Timbre 02

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Bridget’s Playlist

Rafael Mendez—A Trumpeter’s Lullaby

My mom used to have this song on a CD that she would always play when taking me to and from school when I was very young. The trumpet that is the main focus of this song has a metallic, nasal, and bright timbre. It is very sharp and brilliant compared to the mellow, soothing sounds of the orchestra behind it. The sound makes me think of orange and yellow colors swirling on a blue background. Although the timbre of the trumpet is metallic and bright, the song is soothing and makes me sleepy. This is probably because I associate it with riding in the car with my mother and feeling safe and comfortable.


The sound of a didgeridoo, an Indigenous Australian wind instrument, is very eerie. The its timbre is deep and droning. It almost sounds like deep, indistinguishable speech or chanting. Together with the didgeridoo in this song are instruments that sound like wood-blocks. They produce a hollow tapping noise that reminds me of people using hammers. Together with the didgeridoo, the overall effect is very unsettling. The timbre of the didgeridoo reminds me of many shades of green, from yellow-green to deep forest green. The wood blocks are a mustard yellow that drips into and melds with the greens. I think of rain forests, and stepping on piles of fallen leaves.

Martin O’Donnel—Keep What You Steal

This song is from a video game called Halo 3. I played the Halo series with my father when I was younger, so hearing the soundtrack makes me very nostalgic. Keep What You Steal is performed by an orchestra. The timbres of the higher string instruments like the violin are bright and vibrant, overlaid with the sweet, pleasing timbre of the piano. The lower string instruments soon join (violas, cellos), adding an emotional, rich, and filling timbre to the piece. Next, a soft and rousing electronic beat begins, that leads into large sonorous drumming and the eerie, high vocalization of a choir. These additions near the end of the song bring the melody from soothing to rousing. When I listen to this song, I see deep purples and blues, two very soothing colors to me. I think of the incomprehensible expanse of starry night skies.

Tycho – Awake

I included this song because it is produced by electronic instruments. I think electronic instruments open up whole new timbres that acoustic instruments cannot produce. Awake is created with an electric guitar, an electric bass, a soundboard, and drums. The electric guitar is given an added echo to make the entire song feel encompassing and supernatural. At the beginning of the song, each instrument is slowly added to the melody, allowing the song to grow as it progresses. The bass guitar has a full, rich timbre that almost seems to vibrate within the listener. The drums produce a basic dull, hollow beat penetrated by the metallic reverberations of the cymbals. The electric guitar and the soundboard relay the melody back and forth between each other: the guitar having a grainier, resonant timbre, while the soundboard has a nasal, “wah” timbre. The result is like a duet between two voices. The timbre of this song brings to mind dark earthy colors. The rich and sonorous timbre of the bass evokes rust reds, the electric guitar forest greens, and the drum beat midnight blues. The electronic timbre of the soundboard is like a bright silver that interrupts the earthy tones of the other instruments.

Samuel Orson- Cocaine Princess

What makes this song compelling to me is that it is not particularly melodic. The timbre of the primary instrument, an acoustic guitar, is very sharp and twangy. In videos of the artist performing the song, you can see that he way in which he handles the guitar is very unconventional. He lays it flat across his lap and taps/hits the strings as well as strums them. At times he also plays further up the fingerboard, producing a distinctive plucking noise, called pizzicato. The causes the strings to vibrate a lot more creating a whiny, high pitched timbre that to me is reminiscent of a siren, especially when Orson repeats the same chords over and over again at some portions of the song. Orson also uses his palm to hit the body of the guitar, which creates a dull echoing beat at some portions of the song. The timbre of this song evokes a sense of urgency and hopelessness in me. Because of these feelings, I associate the title “Cocaine Princess” with the dark side of drug use, with addiction and overdose.

