The Sound of Silence

Blog. I promise you are not becoming solely a repository for my warblings. But as my Audacity stuff is now a weekly thing, I like to log it here. My singing teacher suggested I try recording a Simon and Garfunkel song for yesterday’s lesson.  I’d been warbling The Sound of Silence during lessons before The Virus struck, when I was able to go to her house, so she said give that a go. I didn’t want to do the ‘obvious’ choice of Sound of Silence, and particularly since the heavy metal band Disturbed covered it so mega brilliantly in 2016.  I’d never heard of Disturbed until that cover and wondered, like a lot of people, at their lead singer’s (David Draiman) wonderful voice. Draiman then admitted to having had ‘quite a bit of vocal training’ in his youth whilst singing in a synagogue, the style of which he went back to for the more melodic Sound of Silence. 

Disturbed’s version has now become THE go-to version for a whole new generation of listeners.  In fact, Disturbed did for The Sound of Silence what Gary Jules did for Mad world.  Both artists slowed the original tempos right down, leading to more dramatic, melancholic, and soulful renditions.  I think it’s fair to say however that, as a songwriter, Paul Simon beats Roland Orzabal (Tears for Fears) hands down, a fact that David Draiman showcased effortlessly.

I own a complete Simon and Garfunkel song book which I got when I was 14. I remember excitedly taking it to school and showing it off to friends, all of whom had zero interest.  That was the story of my life at school.  My obsessions never fitted in with the zeitgeist. I had a similar obsession with the Peanuts comic strip, and with Star Trek, the 60s telly series.  I collected all the Peanuts and Star trek books, taking them into school to look at during breaks; showing them to friends who failed completely to see the attraction(s).

After looking through my song book I realised that Paul Simon actually wrote very few mainstream hits and, furthermore, most of his songs can as well be read as poetry, as song lyrics. The intelligence and ‘density’ of his poetic lyrics sort of prohibit most of his catalogue reaching ‘newer’ ears.  I could be wrong. And, until I’d sung The Sound of Silence before the pandemic, I rarely listened to Simon and Garfunkel. I have seen them live though. Many, many moons ago (1982) now so long ago that I can barely remember, the husband (then boyfriend) and I went to see Simon and Garfunkel at Wembley for their reunion tour. This was just the sort of event guaranteed to fill me with panic. The travelling to London. The standing in a packed stadium and, what’s more, it chucked it down. I don’t remember a single thing about that concert other than the weather, for I ended up having to stand in a plastic lunch box ‘cos my shoes and socks were soaked, in an effort to escape the flood. I also remember that I couldn’t see a thing, other than the backs of the heads in front of me. I didn’t actually get to see Simon and Garfunkel. I’ve never been to a mass concert since, or any other kind of pop concert. Put me off for life it did. The theatre is much the better entertainment venue, with its seating and its guaranteed views of what’s actually going on, not that we go to the theatre much.

Because Simon’s lyrics are so good, I wanted to sing each word distinctly and with as much feeling as I could muster.  I fear I lack emotional depth when singing. My teacher said look, you have enough adverse life experience now for it to be impossible for emotion not to come through, even if you’re unaware of it. I have been learning to ‘let go’ when singing.  I almost never ‘let go’ in life, wanting a sense of control, the lack of which is the basis of most anxieties. But my teacher is ‘new age’ish’; she studies mindfulness and believes that singing is of benefit in many more ways than just the act of warbling a few notes; that singing tunes us into something bigger than ourselves (rather like meditation);  that scholars believe that early man chanted before he talked. Singing is primal she says. Use that when you stand there doing your recordings (I have yet to come over all neanderthal.)

I have also been taught to open my mouth more when I sing, so that a) the sound can really ‘come out’ and b) the listener can hear the words.  I realise that this is old school training, more applicable to classical singing and rarely applied to ‘Pop.’  Here I think of Billie Eilish as she mumbles her way through her songs (brilliant nonetheless) or Sia as she distorts her words. But that sort of thing takes a distinct, individual, and instantly ‘recognisable’ voice to work.

Every available karaoke track is now based on Disturbed’s version.  I did find a slightly different one, with far fewer views, which directly appealed to me, it being more simplified but with some interesting additions. The ending of this track was a problem though. It ended with a gigantic symbol crash before petering out. The addition of the symbol was mystifying, as it ‘broke’ the ambience of what went before.  I never fiddle with Audacity. The husband came in, zoomed in on the offending cymbal and lowered its volume.  Upon playback, this alteration somehow resulted in a dead silence immediately after the crash, but I really couldn’t be bothered with anymore tinkering about. I’d already sung the thing five times in an effort to work out when to come in at various places on the soundtrack (getting it wrong every time) and the sixth time decided to just go with it, whatever happened.  I ended the recording with lower and upper back ache.  You’d be surprised at (or may know) what a physical activity singing is, even when you’re on your own in your lounge, with a rug over the door (it has glass panels) so the husband and son no.3 can’t see you and your curtains are pulled.

The Sound of Silence

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