10 Centuries of Music in 4 Minutes
October 16, 2014 9:40 AM   Subscribe

A cappella group Pentatonix offers us the Evolution of Music in four minutes. [playlist]
posted by quin (61 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
There is something profoundly irritating about Pentatonix's style of performance.
posted by Quilford at 9:44 AM on October 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


i think it is the smiles
posted by Quilford at 9:46 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


but their sound is stunning. I've been a fan ever since hearing their Daft Punk medley.
posted by jb at 9:48 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Needs more shape note.
posted by The White Hat at 9:48 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think it's the a cappella. (By all rights, it's a thing I should like, but it drives me absolutely bats; never could explain it.)

That said, yeah, great blend, and nice work on what seems to be a fairly challenging arrangement.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:50 AM on October 16, 2014


It's that Pentatonix are soulless automatons.

(I'm sure they are perfectly nice people and they are very talented but they are perfect robots, designed by the producers of The Sing-Off )
posted by FritoKAL at 10:04 AM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Clever little nod to how TV was black-and-white back in the 1600s.
posted by straight at 10:05 AM on October 16, 2014 [14 favorites]


There is something profoundly irritating about Pentatonix's style of performance...I think it's the smiles...

Yeah...in these straight-ahead videos, they have this disengaged attitude that makes their smiles seem so smarmy. They're not having any fun, or styling it to look that way.

It's a shame that the videos are off-putting, because the sound is often fantastic, and when they were on The Sing-Off, they were like this robotic mega-group from the future that was designed to blow us away with their singing. And that was fun.
posted by moviehawk at 10:07 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


How come the brother is the only one who doesn't get to sing and just "beatboxes"... profoundly irritating. And they more or less skipped the entire "HISTORY" of music in about 3 seconds, before getting to the pop cavalcade of the 20th century. Are they based in CA?
posted by ReeMonster at 10:09 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]




huh? designed by the sing-off? they came to the show with that style. they were instantly different than a lot of the school groups or church-style groups that dominate the sing-off. they might not be your cup of tea, but them appearing on a reality show doesn't mean the show designed them.

ReeMonster - a cappella groups often have a dedicated beatboxer and/or bass voice. they are usually the most important part of the whole ensemble, providing the rhythm that is missing if you just have all singing.
posted by nadawi at 10:12 AM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Literally 4:23 of 20th century music and 25 seconds of the other 9 centuries. Kind of misleading.

However, I was at a choir competition and one of the choirs did an amazing version of this track by Pentatonix.
posted by evilcupcakes at 10:13 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


They totally skipped over the pretty fascinating evolution of bel canto from its roots as a Norman penitence ritual.
posted by Flashman at 10:17 AM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


a cappella groups often have a dedicated beatboxer and/or bass voice.

Sure, in groups like Take 6 or The Persuasions the bass voice does a fair amount of singing and maybe some light "percussion" work, but whatever happened to snapping? Even the guys who've sung bass in Take 6 don't always do the percussion, at times other members the group will make percussion sounds. All I'm saying is, it was frustrating that for the entire four minute video, the dude did a mix of "WHOOOSH!" and "Boots and Cats" or other such things.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:17 AM on October 16, 2014


They skipped 5 centuries! The sound is amazing though, (Also, I think the 2 guys in the front are doing the percussion stuff together, although I could be wrong)
posted by marienbad at 10:18 AM on October 16, 2014


"Songs we happen to know arranged chronologically"
posted by empath at 10:18 AM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


What is irritating about Pentatonix is the same thing that is irritating about Pomplamoose and this video: the unbearable stench of smug "look at little old talented MEEEE" coupled with a deadly dose of preciousness.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:20 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


haha oh i forgot how much mefi in general hates pentatonix.
posted by nadawi at 10:24 AM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


There is something profoundly irritating about Pentatonix's style of performance.

Maybe is the dissonance in having an a capella performance that is heavily post-processed? (The Daft-Punk medley, particularly)

On the one hand, stripping a composition down to essentials reproducible with the human voice, while simultaneously running those voices through a machine-intensive pro-tools suite.


Also ... medley.

