Dear Abbeys review

Discuss our reviews or just talk about any old album.

Dear Abbeys review

Postby jduchan » Sat May 20, 2006 5:11 am

Congrats to the BU Dear Abbeys on such positive scores and feedback in the recently-posted review of their new album, "Abbeys Road"!! Granted, I've only heard the "Renegade" recording (which was on BOCA 2006), but after following the group closely during its 2004-2005 year, cultimating in their ICCA win, I can appreciate the power of their live performances and look forward to buying the album.

I found it interesting that the reviewers seemed to have such different responses to the overall sound of the album in the tone of their reviews: Rebecca Christie lauding the album for its natural sound despite some engineering, while Elie Landau panned the album for the very same engineering. (Jevan Soo's review seemed, to me, a little more even-handed, though generally positive.)

I'm not surprised, and regular readers of this forum will doubtlessly recall numerous instances of such differing critical responses. I guess it just seemed particularly stark to me, in this case, because of the effusive tone of Christie's versus the highly critical tone of Landau's (who seemed, to me, to be making as much of a philosophical argument as an album review--though that has always been a critic's prerogative!).

Joshua S. Duchan, Ph.D.

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Univ. of Michigan Amazin' Blue, 2001-2007

Univ. of Pennsylvania Counterparts, 1999-2001

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Postby billhare » Sat May 20, 2006 12:43 pm

Just so there's no confusion, the following post is written with a smile, as always:

In his RARB Review, Elie wrote:While I may have once lamented the pervasive influence of studio wizardry on modern a cappella, I've long since come to reconsider that opinion, and not just because Bill Hare repeatedly told me I was wrong.


Ahem. Hopefully I've never told anyone on this forum that they are "wrong" for any reason. :-) I don't believe in "wrong" when it comes to art. I do sometimes need to defend the existence of something when told that it's "ruining the art", and love to play Devil's Advocate even to the point of arguing against my own points, but one thing you'll see in several of my posts is the statement that there is no right or wrong. Am I right about this? Wait... is there even a "right"?


In his RARB Review, Elie wrote:I have come to the conclusion that the single most negative impact that studio technology has had on collegiate a cappella is laziness. Specifically in the area of arranging....edit...for if one were to strip away the fancy-shmancy VP and occasional guitar/distortion effects, the remaining arrangement wouldn't even give a 1986 collegiate a cappella group a run for its money.


I won't say you are wrong here, but will give my opinion ;-)

I think rather than "laziness", it's allowed people with more limited skills to participate in the act of making albums. In 1986, there were like 40 Collegiate A Cappella groups in the whole country capable of making albums (and that would probably amount to about 15 a year total) compared to the over 1,000 groups today. I think we still get at least 15 albums a year that stand up to 1986 standards of arrangement and singing skills, wouldn't everyone agree? Treat the other several hundred albums that we now get yearly as a "bonus" - the albums, and most likely many of the groups themselves - simply wouldn't exist if it hadn't become possible to get away with these "semi-arrangements".

An accomplished classical guitarist who has studied for 25 years could have the same disdain for a "lazy" 3-chord heavy metal band that sells 10 million records, while he gets $50 to do a wedding in Peoria. I am totally in agreement that many of these arrangements are not that creative, nor really even "arrangements" at all, but I think the exponential number of works out there is what is clouding the issue, rather than the art being lost. There are quite a few people who still put an importance and emphasis on it - probably even more than existed in 1986, but now the party isn't as exclusive, so more people are just coming along for the fun of it.

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Postby Spparkle » Sun May 28, 2006 5:33 am

I wouldn't so much call it laziness, as simply a lack of talent/knowhow. at least in my groups, people just don't know what they are doing (not that i do, as you know).

