Soundproof

Discuss our reviews or just talk about any old album.

Soundproof

Postby cmasone » Sat Sep 25, 2004 10:39 am

The reviews of this album made me sigh as another album that focuses hardcore on imitation (excellent imitation, but imitation nonetheless) got 5 across the board. Reading the reviews made it clear that at least Elie felt like I do about this trend, and the lack of creative arranging that shows up on some recent highly rated albums. One thing that made me curious about your review, Elie was the following comment:

Elie Landau wrote:It's not just that the group has almost slavishly attempted to reproduce the arrangements of the original songs, making many of the tracks, though fabulously performed, musically only semi-interesting after the first iteration as the listener knows exactly what's coming. It's also that now the group doesn't even NEED to find creative solutions to the unique rhythmic, harmonic and/or texture issues that each song presents. Simply throw down a sampled, processed, and/or pitch-corrected percussion track and bass line and the "feel" is pretty much taken care of.


How come this doesn't impact your Repeat Listenability score? I'm just trying to gain insight into your reviewing, since I tend to agree with your comments a lot.

Also, Rebecca...you say that the album reminds you a lot of Code Red...How come this album still gets a 5 for creativity and innovation?

Again, this is just me looking for some insight into the reviewing process and the scoring, not an angry diatribe or anything.

-Chris
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Postby bates » Sat Sep 25, 2004 2:13 pm

(Disclaimer: I feel a little bit odd talking about this album as a member of the MIT a cappella community, but I hope you won't judge my comments differently for it.)

My thoughts on SoundProof haven't changed since the day I bought it. Technically, it's flawless, from the first snare hit on "Don't You Forget About Me" to the end of "Girlfriend". The tuning and timing are spot-on, not a note or solo flair is out of place. It's pristine. And, yet, for all that, I don't like it.

So what's missing? For me, it was energy. It was passion. The reviewers have noted that the tracks are literal transcriptions of the originals; I agree, but I find that they feel more like demonstrations of style. The title SoundProof is, I feel, apt. This album is a proof of concept of what you can do with your own studio, of the time and care you can put in to make an album perfect. I feel it may have hurt us (the Chorallaries) on our last album - being able to refine the tuning as much as you like will give you a nice-sounding album, but is no substitute for power.

"Don't You Forget About Me" is long and boring (the way I feel about the original). "No Such Thing" is absolutely flawless, but the background sounds so mechanized that I can't groove to it; I get none of the intensity or feeling John Mayer brings to the song. "The Kids Aren't Alright" is nice, but, as the song is set in a lower key (understandably), the screaming anger of the Offspring original is lost. The list goes on. "I Wish" (probably one of the best cuts on the album), may or may not be an exact replica of the original, but it is an exact replica of the Cadence arrangement of the same song, but lacking in the simple flair and musical delight of that version.

Across the board, SoundProof just doesn't wow me. It never offends and is often pleasant, but nowhere on this CD is a track that I was eager to show to people. There was no "Crawling in the Dark" by Off the Beat, no "Dive Into You" from the Jacks, no "Yellow" or "Man in the Mirror" off of Superlogs, the Logs' last album. The album never wails. Everywhere, their normally vibrant live performances were dulled by the gleaming edge of perfection. The chords aren't warm or passionate, and neither are my feelings for this CD.

So, my question to the reviewers is, if you had such reservations about the CD - which it seems you did - why did you give it across-the-board 5s? If you were worried about energy, or repeat listenability, or any of these things, why were they not reflected in your scores? It feels to me like the a cappella community has maybe forgotten that, while technical wizardry can make a good song great, it can only make a bad song tolerable. Maybe we all need to go back and listen to BOCA '99, and remember what makes a song wail. Or even just go back and listen to Superlogs. It's a better CD in every way.

