Incognita Review

Discuss our reviews or just talk about any old album.

Postby Mahka » Thu Jun 29, 2006 9:13 pm

DekeSharon wrote:
Mahka wrote: Has anyone noticed tonal qualities of native French singers? Maybe Celine Dion?


I've noticed that she sucks, and I wish she'd move to somewhere in Asia...

Like North Korea.

Does that help? It sure helps me.


What if Kim Jong Il hates her and launches a retaliatory attack? Or maybe her warbling will hit the specific frequencies that'll cause the missle casing to disintegrate.
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Postby borski » Fri Jun 30, 2006 3:30 am

Mahka wrote:
DekeSharon wrote:
Mahka wrote: Has anyone noticed tonal qualities of native French singers? Maybe Celine Dion?


I've noticed that she sucks, and I wish she'd move to somewhere in Asia...

Like North Korea.

Does that help? It sure helps me.


What if Kim Jong Il hates her and launches a retaliatory attack? Or maybe her warbling will hit the specific frequencies that'll cause the missle casing to disintegrate.


I had to read that three times to convince myself you weren't saying she would cause Kim jong Il to disintegrate. That's how you know it's too early in the morning.
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Postby davecharliebrown » Fri Jun 30, 2006 5:39 am

I look forward to reading Trendler's response on on this ever-changing thread.

I think race-based observations, especially physiological ones, have a great place in academic discussion. In fact, I think they're essential. I'm not 100% sure, however, why they are necessary in a review. Reviews, by nature, are not general - rather, they are quite specific to the group and the singer in question. I don't see the place for generalizations when a specific group and a specific song are being described.
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Postby Mahka » Sat Jul 01, 2006 12:16 am

borski wrote:
Mahka wrote:
DekeSharon wrote:
Mahka wrote: Has anyone noticed tonal qualities of native French singers? Maybe Celine Dion?


I've noticed that she sucks, and I wish she'd move to somewhere in Asia...

Like North Korea.

Does that help? It sure helps me.


What if Kim Jong Il hates her and launches a retaliatory attack? Or maybe her warbling will hit the specific frequencies that'll cause the missle casing to disintegrate.


I had to read that three times to convince myself you weren't saying she would cause Kim jong Il to disintegrate. That's how you know it's too early in the morning.


If that were true, let's send her to N. Korea already.
~Mark
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Postby davetrendler » Sun Jul 09, 2006 10:57 pm

Hi all,

I really should check this forum more often! Sorry for the delayed response.

What I originally wrote: "Incognita has things to like, things to dislike, and things to get used to. Make a commitment to the album, and you'll be rewarded."

Several paragraphs later, I wrote: "Some ethnic groups lean toward a common soloist tone. The Asian-American soloists I've heard often sing from the back of the throat and sometimes a little nasally. This stylization takes a little getting used to on some solos (Goodbye, Goodnight Moon), and you'll hear it pop out of the blend in a few backgrounds."

And now, a virtual conversation:

Val Moy: "I know that a group member responding negatively to a review invariably sounds whiney and ridiculous, and thus I should keep my mouth shut."
DT: I totally disagree. The forum keeps reviewers honest and makes us all musically smarter. The entire point of the forum is to provide feedback to everyone. So thanks for posting.

VM: "However...I felt that certain comments made in the Incognita review were unnecessary and made me feel just a little indignant."
DT: A subjective opinion. I can't argue with you here. I am sorry if I hurt you by communicating my opinion poorly, but I don't apologize for disagreeing with you.

VM: "I'm unsure how Random Voices gets classified as an "ethnic" group, to begin with."
DT: This is not what I meant, though I do see how my note could be read that way. I meant "ethnic groups" as in Asians, Caucasians, Latinos, etc. I did carefully word that paragraph, but I missed your approach to the reading. Shall we agree to a draw on this one? Or should I have been more careful? Either way, sorry for the confusion.

VM: "I also understand that the wording of the statement 'The Asian-American soloists I've heard often sing from the back of the throat and sometimes a little nasally' is very carefully hedged not to say something like 'All Asian-American soloists are nasal and sing from the back of their throats,' "
DT: Yes, I was being careful. I could have restated that sentence this way: "Some Asian-American soloists I've heard often sing from the…". I definitely don't believe all Asian-Americans sing that way. The intended reading here is the literal one: "In my experience, this group of singers often sings this way."