Video of Orson playing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UelSFT5BL-s

Kondor—Story of My Life

This song begins abruptly with the clear, bright timbre of a piano. Soon, a bass joins in with a sonorous beat underlying the pure tone of the piano. Higher string instruments join as well, providing a more mellow counterpart to the melody of the piano. Next, drums join the ensemble, providing a dull, specific beat. Finally, the high, bright, and sharp timbre of a flute overlies and plays atop of the melody. The result is a bubbly melody and light song that reminds me of a babbling brook or a sunny meadow. When listening to the timbre of the instruments in this song, I see pastel blues and pinks from the piano and string instruments, with bright greens and yellows produced by the flute, all laid over a light purple base from the drums.

Ikuta Ryu—Sakura

This song is played on an instrument called the koto. I chose it because it was a song I learned for the piano when I was very young. Unlike on the piano, on the koto the sound is a lot sharper and brighter, almost nasal. I think the striking and abrupt sounds of the koto call to mind the spinning and falling of the Sakura petals much more clearly than a piano ever could. Because of the name of the song and the sharp twangs of the strings, the timbre of this music reminds me of pale pinks and bright silvers and oranges. When I listen to it I’m reminded of the temples I’ve visited in Japan.

Omar Sepulveda Inkuyo—Amancece En Visiri

I picked this because I really liked Inkuyo’s song Wipala that was in Baraka. The blending of guitar and flute makes this song feel warm and natural. The breathy timbres of the pan flute and cane flute are soft and light, and remind me of the sound wind makes when it’s whistling between rocks and trees. The guitar creates a pleasant and calming melody that perfectly supports the flute melody. When I listen to this song I think of large, green meadows with streams flowing through and a light breeze blowing. As the pan pipes become louder, I imagine the breeze picks up and is blowing the grass as well as my hair and clothes.

Wilco—One Sunday Morning

The timbres of the guitar and piano in this song are very warm and homey. The piano is sweet and youthful, while the guitar is rich and aged. The xylophone that joins the two is bright and beautiful. The vocal timbre of the singer is very soothing, low, and deep, which makes the song feel cozier and familiar. It evokes memories of sitting indoors wrapped in a warm blanket with a cup of tea while a light rain falls outside. I’m not sure what instrument creates the underlying beat of the song, but it sounds to me like the musician is flicking the pages of a paperback book. The timbre is very papery and dry, so it adds to the feeling of being inside with a good book on a rainy day, and it makes me feel safe and warm. Later the high, sweet sound of a violin joins the guitar, piano, and xylophone, as well as a kind of tinkle sound that seems to be made by some percussion instrument. It reminds me of the clink of china that a teacup would make on a saucer, and reinforces the images of rain and a cup of tea.

Kings of Convenience—Homesick

This song begins with an electric guitar and acoustic guitar playing together in harmony. The electronic and twangy timbre of the electric guitar melds well with the smoother, more sonorous timbre of the acoustic guitar. Joining the two guitars are two voices singing in harmony. The lyrics of the song mention “two soft voices blended in perfection,” which is exactly how I feel when I hear the singers. Their voices are not only soft, but gentle, beautiful, and emotional. They have a soothing timbre, like a lullaby, and the way they harmonize: one deeper voice and one higher, is gorgeous. When I listen to the timbre of the artists’ voices, I’m reminded of my parent’s living room, where I used to hear Simon and Garfunkel CDs that they would play on the stereo. (In fact, I feel just like the title of the song, Homesick). The overall feeling is very comforting. Two voices blend together as two guitars blend together, producing a warm, peaceful melody.

Eric’s Playlist

My general approach to deciding what to select was varied. I started with french horns and the electone because I thought they would be interesting to listen to in this context. I then changed gears to a few vocal songs which all had elements to talk about. I returned to instrumental music and thought about why the koto made the recording unique. Two of the world music selections were easy to comment on, but the last one was not.

1) “Jurassic Park” as performed by Vienna Horns

I find french horns one of the clearest and most mellow instruments I can think of. In this arrangement, the horn is not made to sound brassy. The hornists playing the melody are able to make their instruments sound bright in the latter half, accentuated by the bright quality of the xylophone that becomes louder toward the end. The horns are effective in replacing the strings of the original recording from the film, but the piece was toned down from its original, more brilliant version to become more soothing. The frequency range of the arrangement is narrower than the original because the french horn isn’t as expressive at the bottom of its range.