(I also feel I should correct, for factuality's sake, Mr. Minkoff's statement that the studio was a "wise investment for MIT". It would be, yes, had it been an MIT investment. The space is MIT's; the cost of the studio was borne by the Logs and by donations. You think MIT would front the money for an arts group?)
Daniel Bates '05
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The Chorallaries of MIT (2001-Present!) MBHS InToneNation (1997-2001)
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Postby JonLong » Sat Sep 25, 2004 4:37 pm

About the studio - the MIT Undergraduate Association gave them a $10,000 loan to help fund the studio which has been paid back. The rest of it was paid for by the Logs. So, no, it wasn't really an MIT investment... it was a Logs investment. MIT just provided the space. Though the Student Activities Association does give the a cappella groups a fair amount of money. But not nearly enough to cover something like a studio.

Anyway, about the CD, I pretty much agree with Bates on all of the points he made. It's a very solid CD all-around, there's no doubt about that. But none of the songs made me stop and go, "wow, that was an amazing song." This CD was compared to Code Red, but none of the songs stand out like Mr. Roboto, Nothing Compares 2 U, or You Should be Dancing. Code Red had a lot more energy and drive to it than SoundProof.

I'm not entirely sure that this CD deserves an overall rating of 5.0. And I definitely don't think all of the songs should have gotten 5s. And Bates's statement of "nowhere on this CD is a track that I was eager to show to people" is very true to me. If I was to make a compilation of a cappella songs to show to someone who had never heard a cappella before, none of the songs from this CD would be on it. It's not a bad CD, but I don't think it's that outstanding, either.
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Postby Cutter » Sat Sep 25, 2004 6:04 pm

another note about the studio -- from what I've been told from a first-hand source, they may have built it of their own accord, but they only recorded the tracks there. Most of the "pristine"-ness and other magic you hear is thanks to the inimitable John Clark, who edited and mixed the tracks at his place in Jamaica Plain. I had the privelege of hearing both the final and "original" versions of Girlfriend, and there could be no more potent evidence of just how phenomenal the man is at what he does.

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Re: Soundproof

Postby ELandau » Sat Sep 25, 2004 10:16 pm

cmasone wrote:How come this doesn't impact your Repeat Listenability score? I'm just trying to gain insight into your reviewing, since I tend to agree with your comments a lot.


Essentially, I didn't feel comfortable downgrading them on Repeat Listenability because truth be told, the issues that I have with the album don't make it significantly less enjoyable for my casual listening (which is what repeated listenings typically are for me -- I try to leave my "critic" hat at home when I'm just sitting back and trying to enjoy some music).

bates wrote:So, my question to the reviewers is, if you had such reservations about the CD - which it seems you did - why did you give it across-the-board 5s? If you were worried about energy, or repeat listenability, or any of these things, why were they not reflected in your scores?


I feel like the reasons behind my grading are adequately explained in the 2nd paragraph of my review but I will take a moment to expand on one point. My criticism of the album is primarily geared towards the "means" and not as much towards the "ends". Yes, I do have some issues (even with the end results) but if the song overall sounds like a 5, and the soloist sounds like a 5, and the v.p. sounds like a 5, and the production/engineering is a 5, then if the creative energy is a bit lacking, it's not going to be significant enough to bring the song down to a 4.

Also, I don't think I quite agree with the extent of Mr. Bates' displeasure with the album. For me personally, there is a great deal on the album that does make me go "wow" -- true, I'm a bit disappointed with how the results were achieved but the results are nonetheless pretty amazing.

bates wrote:If I was to make a compilation of a cappella songs to show to someone who had never heard a cappella before, none of the songs from this CD would be on it.


I have to disagree with this statement and it's one more reason why the songs merited a 5. If I didn't include a track from this album on a sampler for an uninitiated a cappella listener, and if I was being honest with myself, I would have to admit that my reaons for the omission would have less to do with the music itself and more to do with how I want a cappella to be represented as a musical style (i.e., I wouldn't want this person to think of a cappella as a bag of studio tricks). But do I think that person would be blown away to hear a track from this album and discover that only voices were used? Absolutely.

