The Harmonics: "Escape Velocity"

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Postby colton » Tue Aug 25, 2009 6:51 am

dfeder wrote:So in the case of Comfortably Numb guitar solo, the reason that Erica (the "guitar soloist" in the video) is different from a trumpet player is that she's still singing. And as someone who's heard her practice the solo MANY times, both on- and off- mic, what you hear is still largely coming from her mouth. The computer is certainly helping, but the pitch, the rhythm, the attitude, the shaping of her mouth - it's still her. So much so, in fact, that when I listen to the solo, I can absolutely tell that it's Erica singing. It still sounds like her - it obviously helps that I've heard her sing it so many times off-mic, but I'd wager than most people who really know her individual voice could tell you the same thing.


Thanks for that perspective, Davey.
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Re: The Harmonics: "Escape Velocity"

Postby colton » Tue Aug 25, 2009 6:53 am

dherriges wrote:...this debate happens every few months on the RARB forum like clockwork...


Heh. True. In my defense, (a) this is the first one I've participated in, and (b) I was specifically drawn into the debate by name, by the OP.
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Postby Mnemosyne » Tue Aug 25, 2009 7:35 am

colton wrote:Hey, Alex, what about the guitar solo/intent question I asked? (last post of previous page)

dfeder wrote:So in the case of Comfortably Numb guitar solo, the reason that Erica (the "guitar soloist" in the video) is different from a trumpet player is that she's still singing. And as someone who's heard her practice the solo MANY times, both on- and off- mic, what you hear is still largely coming from her mouth. The computer is certainly helping, but the pitch, the rhythm, the attitude, the shaping of her mouth - it's still her. So much so, in fact, that when I listen to the solo, I can absolutely tell that it's Erica singing. It still sounds like her - it obviously helps that I've heard her sing it so many times off-mic, but I'd wager than most people who really know her individual voice could tell you the same thing.

That. Too bad I was still at work when you asked, or I probably would have said the same thing. This stuff isn't Peter Frampton with a talk box, you actually need to sing to have the AT do its work. I have nothing else really constructive to add, just that I completely agree with Davey - manipulation of singing is still singing, which parallels what Deke was saying earlier about "guitar music." If you start with a voice and reach a final product that sounds good, who cares how you get there?

Because of how Charlie and the Harmonics view themselves (a "vocal rock band"), I don't see any problems with them not being an "a cappella group" in the tradtional, literally translated chapel-oriented sense. They sing, and they rock, and that works pretty damn well.
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Postby ThunderCurl » Tue Aug 25, 2009 8:54 am

I think there's a lot to be said for terminology today, which the Harmonics have addressed, and very accurately.

I find myself agreeing with both parties, because good music is good music, no matter what's going on, but computer's effects do alter what came out of the person's mouth. T-Pain is T-Pain because of the effect, not because he's an awesome singer. So would I call him an awesome singer? No, but I would call him an awesome musical artist.

A cappella. Vocal band. Very different.
Barbershop a cappella. Contemporary a cappella. Contemporary a cappella post 1990. Also very different.

I think the Harmonics are a great vocal band. Is it "a cappella"? I might say...less so. But awesome rock music that comes out of their mouths, yes.

Bill and other producers have the job to make awesome music to the specs of the groups paying them. And it's the group who decides who they are.

Every time someone pushes a genre forward, if we call it by the name it used to be called by, we get confused. So, by Bill's chronology of popular music, it is not all Rock 'n Roll, but it is all music. And we needed new names to put on the different styles. Rock 'n Roll really derived from the Blues, with specific chord progressions and instrumentations. Awesome music prevails, but usually we give it different names so we can separate out rules for different genres.

For a cappella, or singing sans instruments, we are constantly innovating. Some are trying to keep up, and some want to stay where it's been. Both are fine, but maybe we should use names (like vocal band, vocal rock, rock a cappella) to not offend anyone else. I wouldn't call Nirvana "Rock 'n Roll" if I was talking to Elvis, but I would say it's good music, and it's part of an evolving artform, where all parts of the chain are important.
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Re: The Harmonics: "Escape Velocity"

Postby seth » Tue Aug 25, 2009 10:19 am

colton wrote:And yet, "a cappella" does not mean "from the mouth". It means "in the chapel".

That's what it means in Latin, but it hasn't meant that in English for a long time. Languages change through use, and the origins of a phrase are historically informative, but not semantically definitive.

Or we could come at it from the other direction: I sang a wonderfully dissonant and wrenching arrangement of Comfortably Numb in a chapel. I also saw Billy Bragg perform there. Maybe chapel style isn't what it used to be.