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Postby ELandau » Mon May 29, 2006 8:32 am

Smiley Bill Hare wrote:
I do sometimes need to defend the existence of something when told that it's "ruining the art"


Aw Bill, you know I don't feel that way. Disappointed at the over-reliance on it, perhaps, but art is by definition unruinable. It can be not to my liking, which might even make me think it is "bad", but it can't be "ruined" or "wrong" (and I certainly don't think either of these things about the Dear Abbeys album).

I think rather than "laziness", it's allowed people with more limited skills to participate in the act of making albums.


A few thoughts come to mind:

1) I think it's great that more people have been able to participate in the making of albums, and obviously, I think the a cappella world should welcome as many people/participants into its ranks as possible. Great for album sales, awareness, etc. But is it a good thing for modern a cappella as a developing form of musical expression? Debatable at least.

2) For me, it IS in fact laziness when a group has demonstrated that it can do better and then doesn't. If there is no question that a group just doesn't have what it takes to turn out sophisticated, engaging, interesting arrangements and performances and uses technology to bridge the gap, then perhaps it is not laziness but a lack of sufficient talent no matter how much time was put in. But the Dear Abbeys -- at least as represented on this album -- are not that group. Nor are quite a few other groups for whom I have had that critique. Typically, they've shown on a handful of tracks that they can create solid arrangements/performances first, and enhance them second using technology, but then the rest of the album reverts to a technology first, musicmaking second model. For THOSE groups, I think the word "laziness" is approrpriate (though I will also grant a tad unfair given the egalitarianism of participation that many groups want to maintain -- however, that comes with a down side and that down side may be inferior arrangements/performances and therefore lesser reviews).

3) To me, what Bill has pointed out is that we have seen a tremendous surge in the number of groups that now occupy the middle third of the a cappella performance world -- groups that probably will never be great, but that can put out a reasonably respectable album that's not just for friends and family only. Stated bluntly then, the access to technology has created an opportunity for increased medicrity. Great for the people who never before would have been able to make an album, but perhaps not for the music critic who is concerned that an influx of middle-of-the-road recordings could lower the standards and/or create an "acceptability" level vis a vis creativity, ingenuity and craft that, at least IMHO, is in fact subpar and therefore unacceptable. Sure, most groups are simply incapable of being Rockapella or the House Jacks or The Real Group or Cadence et al, but they also shouldn't just settle for where they are, comfortable in the knowledge that technology will take them that little bit further that they could otherwise go.

Lastly, do note my scores of the album overall, all of which were 4's and 5's save for creativity and repeat listenability. I didn't by any means hate the album and the scores it received from me are, to me, consistent with where this album falls within the scope of greater a cappella. But the scores are somewhat more absolute and the prose gives me a chance to be subjective and vent a bit -- specifically wishing that this particular group did more (arranging) with less (processing) and generally bemoaning not that trend in collegiate a cappella overall. :-)

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Postby dherriges » Mon May 29, 2006 11:03 am

ELandau wrote:(though I will also grant a tad unfair given the egalitarianism of participation that many groups want to maintain -- however, that comes with a down side and that down side may be inferior arrangements/performances and therefore lesser reviews)


I feel like this is precisely the issue. A lot of reviews I read here seem to talk about collegiate groups as if they had some sort of deliberate artistic vision in making their album. Willing to bet this is rarely the case, because it just can't be unless you have a very heavy-handed musical director (or a group with an established tradition of doing something very unique to that group - for example, OTB's hard rock repertoire, or the Bubs' unique, envelope-pushing arranging style). And that's unlikely when the musical director is also a singing member of the same age as everyone else, and probably not significantly more talented than them.

The majority of talented college singers are not also talented arrangers, and that's just the way it's going to be. Some of them will nonetheless want to contribute arrangements to their groups, and it just doesn't make sense in the context of the way a typical college group is run to deny them that. Often those arrangements get heavily revised by the MD, or performed live a couple times but cut from the album. But nonetheless, it's quite possible that what you're seeing, even in the context of a group like the Dear Abbeys, is lack of talent rather than laziness. We had a couple terrible (IMO) arrangements that almost made the cut for our upcoming album when we voted on songs. Most of the group members voting didn't have anything about the advancement of a cappella as an art form in mind, and their preferences were based on entirely different reasons.
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Postby AnonymousCone » Mon May 29, 2006 1:18 pm

dherriges wrote:We had a couple terrible (IMO) arrangements that almost made the cut for our upcoming album when we voted on songs.


