Note: To get the best experience with these songs, close your eyes when you listen to them
Mischa Maisky plays Bach Cello Suite No.1 in G: This was literally the first song I thought of when I understood what timbre meant. I had always wondered why it was that this song relaxed me and helped me think clearer, but now I realize that it is due to the warm tone of the notes and the smooth, flowing character of the song itself. I especially love it when the piece hits the really low, resonant notes along with other higher notes at the very start. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZn_VBgkPNY
The Three Tenors – Libiamo Ne’lieti Calici: As the name of the group suggests, the members are all tenors. However, when one listens to this song, we can still distinguish between each singer due to the difference in their tones. Moreover, this song is especially notable for its timbre because when the three tenors sing together you hear the resonant, loud voices they are known for. Two minutes into the song, the energy of the song changes as all the singers join in and their strong, warm voices excite the crowd. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRhdA1QLtQM
Nicole Scherzinger – Phantom Of The Opera (Royal Variety Performance – December 14): This is my favorite Broadway song and the sole reason is because of the wide range of octaves that the female singer covers in the song. It is especially remarkable how she is able to hit that extremely (I mean my god- astoundingly long and loud) high note at the end of the song. It literally gives me goosebumps every time I listen and is mainly due to the piercing last note. This note and the range that both the singers must cover is what lends to the spooky tone of the song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE6SRBnDHx8
Louis Armstrong – What A Wonderful World: Louis Armstrong is known for his rich, baritone voice, and this song truly highlights it. His gentle, warm timbre reminds me of enjoying the moment you are in right now and just knowing that someone always has your back. If I were to associate one image in my head with this song, it would be a warm, sunny day on an open pasture field with a cool breeze flowing around. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3yCcXgbKrE
Ek Chatur Naar – Padosan – Saira Banu, Sunil Dutt & Kishore Kumar: This song is notable for two reasons: First, there are two very clearly different tone qualities in the song. Second, the song shows how the new generation (of the 1970s) wanted to move away from the classical musical ways of the past and thus try to make it brighter and lighter. Since this song is in Hindi, it is helpful to know that the man with the pony tail is the classical singer, known for his smooth, melodious (which turns to a harsh one by the end) voice, and the other man with the hat is the more modern one, known for his bright, loud, and choppy voice. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HwrMGpFaik
Lezim Band (Indian Cultural Band): This type of music is known as Lezim music and the players of the music are part of group called a lezim band. This type of music is seen commonly in the streets of India during wedding processions and the Ganesh Chaturti Festival due to the high energy and loud tone quality of the group. The numerous drums in the band (often exceed to more than a hundred players) and range in size from that of a small plate to ones that need to be carried by three people. The large drums are the ones that provide the rhythmic background to the group, while the smaller ones provide the melody and sound like light, fast bullets. The sounds tend to be quite raucous because they are inviting others to join in the merriment and dance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OzFTXGMWLQ
David Garrett- La Campanella (Paganini): The timbre of this song is very melodious and reedy. La Campanella is a piece which truly shows off the timbre of the violin since it makes the player utilize almost the whole range of the violin. The timbre of the piece always makes me smile because it seems very playful (due to its high-pitched nature). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OY2-83CT1g
African Fiesta Congo (Nico Kassanda) – Nico, Kwamy & Rochereau et l’African Fiesta 1965: When I first heard this song during my homework a couple of weeks ago, I thought I was actually listening to Caribbean, especially Cuban music. I was shocked to find out that it was still Congolese; but, this made me realize a few weeks later how important a role timbre plays in music. Mostly due to the brassy and thin tone that the guitar in the song has, along with the other background instruments (which may be some percussion instrument), the Congolese song seems to be Cuban in nature. This truly shows how changing the timbre of an instrument changed the whole listening experience itself.
JAYEN TU JAYEN KAHAN- Talat Mahmood: This song is compelling to me due to two key reasons: One, the song has one of the best singers known to classic Hindi songs, who with his soft, melodious voice soothes the audience. Two, this song has an instrumental that is almost comparable to the singer’s talent. The tabla (Indian drum) in the background provides a constant rhythmic tone to the song, but the flute which comes in at certain points in the song (such as at 1 min) with its shrill tone, adds to the beauty of the timbre in the song. Without either of the two, the song would seem incomplete and would not evoke the same emotions of grief that it provokes.
