What made Freddie Mercury’s voice so magical? His teeth

The singer believed his buck teeth gave his voice the special resonance. Scientists now think there was another reason.

Every year, one cannot help remember Freddie Mercury on September 5, his birthday. And while one obviously looks back on his dazzling frontmanship, it is his vocal pyrotechnics that echo in one’s ears.

Reputed to have that rare four-octave vocal range, Mercury’s voice could escalate, within a few short bars, from a deep, dark growl all the way up to a bright, shining coloratura (via various chromatic shades of tenor). Rolling Stone ranked Mercury 18th on its list of the Greatest Singers of All Time, but many fans, as well as rock critics, would angrily take to the streets to protest that lowly ranking. To hear Mercury sing Bohemian Rhapsody or Killer Queen is to understand.


In his first band at school in Panchgani, the Hectics, the buck-toothed Mercury was known as a crazy singing piano-player who was inspired by Little Richard – but the band’s real star was another child named Bruce Murray. It was only in later years that Mercury’s voice developed fully into what rock journalist Caroline Sullivan once described as “a force of nature, with the velocity of a hurricane” – a voice that cut, almost God-like, through Queen’s mix of Brian May’s guitar, cranked up to 10, and Roger Taylor’s blasting drums.

But what exactly was it that made Mercury’s voice so unique?

Mercury believed it had something to do with his buck teeth, and the special resonance that their configuration gave to his voice. This was paradoxical, because he had been terribly self-conscious about his teeth since childhood (having been cruelly nicknamed Bucky by schoolmates) – and yet he refused to get orthodontic treatment to fix his malocclusion, fearing that it would rob his voice of its special magic. To try and disguise the problem, he grew his trademark mustache, and even developed the poignant habit of holding his hand up to his mouth when talking to people.

Farrokh Bulsara (Freddie Mercury) and members of his school band, the Hectics.
Farrokh Bulsara (Freddie Mercury) and members of his school band, the Hectics.

Last year, a team of European scientists set out to discover a scientific explanation for the magic of Mercury’s voice – or specifically, as they put it, “to develop an acoustical analysis of his voice production…based on a perceptual and quantitative analysis of his sound recordings”.

Unique ‘vestibular folds’

The scientists first analysed a body of Mercury’s music, including Freddie Mercury: The Solo Collection and 23 other recordings. Then, particularly intrigued by the distorted notes Mercury produced to create his signature growl sounds, the team did a unique simulation exercise: selecting rock singer Daniel Zangger-Borch to simulate Mercury’s singing voice, they filmed his larynx with a high-speed endoscopic camera as he pushed his vocal system into overdrive.

The team’s report, published in the journal of the British Voice Association, is, expectedly, filled with abstruse audiological terms like “subharmonic phonation” and “mean fundamental frequency modulation rate”. But what it essentially boils down to is this: Mercury was probably not a natural tenor, as we generally believe, but a baritone who sang as a tenor, using exceptional voice control.


The report then went on to reveal that Mercury produced his singing voice in a way that is markedly different from other singers: he did this by not merely vibrating his vocal cords, but also activating his vestibular folds, a pair of mucous membranes located just above the vocal cords. These membranes are called “false vocal cords” because they are usually not involved in the production of voice. But, by mobilising them, Mercury created a rare audio phenomenon called “subharmonic vibration” – which is what gave his voice that signature growl.

Strangely, however, the study seemed unable to verify Mercury’s legendary four-octave range, saying that from the analysed data it could neither conclude, nor rule out, the possibility of such a phenomenon.

And what about Mercury’s belief that it was his buck teeth that gave his voice its magic? The report makes no mention of this, but experts are divided in their opinion on this. So it is just as well that he never risked his multi-million dollar voice with orthodontic treatment.


The big ‘What if’?

The great what-if that we can’t help asking today is: what if Mercury hadn’t died when he did? What would he have gone on to do with his fabulous voice, and prodigious talent?

Opera singer Montserate Caballé, with whom he collaborated on Barcelona, says that in his last years Mercury was exploring his passion for classical music, and that the two of them had, in fact, talked of working together on The Phantom of the Opera. Tim Rice, who co-wrote some of the lyrics of Barcelona, adds that given the way he was going, Mercury might have even evolved into a great writer of opera.

So what would that have meant for the future of Queen? Some close friends, like Tim Rice, believe that no matter what avatar the restless Mecury morphed into next, he’d have never abandoned Queen. But, others like his long-time aide, Peter Freestone, dismiss that idea, insisting that “he hated the idea of bands getting back together. Oh, no, no, no.”

But who knows?

Till the very end, Mercury pushed his voice to the limit. When Queen was recording The Show Must Go On, just before he died, Mercury was so ill he could hardly walk. But, as Brian May recalls, “He went, ‘I’ll f***ing do it, darling’ – vodka down – and went in and killed it, completely lacerated that vocal.”

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The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.


The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.