Hmm.
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Postby billhare » Mon May 29, 2006 10:05 pm

ELandau wrote:Aw Bill, you know I don't feel that way.


I know you don't, Elie - I wasn't talking about you specifically there! :-)

And you make some great points in your response.

ELandau wrote:If there is no question that a group just doesn't have what it takes to turn out sophisticated, engaging, interesting arrangements and performances and uses technology to bridge the gap, then perhaps it is not laziness but a lack of sufficient talent no matter how much time was put in.


These are the groups I was talking about, and yes, in sheer number, they are the new majority. Good thing/bad thing? I don't know. A lot of songs being covered these days would probably be ruined by a "sophisticated, engaging, interesting arrangement" anyway, being 3 chords in open 5ths on eighth notes for the full duration of the song on the hit original version.

ELandau wrote:Stated bluntly then, the access to technology has created an opportunity for increased medicrity. Great for the people who never before would have been able to make an album, but perhaps not for the music critic who is concerned that an influx of middle-of-the-road recordings could lower the standards and/or create an "acceptability" level vis a vis creativity, ingenuity and craft that, at least IMHO, is in fact subpar and therefore unacceptable.


Yep, just like the real world. There has been "creativity, ingenuity and craft" for thousands of years in music - has it always been an upward slope? No, it heads all directions at all times. Otherwise Yellowcard would be universally much more respected than that old hack Mozart!

As a quick tangent turn, speaking of "unacceptable acceptability", a great number of people nowadays think mp3s are an acceptable sound source! This is because they are so prevalent these days that they have lowered our listening standards anyway, so it's not just our acaworld that is suffering from acceptability influx disease!

Again, I love to play Devil's Advocate and debate this stuff, though you will find in real life I'm much more on Elie's side than would appear! ;-)

-B

P.S. Elie - I still need your snail mail address to send you the flyer I was telling you about! The envelope is sitting here on my desk ready to go...

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Postby dekesharon » Tue May 30, 2006 1:24 pm

A fascinating discussion: as we get down to a certain level of nuance, differences in perspective arise:

ELandau wrote:I think it's great that more people have been able to participate in the making of albums, and obviously, I think the a cappella world should welcome as many people/participants into its ranks as possible. Great for album sales, awareness, etc. But is it a good thing for modern a cappella as a developing form of musical expression? Debatable at least.


I think more people making the music is great for many reasons: more people are exposed, more people are involved, and there are more chances for more groups to achieve greatness.

And I don't think greatness is always necessary. The contemporary a cappella community exists for many reasons, but to bring out the two most apparent for this discussion:

* To create great music, in the form of recordings and performances.

* To give a wide swath of people an opportunity to sing the "music of their lives" (not classical, barbershop or other choral idioms, but rather the music they hear and sing along with on the radio every day).

The former is a wonderful thing, but we shouldn't turn our back on the latter.

I recall when the Beelzebubs were concerned that the Tufts a cappella community was growing from 3 groups to something like 8. My opinion is that the increased difficulty for them to attract the great male voices they need was overshadowed by the value in having 5 more a cappella groups.

No, they won't all be of Bubs quality, but that's not always the point. Some people are aiming to play in the NBA, other people just want to shoot some hoops, and should.

ELandau wrote:To me, what Bill has pointed out is that we have seen a tremendous surge in the number of groups that now occupy the middle third of the a cappella performance world -- groups that probably will never be great, but that can put out a reasonably respectable album that's not just for friends and family only. Stated bluntly then, the access to technology has created an opportunity for increased medicrity.


