Tag Archive: a cappella

  1. Aca-scuse me? Aca-Tsui!

    Leave a Comment

    Sam Tsui ’11 is living the dream: After graduating from Yale, the YouTube sensation moved to Los Angeles and started a career in music that has already led him on a tour across Asia and spawned two full-length albums. It turns out he was perfect while he was at Yale, too, juggling roles as a campus tour guide, member of the Duke’s Men, classics major and all-around dreamboat. He picks up the phone while stuck in L.A. traffic on his way out of a session at the recording studio and talks to WKND about Yale, stardom and life on the West Coast.

    Q: So you were a classics major here at Yale. If you hadn’t gone into music, what would you have done with that?

    A: Classical Greek, actually — I didn’t think just classics was specific and useless enough. The plan was always to go into music. It was what I loved and why I came to Yale: so that I could pursue my weird academic interests and also take part in the great music scene. The plan was always music. If I hadn’t done it, I guess I might have gone on, gotten my Ph.D. in classics or something, taught and gone into academia. I still do love it.

    Q: When did you know you wanted to go into music full-time? Was it scary?

    A: I had always planned to, in a general and vague sense. From when I was very young, that was the assumption, even though initially I thought maybe I’d do musical theater or be a music writer or something like that. But there was a moment when I actually came to realize that that big, general dream was actually, in the practical world, coming true. I guess the pivotal point was graduating from Yale and deciding where I was going to move, and the fact that I chose to move to LA, where I’d officially be an independent musician out here — that was the moment of choice. I was super lucky that by that point I’d already built up this following online and had a support system of managers and people who knew what they were doing. Graduating from school and coming out here was the “Holy shit, this is real” [moment].

    Q: How has your vision for yourself and your music changed since you started out?

    A: One of the most exciting things about being in music, especially right now, is that the entire industry is in such a state of flux … Everyone’s vision of what form this whole world is taking has changed a lot in just the past couple years. Obviously when I first moved out here, in the back of my head I thought, “I’m gonna move out here, I’m gonna get signed to a big record label and I’m gonna tour and put out albums.” One of the coolest realizations I’ve been able to make is that right now really is an age for independent musicians. The tables are turning, and it’s in a lot of artists’ best interests to be independent. I’m very lucky that I get to go into that with this incredible fan base and awesome social media presence. I have a lot more agency personally, which is very cool.

    Q: How was the experience of getting famous different because it was via YouTube, and you were still a student?

    A: It definitely changed my day-to-day experience of it. It was so different. New Haven is not LA, and YouTube and the digital space already kind of allow someone to connect with people around the world, even though your day-to-day is not necessarily anything like that. You’re going to school, you’re in this bubble, and yet all of your content is being viewed by millions of people all around the world. Initially, it was very jarring to be a student and be going to classes and a cappella rehearsals and going out to Toad’s and whatever, and meanwhile there was this whole world of content online that I was putting out and at the same time concurrently building this whole brand. So at first it was very strange. It’s still weird just because a lot of what I do, and what a lot of us in this space do, is we’re with our team making our videos and doing our stuff at home, and yet to be stopped on the street or to go on tour — it’s like, oh yeah, this stuff we’re doing that feels like it’s on a very microcosmic scale actually has a life of its own.

    Q: How did other Yalies react to your newfound fame?

    A: As stuff started happening, as we got to be on Ellen and all these things, I think the reaction from most of the people who just knew me as Sam from the Duke’s Men or from classics was a lot of loving teasing, like, “Oh, you’re doing your videos again,” and all that stuff. But then it was funny that there was one newer class who didn’t know me before [I got famous], and they came my senior year. I was a tour guide, and on the tour they would be like, “Oh my god, I’m such a big fan,” and there was no irony in it — they just kind of appreciated what I was doing. Whereas everyone else was like, “That’s just Sam, doing his YouTube thing.” But always in a loving way, of course.

    Q: What is the most surreal moment you’ve had since becoming famous?

