Realtime - Ain't That A Kick review

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Realtime - Ain't That A Kick review

Postby tmetzger » Mon Apr 02, 2007 9:41 pm

Hi folks,

I'd like to start a thread about the recent review of Realtime's album, Ain't That A Kick. First of all, I certainly appreciate what the reviewers had to say - they seem like very musical and thoughtful sorts, and I understand and agree with a lot of what they're saying. Our score was even quite respectable, so again, I'm not writing this out of spite.

You can read the review here: http://www.rarb.org/reviews/705.html

Also I apologize ahead of time - I have not read every thread in this board, so if I'm about to bring up issues that have been hashed to death previously, sorry about that! Just refer me to the definitive thread.

I guess the central question is, what is the purpose of RARB? Is it really designed for reviews of contemporary a cappella only, or is there a useful purpose in quasi-barbershop quartets like Realtime submitting our stuff? Clearly the reviewers are aware of their own bias, because they all felt compelled to make a point of it. They all made an effort to compensate for the bias, which was a nice gesture. :)

There's some irony in the fact that to their ears, Realtime is singing square barbershop music. Half of the album doesn't sound like barbershop to barbershoppers! Low scores for Innovation and Creativity seem very strange to me, since some of our stuff is like nothing ever done in barbershop before. More like a fusion between several styles, with a recognizable barbershop influence.

So what's the philosophy around here? Is there a willingness to consider four part, homophonic singing as a valid art form to be judged on its own merits, and in the appropriate context? Do you need someone (me?) to recommend some barbershop-savvy reviewers? Just let me know. I would have two dozen people to nominate, right off the top of my head.

Keep in mind, there are about 80,000 singers worldwide who might find RARB more relevant if it made room for 'shop.

Cheers,
Tom
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Postby hepcat » Wed Apr 04, 2007 5:08 am

Hi Tom,

It seems to me that RARB is much like the rest of the a cappella world. Barbershop is not readily accepted by the "masses," even though it's the original. I guess it's kind of like kids who don't listen to the same music as their grandparents. Many a cappella singers feel like barbershop is old and outdated.

Personally, I think you guys put out a great recording, but I don't really consider most of it to be barbershop. I think most people who listen to it mistakenly think almost everything that has only 4-part harmony is barbershop.

Reading the review made me laugh because the reviewers seem to think it's pretty straight barbershop. Meanwhile, most barbershoppers would find it offensive if you tried to perform most of these songs in contest.

I guess it's a matter of ignorance (I don't mean that as an insult). If you haven't taken the time to REALLY get to know the music, you simply don't understand it.

Thanks for the topic, Tom. I was finally inspired to register and post, instead of lurking as a guest.
Daryl T. Meek
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Postby dekesharon » Wed Apr 04, 2007 8:17 am

This is a fascinating topic for a number of reasons.

* First of all, RARB is clearly not focused on only one style of a cappella, nor is its intended audience only one kind of listener. However it does come with a perspective that's well grounded in contemporary American idioms with strong roots in collegiate a cappella.

Of course, every reviewer has a perspective, although some reviewer's point of view is fairly broad (a major newspaper's movie reviewer, for instance) and as such a reader can assume a large overlap in experience and perspective.

But when it comes to a cappella, there isn't necessarily an easily assumed overlap, as various folks have a variety of experiences and perspectives(barbershoppers, doowoppers, world music buffs, gospel singers, etc). In some cases this can be the difference between classical music fans and alt-rock goths. It's the rare review that'll address both perspectives seamlessly.

* Secondly, the barbershop is currently a rarified form. Why? Because over the decades SPEBSQSA/BHS has created a judging/coaching system that is so specific that it allows certain chords and disallows others, and this system is at the very core of the extremely centralized barbershop community.

To this end, if you're a "barbershopper" you know more than just the basics (melody is in the second tenor/"lead" line, songs will be oldies...) - you really understand the role of seventh chords, circle of fifths progressions, acceptable vocal textures and such, at least sonically if not theoretically.

This is almost unprescedented in artistic endeavors, as most art constantly strains to break out of boundaries, and I can't think of a form that's so completely organized by a central body. It's really more like competitive figure scating than rock and roll in this regard.

I'm not saying this is a good or a bad thing. It's just something to keep in mind, because a reviewer is either a barbershopper or not a barbershopper, and there's going to be a pretty dramatic difference in perspective between the two.