I think it's great that these groups occupy the middle third. They could be entry level, and of low quality. It's great that they're actually quite listenable, thanks in part to recording technology, and more great engineers/producers, and increased accessibilty to arrangements, and plenty of available recordings to emulate, etc.

Mediocrity is a harsh word to bandy about here, but I'm willing to grab that moniker and waive it on a flag to make the following point:

Most people, and most things are mediocre.

I'm a mediocre writer, for starters, but I'm not gonna let it stop me. I have things to say, and I'll do my best to say them well. Perhaps something I write wil be great one day. Practice does make better, if not perfect.

And I've turned out my share of mediocre arranging and singing (and probably still do!). Greatness is exceptionally challenging and fleeting.

Brahms was of the mindset that only his absolute finest work should ever be heard. So he only ever let the world see a very limited amount of his composing, and burned the rest. I think he was mad; first of all, who knows if he was his own best critic, and secondly, I'd love to hear a second-tier Brahms symphony, as it was probably still wonderful.

We don't want people to always edit themselves, usually because they're not always so good at it. And we do want people to be prolific, so we have more to choose from (Thank heavens Elton John has written so much music, as much is crap, but some is great). And we do want many more people

The "cost:" mediocrity. Heaping helpings of it. In the words of our Commander in Chief, I say "bring it on."

ELandau wrote:Great for the people who never before would have been able to make an album, but perhaps not for the music critic who is concerned that an influx of middle-of-the-road recordings could lower the standards and/or create an "acceptability" level vis a vis creativity, ingenuity and craft that, at least IMHO, is in fact subpar and therefore unacceptable.


Whoa! What the hell is "subpar?" Who determines par?

Critics should, by all means, be as honest with the public as possible. Crappy music, in the critic's opinion, should be called exactly that (although perhaps with nicer words when dealing with an amateur scholastic group).

But there is no par and there is no unacceptable in music, in my opinion.

From the earliest out of tune warblings from preschool circle time, I declare the "A Cappella First Ammendment:" all people should be allowed to sing together, no matter how unappealing the end result may be to others.

Why?

Because, if nothing else, music can be just for the singer, not the audience.

Because it takes time for people to get better, and at least our American school system is not always providing everyone a reasonable first chance at choral music.

Because there's no person or group of people on earth who should be the determiners of "par," as there's no absolute quality standard. One person's Shaggs is another persons, well, Shaggs! And they're both right.

ELandau wrote:Sure, most groups are simply incapable of being Rockapella or the House Jacks or The Real Group or Cadence et al, but they also shouldn't just settle for where they are, comfortable in the knowledge that technology will take them that little bit further that they could otherwise go.


Oh, sure they should!

Now here's where I'm gonna go out on a limb (and it may come back to bite me):

No one should be expected to give 100% always. No one is always completely on their game. No one is of perfect focus and capability. Sometimes you gotta, well, phone it in.

Bill can attest to this: I've had days in the studio where I've been working my ass off and it doesn't click. Other days, half hearted comments result in genius results.

Problem is: you don't always get to choose when you're brilliant. Sometimes going through the motions, for lack of a better expression, is necessary.

I've heard both Billy Joel and Randy Newman comment that they approach their music as a job: sit down to write a song every day. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not. You can't say that their best songs were the ones that took the most sweat and tears. Sometimes things click, sometimes they don't.

Sometimes the knowledge that technology can help bridge the gap will allow an artist to relax, and that relaxation will create better music. It's been my experience that tension and anxiety from extreme focus and care is more deleterious to great recording than a laissez-faire attitude.

"Deke said it's OK not to try your hardest, so we don't!"

Not exactly, but I can live with that misreading.

ELandau wrote:specifically wishing that this particular group did more (arranging) with less (processing) and generally bemoaning not that trend in collegiate a cappella overall.


Understood. A valid perspective (as is everything you posit above).

