Very linguistics heavy, probably the best article out of the five I've written so far. Contains Rammstein, guttural rhotics, German in spoken vs sung speech, convoluted examples, Leipzig, lyrics, Richard being hilarious and beach parties.
All sounds are equal, but some sounds are more equal than others. </alphabetfarm> This is most certainly true of the prized 'R' sound, which humankind seems to have come up with a shocking number of ways to pronounce.
This article is fairly long and contains lots of phonetic descriptors. I have divided it into neat little subsections because of that.
You're very welcome.
How many ways can 'R' be pronounced, as a whole?
The 'r' sound, or 'rhotic consonants' as they are commonly called, can be pronounced in many different ways and utilizing various areas of the throat, tongue and lips. The general varieties are those.
- Approximant R - This is the 'r' most of us are familiar with, as in 'red'. Most accents in English will have this; the tongue never touches the roof of the mouth. Surprisingly rare in other languages.
- Tapped/Flicked R - The most common variety in the 'tapped rhotic consonants' family is the alveolar tap. Alveolar indicates pronunciation with the tip/flat of the tongue against the alveolar ridge, a particular place on the upper jaw and towards the back of the front teeth. The Korean/Japanese 'r' is like this; an English example is actually the 'tt' sound in 'better', if you happen to be North American and pronounce it more like 'berrer'. If you're speaking British English this will likely not apply to you.
- Trilled R - The 'rolling' sound like 'rrrrr' that features through the majority of this article. I specifically mean the alveolar trill, pronounced with a vibration of airflow with the tip/flat of the tongue against the alveolar ridge. There are many trills like it but
this one is mineit's specifically this one that we need for reasons later discussed. The trill is not really present in English save for a few dialects, but the Italian 'terra' should give you a good idea.
- Guttural R - The standard 'R' used in the German language, and also French; called the uvular rhotic and pronounced near the back of the throat. If you've taken either of those languages you know what I mean. Part of the reason why German is claimed to sound so harsh, along with other guttural sounds such as the ach-laut. If you happen to be a particularly old-fashioned English northerner you might know this as the 'Northumberland Burr', but sadly, like the trill above, English nowadays does not have an equivalent example to showcase the guttural 'r'.
It is the trilled and guttural R that we are concerned with.
What's that got to do with Rammstein and why all the fuss?
A main feature in Rammstein songs involves Till drastically rolling his 'r's whenever he sings. People have had various responses to this, ranging from bemusement, amusement, indifference to utter rage; you see, these rolled 'r's tend to be unfortunately reminiscent of how a certain man with a funny mustache used to speak. Can't roll your 'r's in Germany nowadays without invoking Godwin's Law. Nevermind the fact that Hitler's accent was a synthetic one, Bavarian assertiveness mingled with what he seems to have perceived as a harsh, sharp Prussian sound. In both he gained the rolled 'r' sound and spoke in a tone that back in the 1930/40s would have painted a picture of authority… but nowadays just sounds ridiculous and nigh incomprehensible as it truly is.
So we've just established all this and we'll have to wonder: why does Till, and for that matter nigh everyone who sings in German insist on rolling their 'r's - when they know plainly what it connotates and when it's also, you know, not the right sound? I suppose there are many reasons regarding the differing qualities of sound and we could analyze them in depth, but the most likely reason is rather anticlimactic: it's just hard to sing.
I mentioned previously that the German 'r' is uvular/guttural and is pronounced near the back of the throat. Singing, incidentally, also involves rather regulated airflow through the throat. This is why the rolled 'r' - despite its negative connotations - is sadly rather unavoidable in singing. Mind you, the uvular 'r' is not impossible to sing, just that it is very difficult, and in a genre like metal you're probably not going to have massive success vocalizing it loudly and well enough.
And besides - German has been actually regulated that you have to use the rolled 'r' on the stage, anyway. Let us move onto Bühnendeutsch.
How does Bühnendeutsch (Stage German) link to Till's pronunciation?
Bühnendeutsch originated in the 19th century as a unified set of pronunciation rules for spoken/sung German. German was, and still is, a language full of dialect, colloquialisms and various accents. No two regions have exactly the same way of speaking as the other. It was eventually decided at some point that at least upon the stage, something that got rid of all those distracting little factors would be spoken instead so that no poetry, song or drama would be ruined. The result is an exceptionally lovely and strictly-regulated form of High German, crafted especially for singers and actors to be able to pronounce… and of course, much like the reaction that especially-strict Received Pronunciation would get in most English-speaking countries, if you tried to speak it in real life you'd get some very odd looks.
Bühnendeutsch acknowledges how hard the uvular 'r' is to pronounce, so it is a rule that 'r' is always pronounced at the front of the mouth when on the stage. But this does not mean that it always needs to be trilled or overtly emphasized; in fact, there are three main ways to utilize the 'r' in Bühnendeutsch. Till, and Rammstein as a whole, provide examples of all of them.
