Towards an Analytical Methodology for Vocalist’s Live Gestures in Extreme Metal

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Within the past twenty years, music-analytical literature has increasingly emphasized the body's role during active listening and performance (Small 1998, Fisher and Lochhead 2002, Clarke 2005, Krueger 2011, Volgsten 2012, Kozak 2015). Embodied approaches are especially suitable for studying black and death metal vocalists, whose stylized screams evade traditional, notated methodologies. At times, vocalists' gestures dramatize lyrics as physiological metaphors (Mead 2002), providing counterevidence to claims that death metal does not involve lyrical identification (Phillipov 2012). Other times, gestures are independent of lyrics, providing kinesthetic evidence of musical meaning not available in words, sounds, or notation. Much literature on death metal vocals has restricted the style to a percussive role (Bogue 2004, 107; Kahn-Harris 2007; Phillipov 2012, 80). Other studies have argued for the importance of vowel formants as a kind of complex pitch (Smialek et al. 2012a, 2012b, Smialek 2015). Gestures represent a way to re-examine debates surrounding musical meaning within the style, acting as a methodological bridge between analysis and ethnographic fieldwork.

Our presentation addresses the conference’s Interacting Bodies focal point by considering vocalist movements on stage as a multipurpose interaction with music. We begin with results from a visual survey of performances from thirty-eight vocalists, taken from autographic texts (Goodman 1976, Gracyk 1996) such as DVD concert footage and music videos. From this survey, we offer a list of meaningful observations that analysts can look for in concert footage: degrees of mobility/fixity, microphone grip and position, head dips that emphasize phrase endings, and editorial cuts that foreground the vocalist. Finally, we use these criteria to compare a sample of five motion-capture sessions involving vocalist participants. The results show kinesthetic evidence of structural and expressive interest and provide a launching point for distinguishing which gestures are generalizable across genres and performers and which are particular to individual styles.
Period15 Sep 2023
Event title33rd Annual Conference of the German Society for Popular Music Studies: Rock Your Body: Bodies in Interaction with Popular Music
Event typeConference
Conference number33
LocationSiegen, Germany, North Rhine-WestphaliaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational