Thursday, June 24, 2010

Swing Low

I had a friend once who I sang with in select choir. I was an alto, but she was a bona fide female baritone -not tenor, but baritone. She hit the low notes in a way I couldn't have hoped for and, as this was at a time when many of the boys in the group were struggling with voice changes, this girl could often hit lower notes than even they could.

So I thought of her when I heard about Roger Menees, a gospel singer who's just made his way into the Guinness Book of World Records for hitting the lowest note ever recorded. In February, at a recording studio in Carbondale, Roger hit an F-sharp at 0.393 hertz (Sorry, Madison, but I think he's got you beat on this one.) To be fair, a note that low isn't very functional. I mean, it's not like any opportunity would arise in a vocal ensemble performance to swing that low. If anything, it's more of a physiological wonder. Roger says himself that "thins is the slowest vibration that you can make with your vocal chord -the slowest vocal pulses with the greatest interval in between them." In fact, the human ear can't even determine that the note is an F-sharp, and Roger says that he's shattered electro-voice speakers by hitting so low of notes before.

I heard the recording of this record-winning low note, and it's true that it sounds more like a low refrigerator vibration than anything, or some sort of machine feedback.

John Cage would be proud.

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