Foreword and introduction
Dear reader of this compilation. Welcome to an exciting journey! In this compendium we will learn how the voice is generated and produced by the body. We will see what different elements affect the unique qualities of every individual’s voice. We will also learn how to determine whether a voice belongs to a certain person or not. It takes a trained ear and an unbiased mind to be able to make an objective and reliable analysis of any voice. But even the ears and brain of an untrained person are very sensitive and effective instruments. When it comes to whether Elvis is still alive or not, I guess that everyone will agree that this is a very delicate subject, and for many an emotional one indeed. Every side has their own reasons for why they have concluded that he is alive or the opposite. My aim is to try to make a fact based analysis of the voice found on the CD “ELVIS FOUND ALIVE”. Is the voice on this CD actually Elvis Presley, or could it possibly be a very skilled imitator? During the discussion I will let you as a reader decide for your self what conclusions to make from every step of the analysis. In the end I will also share my own conclusion. I also want to remind everyone that although I have a trained ear and many years of experience in audio production and engineering I am like everyone else only a human being. I’m not perfect or inerrable. But my hope is that anyone reading this analysis will find it interesting, educational and informative…and hopefully even a little bit entertaining as well.
You’re now about to embark on a stimulating and thrilling journey…namely a careful voice analysis of the “ELVIS FOUND ALIVE” CD based on the facts that science knows today. Buckle up, sharpen your senses and enjoy the ride!
Sincerely yours, Daniel Vållberg
PART 1 – WHAT IS THE VOICE
AND HOW IS IT PRODUCED BY THE BODY?
Before we’re able to make any actual analysis of the voice found on the CD “ELVIS FOUND ALIVE” we need to go through some basic facts regarding how the human voice is generated and produced, and what unique factors and elements affect the tonality and characteristics of a person’s voice. Therefore we will make an explanatory statement regarding every different element.
The voice is produced by a combination and cooperation of at least these 10 factors:
1.The brain (normally we have at least one), 2. the larynx (voice box), 3. the pharynx (throat), 4. the vocal chords (part of larynx), 5. the tongue (a small but tricky bunch of muscles. Sometimes it blurts out things we wish it had not blurted out), 6. the oral cavity, 7. the teeth (which strangely enough seem to be related to the amount of years we live. The more years we live, the fewer they become), 8. the sinuses (hopefully situated behind our nose), 9. the thorax (chest) and 10. the abdomen (stomach muscles). I have one round and soft abdominal muscle somewhere in the middle.
We will discuss each of these factors in the order mentioned above.
The brain – The brain controls the whole body including all muscles involved in generating the voice. All factors mentioned above (except those who will be called resonance factors in this text) are stimulated through the nervous system by signals from the brain. Since the brain contains an individual’s experiences, hopes, dreams and personality, the overall nature of the signals will be governed by all these and many more factors. It can be interesting to note that researchers have found that singing and speaking are handled by opposite sides of the brain (to make this part of the discussion easier, let’s stick to the fact that we have one brain per head). Speaking is handled by the left side, whereas singing is handled by the right side. This knowledge has been applied on stroke patients who had their stroke in the left side. Since they lost their ability to speak, therapists have tried to make the patients sing sentences instead of speaking them. This has shown to be a very successful way to help the patient recover the ability to speak faster. A sound conclusion from this knowledge would be to say that to imitate another persons speaking voice or his singing voice are two different things. And to imitate both would involve both sides of the brain. This is unbiased and simple facts.
Scientists have also studied the way the brain handles the signals to create words and complete sentences through the voice mechanism. It seems like the brain instead of combining isolated signals has stored syntaxes or prepared signal combinations for every word and phrase that it has ever come across and learned. The syntaxes can therefore be accessed and executed quickly and subconsciously without any interaction from the cortex (or conscious part of the brain, which in most people should be active during the bright hours of the day). Put simply, if we for some inexplicable reason would get an irresistible urge to utter the words “pirate beard infestation”, we wouldn’t have to think about how to fold the tongue and when to press it against the teeth, or if using the tongue should come before or after forming the letter “E” by pressing air out of the lungs with the abdominal muscles the same time as we create a “smile” with our lips (phew!). No, it happens super fast and automatically (we might though want to seek out a psychiatrist to find out why we’re uttering such meaningless words for no reason). The syntax mechanism in the brain also makes every individual voice unique. The ways in which the brain has learned to create these syntax-combinations (or automatic signal sequences) were implemented in early childhood. For instance, where a person spent his early childhood determines what will be his mother tongue. It will also affect his dialect or local accent. A person’s mother tongue is stored in a special centre of the brain. If and when a person learns other languages, those will be stored in another place. Hence a person’s mother tongue and original dialect is handled differently by the brain than other languages. Science has also concluded that, unlike other languages, a person’s mother tongue is directly connected to his emotions, both when reading, speaking and singing. One logical conclusion from these facts would be that there are traces of differences between a genuine voice and an imitator’s voice, since the imitator and the real person uses different parts of their brain, as well as different emotions, to produce the voice.
But is the human ear and brain able to distinguish such differences? To shed light on this question we can take a very clear and simple example.