2) “Battle on the Big Bridge” for electronic organ as played by a dinosaur

The bass is consistently heavy and sounds stringy throughout. The lower keyboard ran out of keys (a semitone lower than the lowest one was desired) in the intro section, making the chord sound empty despite the even lower tone of the foot pedal still being there. The electronic sounds don’t sound great even on this brand name electronic organ. The sound levels of each instrument seem to be set before playing and not changed while playing. Thus, the airy organ sound often competes with the not-so-brassy trumpet where the trumpet should clearly win.

3) “Nganshe” as performed by Mbongwana Star

The singer’s voice, while clear, lacks some fullness. His voice sounds a bit weak, somewhat mellow but not powerful or compelling. The background “ooh”s are rounded. I liked the dreamy sounding guitar quickly fading in and out with the beat, and I even more liked the distorted guitar that comes in piercing to contrast with the softer voices that come before and after. The contrast is made more distinct by removing the bass line after the distorted guitar part and first reintroducing the vocals. The electronic sounds introduced last are some of the least colored, or most pure, tones in the recording.

4) “Suzy” as performed by Caravan Palace

The effect at the beginning is as if the song is being played at normal volumes in another room. The quality of the sound is tinny from the beginning until the vocals begin. There are low notes in this section, but not the kind you could feel vibrate your body played loudly. Somehow it sounds like the treble speakers in my headphones are trying to play the bass notes. The body-vibrating bass does come in soon, but exits and reenters many times. To me, it often sounds like the bass line is carrying the song along in its hands, then tosses it in the air (when the bass stops) before returning a few moments later. The female singing here is fairly rounded, whereas the male scatting is harsh.

5) “Closer” as performed by The Chainsmokers

The beginning male vocal is deep and full, with no vibrato. The electronic sounds that punctuate the beginning section, more than the vocals, sound breathy. They fade out in a similar way that a wind instrument does. They are short but not piercing and have a nice heavy sound. These sounds swap with a piano playing the same chords in a similar rhythm, but sustaining them. The sustained piano chords also sound nice and heavy but are less comforting. The shorter electronic chords sound confident while the piano chords exist to complement the very long lyric. In other words, they sound more tense and anticipatory of the familiar electronic chords to follow.

6) “Galbadia Garden” as written by Nobuo Uematsu

This piece is entirely entirely electronic because the game discs back then were too small to hold recordings on top of the cinematics – and this game was already 4 CDs long. In the beginning, the electronic sounds have a thick chorus effect applied, which makes them somewhat piercing. Beyond the introduction we move into an airy, muted harmony with a stringy “wah”-sounding bass artfully carrying the melody. The beat is given by a light rhythmic shaking and a metronome with a bell every 4 or 8 beats. The bell stands out musically, but isn’t piercing in quality.

7) Koto piece from HUM-207 playlist

I approached this piece by thinking about what other more familiar instruments I could imagine the piece being played on. If the piece were performed on a pair of bowed instruments, such as a violin and cello, the tone quality would be markedly different. The droning low note (putting me to sleep) would not be as effective if the bowed instrument wasn’t able to sustain it in the same way. We can also hear, in addition to the repeated two notes in the beginning section, the scratching sound of her picks against the two strings. To isolate the sound, imagine scratching on the few thicker guitar strings with your fingernails. In the last few seconds, she changes the position on the string that she plucks, affecting the overtones in a way that is noticeable – the apparent pitch of the scratching changes.

8) “First Breath After Coma” as performed by Explosions in the Sky

There is a long buildup for the first four minutes, followed by a sudden silence. It starts with a gentle pulsing note, which persists after the other layers join in and becomes irritating, but is refreshing when the note changes. The other layers are a stringed bass and a bright electric guitar. The next voices to join are more drums and a second guitar talking brightly with the first. Overall the mood is motivating.

