the Southern Anoka Sand Plain
Contact:

Post by ;ivlunsdystf » Sun Jan 11, 2009 12:21 pm

Maybe it's like that old story about the Ramones, where they all agreed to start the band, got together with instruments in a room, tried to play some Led Zeppelin songs and quickly realized they couldn't possibly hack thru that stuff. Whereupon they invented their own sound.

Nobody is singing out of tune anymore? I take that as a challenge. Surely some hyped band on Pitchfork is using out of tune vocals as their stylistic calling card. Right? If not, then there's surely another stupid niche to be filled by some as yet unheard "indie" band.

User avatar
NeglectedFred
pushin' record
Posts: 248
Joined: Tue Jan 18, 2005 6:53 pm
Location: Salt Lake City

Post by NeglectedFred » Sun Jan 11, 2009 1:12 pm

People don't sing off key intentinoally.. Maybe sometimes for character, like slides and such - but in gfeneral I think if someones out of key, like Ian, it's not intentional.

I used to listen to Joy Division as a kid and think 'How did these guys make it?'.. I liked their music as much as the next guy - but even as a youngster I knew the vocals were far from perfect - but I'd have to say, in a strange way that absolutely is part of their apeal.

I'm sure someone will be quick to jump in with the specifics, but forgive me for not remembering which came first, the chicken or the egg, but I don't think much of New Order's vocals either.. Aren't they pretty much the same band but the guitarist took over the mic when the original singer died?

Anyway, I don't think either vocalist was really cutting it by todays standards, or even by yesterday's standards.. I think just by sheer luck, stars aligned and people caught on to the music and appreciated the lack of the polished 'buble gum factory'-ness. It's a good change.

Today there's autotune.. I think bands like this still exist, but the big guys don't let it go without some fixin' up..

Hell, Neil Young, is another.. Ever heard Papa Roach (not exactly for the tape op audence) live? There's a newer band where the singer is out of tune pretty much all the time.
I eat glue.

User avatar
;ivlunsdystf
ghost haunting audio students
Posts: 3290
Joined: Mon Oct 18, 2004 7:15 am
Location: The Great Frontier of the Southern Anoka Sand Plain
Contact:

Post by ;ivlunsdystf » Sun Jan 11, 2009 2:07 pm

I think Jonathan Richman sings off key intentionally. Maybe he used to just sing out of tune, fair and square, but now it's part of his shtick.

these_go211
pushin' record
Posts: 235
Joined: Thu Jul 29, 2004 12:53 pm
Location: san jose, ca

Post by these_go211 » Sun Jan 11, 2009 9:56 pm

my favorite atonal (at times) singer from one of my favorite bands is wayne coyne from the flaming lips. LOVE THOSE GUYS! such character to his voice. especially on the old material.
"well, it's one louder, isn't it...."

http://web.mac.com/chuckelizondo

User avatar
Zygomorph
pushin' record
Posts: 225
Joined: Sat Feb 14, 2004 6:56 pm
Location: Kensington, Brooklyn, NY
Contact:

Post by Zygomorph » Wed Jan 14, 2009 11:28 am

I wouldn't really call his vocal stylings "atonal" as that implies a systematic (or intuitive) avoidance of tonal harmony (that thing we've been living with since Bach: begins and ends in the same key, strong tonic/dominant relationships, etc).

What's interesting about Ian's singing is that he's often between the pitches implied by the other instruments (microtonal); and he does this with what sounds like great certainty, so saying that he's "singing out of tune" is probably missing the mark.

It's more like the way Dylan sings "out of tune" (sprechstimme) except that unlike Dylan, he's maximizing dissonance instead of euphony, tripping instead of lilting.
ethical action gets the good.
audio.johnmichaelswartz.com

kingtoad
pushin' record
Posts: 279
Joined: Thu Apr 10, 2008 10:12 am

Post by kingtoad » Wed Jan 14, 2009 11:36 am

I don't think it's intentional - compare Closer to Unknown Pleasures, the singing is vastly improved, pitch-wise. I think he was still learning when he died; they weren't a band for very long.

User avatar
JGriffin
zen recordist
Posts: 6739
Joined: Thu Jul 31, 2003 1:44 pm
Location: criticizing globally, offending locally
Contact:

Post by JGriffin » Wed Jan 14, 2009 11:40 am

Zygomorph wrote:I wouldn't really call his vocal stylings "atonal" as that implies a systematic (or intuitive) avoidance of tonal harmony (that thing we've been living with since Bach: begins and ends in the same key, strong tonic/dominant relationships, etc).

What's interesting about Ian's singing is that he's often between the pitches implied by the other instruments (microtonal); and he does this with what sounds like great certainty, so saying that he's "singing out of tune" is probably missing the mark.