Every female who has ever given birth to a child might have experienced something that they may not have been able to explain themselves. Namely that they could recognize the voice of their own infant’s screaming from other infant’s voices. For some inexplicable reason they could also separate one type of screaming from another. Was the baby hungry, tired, angry? Or did he want a change of diapers? A mother can hear these things. Research has also been made in this field and the results speak for themselves. Mothers can separate their own infant’s voice from other infant’s, and they can hear what their baby needs. Apart from being interesting and proving that women are in fact extremely gifted and smart (yes I gladly admit it. Hey guys, it’s true!) I also find this to be a very cute and beautiful occurrence. Now some people would say that this must only be a coincidence and that it is pure nonsense (probably 99% men, because we most likely never experienced it). Well, people in the 16th century said that the earth being spherical (or round) also was pure nonsense (mostly men, but only because women were not allowed to speak back then). But did that really change the facts? No, from what I’ve heard the earth is in fact round no matter what people said 500 years ago. All joking aside, the human ear and brain (whether male or female) in fact has the ability to hear and interpret extremely subtle sound differences. And this is a spontaneous function and reaction.
Now let’s move on to the part where the actual sound of the voice is produced; the larynx (voice box).
The Larynx – The larynx or the voice box is the surrounding mechanism where the vocal chords are attached. There are two muscle groups in connection to the larynx:
The intrinsic muscles – these inner six muscles are directly involved in the production of the sound i.e. controlling the vocal chords. The vocal chords themselves are in fact muscles included in these six muscles.
The extrinsic muscles – these outer 11 muscles are mainly controlling the position of the larynx within the trachea (windpipe). These muscles surround the larynx and are not producing sound but are rather affecting the characteristics and nature of the sound.
These muscles (which in most cases are very active and functional in infants at night-time) cooperate with the muscles in the pharynx (throat), which is the next part we’re going to have a brief look at.
The Pharynx – The Pharynx muscles or throat muscles are controlling the passing of hamburgers and Pepsi. During singing these muscles should be relaxed (and one should temporarily abstain from eating burgers and drinking Pepsi). If constricted and tense during singing they will prevent proper resonance and hinder the larynx to function properly. The nature and physical structure of the pharynx muscles affect the sounding of the voice (so does also eating hamburgers and drinking Pepsi while singing).
Now let’s go to the vocal chords.
The vocal chords – As mentioned before the vocal chords are part of the larynx’s intrinsic muscles. They consist of the so called “true” and “false” vocal chords (this has nothing to do with speaking the truth or lying though). The “true” vocal cords are the edges of the entire vocal chords which meet in the middle of the throat. They are called “true” since it is these edges that produce the actual sound of the voice by vibrating in different speeds (frequencies). The higher the speed (frequency), the higher the pitch. The “false” vocal chords are the inner parts of the vocal chords which are fixed at and connected to the larynx (voice box). These parts of the vocal chords do not produce any sound in ordinary singing (only in so called throat singing which sounds like something compared to a very old broken fog horn with a severe throat infection). The “false” vocal chords rather act as resonators to the “true” vocal chords. To produce a higher tone the vocal chords need to be contracted, and to produce a lower tone they need to be more relaxed, or less contracted. The natural range of the vocal chords are determined first by the brain and nervous system, also by the physical structure of the vocal chords. Male vocal chords are normally thicker producing a darker voice while female vocal chords in most cases are thinner producing the brighter female voice (if in the unlikely event the opposite would occur, it could cause some initial confusion).
To exemplify the functions of the “true” and “false” vocal chords we can think of a violin. A violin has strings that vibrate and produce tones. The strings of a violin can be likened to the edges of the vocal chords, the so called “true” vocal chords. The violin’s soundboard which is activated by the vibrations from the strings and starts to vibrate as well (resonate from resonance) represents the “false” vocal chords. When these two factors interact the unique (beautiful to some, horrible to others) sound of a violin is produced. And just as thicker strings are used for darker tones and the thinner strings for brighter tones, a thick vocal chord produces a darker voice, whereas a thinner vocal chord produces a brighter voice. We can also note that different violins sound differently. Depending on the material of the sound board and other manufacturing processes one violin is separated from another in its specific sound characteristics. For example we can mention that modern violin manufacturers have tried to find out and copy the methods of the famous Stradivarius, whose violins are considered to be the best sounding violins ever produced (or least bad sounding according to those who happen to dislike this instrument). But since his exact methods were held secret, no one has been able to produce a violin with the exact sound of a real Stradivarius. Now note that a violin has only two main components affecting the sound: 1. the strings and 2. the sound board. Now think about it…If experts can’t manufacture a fake Stradivarius to fool the human ear, how much more difficult wouldn’t it be to accurately imitate another person’s voice!
Another important thing to note is that the range of the vocal chords also is affected by the strength of the muscles in the larynx. The stronger the muscles are the more tension they can apply to the vocal chords, enabling them to produce a higher pitch or tone (young children evidently tend to have very strong laryngeal muscles). To train the vocal chords and larynx muscles, to be able to generate a higher pitched tone, is the part of singing that normally takes the most effort. Lack of specific training in this field will eventually result in the voice losing range upwards the tone scale (thankfully this applies to most children as well).
It’s also interesting to note that the brain and all other factors (many of them mentioned below in this text) have a profound impact on the capability and specific sounding of the vocal chords. In a documentary that I saw quite some while ago (10 years or so) they showed a man who had to have his entire larynx removed due to cancer. For a time he had used a vibrating voice generator (electro-larynx) waiting for an available donor. Eventually a man died from a heart attack and a larynx transplant was therefore possible. The man who needed the transplant formerly had quite a normal to mid-bright male voice, whereas the man who died was a very large man with a deep bass voice. People now expected that as the larynx was transplanted into its new owner, his voice would become deep and dark just like the one of its previous owner. But this was not the case. His new voice was more like his old voice and did not resemble the voice of the original owner. The conclusion was made that although the physical structure of the larynx and vocal chords do affect the sounding of the human voice, factors like the brain’s signals, the neck, oral cavities, chest etc. play a vital role in how the final voice will sound. With this in mind we can draw the conclusion that since countless unique factors interact to produce each individual’s natural voice, there is no voice completely alike the other on this planet. Each voice is in fact unique.