9) “This Modern Love” as performed by Bloc Party

Beginning with a repetitive guitar passage, the upper of the two repeated notes is more piercing while the lower is more mellow except for the one which is played on an open string. The early vocals are breathy because of the effect applied. The next passage played by a new instrument is bright. The bass in the next section of the song (when the vocals aren’t muted anymore) is light and played on a guitar, pushing the frequency range up the register. The bass guitar returns after that to fill the lower register. Like in “Closer,” the bass that doesn’t play sustained notes sounds more confident than the guitars that do. Occasionally the singer will shout rather than sing a line, but in a rounded rather than a harsh way.

10) “Bamboo Banga” as performed by M.I.A

The vocals in the song are clear and almost monotonal. The voices in the higher frequency range are harsh and highly distorted. When played along with other sounds, they are indistinguishable from electronic sounds. The register is not full – there is a wide space between the bass note and the singer’s range. The note used in the song is immediately droning.

Jaeryung’s Playlist

  1. Air on G String – The title of this piece is incredibly fitting. Specifically, the violin’s sounds are air being blown by the melody. It is so powerful and clear but still has a light sensation that makes this piece so dramatic yet calming. Through this piece I can feel something akin to the presence of divinity, which nature is often represented as.
  2. New World Symphony – I find the whole piece incredibly emotive but I would like to focus on the largo of this piece. The piercing yet gentle melody of the wind instruments dominate this section, while the strings provide a mellow background. This relatively light and warm soundscape is occasionally bombarded by the resonance of brass instruments. What I feel from this piece is something akin to the feeling of family. It is filled with harsh yet loving actions and words. Most of the time it is a feeling of idleness. Sometimes there is fanfare and parties. But there are also times of anxiety and gloom. But ultimately as a family you come together in joy through all those times. (I’m probably influenced by knowing that the adapted version of this section is called “Goin’ Home”)
  3. Rhapsody in Blue – Temperamental. This is what I would describe this piece as. For me what is so impressive about this piece is how all the various instruments used can produce this sensation of drastic mood swings specifically through dissonance, the rhythms that seem to create a hasty feeling, and swift changes in the intensity of the sounds. It reminds me of the playfulness and sensitivity of a child, which, to me, is one of the key qualities of jazz.
  4. BUNKASAI Medley – The most important quality of this music is its overwhelming amount of energy. It is filled with experimentation on well-known songs sometimes resulting in dissonance and unexpected sounds. Despite that, it is incredibly clear thanks to only two instruments being played, a piano and a drum set. I believe that only a piano and/or drum set can singlehandedly create the rhythms and dissonance of this music while maintaining the clarity of sound that produces a sensation of youthful energy and inner struggle. By having both play together, the interplay of dissonance and consonance between the two instruments simultaneously creates a focused yet unfocused quality, which, to me, exemplifies youth. (which is the focus of the anime this OST is from).
  5. Shatter Me – Both the violin and vocals are piercing, harsh and clear. These two parts of the music run parallel and at many points converge to create a highly resonant quality. Thus, it is incredibly powerful and dramatic, which easily expresses the forcefulness understood from the lyrics. (Interestingly, the resonant quality of the music speaks to the lyrics as it is one method to shatter glass.)
  6. Hyouka no Kuni – I’m not too sure what instrument is being used to produce the main music but I assume it is a synthesizer. The fluctuating roundness and relative brightness of this sound works together with the mellow, breathy and light vocal to produce an uncanny timbre. It feels evanescent and so mystical that is untouchable yet not so mysterious as to produce a feeling of anxiety or fear.