Moreover, as I've been reminded many times before in this forum, RARB's mandate is to rank the album as it relates to the general body of a cappella music out there. Sure I have my quibbles with the methods used to produce this album, and with the broader trend that the use of such methods represents, but at the end of the day, purely in my opinion, this album does measure up favorably to the best of what is out there, be it Cadence or Blue Jupiter or the Jacks or the 'Bubs or whoever and as such, it merits an overall 5.

Thanks for listening.

EL
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Postby diggr16 » Sun Sep 26, 2004 1:35 am

Hey there everyone,

I appreciate you all for posting all of your opinions about our album. It's quite nice to get such unbiased constructive criticism so that our group can get a better feel of what direction we want to move in for the future.

Being a member of the Logs, I just want to set some of the facts straight about the studio and our album so that all of these rumors and hearsay can cease. Our group came up with the idea of building a recording studio my freshman fall (2002) and we immediately started saving our money and looking to find a space to build the darn thing. While MIT does provide some very appropriate funding to all of its student groups, little to none of this money went to studio financing (Jon Long mentioned this in his post). All capital for the studio project was acquired through the group's performance fees and cd sales over the period of a year and a half. The room for the studio was allocated to our group by the MIT.

As for Cutter, he or she seems to know a bit about the group but I'm not quite who he/she is. I am very curious how Cutter was able to hear an unmixed version of "Girlfriend" since our group has a very strict policy on letting people outside the group hear unedited and unmixed songs. I'll reprint the facts from our liner notes here for anyone interested. (If you really don't care, I'm warning you that it's not that exciting). We did record "Don't You Forget About Me" at Briston Studios and the rest of the tracks were created in the studio that we built and completed in March of 2003. Many of the songs were also edited at the studio and I would guess around one-third of all mixing done was at the studio. Jon Clark was an exceptional producer to work with, and it was his decision to work mostly out of his home office for the long mixing sessions in the middle of the night. Frankly we were fine with any location he wanted.

I am also a bit dissapointed in some of the comments made about our album. I am in agreement with a lot of what the reviewers said, including the mechanical sound of some of the vocal percussion as well as the fact that too much "perfection" can take away a certain appeal of a song. I liken the latter to the fact that listening to a live recording is better than listening to a stuiod recorded cd for most artists. Some of the posts on this site have really been hard on our energy in the songs and in our arrangements. Since I'm not an arranger, I am not the best man to discuss about this, so I won't, other than I think that our arrangements is one of our strongest attributes.

As for the energy, I feel like a lot of soul was poured into this CD and it is a complete shame if that some people don't think it came out in our sound. Our group poured thousands and thousands of man-hours into financing, building, and securing our studio. In addition, we spent hundreds and hundreds of hours recording and producing this album. While I completely disagree that our album lacks energy, I respect everyone's opinion on the matter. I just hope that folks understand the amount of energy our group invested into creating such an album.

Thanks again for taking the time to discuss all of these issues. If you have any questions or comments about the CD or the group that you don't want to post here, please don't hesitate to email me. I would be more than happy to help you out and talk things over.

Sincerely,

Doug Fraser
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Postby jpchip » Sun Sep 26, 2004 8:56 am

"I think that our arrangements is one of our strongest attributes."

Now take what I say here with a grain of salt, because I'm going to tell you up front that I haven't ever listened to any of your songs.

Based on the reviews I've read and the comments I see here, arrangements is the big area in which you need to step it up. When they say you need more creative input, a lot of that comes from the arrangements. The reviewers and the comments here say that you aim to precisely reproduce the music as it is performed by the original artist.

This is not arranging.

I know it can be hard to get away from, especially for engineers who tend to be very literal-minded (we have two engineers who have done a lot of the "arranging", or should I say transcribing for the Chips for the past three years, so I know what it's like). We haven't had anyone put creative thought into really arranging a song since Eric Fosbury (now a member of the Hyannis Sound) left the group. I aim to change that.