Jazz Band at Washington Square Park: This song has a very clear melody to it, one that makes the whole park feel brighter and a warmer place. The trumpet in the song clearly distinguishes itself from the other instruments in group due to its brassy, clear tone. This song put me in a better mood after about 6 hours in the library and is one of the reasons why I go to Washington Square Park to relax.
Desert Rose – Sting and Cheb Mami
I chose this song because, unknowingly, it was my introduction to world music as a child. I use the word “unknowingly” because I was surprised to see it playing on my Moroccan friend’s spotify account this past week, in a different context than the one I had been used to. When asking him about his love for Sting, he laughed at me and said it was on his Cheb Mami playlist.
We agreed that the timber differences between the two voices is what makes the song so incredible. I describe Sting’s voice as full-bodied, and warm; whereas Cheb’s voice fills the voids left by Sting’s full – full of vibrato, bright, and nasal.
Koul Mala Mahlak – Asma Lmnawar
I let my Moroccan friend choose this next song by Asma Lmnawar, a Moroccan singer. Without getting into the song’s meaning, I find the song aurally pleasing because of Asma’s sweet, nasal voice and its light harmonious background vocals. The instruments on the track only occupy lower frequencies, leaving plenty of space for her high pitched voice. A local instrument on the bridge mimics her voice’s’ timbre when her voice is absent.
Rolling Stone – Danny Brown and Petite Noir
I found this to be an interesting collaboration on Danny Brown’s recent album. Danny Brown’s voice is so interesting because of its sharp, nasal timbre. Sometimes I find it droning and unbearable, but his incredible producing and collaborations often round it out. Here, Petite Noir’s voice on the chorus, with the polar opposite timbre of Danny’s (mellow, full-bodied, and sweet), balances this track.
Pachuca Sunrise – Minus The Bear
Jake Snider has a smooth, calm voice. On the verses, his voice’s timbre allows his voice to act as one of the instruments – blending into the rest of the sound, assisted by the effects on the lead rhythm guitar. The guitars’ effects and Snider’s timbre changes on the chorus, putting the voice and instruments out of sync, yielding emotions and creating confusion.
By Any Means – Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar uses one of his many timbres – the one I refer to as “Alien Kendrick” – on the chorus of this song from ScHoolboy Q’s most recent album. Kendrick’s timbre and motivational lyrics, mixed with Q’s full, deep timbre and his crude, realist lyrics create a contrast that stresses the theme of the song, get what you need “by any means.”
What Goes On – The Beatles
When Ringo Starr sings the lead vocals for a Beatles song, the focus is almost always on his unique voice. His voice can be described as strong, sharp, and peculiar. The Beatles, as they do on most Ringo-led songs, do a great job of highlighting his unique timbre through simplifying many aspects of the song – a steady drum line without points of emphasis, simple harmonies (relative to other Beatles songs), and simple chord progressions.
Till There Was You – The Beatles
This song exemplifies Paul McCartney’s sweet timbre. Rather than using harmonies to highlight a voice as The Beatles often do, they opt to use reverberation – making his sweet timbre even smoother and warmer than it is usually depicted. His timbre strongly reflects the lyrics of the song.
Driver A – Buju Banton
I’ve found that most dancehall artists have voices with natural, smooth timbres – but Buju’s voice, specifically in this song, promotes a sense of urgency through its full, powerful features. It pairs perfectly with the lyrics of the song – that this driver must deliver Buju’s drugs promptly, or else he will face trouble.
C’etait Toi – Billy Joel
In this ballad, Billy Joel demonstrates his clear, rounded, mellow timbre through multi-lingual lyrics. Billy’s timbre here is different than most of the other songs off the album Glass Houses. Its softness vastly differs from another ballad on the album, All For Leyna, but still conveys a similar message.
All For Leyna – Billy Joel
Here, Billy Joel’s timbre is bright, strong, and piercing – with a slight softness in parts of the chorus. His voice’s intensity is similar to the intensity of his piano playing in this song, and the distorted lead guitar accents it even further. This ballad clearly differs from C’etait Toi, depicting a struggle.