  7. What I primarily find interesting is that I feel that these two songs evoke similar effects of evanescence despite drastically differing timbres and structure. Or perhaps it lies more in the fact that I see myself in both song’s personalities and find them similar.
  8. No title – It’s hard to explain exactly why I find this song so appealing. I find it very light and clear, despite the breathiness of the vocalist. The background music is incredibly accented to the point it feels fleeting. At times the vocalist is incredibly rounded and at times she is piercing. The effect of these qualities is mostly a bubbly and energized soundscape and yet there is a feeling of this atmosphere being momentary and prone to quickly disappear.
  9. The following two songs are Altale and Anemoi. The main thing I want to focus on is the combination of the piano (and other percussions) with violin sounds. In both Altale and Anemoi, the smoothness of the violins combines with the sharpness and motion of the percussive elements (specifically the piano), creating highly dense yet clear tones. As the violin and piano ascend in frequency together, the sounds become focused and resonant, attaining a brightness that evokes a sensation of stars in the sky, a symbol of hope. However, Altale evokes a sensation of melancholy through some regression into a heavier tone, thereby feeling like longing. Meanwhile, Anemoi maintains an overall brighter tone which leads me to feel a sensation akin to reaching that hopeful peak.
  10. Parousia – Most of the sounds in this music are clear, resonant, and focused and structured in such a way to elicit a grandiose feeling akin to that of being put into the presence of something regal/divine. Yet the implementation of the muddying and non-uniform sound of the synthesizer incorporates a sense of eeriness within this piece that causes the encounter to be otherworldly. It introduces conflict within a setting of a dramatic encounter that to me is so like the dissonance that occurs when an individual questions the doctrines of a theology within their religious space.
  11. In burn this moment into the retina of my eye, the prominent, harsh, and densely packed drumming produces a grounded and dark sound quality. Coupled with the periodic hollow and often muddied accompaniments, the scene is suspended in eeriness. Similarly, Galaxy Collapse uses a similar ensemble of densely packed and jagged sounds accompanied by unclear noise elements to produce a regular cacophony. However, Galaxy Collapse does use a smoothly fluctuating and clear sound that pierces through this harsh soundscape. The most interesting part of these two songs is their use of dissonant noise to fill the entire song and produce an elevated intensity of sounds, leading to an increase in the overall energy that one feels from the music. (which can explain their popularity in rhythm game communities)
  12. Shiki no Uta –The main reason I picked this song is how much it reminded me of the Zen Shakuhachi’s philosophy on sounds. There is very little in this song that attempts to impress by producing a clean and resonant sound; rather it is focused on being unfocused. The vocals are rather flat, dark, and breathy, while the sparse and muddy background music is put off-beat to the vocals. This raspy quality produces a very natural and self-reflective mood which is very much in line with that of the Zen Shakuhachi philosophy.
  13. Senbonzakura – I chose this specifically to focus on the timbre of a vocaloid and how different it is from a human voice. At times, it feels hollow and flat while other times, it is eerily piercing and resonant. I wouldn’t say it sounds mechanical (like whirring, etc.) but it definitely sounds artificial. In some ways, there is a lack of tone color/texture in this vocal and thus, the song feels like the monotony of (bad) storytelling rather than a medium for emotional expression and evocation. One interesting thought I had is whether vocaloids can be given their own timbre quality of “mechanical” or “unnatural”. (newer vocaloids have been being developed with fuller sounds which break away from this preconception of machine voice such as that of text-to-speech)