To summarize this part we can conclude that the sound generated by the vocal chords is affected by:
– The signals from the brain through the nervous system
– The physical structure of the vocal chords
– The strength of the larynx muscles
That leads us to the next part, the tongue.
The tongue – The tongue consists of eight different muscles also in this case divided into intrinsic (inner) and extrinsic (outer) muscles. The intrinsic muscles (inside the tongue) control the shape of the tongue (round, flat, u-shape etc.) and the extrinsic muscles control the position of the tongue inside the oral cavity. For example, to produce the letter “S” the extrinsic muscles move the tongue forward in order for it to touch the teeth, and at the same time the intrinsic muscles make the tongue flat with a slight u-shape in order to let some air from the lungs pass by on top of the tongue and between the teeth in the upper and lower jaws. The specific characteristics of a certain consonant is determined by the physical structure of the tongue, the force with which the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles work the tongue (which in turn is affected by the brain and nervous system) and the position of the tongue within the oral cavity in relation to the positions of the teeth and the walls of the oral cavity (what did I just say?! I don’t know…let’s move on shall we.) We can also add that in order to lick an ice cream the extrinsic tongue muscles would definitely need to be involved…and the cheek bone muscles…otherwise the tongue would get stuck inside the mouth.
Now we should definitely move on…
The oral cavity – The oral cavity is pretty much a sound shaping organ which enhances, changes and shapes the final audible product leaving the mouth. Inside the oral cavity we find the tongue, the hard and the soft palate and teeth in the front/middle, and the fauces in the very back. Included in the oral cavity are also the cheek bone muscles (you know the ones that need to open the mouth before the tongue can lick the ice cream). Outside we find the lips which form the mouth (which apart from i.e. singing and speaking can be used to kiss our loved ones). All these parts are involved in the shaping of vowels and consonants. For example when producing the vowel “A” all elements inside the oral cavity should be still. The tongue should be pressed down, the cheek bone muscles should separate the jaws and open up the mouth, the soft palate should be drawn upwards and the fauces should move back to let the air from the lungs pass through the vocal chords and oral cavity, and then through the opening of the mouth (here we go again). The brain is also involved in a special way since the oral cavity is the main area where syntaxes or combinations of sounds form complete words and sentences. When forming sentences the brain works pretty much as when we read a text. As we touched on before, the brain doesn’t pick and gather separate sounds individually (just as we don’t read every letter to interpret a text), but rather it has stored combinations of sounds and muscle movements in order to form complete syntaxes. Let us again take the example of speaking a word. To avoid unnecessarily embarrassing sessions with our psychiatrist, let’s pick the word “exhilaration” instead of “pirate beard infestation”. This word consists of five syllables: Ex-hi-la-ra-tion. Through learning, the brain has stored a so called muscle memory for all these syllables together. A muscle memory consists of hundreds or even thousands of impulses to different muscles involved in the execution of the syntax, word or word combination. These impulses are stored and executed exactly the same way; in the same order and timing each time the brain shall form a certain syntax. So the exact way one person pronounces the word “Exhilaration” will differ from another person’s. Hence there will always be differences between different people’s voices and pronunciation. This factor certainly adds to the unique characteristics of each voice.
Now let’s have a brief look at the teeth (say aaaaaaah…)
The teeth – The teeth are very much involved in the forming process of syllables and syntaxes. We all know that if grandma forgot to insert her false teeth she would sound totally different compared to when the teeth are inserted. That difference would actually not be too hard for the human ear and brain to perceive (please feel free to use your own imagination). The voice can also change if a front tooth is extracted leaving a gap. The teeth are also an important factor together with the tongue and lips to create the consonants C, D, F, L, M, N, S, T, V, X, Z. The teeth also indirectly affect the sound of other vowels and consonants, acting as resonance factors and air release control factors. For example the existence or lack of gaps between the frontal teeth will affect how the letter “S” sounds. A larger gap can cause a lisping sound, whilst the lack of a gap most likely will not.
I remember an amusing episode from my past. About 20 years ago commercial radio was introduced and legalized in Sweden. So for a few years I worked in this field producing radio commercials. I remember one man in his 50’s who was coming regularly to my studio to do voiceovers. One day he came directly from the dentist and he complained that they had done some provisional work on his front tooth. Now I’m sure that any dentist can testify that even the smallest differences in size, shape and texture of a front tooth can result in quite dramatic changes of a persons articulation, especially before the brain has had time to adjust its syntax signals to the new circumstances. Well this is exactly what happened to my troubled friend. Every time the letter “S” came up in the text he sounded like a combination of a broken radio and a leaking car tire. I can still laugh when I think about this episode. Fortunately he did get his tooth fixed more permanently.
