By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Westborough – For Westborough native Jake Reske, singing is second nature. From performances at the Westborough Players Club community theater when he was just 10 years old to performing on live television for the musical competition “The Sing-Off” in December, Reske is no stranger to the stage.
During his four years at Westborough High School (WHS), Reske participated in various choir and a cappella groups such as Concert Choir, Chamber Singers and Don’t Panic (a mixed a cappella group that he formed with friends his sophomore year). From WHS Reske went to Yale University where he sang professionally with the University Church Choir. During his junior year, in 2013, he formed the a cappella group A.Squared.
“I had been doing music production for a few years and had really immersed myself in the techniques and tools that electronic musicians use to write and perform music,” he said. “I started to realize that a lot of these techniques could be used on acoustic sounds – like the voice – and, for the first time, computers are fast enough that you can start to consider doing it all live.”
For Reske it was an experiment of sorts to see if the techniques that mix a cappella with technology could be done live. The basic idea was to create a vocal group where every singer had the ability to loop himself and add effects to his voice, and make that the central concept.
“The group is like an ensemble where everyone is a little bionic,” Reske said. “The singers use their voices, but they have these tools used in electronic music that they can use at any time. It’s kind of like the difference between an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar. All of the sounds that you can produce with the electric guitar are due to the way that the sound is modified – with an amp or with effects pedals. With this software, what you’re essentially doing is giving those tools to every singer, to modify their voice at will.”
A.Squared is comprised of five members all who attended or are currently attending Yale.
In December 2013, after finding a place where they could perform everything live, A.Squared performed its first concert. This past December they sent an audition video to “The Sing-Off” and were selected to compete.
“Our process is very tech-heavy, and we have to have a computer and a lot of equipment at all times – for writing, rehearsing and performance,” Reske said. “So we weren’t sure initially whether the show would be OK with having us on, since whether we’re actually an a cappella group or not is unclear. All of the material we use is made with our voices alone, live, but we use a heavy amount of processing and tech to create sounds that the human voice just can’t produce alone organically.”
Although A.Squared did not place in the competition, Reske called the experience amazing. It provided the group an opportunity to meet and talk with people in there genre who have changed the game in the past and are continuing to shake things up. It showed them the way that the industry works, and how tangible (and not far off) some of their goals might be.
“Most importantly, I think, we learned the potential that music and art has to tell great stories, and the process that it takes to have those stories be communicated to an audience and on television,” added Reske.
Following this experience, Reske is considering starting his own recording company. He is looking to use the production talents that he has learned for A.Squared to get other a cappella groups excited and talking about them. To this end, he is looking for musicians and groups who are interested in the idea of combining the voice with technology, and exploring the “wild soundscapes” that can be created just by using those two things.
“We’ve got a lot of exciting things planned creatively and technically,” said Reske, “but we’re still just starting on our musical and artistic journey.”