VM: "…but then the inclusion of the ethnicity of the soloists in question is irrelevant. Why not just say 'The soloists (particularly on Goodbye and Goodnight Moon) seemed to be singing from the backs of their throats'? It would have gotten the point across without making any unnecessary ethnic statements."
DT: Because saying "these two particular soloists on these two particular songs" does not as precisely convey the way they are singing and it doesn't convey at all the broader point I'm making about some Asian-American soloists. My version of the sentence conveys more information to the reader. Readers who share my experience with nasal, back-of-the-throat solos from Asian-Americans will have a clearer idea of what I was saying about the tone of those singers. In broadening my point to a wider group of singers, I was hoping to raise awareness that something about some Asian-Americans causes them to sing in a way that is not generally accepted as aesthetically ideal.

VM: "my original issue was not that generalizations are evil and universally false, but that this particular generaliztion had no place in the review."
DT: It does seem that you're anti-generalization, actually. In the exchange above, you essentially asked me to make my criticism specific to two people so that I could avoid making an ethnic statement. Your approach is more p.c., but I do believe ethnicity has something to do with the vocal tone I noticed.

VM: "i don't think that a reviewer would say outright that a soloist had certain vocal qualities because she was a certain ethnicity; merely implying it instead doesn't make it a more acceptable statement."
DT: Not all people of Asian descent sing nasally and from the back of the throat. Some of them do, but it's not necessarily because of their ethnicity (genes). I don't know the cause of this particular Asian vocal tone that I've experienced, but it is correlated with being Asian. I don't know any non-Asians who sing in this particular way that I was trying to describe in my review. Maybe it's some physical difference in vocal cords, the nasal passages, the larynx, the sinal cavities, I have no idea. I suspect it might have more to do with linguistics because several of the Asian-Americans with whom I've sung and noticed this Asian vocal tone phenomenon had parents who spoke an Asian language as their first language.

VM: "on a side note, i also kind of wonder how it was determined that the other RV soloist in question and i are Asian. last name? picture? because her last name doesn't look Asian...and my picture doesn't look Asian..."
DT: This is a great question because it could potentially make me look really bad both as a reviewer and as one of RARB's fact checkers. I checked photos and last names on the album jacket and the RV website. Unless RV didn't match up faces to names on the album jacket, Jenise Gregera is very obviously of Asian ethnicity. I took a chance on VM, based on your photo, last name, and the fact that most of the women on Incognita appear to be Asian. Was I wrong?

Daniel Herriges: "Why not simply critique the soloists for their tone? Why bring in ethnicity?"
DT: Because, in this case, I believe ethnicity is a relevant factor when discussing the tone of these singers. See above.

DH: "I don't think Dave's claim is necessarily untrue (in fact, it makes some sense to me, because a number of East Asian languages tend to have a lot of nasal sounds, so if someone grew up speaking one of those languages in the home I can see how it would translate to English) but it's not categorically true"
DT: I never said it was categorically true nor do I believe I came close to saying this. You've added a meaning that does not exist in the words I wrote.

DH: "and it's fairly irrelevant to his review."
DT: Getting back to my intro paragraph, the vocal tone on these tracks, which I believe is related somehow to Asian ethnicity, is one of the things that takes a little getting used to in order to appreciate the album. By the way, everyone please note that this was a very gentle criticism.

Binks: "I think it's just a bit rude to generalize using ethnicities. For example, it's like saying 'most Caucasian people can't dance'
DT: I didn't say, "Most Asians sing nasally."

B: "or 'my experience with African-Americans are that they're really athletic.'"
DT: I said something closer to this, and I don't believe a comment like this can be logically criticized. I wrote, "The Asian-American soloists I've heard often sing from the back of the throat and sometimes a little nasally." Writing this out conceptually would look like this: "The singers I've heard of this type oten do this and sometimes that." Criticizing this structure is rejecting the experience I've had. My comment is anecdotal, but RARB's very structure is deliberately built this way for good reason. We are asked to compare albums to the body of recorded a cappella that we've heard. Therefore, "The Asian-American soloists I've heard often sing from the back of the throat and sometimes a little nasally."

