That Harmony is Poison
May 8, 2010 1:17 PM   Subscribe

What do Bel Biv DeVoe and Les Triplettes de Belleville have in common, vocally?

Besides the obvious (skills).

What's the harmony that I hear in both Bel Biv DeVoe's Poison and Benoit Charest's Belleville Rendez-Vous from the score of the animated film Les Triplettes de Belleville? In both songs, there's this recurring three-part harmony -- at least it sounds similar in both songs -- that's driving me out of my mind.

You can hear it most clearly at the end of a sung phrase, when the Triplets sing the "vous" in "rendez-vous" and when BBDV sings "poison" in"that girl is poison". I know a bit about music but not enough to say what this is (some specific interval? in a minor key?) If they're not the exact same, what do they have in common? And what other artists use this spooky, captivating kind of harmony?
posted by andromache to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The main thing that both places that you mention have in common is a three-part-harmony chord that the singers kind of ease into from below (starting by singing a pitch slightly below the correct one, then sliding into it). They're all doing the sliding in parallel, which creates kind of a cool effect.

Both chords happen to be minor, although in Belleville Rendez-Vous there's a seventh added (which the top singer is singing).
posted by dfan at 1:53 PM on May 8, 2010

in a nutshell, it's called 'close harmony'; it results from singing along harmonized vocal lines inside a single octave (for instance, a Cmajor is sung on C4, E4, G4), as opposed to 'open voicing' (where you might have, for instance, C3, E3, G4). It can be done both along 'classical' harmony, or by parallel lines, for instance on third or sixth intervals. It is for instance a staple of many barbershop quartets.
Look at the Andrews Sisters, the Comedian Harmonists, the Boswell Sisters, the italian Trio Lescano, and, in contemporary times, the Puppini Sisters and the Marinetti Sisters
posted by _dario at 2:08 PM on May 8, 2010

Both of those moments feature a glissando - sliding from one note to the next. These two pieces have particularly slow, dragged, glissandos which give them their similarity.
posted by entropone at 2:16 PM on May 8, 2010

Yeah, a two-or-three-part chord with a unison glissando/slide.

And for close harmony, the place to look is the Louvin Brothers
posted by ism at 2:34 PM on May 8, 2010

Boyz II Men's Motown Philly has a similar sound, though it's less glissandoful.

Also, that harmony you're hearing in "Poison" can be heard in Another Bad Creation's "Iesha" and "Playground". Whose music videos are just...bizarre, in retrospect.
posted by limeonaire at 7:16 AM on May 9, 2010

Great answers, all. I like _dario's response about close harmony-- I didn't realize that it was the fact that they're all singing inside a single octave that contributes to that singular sound. Thanks, everyone. Off to listen to some Lovin Brothers.
posted by andromache at 10:36 AM on May 10, 2010

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