Alex’s Playlist

Rachenica (Lemon Bucket Orkestra) – In the opening minutes of this song, one melody is picked up and replayed by several instruments, sort of like a call-and-response. The first instrument (I believe it is a fiddle) has a soft, but precise sound. The second instrument is more drawn out, and a twang can also be heard. When several instruments are playing simultaneously, there is a small amount of dissonance between the sounds.

Hondergeyim (Tuva Ensemble) – The song starts out in a very childish and melodic manner, which was unexpected for a Tuvan song. The melody is warm and upbeat. Soon, though, the throat singing begins, although this throat singing is also melodic. This stood in contrast to my earlier conception of throat singing. The melodicity of the children matches the instrumentation in the background, whereas the throat singing contrasts it in a manner which produces a fuller sound for the singer.

Koomei (Tuva Ensemble) – This song starts off with throat singing and no instrumentation behind it. There is no melodicity to this part. Soon, a quiet instrument can be heard in the background. Similar to the singer, the instrument does not play a melody. It instead holds one note, and this note will persist throughout the song. Although neither the singer nor the instrument is varying its melody, the two complement each other, giving a sense of speed and urgency to the sound. Later, the singer goes into a trance-like oscillation. These sound harsh.

Nara (alt-J) – The song opens up with two vocalists singing the same melody, although producing a slightly dissonant sound. Once instrumentation joins the song, something interesting begins to happen with the timbre. The song will go into a melodic section for a few seconds, then switch to heavy distortion, and then switch back. The song has an overall dark quality to it, but it interspersed by happy and innocent sounds. For example, a xylophone is being played at the same time as heavy distortion. The song is also dominated by heavy vibrato.

Holiday (Green Day) – This song uses an electric guitar with heavy distortion. This gives the noise a harsher timbre. In contrast, the singer’s voice is clear and has a warmth to it. A second guitar during the bridge does not use distortion as heavily, and this part sounds warmer, also in contrast to the aforementioned guitar.

Savior (Rise Against) – The song utilizes staccato guitar strums. One of the guitars frequently is palm muted, but it still gives off a twang, so the sound is harsh. The bass in the background reinforces a darker color to the song.

Menswear (The 1975) – This is a mellow song, characterized by notes which start loud but trail off, like a strong wave rolling into shore. These slow moving sounds give a darker color to the song. Quiet but tight percussive sounds can also be heard, creating voluminous space within the song.

Quiet, It’s naptime (Opus Orange) – This is also a mellow song, but it is much warmer. A ukulele plays happy notes throughout. A tambourine gives off a light but persistent percussive beat. The sounds are full.

5 Years Time (Noah And The Whale) – This is another song which uses a ukulele. It uses maracas for percussion and it also occasionally has a kazoo. This is a warm, lightweight song as the collection of instruments would suggest.

We Don’t Believe What’s On TV (Twenty One Pilots) – This is the third song on my list which uses a ukulele, but this song has a very different timbre than the other two. The percussion is a drum set, giving a fuller noise to the song. It also plays quickly, giving a sense of urgency. Overall, the song has a dark quality to it.

Karan’s Playlist

Johannes Linstead – Cafe Tropical – The Streets of Old San Juan
World – Afro-Cuban/Neo-Flamenco/Latin American/Caribbean

The first thing that strikes me about the timbre of this song is how happy everything sounds. In the background, the percussion seems to be made by castanets, or a similar clapping instrument. Of course the guitar is the dominant force in this song. What’s interesting is how there are different tones to the guitar: the twangier, more upbeat sound used for the refrain, and the slightly chunkier, darker tone used for much of the main body of the song. The segment in the middle also seems to use a piano or keyboard or some similar kind of instrument. However, despite the timbre is that of a piano, it also puts to mind more traditional stringed instruments like guitars and ukeleles. Usually one does not think of a piano fitting in with this sort of tropical-sounding music, and so it’s quite interesting to listen to.

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon – Money
Space Rock/Progressive Rock

Essays could be written about the opening to Money. The opening sound of the cash register with money spilling into it is strangely compelling, and then the bass slowly creeps in behind it, until the two become overlaid, and you don’t even notice when the cash register has stopped and it’s just a bassline. Suddenly the guitar and vocals explode onto the scene. This song is one of the best examples of Pink Floyd’s spacey, almost ethereal tone, as Waters’ voice seems to float in and out with the bass and guitar’s in and out jumps only contributing to this tone. The instrumental section in the middle has a very jazzy and bluesy intro before transitioning back to a more rock-like sound. There’s also a very interesting bit where the instruments seem very subdued and muted, seeming to occupy a very small part of the soundscape, before exploding back into life and dominating every register.