My advice? Read a lot of the posts in the General Forum about arranging, take Deke Sharon's advice to heart, do some Google searches for college a cappella arrange, and listen to some groups who really do something with their songs. One of my favorite examples of this is the Duke's Men of Yale's arrangement of What A Good Boy by the Barenaked Ladies. It's nothing like the original, and yet...it's clearly the same song. Give it a listen, I bet you'll be really impressed and come away with some new ideas.

Anyway, that's my $.05. Congrats on the rating and the completion of your own studio - I must admit, I'm really jealous (especially since we're still $4k in the hole to our studio guys). Happy performing!

-John
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Postby JonLong » Sun Sep 26, 2004 10:27 am

diggr16 wrote:The mechanical sound of some of the vocal percussion as well as the fact that too much "perfection" can take away a certain appeal of a song.


Hey Doug,

I think that's what it is for me. I think that there is a point where too much mixing and too much "perfection" starts to hurt the song more than it helps it. You guys are really good live and put in a lot of feeling in your songs, but that didn't come through as much on CD. This opens up the whole "recorded vs live" issue again, but I think that that much work on your songs takes away some of the human feel of it. And so when I finish listening to the CD, I really do think that it sounds great, but I'm left feeling empty.

I completely respect what you guys have done. That studio is awesome. And after working on the Chorallaries CD, I definitely understand the amount of energy that goes in creating a CD, and you guys went far beyond what we did.

I take back my statement that this CD doesn't deserve a 5.0 rating. It does, but for its total and complete "perfection," the fact that I don't get much of the human feel to it bothers me.
Jonathon Long
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Re: Soundproof

Postby billhare » Sun Sep 26, 2004 1:24 pm

ELandau wrote:I would have to admit that my reaons for the omission would have less to do with the music itself and more to do with how I want a cappella to be represented as a musical style (i.e., I wouldn't want this person to think of a cappella as a bag of studio tricks). But do I think that person would be blown away to hear a track from this album and discover that only voices were used? Absolutely. EL


*edit...re-reading this post, it reads as if I am yelling at Elie here, which I definitely am not - just pointing at examples, all in good spirit of debate*

While I know what you are saying, and myself being one of the main instigators of atrocites against vocal music, let me say this - all the tricks in the world will not cover up a lifeless performance, bad arrangement, poor musicality, wrong interpretation, or just plain bad material. A Cappella (a very misleading name, which isn't a style, means many things, yada yada from many posts previous) is still evolving, finding and reinventing itself not only in the pure vocal sense, but also its "idealized" sense as well. I have been part of this process for almost 2 decades now, and am proud of some of my pioneering work. To see young engineers like Gabe, Dio, JC, et al come after me and complete the slaughter is very gratifying, as well as challenging to keep me on top of my own game!

You'll also see that when you look at us sonic destroyers, you'll find very active, participating members of the A Cappella Community - the same can't be said for most professional producer/engineers out there who are just working on whatever sessions come their way to make a buck. We're just applying our own art to something we care about.

And we're not going away (at least I hope not! ;-)

In your review of the House Jacks' "Unbroken" album you mentioned that my presence was a little heavy-handed. This is very true, because I was *allowed* to become the 6th House Jack for that project. So, the techie stuff on the album is MY voice, and I don't get to fully use it often. We tried to record in the same spirit as the Beatles did - purposefully incomplete ideas to be built and finished spontaneously in the studio, breaking any rules we felt necessary to get to the means - I feel we achieved that goal somewhat, and also fell short in other areas, but overall I'm extremely proud of what we accomplished.