    A: This summer I did a tour in Asia, and we had a show in Hong Kong. My dad is from Hong Kong, and I still have a ton of family members over there. Obviously with college it becomes harder to visit Hong Kong, because it’s on the other side of the world, so I hadn’t been for a handful of years. There were a bunch of cousins, aunts and other people that I just hadn’t seen for a long time. So to get to come back and see them in the context of, “Oh, I’m a touring musician, here, come to my show,” and to have them show up and [see] thousands of screaming fangirls — it was super surreal to get to invite my family to that. Especially being the half-Asian kid, there’s that element of bringing honor to my family that was awesome. I got to be like, “This is what I do.” My dad and mom and brother flew out to Hong Kong for the show as well, so it was like a family reunion.

    Q: What was it like getting to do the YSO Halloween show cameo last year? You’re up there with the likes of John McCain and Woody Allen.

    A: Oh my gosh — yeah, that was super cool. Likewise, it was one of those surreal moments where [the Halloween show] is just something that I have so much love for; it was such a part of my college experience. So to get to be considered by my peers and colleagues as someone that would be worthy of making that kind of cameo is awesome.

    Q: If you could go on tour with anyone, who would it be?

    I’m a huge fan of Jessie J. She’s, like, my favorite ever, so I would say her. To get to go on tour with her would be awesome. [Editor’s note: this interview was held before this year’s Spring Fling lineup, including Jessie J as the headliner, was announced. WKND is crossing its fingers for a guest appearance.]

    Q: What advice would you give to Yale-student you?

    A: It’s going to sound super cliché, but seriously just taking advantage of all the talented people around you and all of the resources. One of the reasons I was able to do what I was able to do is because I had access to Yale’s recording equipment. So there were resources on a practical level. But it’s also the one time in your life where you’re just surrounded by a critical mass of insanely awesome people. And I think going into the real world, and coming to LA, as much as I love it — that is definitely something that is not quite the same. There isn’t this constant energy or creativity and being surrounded by amazing people who are making you do your best work. So just doing as much as you can. That being said, I look back at myself and all the nights where I’d just chill and watch Netflix at my apartment and think, I should have been doing more things. But I guess that’s always the case. You can always do more.

    Q: What is the best New Haven pizza spot?

    A: Everyone likes Sally’s and Pepe’s, but they’re so far from campus that I went to each of them, like, once. Yorkside was my go-to. I think it was just a sentimental thing. I can’t tell you how many nights after Duke’s Men rehearsals, we went to Yorkside and just got buffalo chicken tenders or whatever. I guess I’m biased. I guess if we’re talking pizza I’d take my family to, [I’d say] Bar. Yeah, let’s say Bar. Maybe I’ll sound cooler if you say Bar.

    Q: Why did YOU choose Yale? [Tsui, along with Allison Williams ’10, appeared in the notorious “That’s Why I Chose Yale” admissions video.]

    A: I did a summer program at Yale when I was in high school — I took ancient Greek at Yale the summer after my junior year. I was that kid. I was such a nerd. But I just fell in love with it. [And] I really do believe that Yale has the best undergraduate arts program of all the Ivy League schools. The fact that I could be part of this old, historic classics program, and also be part of this vibrant a cappella scene and do the Dramat shows — there was just such a culture of creativity that I found to be way better than anywhere else.

    Q: The newest Whiff class was tapped this week. What advice would you give them?

    A: Believe it or not, I didn’t do the Whiffs. I was in the Duke’s Men for three years, and then I technically graduated a semester early. Since I had done summer session, I had enough credits. I was totally torn at that moment, because doing the a cappella thing as a guy, you’re like, “Of course, the Whiffs — that’s why everyone’s doing all these a cappella groups.” But at that point I had momentum with all the other stuff I was doing, and I couldn’t afford to take an extra year off. That was definitely the hardest decision I had to make at Yale. I definitely am glad I moved to LA, but I was super bummed I couldn’t do it. So my advice is definitely do it if you can.

    Q: Would you ever come play Toad’s?

    A: Oh my God, I would absolutely love to. That is one thing I’ve talked to my agent about — definitely on my next U.S. tour I want to come and play Toad’s. That would be so awesome. I did a tour two summers ago and we played [a smaller venue] in New Haven that was a little ways from campus, and it was the summer so no students were around. So my mission since then has been to make a show at Toad’s happen.

    Q: So like, Master’s Tea by day, Toad’s by night?

    A: Yes! Yes, that would be the dream.