Track 1: Ekrah – Shalsheles This track is one that I have known for quite some time now, and it really invokes an emotional response, particularly during the first half of the song. This is primarily because of the simplicity of the instruments used in the introduction to paint a beautiful picture within the first 30 seconds. The piano creates not only a soothing melodic background, but it also builds a suspense for the first portion of the song before the violin starts carrying the primary melody. The violin emulates a smooth human voice that, from the tone and melody, are sending a message that could be interpreted as sad or even desperate. The vocals of the song are full and seem effortless. While the smoothness and high quality of the various instruments and vocals are noteworthy, the violin and harmonization throughout the song send a message of sheer desperation. The lyrics of this track are from Psalm 57, and describe a calling out to God for salvation. The context does not matter, but the tone and melody convey that message in a powerful manner.
Track 2: Vhaya – Shalsheles Vhaya, from a personal standpoint, is a song I’ve been listening to for probably over 10 years. The most grabbing thing about this track for me is the use of the trumpet and synthesizer to build a bright and brassy feeling of grandeur. A listener will feel like the song is building something up, in a tone which is flawless and flows smoothly from section to section. The various instruments used in the different portions of the song, especially the guitar and the trumpet, turn the track into somewhat of a rock song with a bit of a royal feeling. This is not a song that allows a listener to relax, but rather one with a fast pace and celebratory melody. The lyrics of the song are a praise to God with hope for the future of his reign, proclaiming that he will one day be recognized as the one true God. This is a verse found in everyday Jewish prayer at least 3 times per day, and is worthy of any royal and grand description that can be assigned to it, as in Vhaya.
Track 3: Spinal Cords – Envy on the Coast At the beginning of the track, a section plays with a slightly muffled guitar and what sounds like either a synthesizer or a clarinet. This is reminiscent of sound related to what’s typically thought of as older Western music. It sounds old because of its muffled nature and poor tone quality that makes it sounds as though it is playing on a record player. Throughout the rest of the song, a punk rock style dominates, but still, distinctly sharp guitar riffs are consistently being played at nearly all points. The lead guitar does not have very much gain, so the notes and melody are clear and easily distinguished. The song closes with a similar section to that which was played at the beginning, preserving the old Western nature of the song. The juxtaposition of a punk rock rhythm guitar and a Western lead guitar is very unique, and gives the song a clear identity with its focused tone.
Track 4: Rap God – Eminem Rap God by Eminem is probably the track that best describes Eminem as an artist. This track, like the previous one, begins with an interesting portion, which in this case is simply a monologue that sounds like it is also played on a record player. This monologue is complimented by a piano repeating the same chord at a constant tempo, setting the stage for the bass to come in and really set the beat of the track. The lyrical content of the song is so diverse that it is difficult to capture without writing a full essay on it, but overall it is representative of Eminem’s ability to rap and rhyme to an impressive degree. The most notable timbral quality of the song is clearly his tone throughout. Eminem has a very distinctive voice that he uses differently in many of his tracks, but this one has a particular sense of urgency. It is as though Eminem is trying to prove something that is very important to him. Listening to the lyrics and general theme of the song (especially the title), he aims to show the listener just how good he is at rapping. He is fitting his self-proclaimed position as a “rap God” who has an ability that simply transcends that of other artists. The tone of the song is urgent, jolting, and impressively focused (when considering the lyrics).
Track 5: The Escapist (feat. Progley) – BH This is a melodic dubstep track that wraps together the reasons why I love melodic dubstep. The diversity in musical timbre that this song contains is remarkable. At the beginning, the mellow and simple synth melody in conjunction with the wordless verse that is barely audible brings the listener into a sort of temporary nirvana. The “voice” in the introduction is a sonic effect that sounds like a human voice crying out, but is barely audible over the synth melody. It is a foreboding for the rest of the song, which later invokes a sense of urgency and intensity that seems mostly absent at the beginning. After the first 25-30 seconds of the song, another “voice”, one more audible and melodic, begins a redundant verse with a form of percussion that seems like it could be developed from purely natural sounds of a forest or riverbed. The first minute of the song in its entirety is a thing of beauty and bliss that can relax any listener. Once the actual verse starts, the echoey vocals and rising intensity of the synth evolve the song from a placid one into a more fierce track. At the end of the verse, the song reaches a climax, and the dubstep truly emerges in full force with its heavy bass, loud synth, and extremely detailed effects. However, the track remains melodic in nature, preserving some of the tone from earlier in the song. During transitions during the chorus, a seemingly robotic series of notes can be heard, which invokes a notion of foreignness and curiosity, which is indicative of a form of escape (note the song’s title) from the comfortable, calming, and natural environment that the song had provided up until that point.