Now, behind the teeth (if not fake and put in a glass of water) and above the oral cavity is yet another important sound board which greatly affects the sound of each voice…
The sinuses – The sinuses are cavities which are situated right behind the nose. When we breathe with our mouth closed, the air will go through the nose and pass through the sinuses and down the throat and air pipes into the lungs. The sinuses work as a resonance sound board and amplify the sound generated by the vocal chords. This is especially evident with opera singers. They use a technique where they consciously force air through the sinuses in order to lead the sound from the vocal chords into these resonance chambers. Once there the sound wave is amplified greatly and the voice can be heard from afar in an auditorium. This technique was developed in ancient days before any electrical amplifying systems existed, so that audiences in large arenas could hear what was sung. I guess the worst thing that could happen to an ancient opera singer was to have a really heavy pirate cold. The singer would probably sound like he was standing on the platform with a large clothespin on his nose…not a very impressive performance at all…but very funny indeed! Needless to say we can all understand that the shape, volume and way in which the sinuses are used, will greatly affect the sound of different person’s voices.
Another important resonance board is…
The Thorax (chest) – Here we find the ribs, the lungs and the chest muscles (of which about 50% of the world’s population, including myself, wished they had larger ones). The ribs serve as resonance elements whereas the lungs and chest muscles are mainly responsible for air supply. The length and mass of the ribs determines what frequencies are picked up and amplified. And the resonance of the chest, which is called “breast connotation”, is also affected by the tension and physical structure of the chest muscles. If the chest muscles are tense they will dampen the resonance in the ribs. This will especially affect the sounding of tones in the mid and low register (mid and bass tones). This could be likened to if we were to press our hand against the sound board of an acoustic guitar. If you try this you will experience that the sound of the guitar becomes kind of muffled and “dead”. The chest muscles are also involved in the controlling of the upper part of the lungs. When they are contracted the lungs are expanded and air is drawn into the lungs. When the muscles are relaxed the air is pressed out of the lungs. Hence chest muscles are not only on male people’s wish list, they are very much involved in the air flow regulation and affects the loudness of the voice.
But most responsible for the air flow support and regulation of the lungs are the abdominal muscles, you know those things that are hiding somewhere deep down under the belly fat (well…I’m speaking for myself)…some people are fortunate to call them a six-pack.
The abdominal muscles – The abdomen is located below the chest and these muscles are the ones used the most when controlling air supply for the voice. The strength and stamina of the abdominal muscles together with the volume, strength and capacity of the lungs affect the strength or loudness of the voice. The voice’s stamina is also depending on the amount of air that the lungs can store. The abdominal muscles control the lower parts of the lungs and this is where most of the lung’s volume is located. In order to keep a strong and loud voice the abdominal muscles and the lungs need regular exercise. A person who has not been able to exercise or sing as much as before will not be able to sing as loudly, or to sustain the tones as long as before.
Summary of part 1
To summarize this part we can conclude that the brain plays a very important role in shaping the voice. The thousands of signals it provides every second to regulate countless muscle fibres in the body in order to synchronize its movements to produce the sound, language and dialect of the voice, makes every voice unique. Every person has different experiences, background, feelings, hopes and dreams. These factors and many more are all part of the brain and affect the way it is working the body.
Apart from the brain we have covered nine other elements and factors that affect the sounding of the voice. All these elements interact in an infinite number of combinations each second to create the specific characteristics of a person’s voice.
Although many people might sound alike in some senses it couldn’t be more than fair to conclude that there will always be certain features and details separating one voice from another.
PART – 2 WHAT IS AUDIO?
In the first part of this compendium we discussed how the voice is produced by the body, and what parts are involved. In this part we will dig deeper into the actual product of all these interactions…the audio that is produced.
What is audio?
First I’d like to mention that although science and audio specialists know quite a lot about audio and its qualities, there are still many areas and features that we are unaware of. Therefore we will discuss what is scientific knowledge and actual truth as we know it today. Secondly I would like to stress that this topic is an extremely complicated subject (when someone says complicated it usually is another word for boring). Sometimes we use to compare topics by saying…”hey, it’s not rocket science” to pinpoint that although it may be complicated it’s not that complicated. But in this case it actually is rocket science (yes, that boring). Just as complicated and just as hard to predict, understand and master (did I mention boring?). Based on that knowledge we can all appreciate why opinions part about whether the voice on the CD we’re about to analyse is Elvis’ or not. Some people like to consider themselves omniscient in order to appear superior to others (especially in boring subjects because no one else bothers to learn anything about them). Others want to receive recognition from other persons. Some people might not have hidden motives for their opinions but simply lack the proper knowledge (these are the ones that we mentioned above, who don’t bother to learn about boring subjects). Yet others base their opinions on what they want to believe rather than facts. Anyhow let’s just stress this one simple fact: No single person on this planet can rightfully claim to know everything about audio science. Not even audio science itself knows everything about audio.
So what do we know then? (by “we” I mean those of us who bother to learn about boring subjects because for some odd reason we find them to be interesting). Well we know that audio is in fact vibrations or waveforms. These vibrations need some kind of physical matter or substance to travel. Audio can not travel in vacuum (please don’t ask why your vacuum cleaner sounds so loud). We also know that the heavier the matter is the faster the audio travels. We can compare air and water. As we all know water is heavier than air. Hence audio travels a lot faster in water than in air. In air audio travels at 340 m/s (1240 km/h, 770 miles/h). In water it travels at 1500 m/s (5400 km/h, 3355 miles/h), almost five times faster. The reason we mention this is to show that different materials affect the sound in different ways.
