The Harmonics: "Escape Velocity"

All things Recorded A Cappella Review Board.

Postby kevin47 » Sat Aug 29, 2009 1:25 pm

It isn't a genre. It's an orchestration.


That may be the case at present. However, most of the people here want to see a cappella grow in popularity and quality. In order to do that, it does need to take on the characteristics of a genre.

As such, there are competing interests at work. Any genre needs to have certain boundaries, and simultaneously to expand upon same.

I would draw an analogy to reality television. Every reality show employs producers and writers to help engineer the entertainment derived from the show. However, once the audience intuits that a show no longer reflects reality, it becomes disinterested. The very fact of it's ostensible reality makes it entertaining.

There is no way to extricate the circumstances of a cappella from its entertainment value. The moment audiences reject the idea that this constitutes vocal music, they will not be entertained, or the orchestration methodology will bleed into other genres.

Conversely, it is incumbent upon performers to compete in the marketplace of musical ideas. Just as reality shows have to compete with their stylized dramatic counterparts, a cappella needs to compete with other musical styles, including modern rock, pop, classical and jazz.

As such, it is important for groups to stake out as much territory as possible. The more broadly we can define a cappella, the more relevant and impactful this burgeoning genre will become.

Concerns about crossing the line are well founded. Lines and boundaries are crucial in terms of credibility. But those lines are also nebulous, because it's music and because there is no real precedent for this style of music.

Audiences are an adept guide as to whether a groups has crossed the line or nudged it. Nobody is going to come watch the Stanford Harmonics let computers do all the work for them.

Judging from the audience reaction to this performance, I'm guessing they'll be back for more.
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Postby colton » Sat Aug 29, 2009 5:09 pm

mrmiller wrote:colton: Do you consider Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek" a cappella? Technically she only sang a handful of vocal lines and the rest were obtained through pitch shifting (not vocoding, for reference).


Unfortunately, I haven't heard the original so I can't judge. But by my feelings expressed above, pitch shifting which can only be done electronically wouldn't be "wihtout added instruments" and thus would not be a cappella.

mrmiller wrote:What about all those sweet Beach Boys harmonies where they doubled every vocal? You can't do that live unless you clone yourself. And most of Pet Sounds was never performed live because it was too complicated, instrumentally even. Does that make it cheating for everyone involved? It's a widely acknowledged masterpiece of pop music--and was never performed live until a few years ago.


When have I ever used the word "cheating"?

But no, I wouldn't consider the Beach Boys an acappella group, if that was your question. Or was your question whether I felt groups should only record on albums that which they can also perform live? If that's the case, my answer is no, I don't feel that way.

mrmiller wrote:People have been experimenting for years with ways to make their instruments not sound like their instruments through other means (guitar -> electric guitar, amps, mic placement, pedals, weird playing styles). Why can't singers do the same?


When have I ever said they can't? I've consistently said performers should do whatever they want, to be true to their artistic vision and to entertain their audience. That holds true both with live performances and recordings.

My main gripe is with the word "a cappella", not with what performers do. Guitar sounds and all the other things you mention do not have the "no added instruments" definition that "a cappella" does, so the analogy does not hold in my opinion. A cappella music is that which should be performable with no added instruments. And, as I've said earlier in the thread, when computers and electronics become fundamental to a performance, instead of an enhancement to the performance, then that seems to cross a line to me.

Well, my other concern is whether the a cappella sound(*) will disappear completely due to groups doing these things, which would in my opinion be a shame. But, as I've said before, that is not necessarily something the groups themselves should be concerned about.

(*) my definition of a cappella, that is.
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Postby s.phypers » Sat Aug 29, 2009 6:42 pm

In Vocal Pedogogy, we were taught that the voice is fundamentally a wind instrument... does that throw a wrench in the works? ;)

Shannon Phypers Choral Director, Marlborough High School Ithaca College '07 - Current slave to BU's M.M. online degree program

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Postby mrmiller » Sat Aug 29, 2009 8:35 pm

colton wrote:But by my feelings expressed above, pitch shifting which can only be done electronically wouldn't be "wihtout added instruments" and thus would not be a cappella.