Track 6: Here Without You – 3 Doors Down The opening riff of this track is an acoustic-sounding, catchy tune that a listener may identify as unusual because of its presence in a rock or alternative rock song. Listening closely to the guitar, one can hear the guitarist’s fingers’ motions along the frets and his strumming on the strings. Every note and lyric in this song can be heard clearly with little effort, creating a focused vibe for someone paying attention. The vocals are especially clear and could sound slightly desperate, especially when considering the lyrics of the song. The cello in the background adds a sense of gravity to the song which creates a heavier tone to everything that is played. The percussion is not overbearing, which is a quality of the track that immediately sends the rest of the instruments’ sounds to the foreground of the soundscape. The drums are simply there to set a beat and rhythm for the everything else.
Track 7: Cliffs of Dover – Eric Johnson This song is a very interesting one to me because I’ve been trying to learn the guitar riffs for months now. If Cliffs of Dover is a story, the electric guitar is the narrator. A large portion of the song is played above the tenth fret on the guitar, which means that the notes of the guitar are very distinctive and clear. The gain is not too high, so the sound of the guitar is very smooth and focused. The verse of the song is rhythmic and constant, painting a picture of something ordinary and uninteresting occurring. Variations in later verses indicate more interesting “plot” to the song’s story. The chorus is a relatively happy melody that bridges together the frequent riffs that occur during the verses and the solos. Since the “voice” of the song is the guitar, the bass in the background carries out the important task of creating a rhythmic atmosphere for the guitar’s story. The drums guide both the guitar and the bass along for a cheery ride through the song.
Track 8: Expensive Shit – Fela Kuti From the start of this track, the percussion sets in as a clapping of a woodlike instrument. Additionally a string instrument (perhaps a guitar or a ukulele) plays a consistent melody with 3 or so different chords. The initial percussion sounds like a stereotypical rainforest sound. The piano and other percussion instruments slowly introduce themselves in a series of seemingly random portions, until they all start up and play in unison. The percussion expands to some heavier drums and a rattling sound that compliments the initial woodlike percussion. The wind instruments start their play, in what could be considered the primary lead in this track. They are the most dominant, giving the the song a jazzy and classy aura. I associate this track with a busy heist, which I think is largely because it sounds to me like a song from Oceans 11 (2001), a popular casino heist movie that is a personal favorite. The methodical and unrelenting force of the percussion drive and encourage the rest of the instruments to continue their melodies. About halfway through the song, we hear actual vocals that seem to be in a conversation with the wind instruments that have been dominating the melody previously. The airy and steady style of the track invoke feelings of clarity and focus in listeners.
Track 9: Zap Zap – Tabou Combo The basic instrumental melody of the song consists of various string instruments that emit sharp, yet light sounds to give a subtle and strong background to the various layers that ultimately contribute to the rest of the track. A more dominant source of melody are the vocals which exist in different portions, namely a soloist and a group harmony. These two portions seem to be in argument or conflict with each other, based on the distressed and angry tones of their voices. Another important element of the melody comes in the form of wind instruments that fill the void space where there is no “conversation” from the vocals. The airy vibe from the wind instruments causes a sense of higher power and grandeur that invokes a feeling of authority. About halfway through the song, a new form of melody and percussion is added that sounds like it is caused from wood or stone. For me, this new melody in conjunction with the strings in the background reminds me of a remote island or beach (I’m not sure why though…).