In a post "The Brady Bunch Hour" world, medley is a four letter word.
posted by atomo at 10:25 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've noticed the same thing - in earlier videos, they put on these fake smiles, then afterwards, their greeting to the fans is very lackluster. They are starting to get better at it. But those videos where they are having fun (watch their appearance on Sesame Street, both before and during the actual taping of the show) they are fantastic. I think they are moving away from the "straight ahead" videos because they are so hit and miss. The Daft Punk Medley is fun, as is "Thrift Shop", but others just fall flat. They actually play up their woodenness for one of their latest videos, "Papaoutai".
posted by LN at 10:26 AM on October 16, 2014


They skipped 5 centuries!

I thought with a name like Pentatonix that they'd actually be music nerds who wouldn't just take us from Gregorian chant straight to Pachabel's Canon (a woefully uninspired choice which instantly rendered them completely ignorant in my book), but would include the entire history of counterpoint from first and second species through free counterpoint and early polyphony. A more intelligent and thorough overview could've introduced some listeners to music they'd never heard before, from Perotin to Lassus, Monteverdi to Bach, Mozart to Beethoven, Schumann to Strauss, Ragtime to Blues, Jazz to Funk, Blues to Rock, Disco to Hip-Hop to Rap, Doo-Wop to Pop, the list of possibilities is never-ending. A missed opportunity, but I'm sure they'll keep smiling right up to their big appearances on The View and Dancing With The Stars, propelling them to astronomical YouTube views and Twitter mentions, the sly and subtle auto-tune correction giving their recordings a shining surface of artfully imperfect perfection.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:30 AM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


the unbearable stench of smug "look at little old talented MEEEE" coupled with a deadly dose of preciousness.

May I suggest, as an antidote, a bunch of fat, balding white guys?
posted by The Bellman at 10:36 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


ReeMonster: ouch.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:37 AM on October 16, 2014


Basically they have some kind of viral media advisor who told them the "History of Dance" has like 10 billion views and can they do something like that.
posted by empath at 10:37 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Some of y'all have really high expectations for YouTube videos.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 10:54 AM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


@Bellman: more a capella is hardly an antidote, especially white dudes singing barbershop, which is the wellspring from whence all of this horror crawled.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:57 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Four hundred years of Western classical music in nine minutes by the King's Singers. No beatboxing or post-production autotune, and they're enjoying themselves.
posted by Devonian at 11:24 AM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Once again, my policy of reading the comments first has saved me from wasting time on something which would have made me shudder.
posted by charlesminus at 11:24 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The segues are mediocre and abrupt, and I think that points to one of the problems I have with them: if they were figure skaters, you might give them high technical marks, but their artistry scores would be a lot lower. I've not listened to a ton of their performances--because I haven't enjoyed the ones I've heard so far, but if you've got a counter example I'd be happy to give it a listen--but the ones I have heard are pretty straight-up copies of the originals. The a cappellization process strips away all the "extras" of the original, they don't replace it with anything else new or creative, so what you wind up with are fair-to-middling pop songs that are less interesting--more fluffy, less grit and soul--than the original.

I actually like a cappella, though I'm not a huge collegiate a cappella groupie or anything. In my younger years I listened to Manhattan Transfer, The Nylons, The Bobs, even the Swingle Singers, for god's sake... I can and have sat and listened to Alex Boyé's a cappella (plus percussion) cover of Royals on repeat for an hour. For a cappella to succeed in my eyes, it needs to go beyond re-creating the original song using only voices and into the realm of creating something new.
posted by drlith at 11:30 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


What the beatboxer is doing here, e.g., is way more than "boots and cats." It sounds like you don't care for beatboxing much but this is actually a pretty impressive technical display.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:35 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


What the beatboxer is doing here yt , e.g., is way more than "boots and cats."

I said "boot and cats or other such things". Rahzell is basically a hero of mine, and I grew up listening to Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh. Awesome beatboxers are a dime a dozen these days. In fact, although it seems like I was knocking him, I was more on his side from the point of view that, unless they hired him STRICTLY to be the beatboxer, then it's a shitty way to use the fifth man for your vocal group. But in the end, virtuosic beatboxing isn't a monumentally unachievable goal.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:51 AM on October 16, 2014


unless they hired him STRICTLY to be the beatboxer

They did hire him strictly to be the beatboxer. The 3 people standing in the back were the original group, and they hired the bass and a beatboxer right before they auditioned for the Sing Off, to be a bass and a beatboxer. From wikipedia: "...and the trio found Kevin Olusola on YouTube, as one of his videos where he was beatboxing and playing his cello at the same time went viral (called "celloboxing".)" - presumably he wasn't hired to play the Cello.
posted by brainmouse at 11:56 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I stand corrected, but not so far as I still think it's a lame addition to a vocal group.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:01 PM on October 16, 2014


brainmouse: he plays cello in two covers they did with Lindsay Stirling (pop violinist).

as for being a manufactured group: they have definitely had added production value, but I've seen their youtube stuff from before their appearance on the Sing Off, and they were very similar (though lacking the bass and percussion, both of which are excellent additions).

