In defense of "Vowel Movements"

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In defense of "Vowel Movements"

Postby jpchip » Thu Aug 19, 2004 1:32 pm

I just have a couple of things to say here...

First and foremost, I respect the fact that the reviewers have a lot of things on their plates, and have lots of musical experience.

But with all due respect, Eric Skalinder, go to Hell.
You're the only person who couldn't get the video to work (granted, I don't know why Steve only sent the DVD and not the DVD/CD combo).
The tuning couldn't POSSIBLY have "gone in and out" since it was computer-adjusted to be perfectly on pitch. There is ONE wrong note on the entire album, and it's in the middle of Don't Cry.
And as far as the video segments go, what did you really expect? College groups can't afford TV camera crews - unless perhaps they're the Duke's Men.

That said, I readily admit that this album suffers from the same affliction as one eighty-eight: overproduction. Too much focus on the technicality of it all and not enough "oomph" to the music. But that doesn't mean it's a piece of crap. Marc Stellrecht on "Gone" is better than anyone in N*Sync. Steve Balesteri's perc on "Opera Singer" - and yes, it's just him and that's how it sounds in concert - is ridiculously cool. And I challenge you to find another college a cappella arrangement that has a tone cluster that sounds as right and fitting as the final chord of Evan Halstead's arrangement of "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm."

I'm not saying this album is the pinnacle achievement of male a cappella, but it doesn't deserve the rough backside treatment it was given by Mr. Skalinder.

Oh, and for the record, guys - the syllables on "Island in the Sun" are just "jay gott-n jen, jay dih dih-jen" and on "Ordinary World" are "tk-a sed a fay." The fact that those combinations might sound like phrases is just a coincidence that didn't occur to the group.

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Postby Nick Lyons » Thu Aug 19, 2004 7:19 pm


I understand where you're coming from with all that you say... but I do have to address a few things, for everyone's benefit...

1) Auto tuning on the whole doesn't work for a cappella music. When I say that, I don't mean that doesn't tune the notes, I mean that tuning chords with voices isn't universal. A third isn't a third, a seventh isn't a seventh. If you auto tune the chord C-E-G-Bb, it's not going to sound NEARLY as "in tune" as if you get 4 guys that know how to sing that chord. Equal volume from the C and G, a little sharp on the E and a little flat on the Bb. The machine doesn't comprehend actual "tuning," just right and wrong notes. I only say this because that MIGHT be the level of tuning Eric was speaking of. All that aside, that's RIDICULOUSLY picky, so maybe he just heard something that the other two didn't...

2) It sucks that the video segment didn't work for Eric... because so few groups actually have a video on their album... I don't feel that he should have docked you guys potential points for that... but if he had issues with it, I feel that he had to say SOMETHING, because that was part of your album, was it not?

3) One wrong note on the entire album... I hope once you're less upset and frustrated, you come back and edit that statement... I'm sure if I knew you it wouldn't come across as arrogant as it sounds... but since I don't... and most other people don't, it comes across as sort of arrogant, and I know that's not the impression you're trying to make...

4) The boys from N'SYNC are pretty damn good... I hope your boy Marc is as awesome as you say.

5) Can you tell me what the cluster at the end of the Mmm song is... I'd be interested to hear what the "chord" actually is.

6) I commend you on your syllables. So often we get stuck on doo's and da's and no one ever goes outside the box. It may sound weird... sort of like the Clef's Jdah woah na jduh wanna ahhh in Africa... It's different but that's what makes it YOURS. Don't let that get you down...

It sucks when one reviewer completely bashes your album... especially after all the hard work you've put into it... however, from their standpoint, you had to expect that they weren't going to be all positive statements... it's like your website says... it's nothing stellar but it offers points for improvement... which we're all hoping for. I look forward to hearing the album in it's entirety (sp?). Feel free to drop me a line if you want to continue this discussion...

Nick Lyons
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Postby jpchip » Thu Aug 19, 2004 9:20 pm

Hey Nick,
Thanks for your response. I'll respond to your six points in like form:
1) Yeah, I realize that auto-tuning to the exact written pitch isn't REALLY the absolute correct chord - to be honest I wasn't involved in the production of this album, but the guy whose studio we go to really knows his stuff. I'm not saying he went ahead and sharped the thirds a sixteenth and flatted the sevenths - in fact you're probably right and he didn't - but I wouldn't be surprised. For the next album, I'm strongly advocating NOT using pitch doctor and just making bloody well sure everyone knows their friggin part down cold.