  2. Kevin Olusola ’11: Beats Outside of the Box

    Leave a Comment

    Kevin Olusola ’11 and his a cappella group, Pentatonix, are in the middle of a sold-out American tour, and when that wraps up, they are headed to Europe. His group’s videos can garner over 6 million views in less than a week, and their channel is the 16th-most subscribed music channel on YouTube. His “celloboxing” videos, in which he combines classical cello playing with popular music and beatboxing, consistently go viral. But before any of this happened, Olusola was one of us — a Yalie. After coming back to campus to give a TEDxYale talk before a packed Sudler Hall on Tuesday, Olusola sat down with WEEKEND to discuss his journey from pre-med student to star musician, his mission to make classical music relevant again, and what it’s like to be on Sesame Street.


    Q. Were you involved in music at Yale? Did Yale a cappella shape your decision to get involved with a cappella at all?

    A. I didn’t do any a cappella here, to be honest. I was in YSO and a chamber music group, and I started a jazz trio my senior year. And you know what, I think I’m actually glad I didn’t do a cappella in college, because if I had done that, I wonder if it would’ve given me a preconceived notion of how a cappella should be. With my band, none of us really had that much a cappella experience, so we came into it with very fresh ears. We thought, we don’t know what a cappella is like, but let’s try anything and everything. Not having any boxes set up really gave us the opportunity to push boundaries, cause we didn’t know we were pushing them. We were just doing whatever felt natural. So I didn’t do it here, but I think it turned out to be something that might have benefited me in the end.

    Q. At your TEDxYale talk, you discussed making classical music more relevant by adding elements of pop. Does that mean classical music has to change to be relevant today?

    A. Wow, that’s a tough question. I think that if we use the same formula that we’ve always been using, I’m not sure if people will see it as relevant. One really cool thing I’ve seen is these YouTube videos of orchestras out in squares in Europe playing for people, and the people are like, “This so cool.” I think there has to be way where we bring classical music to them. People are distracted by so many different things nowadays, there’s gotta be ways to grab their attention. One way is taking orchestra pieces and adding something to them that people can understand or relate to, like beats. That’s what I tried to do with “Julio,” [the piece I played for my first viral video]. I tried to take this piece that was more of a modern day classical piece, but add beats, to give it a swagger that I thought people could relate to. I don’t know if it’s things that have to change about classical music itself, but we have to shove it in people’s faces so they can see it, and say, “Wow, I didn’t know this was cool, that it was something that could be relevant to my life.”

    Q. What do you think makes Pentatonix different from other musical groups on YouTube? Why are you guys so successful?

    A. I think what we’ve done is realize that people want a more organic sound. In today’s industry, pop music is so electronic, so drum and base heavy, so auto-tuned. I think there is a good amount of people that want a more raw, organic sound. I think that’s what we provide, but we also do it in a way that people can understand and relate to. Also, there are a lot of vocal acrobatics. We try to create moments where people say, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe they did that with their voices.”

    Q. Tell me about the decision to get involved with music right out of Yale. You were pre-med when you came in — those are very different tracks. Can you talk about that decision-making process?

    A. I actually finished all my pre-med requirements at Yale. But during my junior year, two big things happened to me. First, I did a competition online that Yo-Yo Ma hosted, called the “Celebrate & Collaborate with Yo-Yo Ma” contest. I got second place, and Yo-Yo Ma said my music was “inventive and unexpected,” and that was very surprising to me, because I think that’s the essence of who he is as cellist. The second thing was that I got to open for KRS-One, this old-school rapper, after he visited Southern Connecticut State. He came backstage after we were done, and he said to me, “You could continue this. You could really change the way people view hip hop.” That was when I realized that two people on completely opposite sides of the music spectrum were telling me something very similar, which was that the music I was doing was very different and very cool. That gave me a lot of validation and strength to pursue music.

    Q. Was it scary deciding to do music instead of going to medical school?

    A. It was very scary. I don’t know if that’s something that you’re taught at Yale — how do you pursue something like music? It’s such an open-ended question. The only thing I knew was that I had a very unique vision of how I wanted to do that – I could do this cello and beatboxing thing, and I knew that was kind of special. What I’ve learned is you need a team to be successful in this industry. You can’t do it alone. You always need someone to watch your back. That’s why we have a manager and all these people that help us make this work. They give us so much advice from other people’s experiences about how to pursue this.