We also know that different speed of the vibrations create different pitch or frequencies. A low vibration speed creates a low pitch and a high speed a high pitch. In audio science the speed of the vibrations is written Hz (hertz = vibrations per second). The human ear can register audio vibrations between approximately 20Hz to 20.000 Hz (normally written 20KHz (K stands for Kilo=thousand hertz)). Please don’t fall asleep…you’re half way through this part…
When we listen to a piece of music we can hear different frequencies at the same time. We hear the bass kick, the hi-hat, a guitar maybe, a bass guitar, someone singing etc. All these elements create different combinations of frequencies, high and low. All frequencies interact by bumping into each other (like bumper cars at an amusement park) and changing the pitch, speed and amplitude of one another (this is called interference). They also bump into other objects like walls, floors and trees (those tall sticks with fluffy green tips you’ll see if you go outside your house). When they finally reach your ears a combination of all these sound waves and changes are combined into one single sound wave (it’s like when two waves meet at sea and bump into each other. They will not pass through each other and continue to roll, but they will collide and interfere with each other’s speed, size and direction, and merge into one single new different wave). Now, the new sound wave, which is an average product of all the combined sound waves, passes through your ear and finally into your brain. Inside the brain this average product (new sound wave) is decoded or interpreted back into the original different sound waves so that you can hear all the different instruments and the singer in the recorded material (how cool is that!). If you are fortunate you have at least two ears. These two ears enable you to hear if a sound source is to your left or right. But how can we hear if a sound comes from in front or behind? This is where the actual shape of the ears comes in. The ingenious and beautiful patterns in our ears are not there just for the fine looks. They are actually shaped this way to enable the brain to interpret a sound source’s position in a complete surround sound environment. This means that although you have “only” two ears the brain can determine whether a sound comes from in front, from behind, from above or underneath you (if the ears were not shaped like they are, we would need at least six hearing holes in our heads. Thank God for his engineering skills!). This discovery is only a few years old. Up until about five-six years ago there was no good technical solution for recording or simulate natural surround sound for headphones, since a pair of headphones only has two speakers. But audio scientists then tried the simple method of placing two tiny high quality microphones inside two artificial rubber ears, mounted on a stand and separated at a distance equal to the ears on a human head. The result? Wham! Complete surround sound in headphones, as “simple” as that. This shows that audio science is in fact very much still in progress and new interesting discoveries are made constantly.
Another discovery that was made before the one we just mentioned is that sound waves with frequencies outside the actual audible range, especially above 20KHz, also affect how the audible frequencies sound in our ears. These frequencies are usually referred to as ultra sonic overtones. When the importance of this interaction was discovered in the end of the 20th century it suddenly opened up a new horizon in sound production and understanding of the complexity of the sound.
Now you might wonder…why do I need to know all these (very, very boring) things in order to appreciate a voice analysis of the voice on this CD? The answer is…you don’t need to know all these things in order to appreciate it. Well, am I just trying to waste your time then?…Not at all, this knowledge will help you to more fully understand and to comprehend the fact that a voice analysis is not a random, emotion based estimation of the material. It’s rather a scientific and quite accurate way to determine whether a voice is genuine or not. And the best instrument for determining this is the human ear and brain. A simple way to support this statement is that everyone knows that in order to mix and master an audio-CD, human interaction is necessary. There is no super computer or software in the world that can automatically register, interpret and alter the recorded sound in a mix and produce a good sounding CD. This process has to be done by humans. So again, the human ear and brain is far superior to any machine in determining the authenticity of a voice. This counts for your ears and brain too.
Summary of part 2
To summarize this part of what audio is we can say that audio is very, very, very complex. Instead of boring it has become a little bit interesting, right? Do you know why? Because now you know more about it…actually you know more than most people on this planet. But, please stay humble. And we can add that sound or audio is affected by countless factors. Since the combinations are indefinite there are not two sound sources in the universe that sound exactly alike. And the human ear and brain can detect many of these differences. This is the basis for an accurate and reliable voice analysis…and now folks we’re all ready to do just that…
PART 3 – VOICE ANALYSIS OF THE CD “ELVIS FOUND ALIVE”
Since this compendium already contains ten full pages of information I will make and explain the analysis of one song from the CD. Otherwise we would need to write an entire book on this subject. I have chosen to focus on the song “Heartbreak Hotel”. The reason for this is that this song contains so many of the unique features that were obvious on earlier Elvis recordings. Another reason is that this song was very popular and was sung by Elvis at numerous occasions and at different times. So let’s get to it people!
What features to look for
In my research I found, to my knowledge, the earliest published recording of this song on the 1958 album “Elvis’ Golden Records”. Elvis Presley was born in 1935 so at this recording he was about 23 years old (if my calculator works properly). First we’re going to analyse in which key this song was recorded.
On this 1958 album “Heartbreak Hotel” is played and sung in the key of E. You can listen to the song here:
Since this is a rather high key to sing for a male we can note that Elvis had to be quite well trained to be able to sing in this high pitch and still be able to maintain the proper amplitude and strength. To this fact we can also add that since he was only 23 years old, his voice was still at a higher natural pitch at this point of time in his life. Another thing to note: if we just glance at the difference in the singing technique used to sing “Heartbreak Hotel” and i.e. “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog”, we can hear that Elvis was singing quite a lot in his early days since he could add a distorted overtone register (normally referred to as “rasp” or “grit”) to his voice in these two songs, which is not apparent in “Heartbreak Hotel”. This distorted sound can not be achieved nor properly controlled if the singer hasn’t been singing so much and regularly so. Another artist that is famous for his significant gritty or raspy voice is Richard Marx. On his 1987 debut album, very cunningly named…“Richard Marx” he released a song called “Hold On To The Nights”. In a commentary to this song Richard (whom I think is a great singer and musician) pointed out that he liked everything about this studio recording except from his vocals. He humorously said:
“I hadn’t done any touring yet, and my voice was as clear as a 12 year old girl’s”.