It's more like the way Dylan sings "out of tune" (sprechstimme) except that unlike Dylan, he's maximizing dissonance instead of euphony, tripping instead of lilting.


So what you're saying is, he's a quarter step flat a lot.
"Jeweller, you've failed. Jeweller."

"Lots of people are nostalgic for analog. I suspect they're people who never had to work with it." ? Brian Eno

All the DWLB music is at http://dwlb.bandcamp.com/

teleharmonium
pushin' record
Posts: 266
Joined: Fri May 30, 2003 1:40 pm
Location: porkopolis

Post by teleharmonium » Wed Jan 14, 2009 1:45 pm

Atonality is definitely not the right word here, and I don't know if I agree about the vocals being the most challenging part of the music. The lyrics aren't necessarily always all that accessible, the dubbed out drums and lack of mids, and some of the compositional choices such as playing two riffs at the same time in "She's Lost Control" that don't really go together, are in contention for that distinction.

Anyway, bear in mind that most of the bands material, studio or live, uses vocals heard at a different pitch than they were sung. I don't have any way of knowing what they used in the studio, presumably tape speed on the analog recordings, but they definitely used a harmonizer to drop the vocals live. There is clear evidence for this on the original VHS release of "Here are the Young Men"; near the beginning titles there is a short section of video from one of the shows where the band is soundchecking; you can hear the harmonizer being adjusted while Ian sings (it's impossible to miss as the sound man sweeps up and down the range a couple of times). For other evidence, you can listen to the earlier recordings like the 4 song EP or the unreleased album; Ian's voice just isn't that low, and it's obvious from his lifestyle and performances that he wasn't sequestering himself and practicing constantly in order to extend his range enough to account for the discrepancy.

Since pitch shifting is involved, it's easy to understand why a degree of tuning problems would be evident. I've also heard claims that Hannett liked out of tuneness at times to create an unnerving effect. Who knows ?

User avatar
Zygomorph
pushin' record
Posts: 225
Joined: Sat Feb 14, 2004 6:56 pm
Location: Kensington, Brooklyn, NY
Contact:

Post by Zygomorph » Wed Jan 14, 2009 10:32 pm

dwlb wrote:So what you're saying is, he's a quarter step flat a lot.
Yes and no.
ethical action gets the good.
audio.johnmichaelswartz.com

Judas Jetski
carpal tunnel
Posts: 1578
Joined: Sun Jan 16, 2005 7:30 pm
Location: The US North Coast
Contact:

Post by Judas Jetski » Thu Jan 15, 2009 2:13 pm

teleharmonium wrote:Anyway, bear in mind that most of the bands material, studio or live, uses vocals heard at a different pitch than they were sung. I don't have any way of knowing what they used in the studio, presumably tape speed on the analog recordings, but they definitely used a harmonizer to drop the vocals live. There is clear evidence for this on the original VHS release of "Here are the Young Men"; near the beginning titles there is a short section of video from one of the shows where the band is soundchecking; you can hear the harmonizer being adjusted while Ian sings (it's impossible to miss as the sound man sweeps up and down the range a couple of times). For other evidence, you can listen to the earlier recordings like the 4 song EP or the unreleased album; Ian's voice just isn't that low, and it's obvious from his lifestyle and performances that he wasn't sequestering himself and practicing constantly in order to extend his range enough to account for the discrepancy.

Since pitch shifting is involved, it's easy to understand why a degree of tuning problems would be evident. I've also heard claims that Hannett liked out of tuneness at times to create an unnerving effect.
Now see, that makes complete sense to me. I was never able to figure out how his vocals were so low-pitched on the later stuff when the earliest stuff is fairly high. The two extremes coming from one voice box never seemed 'right' to me.

Pitch-shifting or outboard harmonizing might have a number of effects--not the least of which would be that a singer using the technology on a regular basis would develop a vocal technique and delivery suited to it. I'd be interested to find out more about this.
Check out the newest Andy Smash release, Black Light / Black Death! http://andysmash.bandcamp.com !


"Avoid trends and clich?s/don't try to be up to date/and when the sunlight hits the olive oil, don't hesitate"

www.AndySmash.com

CalibratedRecording
pluggin' in mics
Posts: 34
Joined: Thu Jun 19, 2003 6:31 am
Location: Rochester, NY
Contact:

Post by CalibratedRecording » Thu Jan 15, 2009 2:16 pm

If you are looking for a great off-pitch vocalist that is still making music, check out Tim Kinsella.
He has a plethora of music and bands to follow. Cap'n Jazz, Owls, Make Believe, Joan of Arc, and his solo stuff.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 7 guests