Okay, so even the slightest tuning on a recording is right out.

colton wrote:But no, I wouldn't consider the Beach Boys an acappella group, if that was your question. Or was your question whether I felt groups should only record on albums that which they can also perform live? If that's the case, my answer is no, I don't feel that way.


Of course the Beach Boys aren't an a cappella group. Just trying to express that live and recorded are two separate parts, as you noted.

colton wrote:My main gripe is with the word "a cappella", not with what performers do. Guitar sounds and all the other things you mention do not have the "no added instruments" definition that "a cappella" does, so the analogy does not hold in my opinion. A cappella music is that which should be performable with no added instruments. And, as I've said earlier in the thread, when computers and electronics become fundamental to a performance, instead of an enhancement to the performance, then that seems to cross a line to me.


I guess that's the distinction. I don't see a cappella as "no added instrument" but "music made (at some point) with voices" (which strangely includes any sort of body percussion like stomping and hand claps which fits into neither of our definitions). I can see how what's going on doesn't fit into your definition. But as soon as you even add amplification so people can hear you in a large venue, you've broken your definition. Hell, even an acoustic space is technically a violation. And if it isn't, then mathematically applying the same parameters via convolution should be acceptable, right?

I've just stopped worrying about the details. I started one of these posts a few years ago. I think it was melodramatically called "A Cappella Is Dead" or some such nonsense. There's too many details to quibble over and it's really besides the point anyways. If it's good, it's good. And if someone calls a recording a cappella, I'm going to believe them (well, unless I hear a piano).

colton wrote:Well, my other concern is whether the a cappella sound(*) will disappear completely due to groups doing these things, which would in my opinion be a shame. But, as I've said before, that is not necessarily something the groups themselves should be concerned about.

(*) my definition of a cappella, that is.


I don't think it's going anywhere. Harmonics' live show is certainly the exception, not the rule. And classical music definitely is always there, even the contemporary stuff.

MIT Logarhythms '05-'09, Music Director '08, CD Manager '08

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Postby ceegers » Sat Aug 29, 2009 10:29 pm

colton wrote:Well, my other concern is whether the a cappella sound(*) will disappear completely due to groups doing these things, which would in my opinion be a shame.

I actually really doubt that... most a cappella groups perform live without effects long before they go into all the recording tricks.

And if my old school's any indication, I think if it ever does happen, it's a long way off, since I don't think any of the groups at my school have done things you can't get live.

C.J. Smith Hempfield HS R# founder/director 03-05 U. of Hartford Hawkapella 05-09 Currently doing many musical things that do not include a cappella groups :-( :-(

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Postby dekesharon » Sun Aug 30, 2009 5:04 am

No one needs to worry about the potential demise of unamplified a cappella.

Acoustic guitars are alive and well, despite Jimi Hendrix. Or... thanks to Jimi Hendrix? The more people that are drawn to guitar music and guitar playing...

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Postby RnBMrE » Sun Aug 30, 2009 3:01 pm

DekeSharon wrote:Acoustic guitars are alive and well, despite Jimi Hendrix. Or... thanks to Jimi Hendrix? The more people that are drawn to guitar music and guitar playing...


Kind of like how Blackberries have become more popular primarily due to the iPhone's success.

BOOM!

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Postby rebecca » Sun Aug 30, 2009 7:31 pm

RnBMrE wrote:Kind of like how Blackberries have become more popular primarily due to the iPhone's success.


Yeah - it really hits home how important it is to have a device that's reliable and can actually get work done.

Re: "studio effects" and voices - purism and populism are pretty much mutually exclusive. I love raw voices and raw fiddles and uillean pipes. I also know that most other people can only stand these things when they are cleaned up, whether or not they know how what they're hearing was made.
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Postby colton » Sun Aug 30, 2009 8:17 pm

DekeSharon wrote:No one needs to worry about the potential demise of unamplified a cappella.

