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Noise to the Voice!

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Martin H
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We all know(well a lot of us) that it is possible to add some “noise” to the clean sounds we can produce. But it seems that the “noise” is just labeled as "noise" despite that it has different "settings". Ex. I've heard a few terms to describe “noise”:

- Distortion

- Grit

- Creak

- Vocal Fry

- Growl

- Rasp

- Grot

- Gravel

- Rattle

- Grunt

- Heat

- Fire

- Edge

- Rough

- And the list probably goes on!

I Know that some of these definitions have been specified. But how do YOU compare your "noise-terms" to what's happening in the throat and how to separate them if possible??

Just curious :)

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Great question... and a nice segway to Steve Fraser's TMV Rosetta Stone project where he is going to work on bringing in all the terminology from the pedagogy lexicon and map it to these vocal sounds/modes... but to answer your question? These almost read as vocal modes to me... you could have added "sob", "opera", "twang", ect... perhaps... just a thought. Sometimes what you are referring to as "noise" , I refer to as "effects"...

I currently refer to any distortion (and lets assume we all know what kind of "noise" Im talking about here), as Distortion. However, there are different kinds of distortion, primarily the traditional vocal distortion and the new extreme scream distortion...

What are your thoughts on this?

Great post... you get a rep. pt. for that...

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The only terms on your list which I understand are "distortion" and "vocal fry."

When we work with HearFones and study the results, there is one and only one reference waveform (other than complete silence, I suppose) that contains no noise or distortion, and that is the sine wave, where SPL (sound pressure level, or think of it as "loudness") at any instantaneous moment is equal to a base amplitude (we'll call it "A") times the sine of an angle that increases steadily with time, just like a clock hand goes around and around. When the hand points down (six o'clock), the sine is -1 (minus one), and when it points left or right (9 or 3 o'clock) the sine is equal to zero. When it points up, the sine equals +1 (plus one).

If you imagine that this sine is smoothly and always changing from zero to +1 and back through zero to -! and on and on, you will understand that this is a totally simple, perfectly described variation of a multiplier that multiplies "A" so that if you were making dots on a graph as fast as it changes, you would see a smooth, mathematically-simple wave shape that looks a lot like a jump rope. Because it is perfectly described, it is termed "simple harmonic motion." And because it is so perfect and simply defined, it simply contains one and only one "fundamental" frequency.

From this reference 'perfect' sound, all deviations are, by definition, "distortion." When we buy electronic audio equipment, of any kind, the very first thing we look for in its "Specifications" is called "Harmonic Distortion" because any at all will destroy the sound we want to hear -- even if the original sound is not a perfect sound but rather -- for example -- the sound of a voice or a violin

The word "noise" is defined as any part of a signal that is not the same as the signal being sent. If I subtract the original signal (say, a perfect sine wave) from the sound coming out of my headphones, the remainder -- what's left over after I subtract -- is by definition "noise." In our daily lives, most of us experience taxi cab horns, roaring bus motors and dogs barking as "noise" if we are trying to hear the sweet words our loved one is murmuring in our ear.

But if we look at a perfect sine wave and we see that it has a small bump somewhere along it, even that minor bump is a distortion, and therefor a noise.

No human voice can perfectly produce a sine wave (though we can come close), and so every human voice has noise in it. On the other hand, if all human sound were a sine wave, we would only have pitch and loudness to use as language. We could talk in Morse code, or make someone think a fire engine is coming. But instead, we all have learned to use noise as a part of our language, causing the differences in our dialect, our vowels and our voiced consonants, and even allowing the hearer to guess which individual is speaking: we say "Hello" on the telephone (or "si" or "endross" or "da" or . . . ) and we somehow expect the caller to guess whether this is Pete or Jane answering. So we use this noise meaningfully.

If we produce a pitch with our vocal folds, because we feed them enough air to keep them periodically opening and closing against one another, then we are creating regular periodic motion. But if we try to produce such a low pitch that the slowed motion allows the folds to stop behaving on a regulated basis but rather to flap around randomly, the irregular sound they produce is called vocal "fry" -- as if the randomness of bubbles when frying potatoes in hot oil is a better representation of their movement than is a sine wave. From one cycle to the next, there is no similarity or predictability.

That's the sound we call "vocal fry" and it's not uncommon in many distressed or destroyed voices. We find the voice harsh, but usually not difficult to understand. Indeed, some country or folk singers create and employ vocal fry to make the listener more empathetic with them. Other distortions are routinely used to convey emotions, such as love and anger.

It will be interesting -- even enlightening -- to read what the other terms are construed to mean. And yes, Steven -- I'm sure -- will be adding words like "dark" and "bright" to the list. As a singer, it's hard for me to relate to these other words as characteristics of a voice, and I'd expect their meanings in that sense are not universally defined.

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