2) The video...was a mistake. Like I said, I don't know why only the DVDs were sent in for review - personally I would have sent both the DVD and the CD, or perhaps just the CD. Again, for the next album, I think we should just do an enhanced CD - something you can play the audio from in any normal CD player, but if you pop it in your computer or a sophisticated video player, you can watch the video and do multimedia stuff.

3) Hmm...I can see where my statement that there is one wrong note on the album could come across as arrogant, and you're right, that's not my intent - it's just the truth as far as anyone here knows. And it took us several listens to catch just the one in Don't Cry.

4) Marc is fantastic. It's a shame he grew up and left the group.

5) Now, as far as Mmm Mmm goes - I never sang this song myself, but looking at my buddy Eric's copy of the music, it looks like a dominant 11th in the key of Eb. In other words, Bb D F Ab C Eb - or, as it's voiced from bass up to highest tenor split, Ab F Ab (doubled) Bb (doubled) C (doubled) D Eb.

6) Urgh. Writing syllables has GOT to be the most difficult part of arranging. I wasn't pissed about what the reviewers said, actually we all thought it was really amusing - I just wanted to get the real ones out there for the record. :-p

And yeah, I knew they weren't all going to be favorable reviews, but we all honestly felt this was an improvement on one eighty-eight and it was quite a shock to get so reamed by Skalinder, especially after all that hard work - and the THOUSANDS of dollars (which we still owe). I guess something really rubbed him the wrong way.

Ah well, c'est la vie.

Thanks again, pleasure talking to you.
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Postby GenesisPhreak » Thu Aug 19, 2004 11:42 pm

wow im glad it cooled down here i thought someone was going to throw a punch or something.
Ahren Okamoto

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Postby sounderjh » Sat Aug 28, 2004 6:54 pm

jpchip wrote:it looks like a dominant 11th in the key of Eb. In other words, Bb D F Ab C Eb - or, as it's voiced from bass up to highest tenor split, Ab F Ab (doubled) Bb (doubled) C (doubled) D Eb.

V11 with the 7 in the bass, that exposed minor 2nd on top and a doubled 7 and 9? How the shit did you tune that without autotune? And more importantly, who would voice that chord like that? (Don't be offended. I'm not attacking the Chips, your album, your arrangers or soloists, just asking a question. I'm sure it sounds lovely.)

Anyway, nice job on the album, from the couple tracks I heard. Fozz played it a bit while we were driving around the Cape this summer.

Once again people, chill the #$^% out. Everyone puts a lot of heart into their albums. It's not really a music critic's job to take the group's feelings into account. If they do, they do so at their own discretion.

So, incidentally, do I.

Jim Harrington
Beatles 1963-1967
Steely Dan 1977-1989
Boyz II Men 1994-1997
Take 6 1997-2000
All-Intergalactic All-Star Vocal Band 2000-pres

[Insert requisite statement of personal responsibility for statements contained
in this post]
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Postby jpchip » Mon Aug 30, 2004 7:05 pm

I have no idea how they tuned it; like I said, I never sang the song. And more importantly - Evan hadn't taken music theory at the time. Ever. He only just this past summer took 116 (music for NONmajors), which leaves off after basic triad formation, and I don't think even included partwriting. I can't tell you how annoyed I get when people toss that chord in my face as a supposed example of how "music theory doesn't always apply" or "you can break the rules" and crap like that. Oy.

