Tag Archive: pentatonix

Avi-Kaplan-152x152I have to admit, this entire post I owe to Pentatonix and especially my personal favourite member Avi Kaplan. And not just because he looks like my son (No, really, follow that link). Though, if not for Avi, I would not have had such an awesome chat with my son tonight.

We were (as is common in our house) watching Pentatonix videos (and some episodes of Superfruit). We watched “Thrift Shop” and I had no choice but to go to Avi doing the line on Helium. I (like many others) thought of the potential horrors of what it’d be like to hear Avi on Sulfur Hexafluoride. For those unfamiliar… most if not all of us know that helium makes us sound like cartoon mice… or Verne Troyer. This is predominantly because Helium is 6 times lighter than air and the air from our lungs as a result travels across our vocal chords differently. Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6) however is 6 times heavier and effectively has the opposite effect on the voice. It gets lower and almost demonic in sound.

So, we’re looking on YouTube at SF6 videos and Aiden spots one about a Koosh ball in Liquid Nitrogen. So now we are onto Science Part 2.

I take Aiden out to dinner and we talk about the boiling ‘water’ and the exploding Koosh ball.

We talk about Solid, Liquid, and Gas. I really have to credit the science he is learning in school already. He has a good understanding of the three states, their differences, and how they transition. He also explained gas by mentioning the O2, CO2 exchange between animals and plants. (Not in those terms,but he understood the basic idea)… So we talked about Nitrogen being lighter than Oxygen on the periodic chart (yay iPhone app) and steel being lower on the chart. And as a result (for the most part) Lighter elements melt and ‘boil’ at different temperatures. After awhile he asks why water isn’t on the chart and I tell him that water is made up of different elements from the chart. I tell him that there is an Oxygen and that an Oxygen is so “large” that it can fit 2 “Hydrogen”. Much like the Carbon is so big that it can fit 2 Oxygen. (Yes, I am well aware, thank you)… He understands what “Di” means from what we’ve discussed and from the word “DiOxide” I explain that Oxide means that the oxygen is working on something else. (Yeah, I know)… He works out that Water is Dihydrogen-oxide. I am very proud that he understands this. I don’t think he will remember these details for school.

At this point I explain that all of this is Science. The Helium, the voice change, the gluing elements together to make molecules, the Nitrogen and how it can be a liquid and boil so fast and why they HAVE to wear gloves. I tell him that there are SO MANY different sciences. Chemistry, Organic chemistry (anything with Carbon), Physics, Biology, etc. He is gobbling it up. I explain that science is effectively learning and finding rules. We talk about di, and tri, he volunteers tricycle. I explain that I have an automatic quadrocycle. He figures out I mean a car. He points out that he isn’t allowed to drive because he’s too young. (We’ll skip the scary math where he joyously and I terrifyingly realise that at 8 he is half way to driving age) I explain rules. I tell him that the time has gone by quickly and the next eight years will go even more quickly. He doesn’t buy it.

At this point he asks me if I know so much because I am a TimeLord. (Something I purport to him regularly. I love the fact that he doesn’t buy into Santa Clause, but he carefully scrutinises the possibility that I am in fact a TimeLord. (Which between you and me… is in fact true 😉

I explain that of course I am a TimeLord and will demonstrate it for him by controlling time and making it go more quickly. We are at FiveGuys so of course… peanuts. I tell him to carefully watch me. I want him to take in everything I do. I remove a peanut, I carefully shell it, I peel back the paper wrapping around the legume. I pop it in my mouth. He even volunteers that I took a lot of time doing that. I took out 3 more peanuts and put them in front of me. We talk about science some more and how the whole restaurant is filled with science. While we’re talking I eat the 3 peanuts. I don’t rush through it. I ‘take my time.’ As I finish the last one… I interrupt him and show him the pile of shells. He is agog.

“How did you do that so fast?!?!” I explain… TimeLord and I’ll teach it to him when he’s older (as he sure isn’t going to grasp perceptual time as an 8 yr old)

As we head out, he says that he loves being around me because I make things. I know Science. And I answer questions. He says he also loves being around Mommy because I make things out of electronics and she makes things out of paint. (I add: And wire, and boxes, and any other clutter she can find 🙂 I explain to him that there is one thing that she and I made together that I consider the greatest piece of work we have ever made. How we started on it about 9 years ago and finished it just a few months over 8 years ago. We love the work, we look at it every day, we take care of it, we hug it. And with this Aiden realiees I mean him. He said he thought that I was initially talking about something electronic or artistic. I told him, I was.