Speaking of that - for those of you going to SoJam - I'll be teaming up with the House Jacks (who are also headlining SoJam this year) for a seminar - a tour through the making of this album from both sides of the glass - it's gonna be really fun and informative. If you're coming, make sure to review "Unbroken" a few times and see if you can guess how certain things were done - all secrets will be revealed! :-)

Hmmm, drifted off the original point of my post... time to go now, though... off to Disneyland!!!! :-) :-) :-)

-Bill

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

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Postby sparkleytone » Sun Sep 26, 2004 5:55 pm

bill hare said:
Speaking of that - for those of you going to SoJam - I'll be teaming up with the House Jacks (who are also headlining SoJam this year) for a seminar - a tour through the making of this album from both sides of the glass - it's gonna be really fun and informative. If you're coming, make sure to review "Unbroken" a few times and see if you can guess how certain things were done - all secrets will be revealed! :-)

Hmmm, drifted off the original point of my post... time to go now, though... off to Disneyland!!!! :-) :-) :-)


sweet lord...thats worth $35 right there.
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yikes

Postby gabrielmann » Sun Sep 26, 2004 6:19 pm

hi folks
gabe here
happy to see so much activity online during my short break here in miami for a little yom kippur action accompanied by a cute little hurricane...

i have a few thoughts inspired by the hubbub over the logarhythms' latest album about a cappella production in general, thoughts which probably haven't changed much over the last 10 years or so.

caveat: i haven't heard this record, nor probably will i, unless somebody sends it to me, and even then... but anyway.

UH OH, IT’S MAGIC
a cappella music is just music. music succeeds, in recorded form, for various reasons. great song, great performance, passion, beauty, elegance, intricacy, visceral power, art. without one or more of these ingredients (and probably some others), recordings are just exercises. what keeps listeners coming back for more is this other level, the MAGIC of music. i look back at old off the beat recordings from college and know that they’re not as impressive as some more modern a cappella recordings. still – there was magic there. some of those performances just captured something, some excitement, a great lead vocal, great singers, whatever. magic. not eardestroying massiveness, but magic nonetheless.

SCHOOL’S OUT
college is a time when people are exposed to new things, things they can choose to be deeply involved with, things that have the potential to change the direction of their lives. that happened to me, for sure. i was so enamored with the process of recording music with off the beat that it’s all i ever wanted to do. and i’m sure that some of the logarhythms are just as fascinated with making records as i was. that’s really what making these recordings in college is about, i think. the hang, the process, the fun. and if you wind up with something to hang your hat on and give to your friends and family and maybe some people who you don’t even know, that’s just icing.

PROTOOLS IS JUST A TOOL
look at the cover art for this album and you'll see what i think is possibly the best and worst thing to happen to music in the last 20 years or so. the ease of modern recording (e.g., protools) has made common the idea that a studio is all you need to make a record. i can’t tell you how many people i know that have their own equipment, and therefore think they are engineers, mixers, producers, arrangers, whatever. it’s kind of like buying various kinds of mechanic’s tools and trying to fix cars by trial and error. making records (and fixing cars, i imagine) is part craft, part art. what it is not is part technology. the technology of recording has been and always will be a means to an end. protools is as easy to use as a word processor, so more and more people can do it easier and easier. but that doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. just because i have a word processor doesn’t make me a novelist. there’s nothing wrong with trying to write something if you’ve got the tools, or with making a record if you’ve got them either. but the physical capacity to do something isn’t what makes that thing great.

i’m really not attacking the logs, or any other group that makes their own records. i think it’s a wonderful thing that college kids can spend their free time making their own albums. but i will say that the experience of making a record shouldn’t be about getting bogged down in technology. it should be about music, about passion, about performance, and about getting that on “tape.”
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Re: Soundproof

Postby rebecca » Mon Sep 27, 2004 6:12 am

cmasone wrote:Also, Rebecca...you say that the album reminds you a lot of Code Red...How come this album still gets a 5 for creativity and innovation?

-Chris


Probably the biggest factor for me was a sense that this album was a big innovation for the people that made it. It's a big, big leap from Songs from the Bagel (which I reviewed back in 1995 - I'm reviewer #3). It's also a huge step forward from Superlogs. Also, I liked this album -- I thought it hung together well, had good energy and a strong vision. When it comes to creativity, especially for college albums, vision counts for a lot.

