What Does God Sound Like? part 1

February 6, 2019







I was born with a love for the human voice.  Sound thrills me, especially the strange, divine stuff we call music, and above all else when expressed by a vocalist.  


A voice has tone and inflection, but it also has character.  Actors are easy to recognize, even if you're just walking through a room and can't see the TV: Annabelle Sciorra, Keith David, Charles S. Dutton, Debra Winger.   It's as if you're recognizing someone you know.  Then there's the voice-over crowd; these people have very distinctive vocal quality.  In documentaries and nature programs you often hear an actor named Peter Coyote.  You might know Coyote as the wheelchair bound hellraiser in a Polanski film called Bitter Moon  Great voice: slightly gritty with a certain warmth, a storytelling presence, and that's why they use him.  Keith David, also.  Powerful screen presence, and great for voice-overs. 


Annabelle Sciorra has one of the silkiest voices on this planet.  If an angel appeared on earth as a tiger, woke up and stretched after a long nap and started to speak, it would sound like Annabelle Sciorra.  


When you take that extraordinary instrument and make music, I feel the most intense kind of ecstasy. When I work with a singer, writing and recording, I am in a room with a creature who intrinsically manufactures my drug of choice.  I get excited. 


Movies combine sound design, speech, and music with visual poetry.  In a scene with music, it's pretty easy to reduce me to a shuddering mass of ecstasy. 


The movie MirrorMask features a fascinating remake of the Burt Bacharache written, Karen Carpenter classic Close To You.  The arrangement is striking and unusual: a voice manipulated, slightly robotic yet still vulnerable and human rendition that wakes you up and delivers the drug at the same time.  


You can find another example in a sci-fi movie called Mimic. Charles S. Dutton descends with a scientist into an abandoned subway, dark and subterranean, and shouts out a vocal phrase to comfort himself. "Yeah, yeah!... got a telegram this morning.  Sayin' my wife was dead..."  It's a variation on a Lightnin' Hopkins song, pure blues music, my favorite in the world, and as often happens with the genre it takes something painful and makes it into the most beautiful expression of humanity on earth. 


Mr. Dutton is what you call a "Blues Shouter," someone who sounds best when he's just belting it out.  It's a wonderful little interlude, one he may not have thought much of... but I recommend you rent the movie just to hear it.  I don't know if Dutton takes singing gigs or not but I would hire him, record a phrase like that and compose a moody, filtered, funk inflected piece for it... Dutton's voice belting out over the top, looped so it repeats again and again, the groove and harmony pulsating support underneath.   This is how I worship. 


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