Duke Pitchforks Disconcert

All things Recorded A Cappella Review Board.

Postby GOBbluth » Sun Jan 25, 2009 9:42 pm

So i just got to listen to the new pitchforks album and I must say that this has truly left the realm of the a cappella genre. I am a huge fan of well produced a cappella albums that heighten the experience of voices being utilized as instruments to create an interesting genre that is exciting to both see and hear, but I have a huge problem with albums like this. This album takes all the joy out of a cappella. When the sounds are manipulated so harshly to eliminate any remote quality of the human voice than why not just download the original track and put a collegiate voice as the soloist......especially when there isn't a twist to the song or a new imaginative reinvention, but rather...hey...look how closely we can get this highly manipulated voice to sound like a siren...just like in the original...even though its not humanly possibly. I know that the debate will forever take place regarding natural vs. produced and I have ALWAYS been on the side of good production to enhance the voice, but basically albums like this are highlighting only the production staff and not the group of voices that supposedly helped to create a fully synthesized orchestra. I know these guys are extremely talented because I've seen them live but one couldn't tell if only listening to this overly affected piece of studio wizardry. So kudos to the production staff....it sounds great for an "a cappella album".
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Postby dherriges » Sun Jan 25, 2009 10:50 pm

GOBbluth wrote:but basically albums like this are highlighting only the production staff and not the group of voices that supposedly helped to create a fully synthesized orchestra.


So... I haven't heard the whole Pitchforks album, but I have "Knights of Cydonia" (thanks for the trio of holiday downloads, VocalSource!) which I think is reflective of the issues you're talking about. I will say, I think to create a track like that takes a LOT more than just a skilled producer... there's some very talented arranging going on, some real creative genius in figuring out what sounds to get people to sing and how to manipulate them later, and yes, some really talented singing - it's not easy to get someone in the studio to make exactly the right weird noises with their mouth that you want them to.

That said, I still don't enjoy the track as much as a lot of more "vocal" sounding a cappella... cause, really, I'd rather just listen to Muse than listen to this. It's impressive but it doesn't really give me a reason to come back to it once I'm done being impressed.

But I think to say that this kind of processed a cappella ONLY showcases the talent of the producer and not of the group is not very fair. Very few groups could produce something like this.
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Postby vocalsource » Mon Jan 26, 2009 5:38 am

GOBbluth, we appreciate your observation. We'd like to point out a few things in defense of the Pitchforks:

GOBbluth wrote:So i just got to listen to the new pitchforks album and I must say that this has truly left the realm of the a cappella genre. I am a huge fan of well produced a cappella albums that heighten the experience of voices being utilized as instruments to create an interesting genre that is exciting to both see and hear, but I have a huge problem with albums like this. This album takes all the joy out of a cappella. When the sounds are manipulated so harshly to eliminate any remote quality of the human voice than why not just download the original track and put a collegiate voice as the soloist......especially when there isn't a twist to the song or a new imaginative reinvention, but rather...hey...look how closely we can get this highly manipulated voice to sound like a siren...just like in the original...even though its not humanly possibly. I know that the debate will forever take place regarding natural vs. produced and I have ALWAYS been on the side of good production to enhance the voice, but basically albums like this are highlighting only the production staff and not the group of voices that supposedly helped to create a fully synthesized orchestra. I know these guys are extremely talented because I've seen them live but one couldn't tell if only listening to this overly affected piece of studio wizardry. So kudos to the production staff....it sounds great for an "a cappella album".


Based on your comments, it wouldn't be going out on too much of a limb here to suggest that you have perhaps not listened to 'Disconcert' yet, only to "Knights of Cydonia". That's fine, but your comments about the album as a whole are, one feels, unfair in this light. The Pitchforks have samples of a few of the songs on their website, and we offer them for your consideration:

Atlantic - All Human, All The Time™ :)

Anna Molly - yes, the bass in V2 is a 100% real human. A freakish one who happens to lack the ability to taste, yes. But definitely human :)

Home (as featured on BOCA 2009) - one hears an awful lot of voices here, no? :)

And so on. 'As You Go' is another quite human-sounding song that is featured on 'Sing V' (and is one of two original songs on the 'Disconcert'), and if you (or anyone) would like to hear any of the other tracks we'd be happy to send them to you, just drop us a line.

We don't mean to sound defensive here, but we feel you do the Pitchforks a disservice in placing all the laud (or blame, as it were) on the Production team. The group is an incredibly talented group of singers, and two of perhaps the most prolific arrangers of the last decade (Joseph Bates and Evan Wisser) were a huge part of making the record what it is.

Regarding "Knights", the goal certainly was to emulate the original as closely as possible. It was an artistic choice (for this one song, not for the entire album), much as it was with the Bubs when they produced 'Code Red' (back when this argument first started to surface). Let's be honest here - it's Muse, in one of their most in-your-face, epic tunes. Anything short of full throttle, all-or-nothing would, one feels, be a bit lacking. Of course, one doesn't expect you to enjoy the song as much as the original - there's a reason Muse is the best band of (at least) the last 10 years, and the Pitchforks are part-time amateur singers who moonlight as college students. But as Daniel alluded to, quite a bit of work went into making "Knights" what it was - long before it ever reached our studio.

You (GOBbluth) and Daniel were fans of "Hysteria", from the Forks' previous release. Also a Muse tune, also heavily "produced". One difference between the two songs is that our skillz have, one hopes, improved somewhat since 2006. But the approach was much the same. Perhaps we went a bit too far with "Knights"? If so...excellent! That was certainly our goal - with this one song. It's OK not to like it, just as many expressed great disdain for 'Code Red' back in 2003. But we'd ask that you give the album full consideration (and a listen) before making such disparaging comments about the group. We'd ask the same for any of our client's works (and have, in the past), including your former group, Exit 245 (Exit is also a VocalSource client). And we think this is a fair request.