I think prescriptive music taxonomy has limited utility.
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Re: The Harmonics: "Escape Velocity"

Postby colton » Tue Aug 25, 2009 10:49 am

Seth wrote:
colton wrote:And yet, "a cappella" does not mean "from the mouth". It means "in the chapel".

That's what it means in Latin, but it hasn't meant that in English for a long time. Languages change through use, and the origins of a phrase are historically informative, but not semantically definitive.


You cut off my next phrase, which was "In this context, "in the chapel", in my opinion, most closely translates to "without additional instruments"."

To support that view, I quote from merriam webster and dictionary.com

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/a%20cappella
a cappella
without instrumental accompaniment


http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/a+cappella
a cap⋅pel⋅la
1. without instrumental accompaniment.
2. in the style of church or chapel music.


So my point is 100% accurate: in today's usage "a cappella" means "no instruments". It does not mean "from the mouth".
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Re: The Harmonics: "Escape Velocity"

Postby billhare » Tue Aug 25, 2009 12:38 pm

colton wrote:And yet, "a cappella" does not mean "from the mouth". It means "in the chapel". In this context, "in the chapel", in my opinion, most closely translates to "without additional instruments".


Umm, I've played guitar in chapels. Does that mean I was playing the guitar "a cappella"? Words and meanings change as people, cultures, and styles change. What does "Classical" mean to some people, and why is John Cage lumped in with Beethoven? Heck, why is Beethoven lumped in with Bach?

Sure, you can sub-genre into Baroque, post-modern, or whatever, but it still gets to live in the same overall classification - even though Bach would find John Cage to be random noise.

colton wrote:but said group should still be able to give a tolerable performance without the additions.


Why? Top artists who sell millions of records don't. Why make it a requirement for amateur collegiate singers?

colton wrote:Perhaps a new word should be coined to describe that kind of music.


OK, but first, rename all the little differences in pop and rock music, because that's more important globally than our little problem. And what if the groups doing this stuff WANT to call themselves "A Cappella"? Will they not be allowed?

colton wrote:Another reason the guitar analogy doesn't work for me is this: think about the skill set required to play the guitar. Does this skill set change at all when distortion, etc., is added? No, not really.


Yes, very much so! Just as singing Opera, Pop, Indian Carnatic music, etc are different skill sets with the voice. Hand Segovia an electric guitar through a Marshall stack and it won't be pretty!

colton wrote:Quote:
a cap⋅pel⋅la
1. without instrumental accompaniment.
2. in the style of church or chapel music.

So my point is 100% accurate: in today's usage "a cappella" means "no instruments". It does not mean "from the mouth".


Um, I see it says "in the style of church or chapel music". Let's go with that. Now we're all wrong.

-B

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Re: The Harmonics: "Escape Velocity"

Postby colton » Tue Aug 25, 2009 3:18 pm

I hate to beat a dead horse, but either you aren't understanding me, Bill, or I'm not understanding your objection to my last post.

a cappella's historical definition is "in the chapel".
a cappella's current definition is "without instrumental accompaniment".

The "in the style of church or chapel music" is an alternate definition, which we all agree is not applicable to the current discussion.

Now whether electronic effects and/or computer editing constitutes "instrumental accompaniment" (or turns one or more of the voices into that) is subject to debate, and perhaps should be debated as I've tried to do here--but I don't think the two definitions above are. If so, seems like the dictionary writers are the ones to take it up with, not me. Yes, words and meanings change, but they haven't here as far as I can tell. Or, are you arguing "a cappella" should mean something other than "without instrumental accompaniment"?

billhare wrote:
colton wrote:but said group should still be able to give a tolerable performance without the additions.


Why? Top artists who sell millions of records don't. Why make it a requirement for amateur collegiate singers?


Those artists are not in groups that self identify as "a cappella". That should mean something, no?

...

Please keep in mind that I'm not arguing that a cappella groups shouldn't use such effects. In fact, I've said nearly the opposite. I'm saying that if they do, there will come a point where the music is no longer "a cappella". And, to me, perhaps something like the autotuned guitar solo has reached that point. (I'm having second thoughts about that, mainly due to Davey's post.) Since it's mainly a matter of semantics, and since I don't really feel as strongly about this as I'm sure my posts have come across, I probably won't contribute too much more to this discussion.
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Re: The Harmonics: "Escape Velocity"

Postby billhare » Tue Aug 25, 2009 8:01 pm

colton wrote:I hate to beat a dead horse, but either you aren't understanding me, Bill, or I'm not understanding your objection to my last post.


It's not an objection. Those who know me personally will see it's just an attempt at humor. I think our text is stronger than our feelings here. I'll poke fun at anything, and often take opposite sides in the same argument if it amuses me. :-) I'm usually the dead-horse-beater around here anyway!

