Category Archives: Consonants

Keeping the beat: Panaderas de Pan Duro

El Naán choose their words to enhance the beat of their hands and the strength of their message. You don’t need to speak Spanish to understand them. The sounds of the words speak for themselves: a human language. Filmed in a single take:

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The Weeping Song

Weeping is an ancient English word. Its sound and shape are crafted to speak directly to the human heart. We feel it; we don’t think it:

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Skinny Love: watch my lips

All singing is choice. Choice carves sound. Watch Birdy singing Bon Iver’s Skinny Love and you’ll see her curving her lips inwards and letting them rest together on the m as she sings my, my, my, my, my. Her pause on the round body of the weighs down the flyaway y. It adds a layer of resigned melancholy to the word.

It’s a choice. Birdy doesn’t round her lips in the same way when she sings the other words that begin with in Skinny Lovemoment and morning Why pause on the m of my but not the of morning?

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Cool cat, looking for a kitty

Which word feels more uncomfortable in English – gritty or kitty? 

If I assured you that a gritty was as soft as a kitty, your brain would need to come up with something like this:

'Where The Wild Things Are' by Spike Jonze, based on the book by Maurice Sendak
‘Where The Wild Things Are’ by Spike Jonze, based on the book by Maurice Sendak

Where is the discomfort in gritty? It’s in the clogged sound of the guttural gr. That gr is heavy enough to force the tt into a solid lump that squashes all the air out of the y. You don’t need to know the word gritty in English to ‘get’ it. The shape of the sound does all the work. Perfect for another uncomfortable summer’s day in the middle of New York City.

The of kitty is a light, quick touch. A puff of air. It skips onto the tt and bounces up and away into the floating vowel sound of its y. Perfect for a city night that cools and expands into unlimited opportunity and excitement.

And city? With its smooth beginning, city can sound heavy or light, oppressive or liberating, hot or cool. City slides between feelings, depending on how you shape it to sing it. The central vowel can be stretched and filled with emotion. Think of Stevie Wonder and Living for the City

Sing city abruptly and it suits a sweaty, hothouse atmosphere. Slow and expand its vowels, especially the and hear the word lighten and spread to float up into the cool night. It can all happen within the same song. City will do whatever you want.

Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in the City plays with the hot/cold possibilities of the word city, with real traffic sounds (a la Gershwin) and with the surreal fun of being trapped miming to your own song with your braces on backwards:

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Working Hurt Hard

Tell your soon-to-be-ex-lover: You really hurt me this time and you keep hurt short and sharp. Really carries the burden of your pain. If you’re a small child telling your mother: Jake really hurt me, you stretch your hurt to breaking point and beyond, to make sure your big brother Jake gets a good telling-off. Really is just the icing on the cake.

The long /ɜː/ vowel  in hurt is elastic. Keep a steady tone and hurt will stretch, as far as you need, without snapping. Listen to Marika Hackman singing You Come Down. She squeezes the pain of time past, time present and time future into the vowel of hurt:

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