Track 10: Kol Nidre – Elie Rosenblatt & Pete Rushefsky Kol Nidre is a prayer that I am very familiar with due to its importance during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. It is the first prayer of the holiday that is said, and it is a plea for God to forgive the vows and promises that we have made but haven’t been able to keep. Yom Kippur is a holiday of desperate praying for forgiveness that occurs once a year, and it is considered the most serious day on the Jewish calendar. The violin in this rendition of Kol Nidre is not supposed to be smooth or fluid by any means, but it is rather supposed to sound like the crying of a human voice (in typical Klezmer fashion). In particular, this violin is reminiscent of the voice of a cantor in a Jewish congregation on Yom Kippur, pleading and crying out for forgiveness on behalf of himself and everyone in attendance. The banjo in the background serves to give a form of echo to the violin’s cries, which, in my opinion, perfectly emulates the voices of the congregation during the prayer of Kol Nidre. The members of the congregation allow the chosen cantor to lead the prayer, while they are singing quietly or saying the words in more muffled tones, indicating a form of inferiority and unworthiness before The Almighty. The banjo creates a form of unstructured chaos and unpredictability that is guided onto the correct path/tune by the violin. The tune of this rendition is the same tune used by thousands of congregations around the world on Yom Kippur. The track enforces a sense of desperation and crying out in listeners (especially those familiar with a Yom Kippur service and this melody).
Track 1: Elli Kranzler, “Gam Ki Elech” Opening up the playlist, Elli Kranzler’s “Gam Ki Elech” has a beautiful melody sung to the hebrew words of Psalm 23 (“The Lord is My Shepherd”). It is not just the soothing tone, however, that evokes inside me feelings of comfort and safety when I listen to this song. Elli sings this song along with his daughter, Revital, and the complementary quality of the tones of their voices combines harmoniously, representing, for me, the safe space that is home and family. When I listen to this song, it is this specific timbral combination that allows me to feel like I am back in my childhood home, spending time with family and loved ones.
Track 2: Nancy Ajram, “Aah We Nos” In her 2004 hit, Lebanese artist and singer, Nancy Ajram, combines her voice, percussion, and brief interludes of melodious instruments. Interestingly, though the percussion rhythm continues throughout the entire piece, the vocals and interludes never combine. Exemplifying a common style in Middle Eastern music, this model of both combining some colors, yet keeping others separate creates a tension between continuity and interruption. While the background rhythm of the drums maintains a continuous flow to the song, the discontinuity between Ajram’s voice and the musical interludes create the effect of highlighting complementing colors, tuning me into the various pieces at play throughout the song. I can thus focus on the different parts of the song while not losing touch of the whole, being glued together by the background percussion.
Track 3: Throwback, “Black Coffee” Combining both percussion instruments, as well as beat-boxing, Throwback’s “Black Coffee” has the effect of reminding me of the fine line between human and non-human sound. In fact, the distinction becomes so fine that, at certains points in the song, it becomes quite difficult to tell which is which. This murky contrast, or lack of contrast, plays an important role in bridging the gap between acapella and instrumental music, calling to question the very existence of such a dichotomy. Only by tuning into this nuanced timbral element of the song am I able to pick up on this profound question posed by the song.
Track 4: Chakra Healing Music Academy, “Liquid Thoughts” Each timbral element of this track plays an important role in ensuring to evoke the feeling described so aptly by the song’s name: “liquid thoughts.” The relaxed flowing of water at the beginning of the track serves to set the tone for the relaxing of the mind as it is reminded of the soothing elements of nature. Moreover, the color of the instrumentals on top of the flowing water cannot quite be described by a melody, and instead represent the traditional Japanese picture of a holistic present as the focal point of existence. This track does not have me yearning for
what is to come in the next piece of the song, nor does it have me thinking back on what was just played. Instead, I feel encouraged to experience the present and just… be.
Track 5: Jimi Hendrix, “Star Spangled Banner – Live” In stark contrast to the previous track, Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” uses an electrical guitar to produce precisely what “Liquid Thoughts” attempts to avoid: an unavoidably well-known melody and song. What is interesting to me about the timbral quality of this song however, is the fact that, throughout the track, Hendrix utilizes the metallic capabilities of his guitar, disrupting the much anticipated melody to produce a whole host of seemingly chaotic noises, before returning to finish off the melody as expected by the crowd. For me, this unexpected twist in the melody that I expect, actually creates a similar feeling that the lack of melody had me experiencing in track four. Instead of simply lacking a melody, the presence of the metallic timbral sounds of the guitar when a very specific melody is expected leaves me embracing those very sounds and almost forgetting the melody that is supposed to come along with it.