-B

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Postby Ed Boyer » Wed Aug 26, 2009 4:09 am

Why is categorization so necessary?

Is it bad if we only enjoy a cappella (or any music) conditionally, depending on how it's categorized?

(neither is rhetorical)

P.S. Thanks to the Harmonics for making an album that challenges how we listen.
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Postby soundslikedrums » Wed Aug 26, 2009 9:05 am

I feel like the biggest problem with what we're trying to accomplish with this discussion - every time we have it - is that it seems as though a lot of us are trying to define what "a cappella" means as a genre. It isn't a genre. It's an orchestration. As a courier of denotation, "a cappella" isn't the equivalent of "country" or "pop" or "zydeco". It's the equivalent of "17-piece big band" or "string quartet".

Take jazz music. Jazz is a genre. Sometimes it's done by the aforementioned big band. Sometimes it's done by a piano trio. And sometimes it's just Ornette by himself. It's all jazz.

Come at it from the other direction and start with the taxonomy. We don't group solo piano music by Hindemith alongside solo piano music by Ahmad Jamal. The Hindemith piano work goes with the Berg quartets; Ahmad goes with Neal Hefti. Why? Because we classify music not by orchestration but by genre. 20th-century classical idiom with 20th-century classical idiom; jazz with jazz.

So it ought to be here. This thing of ours - questa Cosa Nostra, if you will; certainly there are those among us loath to violate the Old Ways - isn't a genre unto itself, much as we might like to believe that it belongs in its own category at Borders with a little placard like the R&B section. But it's really just a choice about which "instruments" to use. Fork makes rock music, and they are therefore a rock group. We don't call Metallica a guitar-bass-and-drums group. The music we're all here to celebrate and promote (and occasionally poke with sharp sticks) transcends genre. That's one reason why a lot of us like it.

So where in Borders does one file the typical collegiate a cappella album, which (OTB aside) is likely to contain a variety of genres? Wherever people will find it. College a cappella groups aren't the first to have trouble fitting tidily into one genre or another. Heck, where do you put Take 6 - R&B, jazz, or gospel? Certainly not A Cappella, were there such a section, or you'll have half their albums in one section and half in another. (And a couple more under Holiday.) That's just the risk we take when we elect the world's most flexible orchestration. Not everything needs a label. The good stuff is there to be enjoyed, the bad stuff to be learned from, and the mediocre stuff to be showcased on prime time television. (Edit: That's not a swipe at, e.g., Mosaic. It's a swipe at the countless mediocrities who inexplicably make it through round after round of these shows while real talents - again, e.g. Mosaic - are shut out.) Does it stop being a cappella when it's run through a million PT plugins? Only if you're willing to say the same thing about a guitar. And I don't think too many people are taking that road.

(Ed: "beats me" and "emphatically yes", respectively.)

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Postby phollens » Thu Aug 27, 2009 12:25 pm

Always keep pushing the genre to the limits otherwise what's the point? There's no point doing the same thing over and over again. There will always be some old geezers shaking their fist at the newest and coolest stuff out there.

We will always have purists and we will always have the envelope pushers... You can appreciate both ya know.
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Postby soundslikedrums » Thu Aug 27, 2009 1:02 pm

PHollens wrote:We will always have purists and we will always have the envelope pushers... You can appreciate both ya know.


Poppycock! Stone the blasphemer!

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Postby ceegers » Thu Aug 27, 2009 2:39 pm

soundslikedrums wrote:I feel like the biggest problem with what we're trying to accomplish with this discussion - every time we have it - is that it seems as though a lot of us are trying to define what "a cappella" means as a genre. It isn't a genre. It's an orchestration. As a courier of denotation, "a cappella" isn't the equivalent of "country" or "pop" or "zydeco". It's the equivalent of "17-piece big band" or "string quartet".

Take jazz music. Jazz is a genre. Sometimes it's done by the aforementioned big band. Sometimes it's done by a piano trio. And sometimes it's just Ornette by himself. It's all jazz.

I like this post (most of it... just only quoted part of it). Good thoughts!

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 mrmiller » Sat Aug 29, 2009 12:40 pm

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).

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 it comes down to it, I don't think the distinction has anything to do with what you can do live and what you can't. I think Charlie's point regarding what's a cappella is spot on (joining the proverbial chorus here). At a certain point I think worrying about these minutiae of what's a cappella and what is not is just going to drive people nuts though.

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? Recordings for the past 50 years (with the exception of classical, jazz, live recordings and a handful of others) have not about capturing the live experience but creating something grander than that and more permanent.

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