But it still sounded, go figure.
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Postby sdargie » Tue Aug 31, 2004 6:35 am

without having heard the song and just reading the notes and the voicing you wrote, John, is it possible that the chord is really an Ab major chord with a 9, #11 and 13? I think having the Ab emphasized in the bass and doubled higher up suggests to me that it's a root and not a b7 of a different chord. This would mean you resolved on a IV chord with nicer tensions from an analysis standpoint. I personally disagree with chords that have both the major third AND the fourth. P.S. I'm a big theory dork and I had to throw that out there.
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Postby jpchip » Tue Aug 31, 2004 8:02 am

Sure it's possible, I haven't taken 20th century theory yet myself, so I'm not exactly speaking from a position of expertise here. It just seemed unlikely to me that a piece would end on IV - but then again, it's probably about equally unlikely that it would end on V, perhaps even less likely given the incredibly strong V-I relationship.
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Postby sdargie » Tue Aug 31, 2004 12:28 pm

In a traditional counterpoint sense, any phrase/song that ends on the V is called a half cadence but you can hear in plenty of contemporary contexts. I think a lot of punk songs end on IV and there are definetly a bunch of big band and jazz songs that end on wierder chords like II-7(b5, b9), bIII chords, bVI chords etc. I don't mean to sound like iike I'm lecturing a class, I just like thinking about this stuff.
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Re: In defense of "Vowel Movements"

Postby elocomotive » Wed Sep 08, 2004 12:09 am

jpchip wrote: But with all due respect, Eric Skalinder, go to Hell.

Hmmm, that doesn't sound too respectful, unlike Eric's review, which certainly wasn't glowing, but didn't step over any personal or political lines. I hate when people do that.


Its annoying. -Eric
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Postby davetrendler » Wed Sep 08, 2004 1:16 pm

Hey John,

I was planning to ignore your post, but it's been bugging me.

First, we're volunteers. In this post, you tell Eric Skalinder to go to hell and in a related post about the album's cover art, you called Rebecca Christie a bitch. Both of these reviewers have shown a maturity that you lack by ignoring your immature and unfair abuse. Abusing people who do this for fun isn't cool, especially when their comments weren't nearly deserving of your meanness.

Second, you volunteered. Please keep in mind that your group decided send its album to RARB in order to hear the opinions of experienced, respected reviewers. I've seen reviews much more harsh than this one, and personally, as a fan of your group, I was much more offended by your recent reviews of the reviewers than I was of the reviews themselves.

Third, I consider myself a 'Chips fan (note that your group got my pick of the year in 2002), but your posts have really turned me off. Previously, I considered your group to be a bunch of fun luvin' guys who were good singers, good arrangers, and good at studio recording. Now, I wonder how many of your group are as bitter and base as your posts. I wonder how many other readers are thinking the same thing?

Fourth, your post has several inconsistencies that I'd like to point out to show that your opinion needs to be taken with a big grain of salt:

a) "Eric's the only person who couldn't get the video to work" - He tried five devices. The problem is not Eric.

b) "There is ONE wrong note on the entire album." - Really? Only one? The auto-tuner didn't pull even one single other note up or down? I thought an album I'd auto-tuned was pitch-perfect, too, until someone pointed out that the auto-tuner was mis-calibrated for one song, and had pulled a few notes off in others. Yours is an awfully big claim, especially when you say in a later post that you never even sang one of the songs and when no reviewer thought the album earned higher than a 4/5 for pitch/blend. Finally, I don't know for sure, but Eric might have meant that he heard the auto-tuner kicking in and out.

c) "The fact that those [syllable] combinations might sound like phrases is just a coincidence that didn't occur to the group." - You've missed the point. It's not what your syllables actually are as much as how they ultimately sound. Two out of three reviewers thought two of the exact same sets of syllables were silly enough for comment. Even so, how could the group possibly miss that "coincidence"?

d) "And as far as the video segments go, what did you really expect? College groups can't afford TV camera crews..." - But you can afford to produce a heavily-mixed, 13 track, Dolby 5.1 DVD album complete with karaoke tracks and live performance footage? C'mon, John, Eric's critique of the videos are legit; they look worse than most people's family prom footage. Compared to the otherwise outstanding production on the album, the video looks, umm... pretty bad. RARB reviews what groups send in, not "expectations".

John, it took me about eight hours to listen to your album and write my review, and another half hour to write this post. Please show some consideration toward others by thinking for a few minutes before you start damning people and calling them names.


Dave Trendler
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Postby jpchip » Fri Sep 24, 2004 4:29 pm

You're right, of course, when you say that I exhibited an inordinate amount of immaturity. Rest assured that the rest of the group (while somewhat disappointed with our overall score) moved on a long time ago. I'm the hothead of the bunch, I've never quite managed to get a firm handle on my Irish temper...and because of that I often find myself begging to apologize for things said in a hasty rage.