Track 6: The New Deal, “Glide” Bringing some old-time techno from the early 2000s into the playlist, “Glide” is combination of different colors and tones all created by an electric piano. Though one is, at times, hard pressed to distinguish between the electric sounds and the physical ones that they seek to represent, for me this song represents the beginning of the transition that much of the hip hop world has taken into the world of techno and electronically produced sounds. Perhaps it is the timing of this song that recalls the transition into techno, but the timbral combination of the many different electric, yet physically sounding, percussion pieces, combined with the sounds of an electric guitar played by the piano, complements the timing in such a way that reminds me of what techno is, at least in some sense, trying to accomplish: a representation of the physical world within the technological developments of humanity.
Track 7: The Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” Though it is one of the most well-known classic rock songs of all time, it is actually an element of this song not produced by The Beatles that I have always paid attention to throughout the hundreds of times that I have heard this song. The popular marketed recording of this song is one in which crowd sounds are edited into the song so as to have the listener feel as though the recording is from a live show. For me, the addition of the crowd, which at times seems to be so actively interacting with The Beatles (e.g. the laughing at 0:47), is a perfect exemplifier of the what The Beatles represented, and continue to represent, for all their listeners and fans: a band for the people, keeping their fans crazed and their dreams alive.
Track 8: BélO, “Mizik a jah” In the background of BélO’s entire “Mizik a jah” lies the color of an egg shaker, keeping the rhythm of the song consistent throughout. Having many different particles moving inside it at once, the shaker’s natural color is a combination of the random motion of all these pieces coming together. For me, this creates a subtle feeling of nature in the background of the song. It
is not by chance that rain sticks also create their sound by combining the motion of many particles falling down the stick. From my perspective, it is the chaotic nature of these instruments that create a feeling of being in nature. Instead of the more organized sounds of an instrument, the timbral effect of the shaker and the rain stick consists of many pieces coming together, each in their own way, to create a united whole.
Track 9: Phish, “Free Bird” Phish’s rendition of “Free Bird” is a unique display of acapella that explicitly attempts to imitate the sophisticated guitar work of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s original production. In listening to this piece, I cannot help but recognize an element of humor in Phish’s piece as they so aptly capture the clear distinction between the well known guitar solo and their vocal attempt at producing the same effect. It is only because of the timbral distinction between human vocal chords and the electric guitar that I am ableo to experience Phish’s humorous, yet ingenious, message. As opposed to “Black Coffee,” this piece serves as a reminder that we need not get too caught up in blurring the lines between human and non-human sound. Furthermore, by introducing an element of humor into the music, Phish accomplishes the effect of loosening up the listener to a much more malleable approach to music that is not too focused on implementing ideology or philosophy, but flows with whatever approach the musician takes to the music, be it instrumental or acapella, electric or acoustic.
Track 10: Rama, “Mahara Sasra Bhola Bhala” Rama’s “Mahara Sasra Bhola Bhala” has a unique rhythm to it that combines a drum beat and a higher pitched symbol. The combination of these two timbral colors creates a rhythm that represents, for me, the intensity of a low drum beat with a refreshing hope produced by the higher pitched symbol. When I listen to this song, I associate the drums with a feeling of apprehension for a dramatic moment to come, and, complementing that apprehension, the symbol serves to supply me with a feeling that whatever drama lies ahead will pass and yield a hopeful result.
Track 11: The Lion King, “Under the Stars” Beginning with the soothing sounds of woodwinds, followed by slow harmonious voices creates a feeling of unison between to the two different timbral colors. Following the peaceful combination of voices and woodwinds, is a more upbeat, chaotic amalgamation of many voices. At this point in the movie, Simba is getting in touch with himself through an experience in nature, which is followed by his recognition that he must return to Pride Rock, serving his proper role in society and the circle of life. Having deep associations with this movie, I need not see the picture in order to have the timbral combination and transition in this song effect, within me, a feeling of direction to find my place in this world. Much like Simba, I can listen to this song, refocusing my energy for the first half, and come away with a newfound motivation for effecting important change in society after the second.