    Q. Do you think Yale’s environment, where so many people go into consulting or more traditional paths, was conducive to your decision to pursue music?

    A. You know what, I do think so. There are definitely a lot of people who go into consulting, law, medicine or more traditional paths. But I know for myself, even though I was on a traditional path in medicine, I definitely explored. That’s why I love this place. Yale has the resources to make things happen, and if they don’t have it here, then you have to be willing to push for it — but that’s just a trait in life that you need. In the long run, pushing for it, and making those things happen, will help you out in whatever career you’re in. Whatever you want to do here, you can make it happen. It just might take some exploration at the end of the day.

    Q. Do you have any advice for Yalies who want to go into music, or any other more unconventional track?

    A. If you’re trying to do music, I would say start looking within yourself, and find who you are and what kind of stuff you like doing. Hone in on those unique gifts you have in music. And start putting your stuff on YouTube — it’s a free, amazing way to get your music across and start building your own fan base. If you want to be an artist or producer, you can show so many people who you are. That’s what I did, and that’s how I got to meet such cool people like [renowned record producer] Quincy Jones and the people in Pentatonix.

    For people pursuing other unconventional paths, I would say really learn and figure out how people do things in that industry. That’s one of the things that has really helped our band: not just being passionate, but having a tailored passion. We understand that we want to get this music across, but we want to do it in a way that everybody can enjoy it. That’s why we choose pop covers, because we know that’ll get a wide audience. But we’re also passionate about doing music in our own way; that’s why we do a cappella, which is very unconventional.

    Q. You guys have done a commercial which aired during the Grammys, you have a sold-out tour, you’ve been on Sesame Street — what has been the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do?

    A. Definitely Sesame Street. Oh my god, literally, I almost cried. Because the thing is, those Muppets, they don’t break character. The whole time, while they were talking regularly, they were talking in the same voice. I was screaming. I was so happy. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Touring Europe was also a huge moment, because it’s cool to know that just because of YouTube, we had a fan base that could sell out venues in Europe. This time we’re going back and doing venues upwards of 2,000 people, and selling them out, only because of YouTube. That’s crazy to me. I just love this band. I literally love every single person in it. They mean so much to me.

    Q. What is your musical guilty pleasure?

    A. Justin Bieber has this new album called “Complete My Journals.” This thing was actually dope. After hearing it, I was like, “OK, you better grow up,” because it was great. You’ve messed up, but that was great.


    Correction: Mar. 7

    A previous version of this article mistakenly stated the piece Olusola performed as “Julio.” In fact, the piece is called “Julie-O.”


  3. a.squared Remixes This Business

    Leave a Comment

    a.squared doesn’t just want to tell you what they’re doing; they’d rather show you. The little musical family includes six main performers and a whole host of production team members. Their YouTube channel allows viewers all around the world to watch as they use the computer program Ableton Live to remix a cappella, right as they sing it. When they’re not lovingly bickering over which roles they each occupy in the a.squared family (is DJ a father figure or more of an older brother?) or slyly avoiding reporters’ questions about their secretive post-spring break plans, they’re all happy to tell you that a.squared is the best thing they’ve done at Yale. WEEKEND sat down in the studio with music director Jacob Reske ’14, vocalists (and newly tapped Whiffenpoofs) Jackson Thea ’15 and DJ Stanfill ’15 and producer Emily Bosisio ’16 to hear all about it.  


    Jacob Reske

    Q. Tell me a little about a.squared.

    JR. We are a group that started back last February. It’s a group that I started, Emily Bosisio was the first person to sign on and then we got a couple of singers on the way. Our initial roster was five singers including myself — I don’t really sing with the group very much, I do beat boxing. They’re all still with the group and they’re all still awesome. I got really really lucky when I got them. We have a shtick, we have a thing. Everything we do is made with the human voice, and everything is live, but we make electronic music with our voices. So we remix a cappella, live.

    Q. Is there an improvisational element at all or do you know exactly what it’s going to sound like before you start?

    JR. We actually go back and forth between those two things. We start out by improvising. That’s our main go to. But once it gets into the program, it’s very, very precise. So it’s this weird dichotomy between the improvisatory nature of the beginning and at the end, when you basically have to be at a certain bar at a certain time when you’re doing a performance.

