A capella music places the human voice front and center. It throws out instruments and synthesised sounds leaving vocals in a raw form or layered in lush harmonies. The Yale University students who make up a capella group A.Squared are taking the paradigm, and pushing it in an experimental direction: all sounds originate with the human voice, but performances also utilize Push, Live, and Max for Live for on-the-spot effects processing and live loop layering. Take a listen to A.Squared’s gorgeous cover of James Blake’s “Retrograde” below, then read on to hear from group member Jacob Reske on how it all works:
How does an A.Squared performance work? What is the role of the singers, and how are the voices processed?
We're a 6-person electronic vocal group: five singers and one beatboxer/producer with a Push (that's me). I write all of the arrangements and do production; I'll often co-write the songs with the singers. Here's the basic concept: using Ableton Live to augment the human voice, live and in an ensemble setting.
So we're just like your typical six-person vocal group, except that each of our members has the power to loop their voices and add effects in real time, individually. What we're interested in doing is exploring that grey area between vocal and instrumental music, using software as a tool to facilitate that exploration. But we want to still work within the a cappella tradition, as all of our singers (and a lot of our audience) come from that style. So, to that end, we've adopted some of the same constraints on our music that a cappella musicians usually have: 1) everything is made with the voice (no instruments), and 2) everything is performed live.