So the fact that he hadn’t yet been singing enough his voice was smoother and clearer than it became after he’d been out touring for a while. This information will come in handy later in our analysis.
Now if we go back to “Heartbreak Hotel” we have concluded that the original recording was played and sung in the key of E. In 1968 however when he made his comeback, ten years had passed and he’d come into his 30’s. At the famous NBC TV comeback concert, broadcasted December 3rd 1968, Elvis was performing among other songs “Heartbreak Hotel”. You can listen to his performance from the 2nd sit down show here:
Comparing the 1958 and 1968 recordings we can note two things:
Since Elvis was 33 years old in 1968, his voice had turned darker and he had problems reaching up to the highest note. He really had to press hard to even come close and touch the highest note, which appears for the first time at the word “end” in the beginning of the song.
Apart from aging it is evident that Elvis had not exercised his voice specifically to maintain his vocal range as he grew older. As we mentioned before this voice feature requires very special training, and even then it can still be quite hard to achieve.
So what happened? Well, in the 1970 Las Vegas show they had simply lowered the key two steps down to D (personally I like the sound of Elvis’ voice better in this key “D” than “E”). You can hear the recording here:
Now as Elvis’ voice had matured and he started singing in a lower key, another interesting feature appears: his flageolet. What is a flageolet? Well if you listen carefully on the above mentioned recording you will find that his voice breaks up and for a split of a second touches a high note in the upper register. The flageolet appears for the first time in this recording between the words “new” and “place” approximately six seconds into the song. If we were to touch on the scientific side of this phenomenon, this is a perfect example of how the brain works with syntax packages. To produce a flageolet between two notes the brain has to send a signal to the vocal chords to strain them. At the same time the whole larynx has to be moved slightly upwards and it has to be done in less than millimetre precision and all muscle movements has to be exactly adjusted according to the physical structure of all moving parts. Hence the brain has to send out the exact type of signal at the exact moment and with the exact signal strength and duration. No wonder a feature like this is one of the hardest to fake, since it is so closely associated with the spontaneous and subconscious part of the brain. Put simply, it is extremely hard to imitate a feature like the flageolet, since one would have to consciously produce something that is naturally handled subconsciously by the brain. And as we discussed before the human brain has a splendid subconscious ability to “hear” the difference between real and fake features in a voice. Or as most of us would say: “I can’t really put my finger on it…but there’s something wrong about the sound of this voice”.
So now let’s listen to the recording of “Heartbreak Hotel” on the CD “ELVIS FOUND ALIVE”. You can hear the recording here:
If we work backwards in the chain of facts presented above we would first touch the subject of Elvis’ flageolet. So, is it there or not? Yes, it is definitely there. If you listen about eight seconds into the song you will find the first flageolet in the middle of the word “lonely”. And then it appears in many places throughout the song. Now, how can we determine whether the person on this CD is an extremely skilled imitator or not? The simple answer is: Listen for naturalness. Listen carefully to all the spots where the flageolet appears. Does any of the flageolets sound fabricated? One way to determine this is to search for differences in the sounding of the flageolets. If they were to be fabricated unnaturally, many of them would fail to copy the characteristics of other flageolets. This is because of the fact that flageolets are produced subconsciously as a part of the brains formerly stored syntax packages. So in order for the flageolets to be naturally produced they must sound alike most of the times they appear. Interestingly the flageolets on this recording are all the same note (G#). This means that an imitator would have to hit that note for a split of a second every time during the whole song and fool the listener’s brain to accept it as if it were a natural subconsciously produced part of a stored syntax. Is that possible to achieve? Or is it not? You be the judge.
The second thing we would look for in this recording is the key in which it is sung. Since Elvis would have been 76 years old at the time of the recording of this CD, it would be unnatural for it to be sung in the same key as in 1958 (E) or even 1970 (D). Since Elvis’ voice had darkened two steps (or half notes) in twelve years between 58 and 70 one would expect that in another 41 years up till age 76, logically his voice would have lowered at least two more half steps or even a little bit more. In what key is the version on “ELVIS FOUND ALIVE” sung? The answer is “B”, which is three half tones below the 1970 key (D). Even though this is not solid evidence in itself, it still is what we would expect if the person in this CD would in fact be Elvis Presley at the age of 76. Therefore it can be called supportive evidence, meaning that if the song would’ve been sung in the same key as in 1970 or even as in 1958 one would have to suspect foul play on this CD. So is the person in this CD actually Elvis Presley? You be the judge.
The third feature we discussed was “rasp” or “grit” that kind of distorted overtone features. What should we expect from this CD? Well actually we should expect for it to not be there at all. Why? As we concluded before, “rasp” or “grit” requires quite a lot of singing. Richard Marx said that his voice was clear as a twelve-year-old girl’s voice, because he hadn’t started touring yet. What can we conclude from this statement? That if the person singing on the ELVIS FOUND ALIVE CD were to be Elvis Presley at age 76 he would have a voice lacking the grittiness and rasp apparent on his earlier recordings. This due to the fact that he has not been singing as intensely as before since he stopped touring in 1977. If you like you can briefly listen to a few seconds of every song on the ELVIS FOUND ALIVE CD. Do you find grittiness and rasp in any of the songs? Or does the voice on this CD lack this feature? Your answer to that question adds yet another piece to the voice analysis puzzle. And you are the judge.