The Daft Punk medley, being electronica, is very processed; their original song "Run to You" is less so. But I gather that they really like pop and electronica, and are having fun making pop (as opposed to plain chant or polyphony).
posted by jb at 12:22 PM on October 16, 2014


They actually play up their woodenness for one of their latest videos, "Papaoutai".

Has everyone seen this video of Stromae doing Papaoutai live with will.i.am? It's pretty fantastic. As is his latest album, Racine Carée, definitely worth a listen.
posted by Karmeliet at 12:32 PM on October 16, 2014


Also, I think the 2 guys in the front are doing the percussion stuff together, although I could be wrong

Broccoli Rob is the bass.
posted by rhizome at 12:41 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


they hired the bass and a beatboxer right before they auditioned for the Sing Off, to be a bass and a beatboxer.

Yeah, if you haven't seen The Sing-Off before, the vast majority of the a capella groups work this way where they have two people who are like the rhythm section: a bass singer and a beatboxer.

It's also pretty standard to have a moment in the arrangement where the "percussion" drops out and the beatboxer sings a few notes just to show that she can. And/or having the bass sing a few high notes to show off.
posted by straight at 12:54 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


more a capella is hardly an antidote, especially white dudes singing barbershop

But these incredible white ladies singing barbershop might be.
posted by straight at 1:06 PM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Not very well researched... there was quite a bit of change that went on in the 600 years that they summed up as being a madrigal and a bit from Pachelbel's Canon. Where's Gregorian chant into Ars Nova? Medieval into Renaissance into Baroque?
posted by Peregrine Pickle at 1:20 PM on October 16, 2014


But these incredible white ladies singing barbershop might be.

Holy shit that was awesome.
posted by grog at 1:22 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I thought with a name like Pentatonix that they'd ... include the entire history of counterpoint from first and second species through free counterpoint and early polyphony. A more intelligent and thorough overview could've introduced some listeners to music they'd never heard before, from Perotin to Lassus, Monteverdi to Bach, Mozart to Beethoven, Schumann to Strauss, Ragtime to Blues, Jazz to Funk, Blues to Rock, Disco to Hip-Hop to Rap, Doo-Wop to Pop, the list of possibilities is never-ending.

Not very well researched... there was quite a bit of change that went on in the 600 years that they summed up as being a madrigal and a bit from Pachelbel's Canon. Where's Gregorian chant into Ars Nova? Medieval into Renaissance into Baroque?

Oh my god, you guys.. I have never seen more ridiculous criticism here. It's a YouTube video from a pop group, not an academic analysis! They wanted to get to stuff the general public recognized before the public got bored and did something else.
posted by zug at 2:01 PM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Richard Thompson did it better. It's a lot longer than four minutes, but worth the listen.
posted by immlass at 2:03 PM on October 16, 2014


Kevin does sing a teensy bit on Little Drummer Boy.

At least as far as Sing Off goes, I think there being a single beatboxer at least has been pretty usual. Although that made me think of the only other beatboxer I've seen singing so far.

And now I am going to get lost in Youtube Sing Off videos again.
posted by Sequence at 2:36 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


@Bellman: more a capella is hardly an antidote, especially white dudes singing barbershop, which is the wellspring from whence all of this horror crawled.

We get it, you don't like a capella. Move on to a different thread.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:53 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Titling this as the "evolution" of "music" is all kinds of problematic.
posted by iotic at 3:26 PM on October 16, 2014


We get it, you don't like a capella. Move on to a different thread.