But, for the record, processing is an element of arranging, albeit in the studio. Granted, sometimes it's done by a professional (like Bill) instead of a student, but it's still a creative process that's integral to the art of recording any music.

I, too, sometimes wish there were different choices made in the studio, but when considering the fact that college a cappella singers are amateurs, they've got a full course load, other activities, often jobs, etc.

Even professionals turn to technology sometimes:

"Just fix that note, Bill" <instead of singing it again>.

I've done it before, and I'll do it again!

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Postby ELandau » Tue May 30, 2006 2:51 pm

As always, I appreciate the care and time both Bill and Deke have taken to respond and offer their thoughts and as an a cappella fan/enthusiast/geek/nut, I wholeheartedly agree with pretty much everything they have noted.

But when I put my RARB critic's hat on, I think it is fair that the perspective changes a bit:

-- this too is debatable, but in my opinion, it's not my job as a critic to revel in the opportunities provided to members of a group whose work is not quite that good. For me the fan, I think it's wonderful that these folks were able to get to sing the "music of their lives" and record it for posterity. But if the result ain't all that good, then for me the critic, that really doesn't matter all that much. And if what they've achieved is really only as a result of post-production manipulation, I think it's a fair point of comment or even mild criticism for a critic, even as the fan rejoices in the multiplying ranks of cappella performers.

-- I am as mediocre as anyone else in much of what I do. BUT...as a critic, my job is to recognize (what I believe to be) excellence, mediocrity or crap as exactly that. So while it is fair and normal and reasonable and perhaps even predictable that the bulk of what we do/hear is in fact going to be mediocre, I don't think it's unfair for a critic to be disappointed in that reality and to say so (Lord knows, I wish I could use that excuse when it comes time for job performance evaluations at work!). And, to the extent that he/she feels there is something specific contributing to the perpetuation (or pervasiveness) of that state of affairs, I think it's similarly fair for that same critic to make the point, notwithstanding the fact that it is the norm and to be expected. Doesn't mean the work shouldn't be created in the first place -- I agree with Deke's first amendment -- and it doesn't make it any less wonderful that the group in question was able to create something they are proud of, but in evaluating the work, the fact remains that in the eyes of a given critic, it may not be very good and said person has the right, if not the obligation to say so.

-- Not withstanding Deke's exhortation to the youth of the world to aim squarely for the middle -- kidding, kidding -- I agree that as a human being, we can't be *expected* to be brilliant 24/7/365. Still, that reality doesn't change the fact that an arrangement or performance that's been phoned in, sounds phoned in and as a critic, it's fair game for criticism. Indeed, on a studio album, it's perhaps an even more legitimate critique since the studio affords the group the opportunity to get it right or make it better or be more selective before resorting to technological enhancement. Also, while I understand that the ability of technology to the bridge the gap might serve as a relaxing agent yielding better overall results, I sometimes worry that not everyone appreciates it as such or has such noble intentions. It's something of a slippery slope from "let me just relax and if I'm not pitch-perfect, we'll tweak a few spots with auto-tune" to "that wasn't all that good but we're in a rush so we'll clean the whole thing up in post-production" to "we only have altos and tenors in our group and no one really knows how to do VP but a few octave pedals and samples will fix all that" (ok, the last one is an exaggeration but you get my point).

The overall point I want to get across here is that as a fan, anything that allows more people to participate in a cappella is a fantastic thing. But as an RARB music critic, I try to assess all of the pieces of art that are put in front of me using as even a set of criteria and standards as possible. A proper evaluation is really my main mission and the larger philosophical issues are better left to a forum such as this. If a group, to my ear, is overusing technology, or underarranging, or sounds over-autotuned, or sounds infinitely bigger than its group size, etc etc etc, then as a critic, the "why" matters less to me. It may make perfect sense why they did so or it may have been a financial/scheduling/talent-based necessity. But they made a choice that, solely in my own little opinion, might/could/often detracts from the quality of the music being made and is therefore open to criticism -- even while I may secretly rejoice that their making music at all is a fantastic thing that, without the help of technology, might never have been possible at all.