Another very personal feature of the voice is the vibrato. The vibrato of the voice can be produced in two ways. First, by fluctuation or quick contraction and retraction of the abdominal muscles. Secondly, by similar muscle movements in the larynx (sound box). Elvis Presley actually had both vibratos. In the darker register he had the abdomen based vibrato and in the brighter register he had larynx movements. This is also the way many voices work. But not all singers have both vibratos and different persons also have different kinds of vibratos. In what ways do they differ?
Since a natural vibrato is generated by muscle contractions and retractions in either the abdomen or larynx, the speed of the vibrato is also part of a kind of syntax package in the brain. Although a vibrato can not rightly be called a syntax it is pre programmed and adjusted in the brain to be optimized for its owner. The speeds by which the brain fluctuate the muscles are governed by very complex processes. The mass and structure of the muscles is one factor. Another factor is the weight and physical build of the surrounding parts, like the hard parts of the larynx, or the ribs in the chest. Also the flexibility of the muscle fibres and the lungs play part in this context. The capacity of the nerves also affects the speed of the vibrato. A person can in some instances develop a slower vibrato as they age. This is due to the fact that by the aging process the nervous system loses some of its ability to convey the electrical signals to the muscles. This has been noticed among sprinters. After they have passed the age of approximately 35 their speed starts to slow down. Their legs can not shift as fast any more, even though they might train just as much as they did before. After making research about this, scientists found that this phenomenon depends on the fact that the nerves convey the electrical signals slower and therefore the brain can not stimulate the muscles as fast as it could before.
How can this knowledge help us to analyse the voice of this CD? What should we look (or listen) for? First of all try to listen carefully to the vibrato found in the different songs. Does the person on this CD have both kinds of vibrato (abdominal for lower tones and larynx vibrato for higher tones)? Is the vibrato similar in sound and speed to the vibrato of Elvis Presley? If there is any difference we would expect the vibrato to be at least a little bit slower than that of the younger Elvis. This would in that case be so-called supportive evidence, meaning that finding the opposite (a faster and more energetic vibrato than the young Elvis) would not support the conclusion that the person on this CD would be the same as Elvis Presley. What did you find? What is your conclusion? You be the judge.
Another brief touch on the vibrato is that since it is generated by the brain a natural vibrato should also sound similar each time it appears in a person’s singing. If we would like to have a quite different vibrato to compare with, just for reference, I guess most of us are familiar with the fast and energetic vibrato of the French female singer Édit Piaf. When she sang the very famous song “Non, je ne regretted rien” (I’m glad I don’t need to pronounce that!) her vibrato was quite fast compared to Elvis’ vibrato. If you’re curious you can listen to Édit Piaf here:
When listening to this song, note that the speed of her vibrato is similar each time it appears. This is because it’s pre programmed into the brain’s signal system. To change the speed of one’s vibrato would be very hard and takes a lot of practice and training. This art is mostly tried to be mastered among opera singers. But even among them there are limitations to what is possible to achieve. And although a person may succeed to alter the speed of his or her vibrato through extensive training, the speed of a person’s natural and relaxed vibrato will still remain the same. With this knowledge in mind what should we search for in the ELVIS FOUND ALIVE CD? Well does the vibrato in the voice sound natural and relaxed? Or does it sound fabricated? What about the speed? Is it a person who’s brain is fluctuating the muscles subconsciously or is this a person who is trying to imitate the natural vibrato of Elvis?
Just to give you and example of a forced and unnatural vibrato we can take the artist Meat Loaf as an example. Now I’m not saying that he is a bad artist or that he doesn’t sing well. All I’m saying is that his vibrato (likable or not) is not real or natural, it is consciously produced. You can listen to his song “I’d do anything for love” here:
Now with this reference in mind you are better equipped to determine whether the vibrato on the ELVIS FOUND ALIVE CD is natural or not. Remember that as we mentioned before your ears and brain are superior instruments to measure, evaluate and determine the answers to these questions. So once again…you be the judge.
Overall voice resemblance
As we have already learned no audio source on this planet sounds exactly like the other. This is especially true when it comes to the human voice. After considering special features that were quite unique about Elvis Presley’s voice, we can finally compare the overall voice resemblance or likeness. We could of course dissect this subheading into many parts and get even deeper into the different qualities of audio and sound, but as I mentioned in the beginning of this compendium I want to avoid writing an entire book about this, and quite honestly I feel inclined to admit that I’m coming dangerously close to passing that border. Well bear with me please; this is indeed a weakness of mine. Ask my wife and she’ll tell you…
Anyhow, if we were to mention a few details that can help us to evaluate the overall likeness of the voice on the CD and Elvis Presley’s officially acknowledged recordings, one factor that is quite easy to detect is the nasality of a voice. A person with open nasal passages will have a more even and full ranged voice than a person with tighter passages. Remember the opera singer with the clothespin on his nose? That voice would in fact be sharper and lack fullness, like it was seasoned with the sound of an old radio. The same goes for the sinuses. If they have an open design and are well-functioning, a proper amount of air will pass through and the sound vibrations can easily travel up into this part of the head and add the specific resonance which can only come from the sinuses and nasal passages. If you want to compare two recordings, then you might want to have a re-listen to “Heartbreak Hotel” from the ELVIS FOUND ALIVE CD here:
Then compare the nasality with this recording of Elvis singing the same song in 1970:
Before making your evaluation and decision you can also have a listen to the nasality of another voice. This voice belongs to Jon Cotner who also claims to be Elvis Presley. Listen carefully to the voice of this man and use it as a reference when making your evaluation.
