Awesome A Capella
September 14, 2006 11:17 AM   Subscribe

UCLA's Awaken A Capella does some strange, beautiful things with the power of combined human voices. From Ave Maria to Mr Roboto, their oeuvre spans the spectrum. More clips, including Like a Prayer and Walk Like an Egyptian, available on their MySpace page. Their version of Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek," available through KCRW's daily podcast, is sublime.
posted by gottabefunky (42 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'd pay good cash money to hear these kids cover "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "Zombie Jamboree."
posted by pax digita at 11:23 AM on September 14, 2006


Why is there always a great music link posted the minute I have to listen to and edit my program?!
posted by parmanparman at 11:28 AM on September 14, 2006


Man that's pretty awesome.
posted by jonson at 11:28 AM on September 14, 2006


Wow, these guys are good.
posted by Vindaloo at 11:36 AM on September 14, 2006


See also: The Magnets! All made with the human voice alone, I can guarantee.
posted by klaatu at 11:36 AM on September 14, 2006


And 'Zombie Jamboree' used to be one of The Magnets' live mainstays funnily enough...
posted by klaatu at 11:37 AM on September 14, 2006


If this is your bag be sure not to miss The Bobs, specifically their grammy nominated version of Helter Skelter
posted by prostyle at 11:37 AM on September 14, 2006


Actually, they screw up a quite a few of the chord structures of Hide and Seek. I've lived with Imogen's version intensively, and I hear every deviation. And every one is like a little acid raindrop, building to a really distracting and corrosive whole. Plus a few moments are wrong in the pacing. Nice enough if you don't know or love the original, but abrasive if you do.

I gotta give them credit, but a little more analysis would have served to make a truly faithful rendition that would have been absolutely stunning.
posted by BlackPebble at 11:41 AM on September 14, 2006


Is there any way that I can listen to Hide and Seek without iTunes?
posted by pantsrobot at 11:42 AM on September 14, 2006


pax digita: I don't know who you owe the cash money to, but here: Bohemian Rhapsody, Zombie Jamboree

The links in the left-hand nav on their home page are messed up, but by applying kRazy hax0r skilz you can reach a list of mp3s from four of their albums.
posted by dammitjim at 11:43 AM on September 14, 2006


See also Björk's Medúlla.
posted by damnthesehumanhands at 11:44 AM on September 14, 2006


pax digita: zombie jamboree
There's a list at http://www.awakenacappella.com/mp3s/
posted by pantsrobot at 11:44 AM on September 14, 2006


beaten by 1 minute:(
posted by pantsrobot at 11:45 AM on September 14, 2006


AAC are really good, but I think they're cheating a tiny bit -- aren't they using a vocoder or something? It makes sense to do that with "Mr. Roboto," but "Egyptian" didn't really need it.

On preview: My first exposure to "Zombie Jamboree" was on Spike Lee's PBS special "Do It A Capella" (link with sample clips) back in the day.
posted by pax digita at 11:48 AM on September 14, 2006


pantsrobot -- thank you muchly!
posted by pax digita at 11:48 AM on September 14, 2006


If you look at the home page for Awaken A Capella, they have a donation link to help defray the cost of recording their next album, so that's where my good cash money'll go. :o)
posted by pax digita at 12:05 PM on September 14, 2006


I have to mention Vocal Sampling (each word has a link). The first band I heard of this sort.

They are quite impresive because they play Cuban music, so they combine the "awesomeness" of only using voices with great, great rhythm. In the album shown in the second link there is a song called Congo Yabumba, it's the most impressive vocal thing I've heard, but I couldn't find samples online.
posted by micayetoca at 12:07 PM on September 14, 2006


I gotta give them credit, but a little more analysis would have served to make a truly faithful rendition that would have been absolutely stunning.

I think it's stunning that they're doing a live rendition of the flangy, backwards delay effect (and whatever other effects) that Heap uses with just clean vocals.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:30 PM on September 14, 2006


And this is a video to a Zap Mama radio performance at KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic. Except for a guitar, a little percussion and a piano in one of the songs, it's all voices.
posted by micayetoca at 12:33 PM on September 14, 2006


Direct link to KCRW's podcast (no iTunes required.)
posted by eyeballkid at 12:39 PM on September 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


I've lived with Imogen's version intensively, and I hear every deviation. And every one is like a little acid raindrop, building to a really distracting and corrosive whole.

"...to tear the flesh, to wear the flesh, to be born unto new worlds where his flesh becomes my key."

i heard the differences too, but i think it's amazing that they pulled off what they did. great link.
posted by django_z at 1:13 PM on September 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


This made my day, thank you.

And django, thank you for the unexpected reference to one of my favorite SNL sketches ever.
posted by PlusDistance at 1:20 PM on September 14, 2006


What BlackPebble said (although with less acidity to the raindrops).

They definitely jiggled some of the chords which, I have to say, is the only thing that always grates on me when it comes to a capella.

If you look at a capella versions as arrangements of your faves (not covers), it helps somewhat, but many a novel a capella experience has soured as they (by necessity of their instrument or accident) deviate from some layered auditory construction I've come to accept as "original." Somehow, that hurts more than a "cover" whose goal is to re-imagine the whole work.