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Postby dekesharon » Tue May 30, 2006 3:17 pm

Agreed, Elie. Well said.

You should be writing for casa.org, BTW. Well considered, well written.

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Postby billhare » Tue May 30, 2006 4:20 pm

Deke wrote:Even professionals turn to technology sometimes:

"Just fix that note, Bill" <instead of singing it again>.


And on that same note, I'll stop someone and tell them I'll just fix it in the mix as well when I hear that they've achieved the most important part of the performance - there are times where a singer all of a sudden gets the character, but maybe pitch and rhythm went out the window at that moment. This character (attitude, nuance, balls, tenderness, vulnerability, wickedness or whatever) is the hardest thing to achieve in a performance, which is why there are some amazing professional singers out there who can't hold a pitch - it just doesn't matter!

ELandau wrote:Still, that reality doesn't change the fact that an arrangement or performance that's been phoned in, sounds phoned in and as a critic, it's fair game for criticism.


I agree. But a simple, repetitive arrangement that has attitude (rather than the "sophisticated" arrangements you mentioned before) that lies underneath a lead vocal track that has feeling but not necessarily "singing" skill can be more moving and exciting than the most complex arrangement with Pavarotti singing over the top. That's not laziness, it's the whole basis of Rock Music, at least in its purest intent.


ELandau wrote:I sometimes worry that not everyone appreciates it as such or has such noble intentions. It's something of a slippery slope from "let me just relax and if I'm not pitch-perfect, we'll tweak a few spots with auto-tune" to "that wasn't all that good but we're in a rush so we'll clean the whole thing up in post-production"


Actually, it can take more time in the long run to Auto-Tune it. My concern is they might lose the attitude if they are worried about moving from this note to that in this rhythm, rather than concentrating on what they are actually saying. I'd much rather fix a note with the correct attitude than use a musically perfect passage that misses the point of the lyric or song. Of course, I would always love to have both, but I'm aware I'll only be able to get that out of the top 1% of singers I work with.

ELandau wrote:to "we only have altos and tenors in our group and no one really knows how to do VP but a few octave pedals and samples will fix all that" (ok, the last one is an exaggeration but you get my point).


Actually, you're closer to the truth than you think on that one! Sometimes, the resources are just not there at all, but they want VP and the big sound "group x" got. At that point, someone either has to gain a skill set awfully fast, or the producer has to help them get to the sound in the most practical way possible. This will change from case to case, but the octave pedals/samples as a full solution is not at all out of the question. Still better than Milli Vanilli, because at least the sounds are coming out of the members of the group, so they can still claim that it's their work.

ELandau wrote:If a group, to my ear, is overusing technology, or underarranging, or sounds over-autotuned, or sounds infinitely bigger than its group size, etc etc etc, then as a critic, the "why" matters less to me. It may make perfect sense why they did so or it may have been a financial/scheduling/talent-based necessity.


Or it could simply be an artistic choice. Distortion on a guitar was avoided for the most part until the mid 1960s, because it would be perceived as a mistake, or just didn't sound good to the ears of that era. When people started making that choice, mastering engineers kept sending back the tapes because they thought that there was something wrong. They eventually got used to it and it became part of the basic rock tool kit. The album is a different palette to work from - taking advantage of all the new brushes you can use doesn't make you less of an artist, it just gives you the freedom to paint like Picasso rather than Rembrandt. Live performance is the photograph, recording is painting to however a group wants to perceive themselves, whether it has grounding in reality or not.

I don't think there is such a thing as "underarranging", that's like saying minimalism is "underpainting". But you're right in that it can't just rely on technology, it has to say something. I know you liked the Flying Pickets version of "Roxanne", but I can't say I didn't do any AutoTune on that one! I much prefer the way Simon sang all that stuff though than if he solely worried about pitch!