Now ask yourself: What are the likenesses? And what are the differences regarding nasality between the three recordings? After doing this you should be ready to make a sound and correct decision based on the actual facts. Is Jon Cotner or Jon Burrows (Jesse) the very same as Elvis Presley? Or none of the above? You be the judge.
We can also briefly mention speech pattern and dialect. If we once again use the recording of Jon Cotner mentioned above and compare this to Elvis’ real and acknowledged voice in the video below. Now focus on dialect and speech pattern (flow vs. staggering, articulation etc.). What likenesses or differences do you hear? Are the two persons the same or is Jon Cotner a different person? Below is the video of Elvis. As you listen to the video bear in mind that the brain uses the left side to generate speech and not the right as it does when generating singing.
Now once again compare the speech pattern of the above video of Elvis with the following track on the ELVIS FOUND ALIVE CD. Please note though that the recording below contains short cuts of the voice, and that Jon Burrows (Jesse) was reading pre written phrases from a teleprompter. Try though to detect the natural speech patterns present in those cuts:
Now that you have listened and compared these two recordings, did you find significant similarities or significant differences in these two recordings? Try to discern details like the speech flow and staggering (how often and in which way), the overall articulation, the tone curve of the ending of different words. Are they similar or not?
Also search for naturalness. Does your brain tell you which one of the two voices is naturally and subconsciously produced? Which one appears to be consciously forced or produced? You don’t need to make diagrams and maps. Your ears and brain are the best instruments. They will tell you what is true and what is false. All you need to do is focus on the right details. After considering these factors you should be well equipped to make a sound decision based on the actual facts. You be the judge.
So, what is your conclusion? Is the voice on the “ELVIS FOUND ALIVE” CD actually Elvis Presley at age 76? Does it meet the criteria of how we would expect him to sound today? Does the vibrato sound alike? Does it have the right speed? What about the flageolet? Does it sound natural and subconsciously or automatically produced? Or does your brain tell you that it feels unnatural and forced? What about the fullness of the voice? The evenness which should be there if the voice were to be Elvis Presley’s? Thousands and thousands of factors interact each second to create the unique sound of the voice on this CD that we have analysed. The CD contains almost 53 minutes of music. Based on the knowledge you have received in this compendium, do you find any song where your brain detects signs of fraud or fake elements? If the voice is fake, there would not only be one of two signals from your brain. No, you would experience an overall feeling that something is wrong about this voice. Your brain would tell you that this person is not singing from his genuine emotions. You would sense that this person is not creating syntaxes from the emotionally genuine mother tongue centre of the brain. It would lack the sense of emotional genuineness that was so evident in Elvis’ voice.
Now, have you made your conclusion? Good, then it is time for the last part of this discussion…
PART 4 – MY OWN EVALUATION AND CONCLUSION
Dear reader, I would like to thank you so much for following along this quite extensive and detailed journey. I have tried to make it as fun and interesting as possible for everyone to read. And I hope that you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed composing and writing it. And as I promised in the beginning, the time has now come to present to you my own conclusion:
Is the voice on the CD “ELVIS FOUND ALIVE” really the current voice of Elvis Presley?
Based on my professional experience as a music composer, producer and audio engineer, and based on all the criteria that we have discussed in this entire text, plus a few more features that I have chosen to omit in order for you dear readers not to burn up from overheating, or to fall asleep for that matter, I have come to the following conclusion:
The voice in the above mentioned CD meets all the expected criteria and features of how Elvis Presley would sound if he were alive today. There is no trace of doubt in my mind that there could possibly exist another person today who matches the expected criteria more fully than the voice on this CD. The personality, the naturalness, the perfect voice characteristics including the flageolet which is virtually impossible to imitate, the open nasal passages, the lack of grittiness or rasp due to the lack of intense singing on tour, the decreased voice range in the upper register, the openness in the lower bass register, the overall evenness and fullness of the voice so characteristic for Elvis, the slight sibilant or wheezy sound when he’s ending a word downwards (like the word “baybeah” in “Heartbreak Hotel”), the softness or silk like muffled sound of the voice when he is touching the lowest tones in the same song (and other songs), the speed and naturalness of the vibrato, the change of key from D to B, the slightly decreased loudness capabilities of his voice…well I could go on and on and on and on and on and on…until each and every one of you were asleep for sure.
So my final conclusion and statement is that there can only be two possible alternatives left to choose from:
Elvis was still alive in 2011 and was in fact singing on this CD.
Elvis was dead and was singing from the grave.
And as far as I know alternative 2 would be even more impossible than alternative 1…because to my knowledge the body in the coffin in 1977 was made of wax. And there is not a person upon the surface of this earth that could persuade me to believe that a wax doll could imitate Elvis that good.
Once again dear reader, thank you for reading this and I hope that you’ve had a good time. And most important of all…
…ENJOY THE CD “ELVIS FOUND ALIVE”!!!
I’m sure I will…
My warmest greetings and deepest love!
All of the songs on this CD may be played in full on this web site. You will find the link to the YouTube player located to your right near the top of the menu column. Enjoy!!!
I have added the splashes of color to Daniel’s document for emphasis and ease in following some topics.
I extend my deepest gratitude to Daniel for his professional work and opinion on Jesse’s CD. I KNOW his is the correct conclusion.