    Q. What is your role in a given performance?

    JR. On the project, I do all of the production. So I write all of the arrangements of the songs — and co-write a lot of them with DJ. Then I program in everything that has to happen in the song — like, at this bar, this effect has to switch on and this loop has to switch on and this person has to, you know. You just tell the program, line by line, exactly what it’s supposed to be doing. And then in the performance, I do percussion, which is really fun for me, and I’m in the back with this guy [gestures at piece of equipment]. With this machine you can control everything about the program without actually looking at the computer monitor. A way easier way of saying that is I kind of DJ the show and do some of the percussion and the beats, and then the singers perform the material.

    Q. When did you start working with this combination of electric and a cappella? How did that come about as an interest for you?

    JR. The second that this idea came to my mind was the second that my old choir director in high school told me, “You can’t do that.” I was in an a cappella group in high school and we wanted to make an album. I produced the album and I had no idea what I was doing, at all, and I actually did all the mixing in Ableton Live. This is a program designed for electronic music, it’s not designed for a cappella music — so I’m in Ableton and I’m adding an overdrive, or asking what would happen if you put a phaser on someone’s voice. And I sent it to my choir director, and he’s like, “What are you doing?” and I’m like, “I don’t know.”

    Q. How did you come up with the name?

    JR. Hanoi [Hantrakul ’15, an a.squared collaborator] and I were in linear algebra, and we were just kind of sitting around being like, “A? a.squared?” I can’t remember anything other than wanting an A in the name, because I have synesthesia, and when I think of this project I think of yellow, and A is yellow to me. Weird thing, it got retconned — like when the facts get altered after the fact. In the first article published about us, they were like “a.squared is Ableton and a cappella,” and I was like, “That was pretty clever.”


    DJ Stanfill & Jackson Thea

    Q. What are your roles within the group?

    JT. Of the guy singers, I’m the tenor, or the highest singer. I’ve helped with some arrangements, but only inasmuch as running them through and kind of thinking about them during rehearsal.

    DS. I sing the part right beneath Jackson, so of the guys, I’m the middle part. I’m on both sides of the process so I do a little bit of the vocal stuff and I do a little bit of the electronic stuff. But most of the electronic stuff and the arranging is left to Jacob, and I’m like a mirror for him to bounce ideas off of.

    Q. So there are six of you total?

    JT. Yeah, so of the singers it’s Paul [Holmes ’13], who’s the bass, Nimal [Eames-Scott ’15] who I guess would be the baritone, second lowest; then DJ, who’s second highest; then it’s me who’s the highest guy, and then Keren Abreu ’15, the girl, so she can sing higher.

    DS. And a lot of us switch around parts. There are times when I’m above Jackson and Jackson’s below me, for whatever reason.

    Q. How would you describe your genre?

    DS. Well, considering our repertoire can’t be more than 12 songs at this point, it’s hard to say. But I think I would say — this isn’t what we’re going to be doing, we’re going to be doing different stuff, almost as a point, this semester — we’ve lived in this ambient, electronica, down tempo, chill, R&B vibe. If that makes any sort of sense.

    JT. With a touch of EDM.

    DS. Yeah, there’s a touch of EDM. There’s a splash of all electronic genres you can pretty much think of. I mean obviously not all of them cause there are thousands. But a lot of everything.

    Q. Do you have any specific plans for the rest of the semester, song-wise?

    JT. In terms of songs, we’re working on one right now, I don’t think we want to reveal it.

    DS. Yeah, let’s not reveal it.

    JT. [laughs] Sorry!

    Q. What’s the most important thing for people to know about a.squared?

    DS. The thing that I want everyone to know at least about a.squared is the fact that no matter what people think it is or what it’s construed as, it’s literally just five to six best friends making music that they like to make. And all of us just hang out. Rehearsal is literally just like — we’re brothers and sisters. We bicker, argue and spend half of rehearsal laughing — and the other half is spent making really incredible music, no matter the outcome. That’s the thing that not everyone might realize — it’s fully in the spirit of Yale. A full blown collaboration among best friends, doing what they want to do because they want to do it.

    Q. Any specific favorite moments?

    JT. For me, musical moments — there’s this one lyric in “Holocene.” It’s after the drop goes in. It’s at 3 minutes, 51 seconds. And we’re all just singing really loud.