Imaginary Flying Machines – Princess Ghibli – Kimi Wo Nosete
World – Anime Music/Japanese Metal

The dominant sound in this song is the background guitar. It’s extremely distorted, thick, and muddy, and so it really takes up a huge chunk of what one’s ears can process. However, in the background, there’s a guitar just playing individual notes which is much less distorted. This juxtaposition between two flavours of the same kind of instrument is a huge part in what makes this song compelling to me. The other place where this juxtaposition happens is in the vocals. Through most of the song, the vocals are extremely clean (and oddly for metal, sung by a woman). These clean vocals stand in stark contrast to the chunky sound of the instruments, but one of the coolest parts of the song is during the chorus. Another voice joins in, and this one is a male voice growling. The combination of high-pitched, clean female vocalist with a deep, dark, male metal vocalist is extremely compelling, and this song actually helped me understand the allure of growled vocals to some extent.

Metallica – Garage, Inc. – Whiskey in the Jar
Folk/Hard Rock/Metal

Like most Metallica, this song has a lot of distortion in the guitars, a strong rhythm, and relatively clean vocals. However, somehow, despite having the same ingredients as most Metallica songs, Whiskey in the Jar has a very folksy feel to it. Part of this may be attributed to the folksy riff played between each verse – even though it’s being played on a guitar, it puts to mind the sound of an accordion almost. Furthermore, when the vocals “masha ring dum-a-do-dum-a-da” are sung (even in James Hetfield’s leonine voice), they really evoke a folky feel when voices were considered a musical instrument in their own right without the words needing any meaning. The vocals are also tremendously expressive, with the tone of his voice going from triumphant, to angry, and finally ending in a sad resignation.

Faun – Licht – Egil Saga
World – Germanic Folk

Egill Skallagrimsson is the eponymous hero of Egil’s Saga – one of the oldest surviving pieces of literature in the world. This song deals with one of his exploits, and is interestingly enough, sung in Old Norse. One of the most striking things about this song is how far in the forefront the vocals are when the vocalists are singing. It really puts in mind folk music where the vocalist is the most important part of the song (as they are telling the story or the “saga”). The timbre of the instruments also contributes to this very folky feeling. For want of a better word, the instruments sound old or even primitive. Their sound lacks the polish of many modern instruments, lending itself to the folky atmosphere. The main vocalists’ voice shares this quality to a lesser extent as they seem to have very little autotune applied to them. There’s a bit of cracking, a few notes that don’t seem to be exactly on pitch – only adding further to the atmosphere of an old folk song. The most cognitive dissonance in the song occurs somewhere in the middle when a man mumbles some things in a very artificial sounding voice. Nonetheless, this song is overall a very soothing experience.

Ignis Fatuu – Neue Ufer – Stille Wasser
World – Germanic Folk/Metal

As the song opens, there’s soon an interesting tonal contrast. The classic, chunky, distorted guitar we usually associate with metal is being played in conjunction with a wind instrument (possible some sort of pan pipe). This is hinted at as the song starts – the pan pipe is playing, but the percussion in the background sounds less folky and more like something out of a rock band. The male vocalist’s voice is also an interesting contradiction. Though the actual tone of his voice is more akin to Rammstein than Faun, the cadence of his voice, the way he draws words out, and the overall timbre of it provides a middle ground of sorts between traditional folk singing and metal singing – especially when he whispers. The coolest part of the song however, is when the female vocalist comes on and then trades place with the male vocalist a few times. When her voice first comes onto the track, it’s almost angelic. It’s high, clear, and full of positive energy – contrasting so sharply with the feel of the rest of the song – making her sound almost like an angel. Like in Kimi Wo Nosete, there’s a brief moment in which the voices overlay one another, and then there’s a fascinating dynamic where the male and female vocalists throw the torch of singing back and forth to one another. The contrast between the voices, and the germanic sound of the vocals makes it almost seem like the listener is being repeatedly thrown from heaven to hell and back again because of the contrast between the angelic and demonic voices.