* To this end, I think it's important for RARB reviewers to "know that they don't know" - and not make statements to the proximity of contest-accepted barbershop standards, for example. It's clear this review has a couple of those statements, which strike the experienced barbershop reader as an immediate red flag that there are errors. And that's not good: not good to have errors, and not good to have a segment of the community feel immediately distanced when reading a review that's clearly in error.

* However, I also think it's important that RARB reviewers be free to review any album the same way. Barbershop may have a tome of arranging rules (yes, there's actuallly a 450 page manual), but that doesn't matter a bit to the rest of the world, and I think an album review is more valuable if it addresses a recording from a non-barbershop perspective.

* I think it could be very valuable for BHS to have an album reviewing service (if there isn't already one), although I'd personally urge the reviews to not rate quality by the same strict contest rules. Perhaps a third party is already doing this (I'm familiar with much of the barbershop world, but not an "insider").

* One last thought: I think it's valuable within the barbershop community for groups' pioneering to be recognized, but I don't know that there's much value to everyone else.

For instance, if an Armenian folk group whose music is based around triads steps out of the box and starts adding 7ths, it might be thoroughly important to the Armenian folk music community, but to the rest of us boneheads it's not all that important.

In this case, Realtime's album may be carving new territory, and this is much admired and appreciated (I'm reminded of the fantastic Gas House Gang albums last decade), but the fact is that the general a cappella community is so diverse and there's so much experimentation going on (harmony, texture, timbre, use of effects, etc) that a 13th chord in a barbershop chart isn't going to register on radar.

To summarize (if you're still reading this!), I think it's important for reviewers to not generalize about barbershop if they don't know, and also for barbershoppers to not expect kudos or credit for pushing boundaries within their form if it's not something a lay listener would notice.

- Deke Sharon • 800.579.9305 • http://www.dekesharon.com

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Postby dekesharon » Wed Apr 04, 2007 8:32 am

Forgive my wordiness on this subject. I find it fascinating, as it challenges all of us to question our perspective...

Hepcat wrote:Barbershop is not readily accepted by the "masses," even though it's the original.


I doubt you mean "original." Perhaps "predecessor?"

Hepcat wrote:Many a cappella singers feel like barbershop is old and outdated.


Perhaps some, but those people probably feel the same way about classical music, and doo wop, and vocal jazz. It's not a barbershop specific phenom.

However, it is interesting to note that there are people mostly interested only in one style of a cappella. Some of them are contemporary fans, others are barbershoppers. Those folks "hear" music from their perspective, judging its quality from within their style's primary criteria (pop fans perhaps favor rhythm, barbershoppers rung chords).

Hepcat wrote:Personally, I think you guys put out a great recording, but I don't really consider most of it to be barbershop.


This is a fascinating statement to me, as it gets to the root of this issue of perspective. To 99.999% of listeners, it's clearly barbershop. Matched vowels, melody usually in the lead line, lots of homophony.

Heck, even their approach says "barbershop" - vowel sounds, phrasing. "Ain't That A Kick In The Head" is indeed not a contest arrangement, and yet it sounds very "barbershop" to most listeners. It's as if a dixieland band were playing a Miles Davis song - it'd still sound like dixieland, because a clarinet is a clarinet, and the tuba's oompahing along.

Does this makes sense?

Hepcat wrote:I think most people who listen to it mistakenly think almost everything that has only 4-part harmony is barbershop.


It's FAR more than 4 part harmony that makes barbershop! Heck - the Persuasions are 4 part harmony, and there's nary a person here who'd catagorize them as barbershop. It has to do with approach, idioms.

Hepcat wrote:If you haven't taken the time to REALLY get to know the music, you simply don't understand it.


I don't know that this is true. If you allow the analogy, Barbershop is a style that's largely in sepia tones - a limited color palate (not a bad thing - just a way to indicate that it's a specific set of musical choices). The Realtime recording is perhaps like a sepia photograph that has some colored elements: a red rose, a blue cloud.

A barbershopper would say "wow! look at all that color!" and a non-barbershopper used to different colors and tones might say "um, that's still a sepia photograph."

And I think that's what's going on here.

- Deke Sharon • 800.579.9305 • http://www.dekesharon.com

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Postby RnBMrE » Wed Apr 04, 2007 8:51 am

Speaking as someone with far less knowledge and rhetorical eloquence than Deke (:-D), I felt I should say that I commend Realtime for submitting their album for review by RARB. Hopefully this will be a trend that many other 'shop (or 'shop-type) groups follow in the near future!