On the way home he notes that it’s night. I explain that the quickest way from night to morning (when he gets to open his lego advent catalogue) is to sleep. He asks me the ever wonderful question “Why do we dream?” This one I have to improvise on. I explain that the body does not shut down when he sleeps. He takes “body shutting down” to be death. (not entirely wrong). Then I explain autonomic functions. (Breathing, heart beating) Effectively the brain doesn’t sleep. It runs the automatic processes. One of which is to sort thru the whole day. (Yay myelination) I explain that the briain sort of sifts through all the experiences and knowledge and observances like when he sifts thru his lego. Sometimes he gets an idea and scoops a bunch of different pieces together and tries building something but then takes it apart because it wants to move onto something else. He asks why he can’t remember them. I explain that the brain cleans up to make room for the new stuff coming in the next day. “You need more room… so you can get more stuff” – Carlin. I explain that’s why I ask him to clean the room. I even explain that the brain throws things out to make more room. It makes sort of a reference to it, but doesn’t keep the details. He remembers the vacation when we took the picture that’s on my phone home screen. He knows he was a baby, but doesn’t remember anything about his baby pictures. I explain that I don’t remember more than a picture of two from when I was his age. I further it by explaining… I have something like 46 years of stuff in my head. Under my breath I say, “Not ‘like’ 46 years… actually literally 46 years. Sigh. Then we move onto the next question… What about nightmares. He posits that the brain wants to scare the boy and enjoys it. I follow the metaphor with how sometimes the brain finds something it doesn’t understand, or like, or scares it. And it goes into the little structure and you don’t realise how scared you were of it… so it makes for a scary dream.

We get home and he looks at me and asks “How do people make their voices higher and lower?” I tell him, this is a very good question and he should go up and change and I will show him when he comes down. He asks if it’s going to be a video (hopehopehopehope) I say no (awwwww) but I will do it right in front of him. He heads off and I go looking for a rubber band. (Gum band *shiver* for the locals around me) I am unable to find one, but I find string.

Aiden comes down and I show him the string and pluck it. I tighten it and it gets higher. I shorten it, it gets higher. Aiden knows that you breath against your vocal chords to make sound. Now he understands that shorter means higher and stretching means higher as well. The Helium and SF6 make more sense for him as well. I also tie the string into a circle and stretch it like guitar strings. I pluck one and the other vibrates. I also try to demonstrate why singing and speaking on an inhale really don’t work. And then… the coupe on the grass. (sic) I show him the biggest set of vocal chords he has ever seen. I have a huge set in a huge wooden box. I keep 44 pairs of vocal chords. We look into the piano. Aiden notices the short end and the long end. He realizes that the low notes are at the end where the longer strings are. I talk to him about Avi and how his vocal chords are very long and very loose. I explain how stretching your vocal chords in warm ups is like stretching the muscles and loosens you up, so your voice drops. I also explain that since he is growing, so are his vocal chords. And then it’s onto the PeterBradyesque manner that his vocal chords will readjust one year. Likely in about 4-5 years.

By now it’s bed time and I’m enjoying what we talked about…

No… you know.. my thoughts on this kind of a conversation with my son…


“This is freakin’ awesome!”

Well, what’s left?

As I have admitted, I watched episode 2 before episode 1. So I saw Pentatonix earlier than the others. Their first song alone had me falling out of my chair in amazement, bewilderedness, and above all, a HUNGER for more. How they do this and why they move into my first position will come after the analyses of the songs:

“E.T.” – (Signature) (iTunes, YouTube)
I was not familiar with this song. This added to the feeling that I can only define as, “I have never heard a sound like this.” A lyric tenor, a baritone with a high lift, and a woman with range hard to place. They each have their own sound and yet can get into tight harmonies in the same octave that personally I think is on par with the sound that Lennon and McCartney stamped all over the Beatles. But then you add in a very deep bass with a sense of harmony not merely rhythm and a beat box that produces sounds that you just don’t hear in Acapella that adds not just sound but dramatic character and you have an entirely new sound. More on these tight harmonies later.