Anyway, happy listening, everyone.
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Postby RnBMrE » Mon Jan 26, 2009 6:15 am

GOBbluth wrote:So i just got to listen to the new pitchforks album and I must say that this has truly left the realm of the a cappella genre.


Um okay. So what genre would you consider it?

GOBbluth wrote:This album takes all the joy out of a cappella.


Opinions are nice.

GOBbluth wrote:When the sounds are manipulated so harshly to eliminate any remote quality of the human voice than why not just download the original track and put a collegiate voice as the soloist......especially when there isn't a twist to the song or a new imaginative reinvention, but rather...hey...look how closely we can get this highly manipulated voice to sound like a siren...just like in the original...even though its not humanly possibly.


This I understand and agree with, but to me, it's more an argument against transcriptive arranging than heavy production.

GOBbluth wrote:I know these guys are extremely talented because I've seen them live but one couldn't tell if only listening to this overly affected piece of studio wizardry.


I don't see the point in knocking what was obviously an artistic choice on behalf of the group (or its leadership, at least). As you said, you know that they are a talented group. It's quite obvious upon listening to the album that the singing is delivered in a convincing and energized manner.

When it comes to production on an album (a cappella or non), I'm much keener on heavily produced material if it's the group's stylistic decision than if it's a producer's effort to mask uninspired and/or out-of-tune singing.

Matt Emery CASA Director of Communications Three-time Recipient of RARB "Post of the Year" Title

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Postby davecharliebrown » Mon Jan 26, 2009 12:20 pm

I can very much appreciate the point of view of those who advocate for more vocal production and less studio production. Great singing is what brought most of us to the a cappella arena in the first place. And even if you disagree with that point of view, taste is an individual thing.

BUT.

To give all the credit to the studio engineers (who deserve a ton of it) and rob the group of their creativity and hard work is a mistake. How can you justify saying "there isn't a twist to the song or a new imaginative reinvention" when the album has TWO original songs on it? Talk about imaginative...
--Dave Brown

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then: CASA president, CASAcademy director, CASA Bd of Directors | BYU Vocal Point | Noteworthy co-foun
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Postby matthewnym » Mon Jan 26, 2009 12:53 pm

It's interesting to hear the points that GOBbluth has brought up, and I'm glad that our work was able to provoke such a passionate reaction. After all, isn't that the goal of any artist? I do want to put my own thoughts out there as the creative director of the CD to illuminate a little the thought process that formed the album. To paraphrase from our new president, "We reject as false the choice between a natural or produced sound." Which is to say, production was never a question that we spent a lot of time on in the creative stages of Disconcert.

Contrary to the opinions that have been expressed, this CD has doesn't have any more "production" than Bring It Back or Honestly, in a quantitative sense. The process of treating the bass, perc, backs, and solos was not fundamentally different this time around. I will agree that Dave Sperandio's talents and tastes as a mixer have matured immensely over the past 6 years, but there was no "more" or "less" compression, eq, distortion, or reverb on these tracks than any other that we have produced over our last 3 albums.

The fundamental question that I asked, and that I presented to the group before recording Disconcert, was why does a cappella have to mean vocal? If we have 3 guys who can make a killer trumpet sound (which we did) why should we settle for lame bah syllables like most other groups do when imitating trumpets? If we have a guy who could make a cool distorted guitar sound (which we did) why should we record a basic vowel and then depend on our producer to distort it into a guitar? I can go down the list of examples, but the point is that we decided to use fully the talents that we had at our disposal, both to make a more interesting sound, and to purposefully reduce our reliance on "production" to achieve the sound that we wanted.

Additionally, the point was not to better imitate the original, but to make our tracks more interesting and engaging. I'll put for the example of Mind Trick, which includes two trumpet lines. The original Jamie Cullum version only uses a keyboard, funk guitar, and drums as instruments. I wrote an original trumpet part to make the song more interesting, not to imitate the original. If you were a painter, why would you limit yourself to 3 colors when you know that you are capable of much more. Our sounds may not be "vocal" or "choral," but they are no less human or authentic.

Every track on the CD, with the exception of As You Go, was performed live, and performed from the same arrangement as our recorded version. As a group, we always make sure that every arrangement we do is performable live. We will arrange knowing what may work better in a studio setting, and I went back over every arrangement to add bits and pieces more suited to the studio before we recorded Disconcert, but the vast majority of sounds that you hear in our CD are present in our live versions of the songs. The highlight of our spring show was singing Knights of Cydonia, and it was just as kick-ass as on our CD.

So there is nothing in this CD that "has truly left the realm of the a cappella genre." It makes you rethink what a cappella can be, which was precisely my goal in creating and recording Disconcert.
Evan Wisser
The Pitchforks of Duke University '05-'09
Music Director '06-'09
Album Producer '07-'09
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Postby billhare » Mon Jan 26, 2009 8:42 pm

This whole argument is like saying you don't like Beethoven because he's not Mozart, or you don't like Muse because they are not Elvis. If something in any genre offends your sensibilities, just don't listen to it - but don't say it has no right to exist - someone else probably likes it, and they might not like the stuff you personally love. If we all had the power to erase from the planet anything we each personally didn't approve of, there would never have been any progression in any type of art. If you like "pure" A Cappella (and you'd be surprised that a lot of it is actually more "processed" than the 'Forks or 'Bubs!), then listen to that - there's still plenty of it to choose from!

-B

P.S. When I say "you", I am using it in the general sense...

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments. http://www.dyz.com

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