I wrote and deleted variations on this like six times before I finally just thought "screw it, he's a grumpy bear."
posted by The Bellman at 4:22 PM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


This was super fun, thanks for sharing it.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 5:06 PM on October 16, 2014


Plot twist: I founded an a capella group in college!
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:48 PM on October 16, 2014


I think beatboxing and singing go together perfectly well so I have no idea what ReeMonster is on about there, but I actually agree with him that their choices for pre-1900 music were really disappointing. I can get why if you're fundamentally a pop group, you might want to move through music history more exponentially than linearly, but being like "okay, we covered 1000-1900 in 15 seconds of music out of 4 minutes so it counts as 10 centuries!!" is gimmicky, especially when you throw in freaking Pachelbel's canon instead of any actual choral music from that time period (Josquin? Schutz? Bach? Handel? Brahms?). I can see why you might do this as a device in a concert, but as a standalone piece it doesn't really work.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:56 PM on October 16, 2014


Well, the whole thing is supposed to be "pop melodies you might recognize through the ages," so a bit of Gregorian chant, Pachabel's Canon, and the riff from Beethoven's 5th probably covers that first 900 years for most people.
posted by straight at 6:01 PM on October 16, 2014


Yeah that's why I think it'd work better at a concert, like, hey, they did that thing everyone knows, awesome - but as the main conceit of an isolated YT video I think it's a little thin.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:10 PM on October 16, 2014


At least as far as Sing Off goes, I think there being a single beatboxer at least has been pretty usual.

Yeah, in my experience, for groups that are covering a lot of pop-style modern stuff (which has a drummer), a beatboxer is de rigeur. Most pop tunes sound pretty thin without any percussion.

Some groups have strictly defined roles like Pentatonix does, and some pass things around a bit more free-form, with multiple people taking on beatboxing as needed. (Having more people in the group helps with this.)

Disclaimer - I'm in an 8-member coed group that handles things the latter way, we have a few different beatboxers, and we play fast and loose with SATB depending on individual ranges and the needs of the song.

Also, kind of funny aside, there was a period there where we jokingly were convinced that PTX had a spycam in our rehearsal or something, because several times as we were finishing up an arrangement and prepping to make a Youtube recording, PTX came out with the SAME SONG. (Royals, Thrift Shop, Say Something - but I suppose that's the peril of trying to be current, there's only so many songs in the popular consciousness at any one time...)
posted by Tknophobia at 7:36 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I really love a cappella. I don't know why I hate Pentatonix, but I do. My friends all go on and on, and I just don't like any of their stuff.
posted by greermahoney at 11:12 PM on October 16, 2014


May I suggest, as an antidote, a bunch of fat, balding white guys?

Yeah, but I'd rather listen to The Persuasions.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:07 AM on October 17, 2014


I feel early music got exceedingly short shrift. Not to mention punk. Which they didn't. Bah.

No, they're great.
posted by Decani at 5:08 AM on October 17, 2014


For those of you who think PTX is all slick post-production, here's a performance of the original song "Run to You" without production -- or mics.

And for those who find them devoid of personality, watch a couple videos from "Superfruit," the stream-of-consciousness pop culture vlog from members Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 6:58 AM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


i feel like if you dislike edm and edm inspired pop, you're probably not going to like pentatonix. they're doing a pretty specific thing and it's a style that a lot of (especially older) people don't like. it's not what you expect when you hear something is going to be a capella. i wager that's one of the reasons they've sold over half a million records, though.
posted by nadawi at 7:24 AM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


At least as far as Sing Off goes, I think there being a single beatboxer at least has been pretty usual. Although that made me think of the only other beatboxer I've seen singing so far.

In Season 3, my favorite group was the Dartmouth Aires, who came in second to Pentatonix. Michael got most of the praise and attention, but Brendan, when he wasn't soloing (also), was often beatboxing, particularly later in the season after they had lost a base to grad school. Also, if I'm going to mention the Aires on Singoff, I'm required to link this performance.

And now I am going to get lost in Youtube Sing Off videos again.

You are my kind of people.
posted by booksherpa at 8:29 AM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh god, the Dartmouth Aires got JOBBED. That Sympathy For the Devil/Born This Way mashup they did was the most perfect performance I have seen - you can see in the closeups of some of their faces right after they finish, like they know this is lightning in a bottle, they may never create something this perfect ever again.

And the judges didn't get it. If you don't get that mashup, you don't deserve a cappella.

As much as I joke about PTX, I like them okay. But my preferred 'made it due to Sing Off' group is probably Streetcorner Symphony. I love their cover of Down On the Corner.
posted by Tknophobia at 8:45 AM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


my favorite star to come out of the sing off was ruby from the collective (admittedly, not the best a capella group) who is maybe better known as jack white's duet partner in love interruption.
posted by nadawi at 9:01 AM on October 17, 2014


Here is some a capella I can get behind.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:15 AM on October 17, 2014


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