“Your Love is My Drug” (Pop) (iTunes, YouTube)
A pounding rhythm and bass that sounds like an electronic track. Tight harmonies between the two high voices. Again placing a voice like Chris Colfer is not easy. And these voices just blend. You actually lose track of who’s on back up vocals because they stay the same regardless of the lead. And then the surprise. The beatbox not mearly sounds like he spins down the record, but the whole group follows in one motion. All the sound comes to a record stop. The song then goes VERY free form. Again… a sound I have NEVER heard. Now this was the song that Pentatonix has singled out for getting too far from the original. The judges didn’t take well to it. Shorter digression:


It is better that this hits Pentatonix here for two reasons: It’s earlier and it’s not as well known a song. You take Grapevine, and the later Pentatonix performed Video Killed and these are very huge classics. I think one can say that the average listener of “Your Love” has likely heard the other two songs and either loves them or hates them. The converse doesn’t hold and that works in Pentatonix’ favour. The average fan of Grapevine or Video Killed is more likely than not to have NEVER heard “Your Love is a Drug” which will afford them more leeway with audience buying them for the songs they know that do follow the three Rs.


“Piece of My Heart” (60s) (iTunes, YouTube)
This was a huge risk on the group’s part. Janice Joplin is a land mine of expectations. Not the least of which is taking a song of Feminine empowerment and giving the lead to a man. This was about as far as Pentatonix has gone from their core sound. The song works okay for them but they are at their best when they are bringing a song up a notch into a new realm.

“Video Killed the Radio Star” (Guilty) (iTunes, YouTube)
I honestly don’t know where to start with this. The magic of the backing vocals changing between people effortlessly shows here. This is the song where you really get the feeling that there are more than 3 primary voices in the group. Again the beat box brings in new sounds to an old classic while giving the utmost respect and reference to the original.


So what is it about Pentatonix that puts them in first place in my eyes.
Well my battery is almost dead but when I return there will be what I call a nearly endless arsenal of weapons of music construction.

Let’s go with the obvious ones First:

1) Avi Kaplan – Not merely a bass but one who has melodic control. The Bass is often relegated to the background. A strong bass is the foundation. An unbelievable bass is one that adds character.

2) Kevin “K.O.” Olusola – A beatbox that produces sound that add character and compliment to the music. Rhythm is more than just adding drum sounds. It’s adding the right drum sound or not-a-drum sound at the right time. K.O. finds sounds that compliment the songs to provide not just the rhythm, but the tone of the piece.

1&2 together) Often the bass does one thing; the beat does one thing, and sometimes they go into unison. Avi and K.O. have a penchant for creating and performing collaborations. Bass and Beat worked together to create a specific sound that would be “Wrong” if not done that way together.

1 & 2 – Did I mention they both sing on occasion to fill in parts?

3) The remaining 12 vocalists, all three of them.

In the early eighties a three sister a capella group called “The Roches” did a rendition of “The Hallelujah Chorus.” This wasn’t the best performance in the world or the cleanest voices. But the three voices were so matched in their harmonies that the lead changes would disguise the backing vocals flipping parts. You were never quite sure who was on which backing harmony and as a result you mentally heard more voices than there were.

Listening to “Video Killed” you really lose track of who is doing the backing harmonies.

4) Scott Hoying – A strong Baritone with a controlled tenor lift, bass drop, and soft falsetto. More often than not Scott is the front man on melodies. Hoying’s ability to move between ranges lets him instantly mesh with either of the other two vocalists on backing vocals.

5) Mitch Grassi – A high lyric tenor with an almost Chris Colfer sound can be a curse. In this case while it can be; it isn’t. Pentatonix makes very wise choices as to what will fit Mitch’s voice both in backing and in lead. Again, like Scott, his range makes his blends in the back effortless.

6) Kirstie Maldonado – Experienced with complex harmonies, a soothing alto and a powerful soprano prove as always that the biggest things can come in very small packages.

4&5&6 together) Bouncing off each other’s range, they effectively create harmonies that truly weave their voices. You’re never really sure who’s doing the backing vocals. I mentioned earlier concerning Lennon and McCartney. One of the strongest things they gave the Beatles were those intertwined vocals. They were unmistakably one and only one band. I think these three do this for Pentatonix.

Did I mention that they also sometimes fill in on the beatbox and the bass?

There truly is no sense of ego here. Everyone does all the heavy lifting, everyone will back away from the spotlight. Everyone has a job and knows it’s a team effort.

And then there’s the sound they create. It is not evolutionary it is revolutionary. Pentatonix takes the genre of A capella to a new realm. The judges describe them as ‘delivered from the future’ to ‘teach us how it should be done’

Pentatonix for me is the clear winner, because they are ALREADY working at a level that I’d expect from a group with a recording contract.