A longstanding mystery has persisted around heavy metal singers for years: How do they do it — all that screaming, for hours at a time — and then get off the stage and talk normally? How come they never damage their vocal cords? Now, using high-speed imaging, one San Francisco doctor thinks he found the secret.
San Francisco’s Dr. Krzysztof Izdebski of the Pacific Voice and Speech Foundation, who specializes in working with patients that have damaged their vocal cords, believes that metal singers have basically figured out a way to do what comes naturally to human babies.
“A little baby has all the sounds — it has the sounds of scream and growl, and inhalation and high pitch and whistle and low pitch, and so I thought, wow, you know, all of this we have, we learn from the beginning. We have it and then we somehow lose it, and the patients who suffer can’t learn how to do this,” said Izdebski.
Izdebski’s high speed camera can look down someone’s throat and record them singing at up to 16,000 frames a second. Using this, combined with sophisticated software, he systematically examined one heavy metal singer in a way that has never been done before.
What you are looking at is slow motion video of one singer’s vocal cords. The tissue folds vibrate under an expelled airstream to produce sound. He studied all the sounds this singer could make — from sucking air to screaming to high whistles to something Izdebski calls the heavy metal growl.
“So a growl is, is one of the most aggressive sounds that heavy metalers do; it sounds something like ‘Rahhhh!!!’ Okay. So, a growl is produced — and they can do it over and over and over, hour after hour … The images that we recorded clearly show that it’s produced predominately, predominately by structures above the glottis. So, the vocal folds do open and vibrate but actually don’t collide, and the entire sick area above — aryepiglottic folds, arachnoids, epiglottis — everything claps and dances, basically, and creates vibrations and creates acoustic orchestration,” said Izdebski.
Read the full article over at Inside Science.