B: "Whether they're true or false, compliments or criticisms, it's rude because it perpetuates a stereotype. You're putting the idea out there using a generalization, and whether or not the generalization is true, there are always people who are the exception who has to fight against that to gain respect."
DT: What stereotype did I perpetuate?

B: "Or worse, they believe in the stereotype themselves and give up on their personal growth. Now, wouldn't that be a shame if all the Asian-American populations goes "Oh crap, my voice isn't suited for the western, "white-dominated" music, so I guess I'm just going to go become a math geek cause that's what people like me are supposed to be good at, right?" Ah! Stereotypes strike again!"
DT: So I shouldn't tell a singer she could improve her tone to suit the style of a song? Vocal tone is part of the skill of singing, not something that is genetically unalterable, therefore it's within a singer's ability to control.

B: "I think its best if we take the safe route and stay away from using ethnicities..."
DT: It's my opinion that I don't believe I've abused ethnicity in my review or this post. I think the length of this thread shows that ethnicity can be productively discussed. One way add a little perspective might be to turn this discussion on my own majority ethnicity. For example, I could easily criticize my Caucasian former a cappella group for singing an African-American spiritual. Our vocal tone was not as rich and dark in tone as the vocal tone of a group more aesthetically suited to the genre, perhaps one comprised of people of African descent.

Dave: "I'm not 100% sure, however, why they are necessary in a review. Reviews, by nature, are not general - rather, they are quite specific to the group and the singer in question. I don't see the place for generalizations when a specific group and a specific song are being described."
DT: See above.
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Postby Mahka » Sun Jul 09, 2006 11:25 pm

DT wrote:B: "Or worse, they believe in the stereotype themselves and give up on their personal growth. Now, wouldn't that be a shame if all the Asian-American populations goes "Oh crap, my voice isn't suited for the western, "white-dominated" music, so I guess I'm just going to go become a math geek cause that's what people like me are supposed to be good at, right?" Ah! Stereotypes strike again!"
DT: So I shouldn't tell a singer she could improve her tone to suit the style of a song? Vocal tone is part of the skill of singing, not something that is genetically unalterable, therefore it's within a singer's ability to control.


Several "virtual conversations" above, you mentioned that there's a possibility that such tone is a result of "physical difference[s] in vocal cords...nasal passages...larynx...sinal cavities." If this is in fact a hypothesis you put out, then this is in fact a genetic factor that cannot be controlled. One can only improve tone to a certain point, like many other things that rely upon our physical features. Beyond a point, there is nothing more that can be done.

Additionally, isn't there a particular danger in saying that one needs to alter tone to "suit the style of a song"? Several songs come to mind where the acaversion is definitely of a different style than that of the original. The most recent in my mind is the Bubs' "Epiphany." Would you have told the soloist there that he should've made his tone poor, raspy, and a little bit back of the throat, or is the clear ballad style presented better? Two takes on the same song. Alternately, using the same reasoning, if a group covered an Asian song where the tone IS "back of the throat/nasal" and a "white" soloist did not match this tone (maybe the group doesn't have any Asians...definitely not out of the question), would that also be poorly reviewed because s/he didn't fit the style, or would such solo be OK because it fits the "Western/American" aesthetics?

This, I feel, really can lead to a slippery slope where reviewers already have a set, preconcieved notion about the way a particular song is supposed to be done and leaves almost no room, then, for groups to alter the style of the songs as they wish, to give us that different take. I couldn't imagine commercial reviewers stating something like this in their reviews - imagine if everybody thought "Pirates I" was stuck on the concept of the ride at the parks and focused on the rumors that said "this movie sucks" and reviewed it poorly because it didn't fit that mold.

I appreciate the responses that DT has presented, but some of the reasonings, I feel, seem suspect.
~Mark
Formerly of the UCLA ScatterTones
Looking for a group in SF?
ICCA/ICHSA Judge, Producer
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Postby davetrendler » Mon Jul 10, 2006 7:05 pm

Mahka: "you mentioned that there's a possibility that such tone is a result of 'physical differences' "
DT: Yes, I did mention that physical differences are a possible cause of the vocal tone I noticed. However, this was an observation of a possibility, not an argument. I was very clear that I don't know the cause. I've heard people of Asian descent sing both with this phenomenon and without. It could be that some Asians have a physical difference while others don't. Reading further down my comment, you'll see that "I suspect it might have more to do with linguistics". I'm not leaning heavily on the genetics here, but it I acknowledge that genetics might have some part.

