When you think of a cappella music, there are certain things that come to mind readily: barbershop quartets, the do-it-yourself Messiah, street corner doo-wop. It’s fairly unlikely that the first thought to come to your mind would be Pink Floyd.
Nevertheless, Jon Krivitzky thinks it’s a great match. Krivitzky has taken Pink Floyd’s groundbreaking 1973 album, Dark Side of The Moon, and arranged it for a cappella performance. With the help of producer and vocal percussionist Freddie Feldman and seven other vocalists, Dark Side Of The Moon A Cappella will be released on CD on December 1, 2005 on the VOCOMOTION label.
“There is a huge array of sounds that the human voice can produce and reproduce,” says Krivitzky. “With the advancements in a cappella arranging and recording over the past ten years, it seems inevitable that someone would stumble upon the idea of applying these skills to the greatest concept album of all time. I wanted to get it done before someone else grabbed it.”
Krivitzky has a long association with a cappella music. He’s a tenor who has performed with madrigal and barbershop groups since his college days, and is currently the musical director and one of six singers in the Chicago/Milwaukee based sea shanty group, Bounding Main. His association with Pink Floyd is somewhat more recent.
“I’d love to say that I’ve been a Pink Floyd fan all my life and that this is the realization of a childhood dream. Sadly, that’s not the case.” Back in the early 70s while stoned teenagers around the world sought meaning in the hypnotic melodies and spooky, cynical lyrics of Dark Side, Krivitzky was graduating from strained peas to solid foods.
Still, there are few of those formerly stoned teenagers who know this music as intimately as Krivitzky does. He spent hundreds of hours listening to and transcribing the original album for vocal arrangement.
“It’s not only translating the notes to paper. Reproducing a guitar solo note for note is silly, especially when the instrument has changed to a human voice with all the nuances and capabilities inherent within. Singers need to sing words, and deciding whether to employ shohm or kong or djinn or in one particularly odd place wyeah can become as important as the pitches. Add to that the burden of keeping the parts within people’s vocal ranges and remembering that they occasionally have to breathe and, well, you’ve got quite a juggling act.”
Fortunately, Krivitzky was able to find singers up to the challenge among his former and current associates. Stephanie Lewin, Jennifer Feucht and Melissa Smithson came through the Consorte Bella Donna, one of the singing groups Krivitzky worked with for a Renaissance faire. They in turn brought in Chris Feucht and Dan Riley. Vocal percussionist Freddie Feldman came in through the “a cappella grapevine” and introduced Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler to the project.
Soprano Stephanie Lewin took on the daunting Great Gig In The Sky. Lewin says, “I introduced Jon to his lovely wife Tzvia, so I guess he owed me a cool project like this one. To me, the solo on Great Gig is one of the two quintessential songs in the album (the other being Money) so I was very intimidated to record it. I wanted to capture the essence of what Clare Torrey did without imitating it note for note.”
“Steph is possibly the most talented singer I have ever had the pleasure of sharing a stage with,“ says Krivitzky. “When she recorded the solo, she went into the booth and pulled the door shut behind her. She recorded three takes, and emerged twenty minutes later looking like she’d been through a thunderstorm. She kept nothing back; she gave every ounce of soul she had to give.”
Listening to the CD, it’s almost impossible to believe that every sound on it was made by a human voice, but producer Freddie Feldman is quick to put that question to rest. “No instruments, drums or any non-vocal sounds appear on the album. The drums, tick-tocks, airplane and explosion sounds were all made by my mouth. I’ve been a vocal percussionist for about ten years now. VP (vocal percussion) is like the beatboxing heard in rap and hip-hop music –- the difference is that VP is more imitative and realistic sounding.”
It is also difficult to believe that there are only nine voices performing this album. Feldman says, “All of the parts are overdubbed. We’ve got dozens of tracks playing at the same time at any given moment. Many of the parts are triple-tracked, which means we layered three separate takes of the same part over one another. It serves to make the sound fuller. There are almost no breaks between the songs, just as in the original album. We recorded everything in High Definition, so that we can do a 5.1 surround remix at some point in the future.”
Part of the legend of Dark Side of the Moon is its apparent synchronization with the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz (see: stoned teenagers –- who else would have noticed?) Feldman mentioned this to Krivitzky during the recording process, and Krivitzky ran with it. “We figured we’d only get one chance at something this big, so we thought we’d go full throttle. We matched the track times as best we could to the original, and when we tested it, it was a perfect match. I can't tell you how rewarding that was.”
Feldman adds, “We weren’t sure it would work. If you have the same amount of music in the same tempos, which vary throughout, then the timing should theoretically line up.”
One might conclude that, with an album of Dark Side’s stature, it would take a certain amount of hubris to attempt a project like this. Krivitzky himself says, “This is the ultimate concept album.”
But, he adds, “There is no album better suited to this kind of treatment. I definitely felt a strong responsibility to keep as much of the feel of the original as possible. I hoped it would appeal to a population that was already familiar with the material but had no experience with modern a cappella. I owed it to them, as well as to Pink Floyd, to take special care to preserve the magic the world fell in love with. It is only out of the utmost respect that I have taken this project on.”
Dark Side Of The Moon A Cappella is available for sale on the VOCOMOTION label, at darksidevoices.com for $12 plus shipping. It will also be available through CDBaby, Amazon, and A-Cappella.com, and will be listed in iTunes, Napster and other digital music outlets. Audio samples are featured on the darksidevoices.com website as well.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
11.17.05 @ 3:24p
Whatsherface Somebody did the a cappella thing to The Who Sell Out, recreating instumental sounds and everything. Weird stuff.
11.17.05 @ 3:26p
11.23.05 @ 12:30a
Go to the website and check out the audio clips, Mike. SO cool!!
11.23.05 @ 12:55p
Damn...yet another CD I must own. Vaguely reminds me of the Black Sabbath stuff done by Sabbatum...though they only had a few tracks that were a capella if I remember right. Steph is SO AMAZING, though, it'll be worth it just to hear her!
11.23.05 @ 7:57p
This really sounds cool. I'll be getting this one for Solstice.
12.5.05 @ 2:10p
Well, I got my official copy today and am listening to it all the way through right now. And it's even cooler than the preview clips would have led me to believe.
12.5.05 @ 4:46p
I dunno - it sounds interesting 'n all, but I'm not as big of a Floyd fan to care.
I think it's cool when people can make creative interpretations, tho.
12.5.05 @ 6:39p
Yeah, Trace, I think you'd have to have at least some familiarity with and fondness for the original to really get the most out of this version. However, for someone like me, who knows the original backwards, forwards and sideways, it was really neat listening to this, knowing what sound was supposed to come next and hearing how these singers interpreted and reproduced those sounds.
I'm really blown away by the whole vocal percussion thing. In theory, I get how the drum sounds can be made with the voice, but to hear what seems to be cymbals and bass and snare and KNOW it's not a drum... well, that's just really cool.
12.5.05 @ 7:24p
Erik and I just went to see the a-capella group The Bobs perform Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Four singers and a piano. It was pretty cool, as is their other, strictly a-capella stuff. The bass has the lowest voice I've ever heard, and the sounds they make are incredible to me.
2.4.06 @ 1:00a
Bump, with an excerpt from an email announcement I received today from Jon Krivitsky: "Dark Side Of The Moon A Cappella has been nominated for 2006 Best Contemporary Pop/Rock Album by the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America (www.casa.org). The CARAs (Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards) are the Grammies in the world of a cappella. There are four other albums nominated (all amazing CD's by the way) and the award will be announced on April 1st."
Congratulations and crossed fingers for Jon & Company!