You say you've seen reviews harsher than this; I say that doesn't justify being literally likened to excrement in the opening sentence of a review and being told that an album that has left us over $4000 in the red is poorly mixed and has boring arrangements with "barely adequate", even more boring soloists. That's quite a blow to the collective ego of any group, I'd say.

I suppose what was most infuriating was the lack of any apparent /constructive/ criticism. Both you and Jonathan Sears had some positive things to say as well as some pointers (Jonathan: more bass, more percussion, etc.; You: if a group is going to produce a 5.1 album, make use of the medium, put the personality into the music, etc.) If these suggestions are present in Eric's review, they are hidden behind a wall of such vehement dislike for the album that it's hard to take anything he says to heart. It was enough to make me wonder if I should have gone to Binghamton to join the Crosbys after all.

For what it's worth, I had no quibbles with Jonathan's review and I honestly enjoyed yours. I think it's important to have a balance: if you're going to give an album a low score, let 'em down gently, guide them in the right direction with a soft but firm hand, or people will start getting angry. Only on a 4 or 5 star album should you start slamming, because the group can see that you've acknowledged their ability and are just trying to help them continue to improve.

Lastly, I regret posting my former unnecessary and hyperbolic rant on this forum (though I see now that I am not the only one to do so), but I still feel that Eric's review was unnecessarily cruel, especially after reading his much kindlier handlings of Hyannis Sound's Cape Standard Time, Rhythm and Blue's Adios Kansas, and the Dartmouth Subtleties' Irony. I'll just have to hope that he got all the really harsh stuff out on us so that other groups need not suffer the punch in the gut that Mr. Skalinder is capable of delivering.
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Postby elocomotive » Fri Sep 24, 2004 11:52 pm

You've done yourself a huge disservice with some previous comments that strayed below the belt, and you still feel it necessary to jab at Eric Skalinder after a perfectly acceptable (if definitively not praiseful) review. He did nothing wrong, and while you feigned at apology, you never actually apologized despite taking a much lower road than anything Eric put in his review.

And there certainly is plenty of criticism in Mr. Skalinder's review that can be taken and put to use. He'd like to see...
-more cohesion in song selection
-solos that play more to your singer's strengths
-arrangements that are more exciting and complex
-bonus features and mixing that are well produced, not tag ons

Could Eric have said those things in a nicer way? Maybe. But I don't think he crossed any lines of professionalism and his concerns as a writer/reviewer are probably primaritly to informing the public and secondarily to considering your groups' feelings, ego, or finances. That seems an appropriate focus for a reviewer to have, if not always a fun ride for those who get a tough review.

The review made you think you should have joined another group? How deep does this rabbit hole go?
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Postby jpchip » Sat Sep 25, 2004 8:25 am

It's far and away not the first time I've thrown myself down a well with things said in anger, and - though I can hope otherwise - I can say with some confidence that it won't be the last.

My last post was not, as you implied, intended to take yet another jab at Eric Skalinder. I merely voiced my concerns in a much more reasonable tone, and my last sentence was - and is - nothing if not grudgingly respectful of his ability to deliver a scathing review. I did not mean to feign an apology with regard to Mr. Skalinder. I said that I regret making that first post, and that is the simple truth. If the forums allowed me to delete posts of my own making, I would have done so weeks ago.

That said, I apologize for the language and tone of my outburst, though not for the general sentiment. So Eric had a lot of problems with the album and really disliked it overall. Fine, I'm OK with that (now) - people disagree. But Jonathan Sears' and Dave Trendler's reviews enumerated the problems in a "if you tweak this a bit, your result will be better" way, rather than a "this sucked" way. It felt a lot like someone coming up to me and expounding the faults of Dune to me without saying, "look to A Game of Thrones for better characterization", or "I could have used more detail on Leto II's transformation". That's the difference between constructive criticism and insult. Yes, you can manufacture ideas of how to improve from statements of what went awry, but it's the initial delivery of the information that really counts. They say you can't make a first impression twice; I suppose it's poetic justice that the first impression I had of Eric Skalinder is now the same that this forum has of me.
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