    DS. And Jackson sounds really good.

    JT. It’s so fun!

    DS. He’s belting an A-flat.

    JT. It’s just one of those moments where everything melts away and you’re like, I am so happy. It’s cathartic.

    DS. My favorite moments are every time Jacob comes in at the beginning of rehearsal and he’s like, “This changes everything!”

    JT. Every rehearsal he’s like “[gasp] Guys I made this amazing new thing!”

    DS. Since this shit has never been done before, it can be done in a multitude of ways. Jacob comes in and he’s like, I found these four new ways to have one person do an entire drum set with their mouth. You never know what to expect.


    Emily Bosisio 

    Q. What is your title, and what is your role in the group?

    EB. My official title is executive producer — I actually joined the team with them last March and was just behind the scenes. Last spring I was doing scheduling, stuff with CPA [Creative Performing Arts] funding, OBT [Off Broadway Theater] and doing marketing stuff, Facebook and Twitter. All of that behind the scenes. Now we’ve expanded our team to where we have more people on the production side.

    Q. How do you think a.sqaured fits into the rest of Yale’s musical scene? Do you think it filled a gap, or just invented a new frontier?

    EB. I think that Yale does provide space for innovation. I don’t think a.squared necessarily filled a gap, but it created a new category. As far as how it fits in with Yale, these singers are obviously ridiculously talented. Jake is absolutely brilliant, and our creative designer Asher Young ’17 is absolutely brilliant as well. What I think a.squared does very well is bring in people from all different aspects of Yale, not even just the music culture, but in general, including the talent within this industry. It brought us all together which is really cool, because we all work in different areas.

    Q. Do you have specific hopes or plans for the future? Long term, short term?

    EB. We definitely have short-term things that are coming up. We have new releases that are going to be coming out within the month. We also have plans for the semester while all of us are here. As far as long term goes, we are really excited just to see where a.squared takes us. I feel like this project has a lot of potential, and we could be really surprised at what opportunities come our way.

    Q. I know you guys have a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Has social media been helpful in this process?

    EB. Social media has been insane in this process. Initially we just wanted to just have our presence online. We were expecting to connect within the Yale community via social media, but what’s really amazing about the Internet is we just put this stuff out there and we’ve had people from all over the world connect with us. We had a guy from the UK remix “Holocence” and post it online. We’ve had people in Colorado ask us about going on tour in Colorado. It’s just incredible the scope of how far our stuff has gone, which is really cool. We’ve also connected with TouchAble, which is the app that we use in the “Retrograde” video. The company saw us on Twitter and saw our videos and reached out to us. We have people from all over the country and all over the world following us on Twitter and waiting for our new stuff to get released. It’s just really exciting that the Internet and social media have allowed us to start creating a fan base and bringing them together.

    Q. Do you have any specific favorite moments, either social or musical?

    EB. The moment after our concert at OBT was absolutely incredible. It was one of those things where even the day before, we were like, “I’m not sure if this is going to happen.” And months before, I couldn’t even imagine what it was going to be. It was just so much work, and we all put so much work and heart into this thing. What was really cool about me not being a performer was that once that concert started, I just got to sit there and witness all of that hard work paying off, and it was just absolutely phenomenal. I cried at the end, because it was beautiful. That would have to be my favorite moment of all of us together so far. It changed the way I look at anything I do.

  4. Man, Machine, Music

    Leave a Comment

    “All this fuss over nothing / reinventing the wheel,” they croon. They’re seated in a semi-circle — the focal point: a tablet glowing green and blue on a table. The stage is dark. The beat stutters and thumps. Their voices soar over static, computerized snaps and clicks.

    And A.Squared, Yale’s newest a cappella ensemble, has truly reinvented the wheel. Founded in March by Jacob Reske ’14 and Emily Bosisio ’16, the group has created a new genre of unaccompanied singing, collaborating with various electronic guest artists. The members, including Jackson Thea ’15 and DJ Stanfill ’15 of the Duke’s Men, wear jeans and sneakers, headphones and baseball caps — eschewing singing groups’ typical bowties and tailcoats and gowns. They don’t snap or sing Adele arrangements. With a little technological magic (that is, the music software Ableton Live), the singers modify their voices into nearly unrecognizable clips of sound. They remix; they improvise; they turn a lilting phrase into alien chatter or the whirr of an overworked laptop. Katrina Ungewitter ’16, the sound designer, loops voices on voices, altos on tenors, sopranos on basses and the results are jaw-dropping: a chilling cover of James Blake’s “Retrograde,” a smoldering remix of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.”