I didn't find the studio-ing on Soundproof nearly as intrusive as on Code Red. I think it's because I liked the Logs' sound better. With the caveat that I haven't listened to either album in quite a while, I think I thought the Logs had better voices and also chose a more pleasing timbre for their processed sound. Purely subjective, but there you are.

For what it's worth, I loved Unbroken, one of the few a cappella albums I've actually bought in the past five years. Great sound, great vision, great originality that puts it in a league of its own. The music was so strong, it was obvious that vision was in charge rather than the technology. I felt the opposite about Code Red (though I still gave it strong scores). Soundproof was more in the middle, with an overriding sense of glee that made some of the tech-for-tech's sake easier to relate to.

my two cents. happy autumn everyone.

--rebecca
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Re: Soundproof

Postby cmasone » Mon Sep 27, 2004 7:53 am

billhare wrote:While I know what you are saying, and myself being one of the main instigators of atrocites against vocal music, let me say this - all the tricks in the world will not cover up a lifeless performance, bad arrangement, poor musicality, wrong interpretation, or just plain bad material. A Cappella (a very misleading name, which isn't a style, means many things, yada yada from many posts previous) is still evolving, finding and reinventing itself not only in the pure vocal sense, but also its "idealized" sense as well. I have been part of this process for almost 2 decades now, and am proud of some of my pioneering work. To see young engineers like Gabe, Dio, JC, et al come after me and complete the slaughter is very gratifying, as well as challenging to keep me on top of my own game!


Personally, I think of arrangements that are little more than transcription as bad arrangements. Or at least boring, and therefore mediocre. And I think that, for a lot of people, hott production can keep them from noticing that the background is lame and uninteresting.

And also, I don't think it's the engineers that are at fault for this trend. I think it's all of us who are making the music in the first place. If we bring in a song that has a really creative arrangement, no producer is going to say "well, can we take out all this new stuff you put in and replace it with naught save the guitar and piano parts from the original?" But, if a transcription is all we bring them, and then we ask them to create something that sounds good and close to the original, guess what they'll do?

I dunno. I just think that creative arrangements should get more props than they sometimes do...I mean, if an 8 measure transcription of Hott in Herre can get nominated for best arrangement (even the arranger was surprised by that one), what's the outside incentive for working harder to create better work?

-Chris
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Re: Soundproof

Postby MMY » Mon Sep 27, 2004 3:19 pm

cmasone wrote:I dunno. I just think that creative arrangements should get more props than they sometimes do...I mean, if an 8 measure transcription of Hott in Herre can get nominated for best arrangement (even the arranger was surprised by that one), what's the outside incentive for working harder to create better work?


Personally, I agree that creative instruments often don't get enough credit. The "Hott in Herre" example can be really discouraging to arrangers (such as you and me), but I strongly disagree with the comment about outside incentive. While awards are great and I highly respect organizations such as CASA, Varsity Vocals, RARB, etc., using those as incentives for striving to be a better arranger seems to be a pretty messed up way to look at things.

Do filmmakers make movies for the incentive of winning an Oscar? I'd like to think they do so because they love making films and want to entertain an audience. (And the same goes for almost anything in the entertainment industry, I'd say). Similarly, I try to come up with creative arrangements because I love making music and sharing it with the world. As hokey and cheesy as that may sound, I really think that using "awards" as an incentive for trying to improve your work is a pretty horrible one.

Then again, this doesn't mean I condone the fact that some awards given out in the a cappella community seem completely unfair and biased. Nevertheless, these things are decided by people in a committee who have their own thoughts and opinions on what constitutes "great music". Of course not everyone is going to agree with them. Who thinks "Titanic" was really the best movie of 1997?

Again, awards are great forms of recognition or whatever, but in the end, who really cares all that much? If you make great music, people will listen. THAT, to me, is what really matters.
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