Live performance is the photograph, recording is painting to however a group wants to perceive themselves, whether it has grounding in reality or not.

Lastly:
ELandau wrote:or sounds infinitely bigger than its group size, etc etc etc, then as a critic, the "why" matters less to me.


So would you critique Queen for recording Bohemian Rhapsody? I don't think they were trying to fool anyone, and would sound totally different live, but I'm glad they made the artistic statement anyway. :-)

-B

P.S. Still haven't gotten that email from ya! ;-)

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Postby ELandau » Tue May 30, 2006 6:21 pm

Bill,

Your devil's advocacy is truly unsurpassed.

I honestly don't know if I quite have the energy to go point for point in detail, but suffice it to say that I'll submit there are exceptions to every rule -- however:

-- I would still prefer someone to get the pitch, rhythm AND attitude all at one time, or at least be capable of getting it, rather than have the engineer supply what simply would NEVER be achievable otherwise;

-- by "phoned in" vs. "sophisticated", I don't necessaruly mean complex vs. simple. It depends on the song (e.g. Counterparts "Fever" on "Straight Ahead" is about as simple as they come and fantastically effective);

-- a pitch here or there doesn't bother me when it comes to auto-tune. But when it's audibly auto-tuned "within an inch of its life" (a phrase I like), it indicates to me that the chops were just never there in the first place;

-- no question that gimmicks are better than Milli Vanilli, but what use is that comparison to the reader of my reviews? Understand that I agree that it's better, but in my opinion, it's still not as good as work that is rendered by a group with real singers in all 4 sections and I would certainly feel right to point that out.

Counsellor Hare wrote:
Or it could simply be an artistic choice. Distortion on a guitar was avoided for the most part until the mid 1960s, because it would be perceived as a mistake, or just didn't sound good to the ears of that era. When people started making that choice, mastering engineers kept sending back the tapes because they thought that there was something wrong. They eventually got used to it and it became part of the basic rock tool kit. The album is a different palette to work from - taking advantage of all the new brushes you can use doesn't make you less of an artist, it just gives you the freedom to paint like Picasso rather than Rembrandt. Live performance is the photograph, recording is painting to however a group wants to perceive themselves, whether it has grounding in reality or not.

I don't think there is such a thing as "underarranging", that's like saying minimalism is "underpainting".


For the most part, I think it's a bit easier than you give me credit for to recognize when it falls into the category of artistic choice rather than a compensation for lesser ability. But even if it was an artistic choice, it is still subject to criticism as such -- granted that the grounds for the objection may change but just because they chose to do it, rather than needed to do it, doesn't make well-applied. A 4 person all-female group of tone-deaf yodelers may perceive themselves as an 16 member mixed rock group with vocal percussion, perfect pitch and screaming guitar solos, and they may be able to muster the technology to yield such a sound but it doesn't mean I have to like it, applaud their choices, or give them a rave review even if the end result is pretty darn good.

As for "underarranging", again, I think you're oversimplifying. It's not so difficult to recognize when someone was trying to be a minimalist and when someone didn't put enough meat into the arrangement at all. No question that there are times I might be wrong in my assessment, but that's nothing new to music criticism. I can't be in the composer/arranger's head so I make my best educated guesss based on experience. I suspect that a majority of the time, if I criticize an arrangement as too simplistic, it wasn't simply my failure to appreciate said artist's attempt at minimalism, but no doubt there are times I just missed the point of what was trying to be achieved and such is life.

Lastly, I would not criticize Queen for "Bohemian Rhapsody" (or the like)because you're talking about one song, where it was specific and unique desired effect. Queen was not trying to pass thmselves off as something they're not or somehow compensate for a lack of creativity or musical ability.

Before you start typing, every one of the above points has an exception or a specific example that might refute it. I think it goes without saying that nothing is absolute when it comes to judging artistic intent. But more often than not, the examples you cite are precisely that -- an exception, and so they don't succeed in changing my overall attitude.

