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Carl Wilson

Carl Wilson is a freelance writer, the music critic for Slate, and the author of Lets Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste. In the winter of 2016, he will be the visiting Southam Lecturer in the Creative Writing program at the University of Victoria. He is a frequent presenter and former programming committee member of the Pop Conference. Most of the time he lives and cries in Toronto, Canada.

“Just Can’t Keep From Cryin’ Sometimes: The Catch in the Voice, Mimesis and the Feels”
From the blues rasp to the klezmer krechts to the country yodel to the crying-android sound of Auto-Tune, many genres and styles of music include techniques that seem to mimic a sob, whether stoically restrained or full-on wailing. The theatrical and narrative value is obvious, but do vocal catches, breaks and leaps also induce involuntary physiological effects in the listener? Perhaps singers make their voices cry because crying, like yawning or laughter, is contagious. That somatic effect might even make these practices a base ingredient of music across cultures, though I’m not about to make that case. But I might dare propose that it’s a device that attempts to bypass aesthetic taste in its route to the gut. (Though of course it’s usually supported by lyrical and other cues.) I will subject listeners to a range of examples, not all of them by Adele, in search of the sweeter spots in tear-jerking vocal effects and their sociocultural subtexts. To ensure maximum lachrymosity, we’ll finish off with a few special cases of singers (sincerely or not) actually breaking down mid-performance.

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