Saturday, May 07, 2005

Research: Mariah Carey Fantasy

I am researching the ornamentation phenomenon (see pop style), and I have chosen Mariah Carey's video Fantasy to start with. I like a video because it reduces the role of the engineer. I'm not trying to find out about the engineering of pop music. I know from going to hear gospel in the San Francisco Bay Area that this kind of passionate, ornamented performance comes from there. But how did it get to be so main stream?

Yes, Mariah Carey is definitely doing it. Why doesn’t anyone tell me these things? It says here that the 90’s is her. Where was I in the 90’s? I certainly have never heard this before.

This is a simple concert focusing on music and not an extravaganza. The background is a crude, monotonous disco beat. There are backup singers that sometimes expand into a swaying, clapping choir, just like a gospel choir. Over this she riffs constantly. On almost every note there is an almost Couperin-like density to the ornamentation, thickest at the ends of the phrases. The penultimate note of the set arpeggiates up and down as long as she feels like doing it.

She uses her voice with outrageous freedom. She whispers. She belts. She deliberately exaggerates the switches between chest voice and falsetto. Her mike technique is excellent.

She does “Without you.” Kelly Clarkson’s performance on Idol of this song must surely derive from this. Kelly riffs occasionally, but Mariah riffs constantly. Sometimes the songs build like a gospel song, but they never quite reach the frenzied peak of gospel. It is simply a passionate outpouring, an extreme of emotion in performance. You allow yourself to get swept up in it and carried along, or you are left behind.

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