Acoustic guitars are alive and well...


Maybe that's the term we need: "acoustic a cappella". As opposed to "processed a cappella", perhaps? Hmm. I'll have to think about that some more.
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Postby davecharliebrown » Sun Aug 30, 2009 9:19 pm

For anyone who's interested, we reviewed Escape Velocity on this week's episode of Mouth Off:

http://www.mouthoffshow.com/2009/08/mouth-off-08-20-09/
--Dave Brown

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now: Mouth Off host | ICCA & CARA Judge

then: CASA president, CASAcademy director, CASA Bd of Directors | BYU Vocal Point | Noteworthy co-foun
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Postby vocalmark » Mon Aug 31, 2009 1:21 pm

Got an email from SoundToys today (manufacturer of some of the coolest plugins available, IMO), and they had an interesting article about one of my favorites - Crystallizer. They included a link to a video of one of their guys showing off the capabilities of Crystallizer, and I immediately thought of this thread, so I figured I'd share it with you:

http://www.facebook.com/SoundToys#/vide ... 120&ref=mf

I haven't taken the time to read the 3rd and 4th pages of this thread too critically, so forgive me if we've put this matter to rest :-) I think you'll see some really good examples of how music you'd probably never credit as "guitars" or "drums" is, in fact, guitars and drums. Whether or not society as a whole deems them as such, who knows...

Mark Hines The Vocal Company - www.thevocalcompany.com SoJam, 2011 Executive Producer CASA, 2010 Board of Directors

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Postby jmednikow » Mon Aug 31, 2009 8:47 pm

colton wrote:Maybe that's the term we need: "acoustic a cappella". As opposed to "processed a cappella", perhaps?


I think I like that distinction. But leave off the "processed" adjective because of the negative connotations. Anyone who really wants to be a purist can call his or her recording "acoustic a cappella." Anything else can be assumed to be "processed a cappella."

Jay A. Mednikow Harvard Din & Tonics 1985-86 Duke Pitchforks 1989-90 DeltaCappella, 2007- http://www.deltacappella.com http://www.mednikow.com (my day job)

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Postby dherriges » Mon Aug 31, 2009 9:55 pm

DaveCharlieBrown wrote:For anyone who's interested, we reviewed Escape Velocity on this week's episode of Mouth Off:

http://www.mouthoffshow.com/2009/08/mouth-off-08-20-09/


Very thoughtful review. Loved it!
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Postby Ed Boyer » Tue Sep 01, 2009 4:43 am

The bottom line is that the practical definition of a cappella changes. Whether or not "purists" like it, and whether or not the dictionary reflects it, it now includes contemporary a cappella with all of its (live and studio) processing, pitch shifting, octavizing, screaming, and percussion. Why? Because, for years now, people have been referring to that stuff as "a cappella." If I start thousands of sackbut ensembles across the world and successfully get people and media to refer to it as "a cappella" for years on end, then, by god, THAT'S a cappella.

And saying that the typical Western mid-20th-century a cappella aesthetic is real/true/definitive a cappella is like being from an American family that immigrated from Europe 100 years ago and now saying that immigrants are ruining America. If you're going to be "pure" be really pure and go sing Stabat Mater in the Sistine Chapel.
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Postby chadberg » Tue Sep 01, 2009 7:54 pm

Ed Boyer wrote:If I start thousands of sackbut ensembles across the world


Then you'll have greatly amused this sometimes early music performer. Although you've already done that with the notion. Still, me being amused does not deny the point. What is Latin Music? What is World Music? Where do you separate them? A rose by any other name, call a spade a spade, a cappella is a cappella.

I think we all like music that is generated sing the human body as the instrument in some way, and that all the computers in the world aren't changing what generates the music. Any lines you draw are arbitrary, and perhaps even capricious.

Me? I come from purist roots. But I love me some Fork (and some Forkish) tracks too. Some days I'll want to listen to one more than the other. I suspect most people will keep listening to what they like, and making music that they like too, so I have no fears that we'll lose 'a cappella' no matter how you define it.

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