EL

P.S. Check out the footer on my emails from last week and I think you'll find my address. :-) But I sent it to ya again just in case... ;-)
ELandau
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Postby davecharliebrown » Wed May 31, 2006 5:48 am

The other thing about Queen is that it was their song. When a cappella groups do original songs (or even unique arrangements of original songs), I say use whatever effects you want - in that case, it's your music. But when you're using engineering tricks and computer gimmicks just to try to replicate the original, don't expect a lot of applause from me. The one who deserves the praise is the studio engineer - s/he is the one with the talent.
--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 billhare » Wed May 31, 2006 7:51 am

ELandau wrote:Bill,

Your devil's advocacy is truly unsurpassed.


Bwahahahahaha!!!

ELandau wrote:I honestly don't know if I quite have the energy to go point for point in detail


I don't either - once I get started, I just can't stop, so I'll try not to start again! :-)

ELandau wrote:For the most part, I think it's a bit easier than you give me credit for to recognize when it falls into the category of artistic choice rather than a compensation for lesser ability.


I totally agree. And that comment wasn't meant to poke holes in that specific review, or the way you hear things - this was just general stuff that is good debate material for me. Plus it was time for our yearly debate anyway... ;-)

ELandau wrote:As for "underarranging", again, I think you're oversimplifying.


Of course I was. I saw the word itself, and jumped on it for debate purposes. I just don't want people to think "Hmmm, maybe I didn't put enough stuff in this Green Day song and people will think I'm a bad arranger because of it." I personally have more problem with "overarrangement" with some of the younger groups I work with.

ELandau wrote:No question that there are times I might be wrong in my assessment, but that's nothing new to music criticism.


I'm actually in agreement with you 99.9% of the time, and have never flat out thought you were wrong. No such thing as "wrong" in my book. :-)

You always bring up great points that are fun to debate every year or so, and neither of us can ever "win" the debate - but hopefully it's a thought provoking read for everyone else!

ELandau wrote:Lastly, I would not criticize Queen for "Bohemian Rhapsody" (or the like)because you're talking about one song, where it was specific and unique desired effect. Queen was not trying to pass thmselves off as something they're not or somehow compensate for a lack of creativity or musical ability.


That was just in response to the "sounds infinitely bigger than its group size" comment. My response is "who cares how big the group actually is, did they make something worth listening to?" And I do know the point you are trying to make - I have to deal with that often in my work as well. I'm much more in your line of thinking than would appear from my Devil's Advocacy [maniacal]bwahahaha[/maniacal] I just don't want people thinking that it's a bad thing to get creative with the studio, that they'll be looked down upon for it.

ELandau wrote:Before you start typing


Heh, you know me too well!

ELandau wrote:I think it goes without saying that nothing is absolute when it comes to judging artistic intent. But more often than not, the examples you cite are precisely that -- an exception, and so they don't succeed in changing my overall attitude.


I don't want to change your attitude. I think it's great! You're just fun to debate with because the second I try to poke a hole in your theories, you do the same with mine on an equal level. I think it's valuable for everyone to see that there is no "right way" to go about this. And by the way, as Deke said - you should be writing for CASA!

ELandau wrote:P.S. Check out the footer on my emails from last week and I think you'll find my address. :-) But I sent it to ya again just in case... ;-)


Thanks - all the correspondence I had with you was from when I was in Denmark, on my laptop, so I didn't have them on my home system. I probably wouldn't have noticed anyway, so thanks - package on its way!

-B

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

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Postby jduchan » Wed May 31, 2006 9:25 am

A virtual pat-on-the-back to everyone contributing to this thread. Such well-articulated arguments on issues that are central to the music we all make/know/love. It's been a fascinating read...and might just show up in some of my dissertation writing!

Josh

Joshua S. Duchan, Ph.D.

Department of Music, Wayne State University

Univ. of Michigan Amazin' Blue, 2001-2007

Univ. of Pennsylvania Counterparts, 1999-2001

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