    Performing in the Off-Broadway Theater, A.Squared made a debut so thrilling that even my mother, who calls any song produced since 1985 “computer music,” would have hooted and clapped. Asher Young’s ’17 projections and lighting were perfect — a backdrop of fluorescent bulbs that flashed and glowed to the beat. Golden lights shimmered as A.Squared sang an obligatory Bon Iver cover. “I was not magnificent,” was their Auto-Tuned lament. Maybe not, I thought, but you’re damn close.

    Original tracks were even better. Ayanna Woods ’15 sang “The Master,” an infectious, low-key ballad. Woods entered the dark stage alone, fiddled with the tablet, hands and shirt shining red and yellow. A few seconds of chanting. Then, beat-boxing. “I can’t find myself when I’m with you,” she murmured over a thumping beat. “I can’t stand to sit on a shelf and drink across from you. If it wasn’t you, it’d be someone else.” But A.Squared’s performance wasn’t all mellow. Later, Keren Abreu ’15 laughed as she introduced a collaborative piece written with Gabe Acheson ’16: “It’s called ‘Wasted.’ No, not like that.” She picked up a microphone and began looping the first phrases of the song. Amplified by electronic editing, these phrases built upon themselves, and into synth-like beats and hooks. Backlight by a bright white light, Abreu danced and bobbed to her own polyphonic creation.

    Of course, like any a cappella ensemble, A.Squared couldn’t avoid some pitfalls: occasionally, the angelic humming grew excessive. A few songs felt stale — deconstructed thudding and swaying beats can only do so much. Both Blake’s “Retrograde” and “Fool’s Gold,” an original by Stanfill, were wistful and slow, and, together, almost indistinguishable.

    Still, A.Squared had a youthful charm, and the resilience to bounce back from what can be traditional a cappella stumbles. When A.Squared faced technical difficulties, the music stopped and a few people coughed, the performers were unfazed and charming. Ayanna Woods told a joke: “What do you call a nosy pepper? Jalapeño business.” Even the frattiest boys in the audience chortled. Members and guest artists made a play of their awkward dancing, twitching along to the computer music. They sang a cover of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” and exchanged laughing looks.

    In their final song, a lively take on Kanye’s “See Me Now,” A.Squared and their guest artists bounced along to the beat. Christopher Tokita ’14 played Kanye, rapping with a smile and perfect delivery. We do indeed see you now, A.Squared. And we can’t wait to see you again.

  5. Yale LGBT alumni association releases music video

    Leave a Comment

    Yale’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Alumni Association (GALA) has released a colorful new video in an effort to promote its second reunion this February.

    The music video — which was arranged by Ben Wexler ’12 — features an a cappella medley that includes a range of songs associated with the gay rights movement, including “Over the Rainbow,” “I’m Coming Out,” “Like a Prayer” and “Prove It On Me Blues.” The video was directed by Charlie Polinger ’13 and includes nine segments, which each showcase a different song and dance.

    “I wanted to make something that celebrated how far Yale has come in accepting and celebrating the LGBT community,” Polinger wrote in a Saturday email. “We did a lot of research into the aesthetic, genre, tone of each of the songs Ben selected and then found ways to apply those to the Yale campus.”

    The segments were filmed in varying locations around campus, with “Love on Top” filmed on the roof of The Fence Club and “Like a Prayer” filmed in an archway. In total, the video featured 39 performers.

    The video has already exploded on the Web, with over 19,000 hits on YouTube by Nov. 10. In addition, it has been picked up by BuzzFeed and the popular LGBT blog Towleroad.

    “I’m so glad so many undergrads seem to be enjoying the video, but it is especially rewarding seeing that alumni, those perhaps most affected by the content of the video, really love it as well,” said Katherine Nelson ’13, the video’s producer, in an email.

    If the music video’s fabulously over-the-top choreography and brightly colored costumes are any indication, GALA’s reunion should be, as Towleroad dubbed it, “a gay old time.”