1. Strong 'R': This is the the most noticeable, rolled strongly and often at the beginning of a word. In the line 'Roter Sand und zwei Patronen', the foremost 'r' is rolled noticeably. The strong 'R' also features within an initial group of consonants: the 'r' is rolled strongly in 'wartet schon ein weißer Traum' as well. Till likes those. A lot.
You go, honey.
2. Weak 'R': Any 'r' that is flicked or tapped falls into this category. The 'r' is less strong between two vowels in spoken speech; Bühnendeutsch therefore specifies a light 'flick' instead of a full-on trill. 'Wenn die anderen Mädchen suchten' has the 'r' between two 'e's, and Till passes that one over with only a barely-noticeable flick. In spoken German the 'r' is also quite weak before a consonant, so in song it tends to be flicked - but as Till's pronunciation fo 'Mein Herz Brennt' indicates, in that case Bühnendeutsch will allow a strong trill for emphasis.
3. 'R' as vowel: At the end of a word or word element, and in the prefixes 'er-/ver-/zer-' etc the 'r' is considered to be an extra vowel. Bühnendeutsch specifies that this diphthong be followed, and it may allow flicking for musical emphasis. Richard gives you the best straightforward example: his lead-in to 'Du Riechst So Gut', the line 'Der Wahnsinn' tends to be pronounced 'De-ah Vahn-sinn'. Consider also the line: 'Tiefe Wasser sind nicht still' from 'Rosenrot'. Till leaves the 'r' at the end of 'Wasser' open so that it sounds more like 'Va-ssah'. However Till also provides a subversion to this rule: the 'r' in '… such den Schnee vom letzten Jahr' is very strongly rolled nonetheless, when it should be passed over or at the very most slightly flicked.
So yes. Basically their use of 'r' corresponds to Bühnendeutsch - but at the same time, Till won't exactly hesitate to roll the 'r' whenever the hell he wants.
Any other influences/examples of R+ deviating from the standard?
What standard hasn't R+ deviated from?
Now by this point you might be asking: surely Bühnendeutsch isn't the only influence. What about accents? Just because what they do with their 'r's, and what Bühnendeutsch specifies must be done with 'r's line up, it doesn't mean that they follow all of those rules. For one, Till certainly doesn't follow the 'long e' rule when you listen to how he sings 'Sehnsucht'; the 'e' there is a long vowel and ought to be pronounced closer to the English 'ee' instead of 'ay/eh' in song. But he does sing 'Zehn-zucht' ('S' at front of a word/beginning a syllable is pronounced 'Z' too) instead of closer to 'Zeen-zucht'. Rammstein really are going with less 'regulated Stage German' and more 'whatever is readily audible, comprehensible and easy to sing'. Nothing wrong with that.
And yes, accents most definitely play a part. Till Lindemann is from Leipzig, and the way he pronounces certain words - I'll take the ever-common 'ich' as an example - gives it away. Judging from the geography I think his dialect might be Saxon, but I'm not sure; one publication at least refers to his accent as Berliner. It's most definitely East German, however. If you know more, or are in a position to be able to figure it out, then please tell me.
There are two main varieties of the '-ch' sound in German: the ach-laut and the ich-laut.
The former is the -ch found in words such as 'Buch'/'Kuchen' etc, called the voiceless velar fricative; those of you who are from the UK (or even better, Scottish) will be very familiar with this sound in words such as 'loch'. It's pronounced near the back of the tongue.
The latter is the -ch found in words such as 'Mädchen'/'nicht' etc, called the voiceless palatal fricative; the closest English equivalent is the 'h' in 'hue'. It's pronounced at the tip/flat of the tongue against the hard palate.
The Berlin accent is typically said to pronounce the 'ich' as 'ick', whilst Saxon and some of the Central German dialects tend to go with the softer 'ish'. Till is the latter case. Listen to 'Ich Will' and you'll see that he doesn't go for the standard 'i-hh' pronunciation. Or better still, listen to any live recordings of 'Asche zu Asche' and I guarantee that Richard will be singing 'Ish komm vie-derrrr'. That works too.
The standard 'ich' is perfectly singable. Here is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing a Schubert classic, 'Die Forelle'; he provides very good examples of Bühnendeutsch, but his 'ich' is pronounced, how should I say it, as 'correctly' as it can get. I would put the Rammstein '-ch/-sh' sound as equal parts accent and convenience.
So what can we ultimately conclude from this apparently very convoluted discussion? Not anything extremely complicated, really. You might argue that they're playing on stereotypes here as well, a view also frequently expressed by the bandmates; but personally I feel that when R+ play on stereotypes and culture, they're more focused towards visuals and spectacle. In terms of how they sing, I'm more inclined to believe: Rammstein, ultimately, are simply making themselves comfortable and memorable. So far, it's working.
All together now: Rrramm-stein!
Bibliography (discounting links):
- Barber. J., (1985). German for Musicians. London: Faber Music.
- Paton, J. G., (1999). Gateway to German diction: a guide for singers. New York: Alfred Pub.
- White, J., (2011). Little Black Rammbook. Thame: Diamond Distinction Limited.