M: "isn't there a particular danger in saying that one needs to alter tone to 'suit the style of a song'?"
DT: Some people criticize reviewers who stray from "reviewing what's there and not what's not there". In my opinion, it's impossible to comprehensively evaluate anything without the option of discussing both what is and what could have been. Imagine trying to review a new model of Porsche that had a Ford Festiva engine without comparing it to the 911. An exaggeration, but it illustrates my point.

M: "This, I feel, really can lead to a slippery slope where reviewers already have a set, preconcieved notion about the way a particular song is supposed to be done and leaves almost no room, then, for groups to alter the style of the songs as they wish, to give us that different take."
DT: I love hearing new interpretations of existing songs. I believe that the greatest inherent strength of the a cappella instrumentation is the potential for re-interpretation. These two singers were not offering a re-interpretation. Instead, they offer a vocal tone similar to a tone I've noticed among some Asian-American singers that I characterize as atypical and which I believe will strike most listeners as a little odd.

Dave T.
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Postby sparkleytone » Sun Jul 30, 2006 12:43 pm

American society has become an annoying batch of whiners. The man carefully chose his words to bring up a point that was completely within the context of the material and made sure that it was not offensive. He worded it in a way that would only be offensive to those looking to be offended.

RARB: actively contributing to Asian mathiness through acaganda...
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Postby sizzles » Thu Aug 17, 2006 9:45 pm

yeah. i do like to hear these kind of statements explained out, because almost invariably the more I hear the more I disagree with. Hence short statements from me.

some other guy - "He worded it in a way that would only be offensive to those looking to be offended."
This is tortured logic. Try to think more.

DT - "In my experience, this group of singers often sings this way."
Yes, I understand what you think. It's very clear that you are making a generalization that works tolerably well but doesn't fit everyone. This is intuitively obvious. The problem is that I see a glaring lack of utility. When this statement is used, I don't see anything good coming from it. That is the main problem. That is why this generalization isn't helpful. In Berkeley, I would need more to think this was worth saying. In NY, it's pretty common to hear generalizations without obvious utility.
Race is taboo because of the obvious past. Because of the relationship to a long and tumultuous history in America, I expect good things to come from race talk, not just categorization.

So just let me know how saying that whatever group you're talking about sings with two pretty negative adjectives, "from the back of the throat and sometimes a little nasally," is helpful and I'm cool with all of it. The genetic/cultural part of this discussion makes this seem kind of unlikely to me. It means that it is unlikely that whatever characteristics are there will be changed. I would expect something constructive to follow it. "Here is what you should do." "I defer to those that are more knowledgeable than I and whom are those I am talking about."

I don't think what you're talking about is a stylization, I think it's too negative to be called a style. It seems more like a problem from what you say. So fix it. Or say you're totally cool with it, but if you were, you wouldn't have said anything at all. ;-)
hanging on a little... :-D

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Postby Tippy » Fri Aug 18, 2006 4:37 am

sizzles wrote:So just let me know how saying that whatever group you're talking about sings with two pretty negative adjectives, "from the back of the throat and sometimes a little nasally," is helpful and I'm cool with all of it.


I don't know how helpful it is, but it's certainly true in many cases. You needn't look/listen too far in the a cappella world (or this forum and it's posters) to see/hear that. So what if it's a generalization? At the extreme, if humans as a species did not generalize, there would quite literally be no human species.

In any case, he doesn't have to quantify/show evidence of anything - it's a CD review. And thankfully, the world does not end with the borders of Berkeley.

And I still stand by my earlier statement in this thread.
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Postby davetrendler » Wed Sep 06, 2006 7:26 pm

Sizzles,

I'm really not sure what you're getting at.

However, there is something good that can very easily come out of my comment. It is this:

Asian-American singers: in my experience and to my ears, some of you tend to sing from the back of the throat and slightly nasally. I don't know why. Be aware of this and you may avoid a vocal tone that might otherwise be distracting to a listener.

I think this is an obvious, constructive lesson, and it was certainly part of my intent in my review.

Dave T.
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