The 3rd ‘Science and Musicology’ meetings provided the occasion for teachers and students of the Science and Musicology double degree to present their degree as well as their professional opportunities. In the middle of the afternoon, Catherine Rudent, lecturer at Paris-Sorbonne University presented a conference that developed a musicological approach to voices in song. Towards the end of the day, students studying the double degree were offered a pleasant musical moment that varied in style from classical, to post rock and rock. It was an opportunity for all to become familiar with this juncture between science and music.
‘Science and Musicology’, a double degree
Shared by both Pierre et Marie Curie University and Paris-Sorbonne universities, this programme offers a 3 year course after completion of the Baccalaureate (A-levels). Introduced in 2006, the course leads to a double degree: The degree in Science and technologies from the UPMC and the degree in Musicology from the Paris-Sorbonne university Paris-Sorbonne. The aim of this degree is to offer students regular music practice to couple their interest in music with high-level science training. Professional opportunities for those following this degree are threefold: graduating students can choose to use their double competency to orientate themselves towards a masters degree in musicology, towards a scientific masters, or towards careers such as sound engineering.
This interdisciplinary training offers science and audio teachings in equal parts including aural training, studies of the history of music, signal processing and so on. Additional training in language and general culture as well as a semester overseas are all assets of this double degree. There is a sense of pride in the comments made by the representative of the alumni association, Clément Gariel, that echoes the originality of the interdisciplinary approach. The gamble seems to have paid off as students with a passion for music can delve into musico-scientific disciplines, developing a capacity for adaption necessary to a group of professions undergoing regular changes as sound techniques evolve.
"There few fields of research more interdisciplinary in nature than musicology. Being a musicologist is a difficult career, and one in which a passion for knowledge is vital. Jean-Jacques Nattiez"
A musicological approach to vocal styles in song
With a soprano voice that cuts through the silent Cordeliers refectory, Catherine Rudent, Lecturer at the university of Paris-Sorbonne, tries to answer a question she herself posed :
"How does one create a science of the voice? Catherine Rudent"
Musicology is the scientific analysis of music. It is the study of socio-cultural phenomena linked to music, its evolution and that of its stylistic elements through numerous disciplines; biology, cognitive sciences, ethnology and so forth.
In her presentation, Catherine Rudent takes us on a journey tofind the musical logic of sung voices. To achieve this, she compares vocalists by taking well-defined concepts. The details of two different concepts were presented.
A distinction must first be made between the main groupings of song independent of culture and gender. Catherine Rudent used the concept of ‘Vocal energy’ to do this. Song excerpts were played for us, from Aretha Franklin (Gospel, Jazz), Edith Piaf (music-hall, French popular music), and Serge Gainsbourg (French Popular Music) to illustrate the different elements that determine the energy level of a voice. Both women cited use techniques to sustain long notes, generously and with ease. They introduce sound interjections and vocal ornamentations (several notes sung with the same syllable) and, often, quickening rhythms. Serge Gainsbourg however refuses to hold notes, practices a fall in pitch, and a lax pronunciation that gives an impression of a lack of energy. A further concept studied by Catherine Rudent is ‘vocal tension’ that introduces a feeling that the voice is forced, lending drama to the song.
The second approach is part of the study of vocal techniques found in different musical styles. Here Catherine Rudent focused on the use of larynx mechanisms in voices including the chest voice and the head voice. Excerpts from yodelling and from Ray Charles were used to illustrate different techniques for changing between the chest and the head voice in order to intensify the message.
To conclude, Catherine Rudent considered the individual styles of vocalists. She explained that the musical style for singers like Juliette Gréco or Mademoiselle K is similar to the their spoken vocal style. The same goes for the breathing rhythm that creates a breathy ambience or, conversely, a relaxed breathing style such as that practiced during speech.
To conclude, the singing voice can be approached from a musicological perspective if the rigorous concepts that define vocal techniques can first be determined. It is, nevertheless, often difficult to distinguish by ear how a singer uses his/her voice. Moreover it is common knowledge that vocal effects are added by microphones! Thus a technological analysis of voice samples conducted by timber and spectrum analysers would be the logical next step from Catherine Rudent’s studies who, responding to questions from the audience, said she would like to link up with sound engineers to continue her musicology studies on voices.
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L. B. and the team MyScienceWork wish to thank the Association of former students of the double cursus that published our article in the june 2011 issue of its journal:
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©Tsian; U.P.images - Fotolia.com
Find out more:
1) The teachers site of the Science and musicology double degree (in French) http://www.sciencesetmusicologie.org/Bienvenue.html
2) The Evocative Power of Vocal Staging in Recorded Rock Music and Other Forms of Vocal Expression, thesis by Serge Lacasse, (2000), http://www.mus.ulaval.ca/lacasse/