Having limited exposure to these types of groups, this review was, at the very least, a window for me to check out Realtime a little more closely. I visited your website today and watched some of your competition videos. Amazing!! Check out "Cry Me A River" (which I may or may not have watched first hoping it was the Justin Timberlake tune lol)... aside from the incredible performance, I felt like I was getting a seminar on tuning, enunciation, blending, and dynamics all at the same time!

To sum up, whether or not you think the reviewers "got" what they were reviewing, I'm very glad that I was exposed to your music through the RARB website.

-----

On a side note, Realtime guys, I'm curious as to how you recorded your album (and if there is a "best" method for this type of recording). One by one? At the same time, using separate mics/rooms? It seems like the typical "single-track" method that most collegiate a cappella groups use would not work as well for barbershop, as so much of the energy seems to come from the power each member hears from tight chords locking.

Or would it? Maybe Bill or another producer/engineer could give some insight here, too?

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

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Postby tmetzger » Wed Apr 04, 2007 9:57 am

RnBMrE wrote:Speaking as someone with far less knowledge and rhetorical eloquence than Deke (:-D), I felt I should say that I commend Realtime for submitting their album for review by RARB. Hopefully this will be a trend that many other 'shop (or 'shop-type) groups follow in the near future!


I'd be happy to help make that happen. The barbershop community, by and large, does not know that RARB exists. And we have no album reviewing group of our own, so RARB could really serve a useful purpose there.

And thank you for the very kind words, by the way. :)

RnBMrE wrote:On a side note, Realtime guys, I'm curious as to how you recorded your album (and if there is a "best" method for this type of recording). One by one? At the same time, using separate mics/rooms?


Every possible method has been used by one quartet or another, but we use a semi-isolated setup with one mic per person. Not sound booths, but far enough apart so that we can adjust balance and/or punch in individual parts if we need to. Having said that, "four part punching" seems to be more efficient most of the time, as in, if we didn't like one chunk of the take, we all do it again. That's how most of "Kick" was recorded.

Cheers,
Tom
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Postby rebecca » Wed Apr 04, 2007 10:12 am

Cool discussion - Deke, I loved your sepia analogy. And I for one like barbershop and am glad it hasn't cut off all ties with the rest of the acappellaverse.

For those of you interested in a historical perspective, have a look through the RARB file on Acoustix, a barbershop quartet that slides in and out of the tradition from album to album.

http://www.rarb.org/reviews/group-50.html

I would be interested to hear reaction from our new generation of barbershop readers.

-rebecca
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Postby flip29 » Wed Apr 04, 2007 1:02 pm

DekeSharon wrote:...If you allow the analogy, Barbershop is a style that's largely in sepia tones - a limited color palate (not a bad thing - just a way to indicate that it's a specific set of musical choices). The Realtime recording is perhaps like a sepia photograph that has some colored elements: a red rose, a blue cloud.

A barbershopper would say "wow! look at all that color!" and a non-barbershopper used to different colors and tones might say "um, that's still a sepia photograph."

And I think that's what's going on here.

I believe that Deke's analogy is pretty accurate. Albums like those from Realtime, Acoustix, Michigan Jake, and others look like Kim Anderson photos. House Jacks albums look like, well, House Jacks album covers. :) It's all about what you're used to. Also, Barbershop groups who make the "Kim Anderson albums" get caught in No-Man's Land, in a way - they not only have the "it's still sepia" view from one side, they also get the "it should be nothing but sepia!" view from the Barbershop purists. Can't please everyone - you just put out a quality product and have a great time doing it, and I think Realtime nailed both of those with their album. Their CARA was well-deserved, IMO.

Paul Wolf
Nightwatch - www.nightwatchqt.com

Started in sepia...now learning the rest of the colors on the palette.
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Postby Nick Lyons » Wed Apr 04, 2007 5:16 pm

I don't know if it was the 1st year competing at Internationals, but I saw Realtime in Louisville in 2005. Their set had a New York City / Rat Pack sort of feel to it, with smoking jackets and glasses of (what symbolized) whiskey, and I specifically remember whispers on 3 separate topics coming from the crowd...

1) I bet they're going to get "dinged" by the judges for bringing any semblance of alcohol on the stage.

2) I wonder if it's real alcohol or apple-juice.

3) Where did these guys come from?! They sound RIDICULOUS (in a good way).