Short version: small changes appearing as mistakes bad, large consistent changes good.
posted by abulafa at 1:22 PM on September 14, 2006


Any a capella groups out there that do Tuvan throat-singing?
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:24 PM on September 14, 2006


While I noticed the differences in "Hide and Seek," I was even more impressed with the fullness of the sound and how well they emulated huge studio production in the original. Fantastic.
posted by lekvar at 1:25 PM on September 14, 2006


i'm no fan of acapella, but these guys, doing a daft punk song and a sufjan stevens song kept me pretty entertained.
posted by chr1sb0y at 1:57 PM on September 14, 2006


Of course, if you're hearing pretty much the same arrangement but the different voices of an a cappella group other than the one who originally did the song, it can be a refreshing view of something you already know and love. Thanks to Awaken, I noticed things I never did in Rockapella's "Zombie Jamboree." I wish I could find y'all an .mp3 for comparison purposes, but I'd have to Gnutella for it.
posted by pax digita at 2:02 PM on September 14, 2006


Urgh, point taken on the pain of hearing a poor rendition of a song you like. That Daft Punk cover was unpleasant to my ears.
posted by bullitt 5 at 2:19 PM on September 14, 2006


aren't they using a vocoder or something?
pax digita, listen to some of the samples on BrotherCaine's link--I think it could be done without any enhancement.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:29 PM on September 14, 2006


"Ave Maria" was so great it would have made the Pope's eunichs weep.
posted by leftcoastbob at 3:33 PM on September 14, 2006


quoth chr1sb0y:
i'm no fan of acapella, but these guys, doing a daft punk song and a sufjan stevens song kept me pretty entertained.

By dumb luck I actually ended up at that concert. I was nonplussed when I was told that we were going to an a capella concert, but they won me over. The Daft Punk cover was actually way better than it sounds on that video.

They also sell CDs of their performances, if anyone is interested.
posted by omarr at 4:15 PM on September 14, 2006


No offense, but these guys (and girls?) sound no better than the a capella groups I saw 15 years ago in college. Sure, the songs are a bit newer (we got synth hits like Only You and Forever Young, plus "classics" like Hazy Shade of Winter and I Will Survive), but the sound is *exactly* the same.

It can be fun for a lark or if you've never listened to much a cappella music, but I burn out *very* quickly. I'd much prefer a crappy recording of the original song, imho.

If they're lucky, they'll end up with a Folger's Coffee commercial. (Point taken that they likely sound much better in person.)

Best of College A Capella 2006. "The Scientist" is a good a capella selection. "Let's Get It Started"? Ewww.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:12 PM on September 14, 2006


Heh. I have sang that arrangement of Ave before. Nice find.
posted by Big_B at 5:26 PM on September 14, 2006


Thanks to MrMoonPie, who gave me a heads-up about this post. I've got a particular soft spot for Zombie Jamboree since an impromptu dance to another version of that song was a big part of the moment in which I realized that I needed to marry onlyconnect.
posted by NortonDC at 5:32 PM on September 14, 2006


Any a capella groups out there that do Tuvan throat-singing?

There's some general messing around with overtone singing on Toby Twining's Shaman, as well as at least one tune ("Himalaya") that has the low chanting.
posted by weston at 7:12 PM on September 14, 2006


They're good, okay, but to me, it doesn't really sound any better than other good college-level groups, and not as good as some pro groups. Between this and the okay guys on America's Got Talent, I feel like people are just discovering the genre and going "omg anything a cappella's great!1!!"
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:38 PM on September 14, 2006


If you have never heard it (or even if you have), go listen to the clips from Todd Rungren's A Cappella... from 1985. All sounds are his voice alone or run through digital processing. It is an spectacular experiment into what can be done with voice as an instrument, not to mention that it contains some of my favorite songs ever.

(Note: The clips for Hodja and Pretending to Care are switched.)
posted by Enron Hubbard at 4:58 AM on September 15, 2006


i'm always astounded by the ability of a capella groups to take gritty, slurred, dirty pop music and arrange them so they fit on a score with straight eighth notes. they use the purest choral enunciation, basically ruining one of the core appeals of rock 'n roll.

the imogen heap song is pretty, and the arrangement is pretty good, but they've totally changed the song. not just by using a dozen voices instead of one processed voice, but they've also changed the tuning system -- listen to both songs and theirs is not in the same temperament. one of the cool things about vocoders is they end up giving you Just intonation -- an aspect totally lost by singers doing it.

now, barbershop quartets would be a different story... :)
posted by teletype1 at 5:38 AM on September 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Great link, thanks!
posted by Colloquial Collision at 7:37 AM on September 15, 2006


Compare the Tufts Beelzebubs version of Mr. Roboto: more minimalist and faithful interpretation.
posted by plinth at 7:43 AM on September 15, 2006


That version of the Ave Maria is by Franz Biebl, and is one of my favorites. Thanks!
posted by carlitos at 10:31 AM on September 15, 2006


they use the purest choral enunciation, basically ruining one of the core appeals of rock 'n roll.

I'd agree that the Heap cover suffers from a number of problems you mentioned, but this is not one of them. The enunciation and vowels in that piece are something no good choral director would let them get away with.

about vocoders is they end up giving you Just intonation -- an aspect totally lost by singers doing it.

I have my doubts that a keyboard-controlled vocoder would produce just intonation, since keyboards are in fact generally equal temperament instruments. And it's certainly possible to do just intonation with an a'cappella group: the human voice, like other instruments with extremely fluid pitch control, can in fact lock in intervals with ratios more precisely in an appropriate harmonic series (ie, just intonation) at least in the hands (or throats) of the well-trained. Thus, a really good choir can actually produce something of the resonant buzz I think people are associating with Heap's recording. The problem with Awaken A'cappella's cover isn't that they're not using a vocoder, it's that as good as they may be, I'm not sure they're even quite as in-tune as an equal temparement instrument gets.

Of course, how Heap got those notes to buzz so well with the vocoder, I'm not sure. Maybe I'm wrong about the assertion that keyboard-controlled vocoders do equal temparement -- maybe vocoders are smarter than I'm thinking. Or maybe we're all just so used to poorly-tuned singing that precise equal temperament sounds awesome. :)
posted by weston at 10:38 PM on September 20, 2006


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