When I think of a captivating voice, I begin thinking of a voice that immediately draws my attention in any situation. My first thought was of Tom Waits’s voice. His voice, though, is not main-stream captivating in the sense that it is an appealing, positive, or pretty voice. Instead, I argue that Waits's voice is captivating because the listener experiences an uncomfortable intimacy when listening to the guttural, raspy voice combined with an obscure, eerie atmosphere that he produces.
Tom Waits is an American singer-songwriter and performer. He is most well-known for his guttural, gravelly voice. He accentuates this raspy voice in many of his songs by switching from a modal, raspy voice to a vocal fry. This combination of raspy voice and vocal fry makes him sound as if he is growling in many of his songs. Furthermore, the listener may even feel Wait's voice is an intrusion as there is sibilance heard in many of his lyrics, giving the impression that he is speaking or singing very close to the listener. This intimacy makes the listener uncomfortable as Waits's voice is growly and unsettling, and he generally sings of dark, sketchy, or disquieting themes. This intrusion of a spooky, powerful voice that appears close captivates the listener and is also what makes Waits's voice consequently a captivating voice.
The above link is Tom Waits singing "Hell Broke Luce" from his album Bad as Me. This song is an example of Waits's voice, and in it he uses many of the vocal qualities described above to unsettle the listener. Consequently he draws the listener’s attention and becomes a captivating voice.
This excerpt is from Tom Waits's song "Get Behind the Mule" from his album Mule Variations. In this song, Waits is singing through a bull horn, producing an unusual, metallic sound that can be described as tinny. However, it is not just this tinny tone that causes Waits’s voice to be attention-grabbing in this excerpt. The listener is further captivated by the contradicting nature of the selection due to the fact that his voice sounds both far away and very close at the same time. There is a great deal of sibilance in this excerpt, giving the illusion that Waits is singing right next to the listener. However, as mentioned before, the bull horn affect makes it sound as if his voice is far away. The contradicting nature of these two sounds creates an uneasiness since Waits’s voice cannot be physically located. This uneasiness draws the listeners attention and demonstrates another way in which Waits’s voice is captivating.
This is an excerpt from the National Public Radio's segment titled Tom Waits: A Raspy Voice Heads to the Hall of Fame. In the excerpt, the speaker is host David Bianculli. During the broadcast, Bianculli includes a quote by Daniel Durchholz, a critic who relates Tom Waits's voice to taste. Specifically, Durchholz remarks that Waits’s voice sounds as if “it was soaked in a vat of bourbon” and “left hanging in a smoke house to dry”. Even if the listener has never heard Waits’s voice, they would be able to guess that Waits has the voice of a chain-smoker. One can almost imagine by this description what it is like to have Waits’s voice: a bubbly thickness in the back of the throat. It is gravelly, rough, and often unsettling. Waits’s voice only accentuates the eeriness in many of his darkly themed songs. It is his chain-smoking tone of voice that contributed not only to the captivating nature of Waits’s voice, but was also a contributing factor in Waits’s rise to recognition.
This is an excerpt of Tom Waits speaking before a song during a live performance. Here you can hear his notorious raspy voice. Waits is known for his guttural growl, drawing the listener’s attention and inspiring an uncanny feeling. Waits’s raspy voice is the fundamental element that allows Waits’s voice to qualify as captivating. He produces his famous growl at the back of his throat, allowing the breath to gurgle through an unfixed glottal closure. Waits’s uses this raspy voice to accentuate his darker themed lyrics. However, Waits is also known for his love songs (often singing of a lost love). Here, his raspy voice can come off as damaged in these instance and seems to draw attention to the hard times he has gone through. In some ways, the raspy nature of his voice allows Waits’s to sound experienced and consequently knowledgeable about life. Whether Waits’s intention is to portray a spooky, unsettling character or a person who has loved and lost, he achieves both these personas using his raspy voice.
This excerpt includes of a female voice beginning a word with a modal voice but then ending the word in a different register, specifically a vocal fry. Tom Waits's frequently uses this similar switch from modal to vocal fry in many of his songs. While the female speaking may not incite any uneasiness in the listener, Waits’s use of vocal fry most certainly does. This switch to vocal fry only accentuates his already raspy voice, leading him to sound as if he were growling in his songs. Waits's lyrics often incorporate sketchy characters or grotesque imagery. The guttural growl produced when using vocal fry draws the listener’s attention due to the unsettling, eerie tone created by this growl.
In this recording, a female is speaking a line from the lyrics of Tom Waits's song "Crossroads". It is important to notice the large amount of sibilant sound she produces while speaking this lyric. A listener interprets a voice with a great deal of sibilance as a voice that is physically close to them. Many of Waits's songs include sibilance, making his voice appear close to the listener and consequently provide a sense of intimacy. However, the darker lyrics used by Waits create an eerie atmosphere, and the intimacy of Waits's voice can make the listener uncomfortable. Because of the darker nature of many of Waits’s songs, this intimacy can feel like an unwanted intrusion. It is this uncanniness that captivates the listener’s attention, consequently providing Waits with a captivating voice.