Electric Wizard – Dopethrone – Funeralopolis
Doom Metal

The sounds in Funeralopolis fitb  incredibly well together to create a thick, sludgy, purple sound. One of the defining factors of the sound of this song is the ever present feedback sound in the background. Though it’s clearer at the beginning of the song, this almost staticky background noise is an integral part of the overall sludginess of the sound. The guitars are incredibly distorted, contributing to the chunky sound. There’s also a creaking, squeaking sound in the background which might be from someone scraping guitar strings with a fingernail. Another sound effect sounds like heavy, laboured breathing, and I have no idea how it’s created. Finally, the vocals (when they finally kick in) are also heavily distorted. They’re filled with static, and the singing itself is very strained and a little unnatural. All this combines to make a very grim, dark sound – fitting for one of the most prominent doom metal bands out there.

Korpiklaani – Ukon Wacka – Tequila
World – Finnish Folk Metal/Afro-Cuban/Latin American/Caribbean

When a Finnish metal band sings about Tequila, you can be sure that the song will sound very interesting. The percussive beat that opens the song, though played on a western drum set brings to mind Caribbean and Latin American percussion. Even the tone of the introductory guitar is extremely upbeat and almost tropical sounding – bringing to mind the tropical beaches of Mexico rather than the barren wastes of Finland. The song then transitions into the classic sound associated with Korpiklaani’s brand of folk metal – fast, intense backing guitar and quickly barked vocals. However, it soon becomes apparent that the name and introductory section weren’t the only homages to Latin America. The tone of singing takes on the distinctly upbeat quality often associated with Latin America for the chorus, and the singer even rolls his r’s to emulate the Spanish r. In the background, there is whistling of the sort often associated with carnival music, and the riffs are reminiscent of Caribbean and neo-flamenco styles, despite their more distorted tone. What’s interesting about this song is that it’s timbre truly is world music. There’s a combination of Finnish folk music, Nordic metal, and various influences from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Caligula’s Horse – The Tide, The Thief & River’s End – Into the White
Progressive Metal/Alternative Rock

As with a lot of progressive metal, one of the defining factors of this song’s timbre is the smooth, effortless transitions. The song opens with what seems like a piano or keyboard with a slight acoustic guitar backing. It’s very soft, peaceful, and a little melancholy. Then the guitar breaks into the forefront with the vocalist. The guitar is very acoustic, soft, and soothing. The vocalist is also singing smoothly and calmly. At this point, there’s no indication of what is to come. This sections slowly builds up with crescendos followed by lulls, but the overall effect is that of two steps forward, then one step back, and so on. Finally, the song shows its roots and the electric guitars light up the soundscape as the vocals get a little more aggressive. Of course, the song then falls back into its previous acoustic regime, before once again breaking into a metal regime. Though this repeats a few times, nearer the end of the song, there is an instrumental section where the harsh, distorted guitars contrast with what sounds like a piano, and then this regime is repeated at the very end of the song with very wailing vocals. Overall, despite the repeated timbral changes during this song, what’s interesting is the way in which the sound seems to always have large dynamic and frequency ranges.

Falconer – Among Beggars And Thieves – Skula, Skorpa, Skalk
World – Swedish Folk/Power Metal

The song starts out with very folky sounding vocals. The voice is powerful, clear, and drawn out. All the words seem clearly enunciated (though they’re not in English, so I’m not sure). Very early on, a background almost like a gregorian chant kicks in. It sounds like a group of men simply moving their voice around like a musical instrument without any syllables or words. The first instrument to properly enter the soundscape sounds like a pan pipe, further adding to the folk atmosphere. The illusion of this being a folk song is then promptly shattered by the rude arrival of an electric guitar. The vocals, however, remain in the same tone, and it’s incredible how the tone of voice that suited folk music so well also meshes perfectly with the electric guitar. What’s interesting is that after this vocal section, the distortion on the guitar is temporarily dialed down a little, and it’s used to play the same riff that was played on the pan pipes – and somehow the guitar sounds eerily like it might be a set of pan pipes in disguise. This song is in many ways characterised by the emptiness of its soundscape during vocal sections – where it seems like there are only two sounds – the voice, and a clearly defined guitar. However, during the instrumental sections, all the sounds grow, and seem to occupy the entire sound spectrum.

*** Click for Timbre 03 ***