Friday, February 25, 2011

Glee Thinks All Space Is Star Wars / From the Phantom Zone

Due to the vicious plague I contracted somehow (licked a pole on the C train?), I recently found myself on an unprecedented TV bender that included a couple of episodes each of Glee and American Idol, and ended with the (53rd Annual) GRAMMY (Award)s (show).

Which brings me to the subject of today's blog.

Glee, you make me want to punch teenagers. First of all, nobody goes to a competition called "sectionals." Did any of the writers on the show even bother to learn the basic vocabulary of the choir world? A choir competes in All-County, All-District, and perhaps they can go to "Regionals" or "State" competitions. In the context of music, a "sectional" is when the different sub-sections of a larger ensemble break off to rehearse their specific part. Like, the alto section has a sectional rehearsal. [It took me four seconds to find this on Wikipedia.] A correct usage would be the teacher walking into the room and saying "OK, guys. Remember that today we're breaking into sectionals, so grab your folders and get going." They also never encounter written music of any kind (??), have a multimillion dollar budget (I had $400 a year + whatever we made selling candy bars), and an invisible choreographer, costume designer, arranger, producer, several mix engineers, and a music licensing agent. Whatever, whatever, fine, I get it, it's an episodic musical on TV.

But still, I watch that show and the words of Cletus Spuckler and his friend say it best: "You know, one hillbilly has his way with one fat guy in Deliverance, and suddenly, people think that's all hillbillies do. I suppose you think all space is Star Wars!"


But the fact is, after 20 minutes of any of the above shows, I yearn for the rough 'n' shoddy sounds of the Country Bear Jamboree. And the real reason isn't the complete lack of basic research done by the show's writers, it's the over-production. It's not just Glee, it's...just about everything that makes it to the radio or TV and ends up in my iPod's gym mix.

I can suspend reality and roll with the shallow characters and over-the-top story lines. Sure, it's kind of fun. But listening to the canned vocals, the flat compression [THE WORST], the autotune, the pitch correction, the time correction, the sterilization of all emotional nuance (leftover are only power, cutsie-ness, and cheese, but that's my next blog entry) in the sound — that's what really sets me off.

It sounds like everyone on the show (and on the radio) is singing to us from The Phantom Zone.

WHY?? Is it just because we have a lot of sliders, buttons, and effects that we have to crank them up to 11? Are quality and authenticity of sound not something addressed in audio schools?


  1. I think part of the blame here rests with American Idol, which has taught huge sections of the tv-watching public what "good singing" sounds like, and it's pretty much all about power.

  2. Craig has a point, but even beyond TV , the way radio asks for audio that is formatted and compressed is rapidly changing the way people "listen" (I won't even address how compression tires the brain that has to reconstruct the "missing parts" lost in the process). I find it very similar, in a dangerous way, to women's magazines defining unattainable standards in physical appearance making generations of humans being miserable. Really? Do we need this?

    Now a question to Sarah: do you think that if people attended more concerts they would realize the aberration of this kind of audio corrections? Can live music save music?

    Great post, Sarah, as always...

  3. Thomas, just a few days ago I was having dinner with an audio engineer, discussing how live music is often unbearably and *inaudibly* loud. I find it extremely difficult to find (rock) concerts/gigs with sound techs who don't overplay the space. Now, acoustic/orchestral/chamber concerts, that's different.

    It seems en vogue for production to equal distortion and excess. Power. All sounds are power.

    Question for you guys, sociologically speaking, why is everything about god/goddess-like invincible beauty and power?

    Which leads me to Craig's comment, which, by the way, leads me to my next blog entry.

  4. As a visual artist... I feel the same about Photoshop. I loathe Photoshop.

    I'm tired of people digitizing everything to get you to buy something, visit somewhere, change your opinion of yourself, or just flat out make something PERFECT. Why is perfection the only thing acceptable by the American public now? In EVERYTHING.

    It's distressing as a watercolorist (a very unforgiveable medium) to think that my audience is going to only purchase my paintings that are perfect. Why paint at all? (Please search out imperfect art.) Does a cellist in a solo concert in an intimate setting feel the same as I do? So vulnerable. So judged.

    I realize I just need to make my art for myself and let the sales of it take its course... not worrying about the money... which is the EXACT OPPOSITE of network execs and movie moguls.

    As a Christian... I believe we are conditioned to strive for perfection. After reading this post, I will try to remind myself it is only perfection in HOW WE TREAT EACH OTHER.