I think they came in an out-of-the-blue 5th place. Their set was somewhat "unconventional" to that crowd, but it was by no means "bad." Unfortunately, even The Acoustix received poor scores in repeat listenability. (There's also simply RETARDED review of The Stars and Stripes forever that got ANYTHING aside from straight 5's, but that will be left for another discussion / debate).If you listen to barbershop with any kind of regularity I think they have great repeat listenability but unfortunately, not much of this crowd does. I think in the barbershop world, you generally have an idea of what most groups sound like anyway, and a review such as this one wouldn't hold too much bias one way or the other... I know that's not at all the point, and is somewhat defeatist, but unless there is a specific panel that reviews barbershop albums, or all the reviews start listening on a regular basis, I don't know that there is a solution in place...

All this aside, Realtime is an awesome group, and you should check out the album.
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Postby sahjahpah » Wed Apr 04, 2007 5:40 pm

hyannis sound == victory
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Postby borski » Wed Apr 04, 2007 5:53 pm

sahjahpah wrote:hyannis sound == victory


...hyannis? barbershop?
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Postby sahjahpah » Wed Apr 04, 2007 5:59 pm

haha whoops, wrong thread! i had two open at once. that was meant for the "fashion police" thread over in the general forum. my bad folks :)
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Postby hepcat » Thu Apr 05, 2007 4:57 am

Obviously I'm new here, so please bear with me while I try to figure out the quote function!

But let me say, Deke, I'm really glad you jumped in on the discussion. You are obviously well-versed and informed on the topic. Someone with your experience brings a whole new perspective to things for some of us.


DekeSharon wrote:
Hepcat wrote:Barbershop is not readily accepted by the "masses," even though it's the original.


I doubt you mean "original." Perhaps "predecessor?"


Nope, I definitely meant original, but most likely not in the terms you think I meant. Please allow me to clarify:

To my knowledge, barbershop was the first of it's kind in forming the national society, a sanctioning body, becoming a not-for-profit, etc. To this end, yes, barbershop is the original. If I'm wrong, feel free to educate me!

I apologize though. I did not mean to come across as saying barbershop is the original as far as a cappella music.


DekeSharon wrote:
Hepcat wrote:Personally, I think you guys put out a great recording, but I don't really consider most of it to be barbershop.


It's as if a dixieland band were playing a Miles Davis song - it'd still sound like dixieland, because a clarinet is a clarinet, and the tuba's oompahing along.

Does this makes sense?



Yup, it sure does. And again, a perspective I don't think I'd have recognized on my own.


I'm going to leave the rest out, since it would just be more of me quoting you and agreeing with much of what you say. Thanks for taking the time to respond - it's been a very interesting read so far!
Daryl T. Meek
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Postby hepcat » Thu Apr 05, 2007 5:23 am

rebecca wrote:For those of you interested in a historical perspective, have a look through the RARB file on Acoustix, a barbershop quartet that slides in and out of the tradition from album to album.

http://www.rarb.org/reviews/group-50.html

I would be interested to hear reaction from our new generation of barbershop readers.

-rebecca


You asked!

Quick answer: I thought those reviews were very interesting. Even a self-professed non-barbershop-fan rated a few of the recordings very high. It's always great to see that folks can respect the efforts, even if they aren't fans of the genre.

I got a headache trying to scan the list...but is Acoustix the only barbershop quartet in the past decade to submit their recordings for review?

If so, then I hope you see an influx of barbershop albums from groups that are more active currently. Don't get me wrong, Acoustix still remains one of the best there ever has been in the world of barbershop, but if that's the only point of reference here at RARB, a lot of really great groups have been missed, not all of them champs.

There are some really great quartets out there that are bringing a new sound to the old standards, as well as introducing music to the genre that no one would have thought possible. Of course, without great arrangers, that would not be possible.

I hope now that Realtime has submitted their CD, that other quartets follow suit. It really is great to gain insight from people who are not part of the hobby.
Daryl T. Meek
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Postby dekesharon » Thu Apr 05, 2007 7:47 am

Hepcat wrote:To my knowledge, barbershop was the first of it's kind in forming the national society, a sanctioning body, becoming a not-for-profit, etc. To this end, yes, barbershop is the original.


That's correct as far as I know. Although there are church music organizations, gospel organizations, etc. no one can touch the scope of BHS. It, along with its sister orgs, pretty much defines barbershop. Amazing, and largely unheard of in any field - music or other.

- Deke Sharon • 800.579.9305 • http://www.dekesharon.com

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