Ecphonema: an informal history
Ecphonema was born in September of 1997. Roommates Scott Van Essen (founder of a number of previous short-lived groups) and Chris Miller (King of the Men's Glee Club and all-around nice guy) put their heads together with newly-arrived grad student Evan Dorn (former director of Swarthmore College group Doppler Gang) and realized that, while the women's group Treble Makers had just been formed, no similar venue for men's contemporary a cappella music existed. Yet. We held our first auditions on September 7 and 8. 13 men turned out - not bad at all for a small tech institution with no strong a cappella tradition. Dusan Misevic, Louis Thomas, Tony Chang, Mark Barton, and Joe Cook rounded us out to eight strong. After some haggling, the name "Ecphonema", an obscure English noun of Greek derivation, was settled on. We found it in Roget's while looking up synonyms for "loud" and "noisy".
Ecphonema's debut performance was Fall decompression, December 10, 1997. A joint concert with the Treble Makers, it was well received by the Caltech community (a good sign of things to come). Over the course of the academic year, Ecphonema held several other performances on and off campus, helping to establish contemporary a cappella as a permanent fixture of the Caltech and Southern California community. The most popular of these was the First Annual Love Sucks concert, a memorable affair involving a total of six groups from the SoCal region. We followed up a couple of months later with "One Loud Noise" - a marathon concert in which we performed every song we knew.
The group closed out the 1997-1998 academic year with a bang. For its speaker at the 1998 commencement exercises, Caltech selected TV personality Bill Nye the Science Guy. Ecphonema wrote an a cappella arrangement of his techno-style TV theme song, and performed it in front of the 2000+ person commencement audience. The soundsystem totalled 10,000 Watts of power over 14 pairs of PA speakers. It was the group's first performance with individual microphones, and our biggest audience to date. I still get chills thinking about it.
Graduation claimed Ecphonema's first victims, Louis and Tony, in June 1998. Four months later, another strong pool of auditionees yielded successors Paul Vigil and Bret Naylor. Excited by our two new strong members and still jazzed by the sheer power of our commencement performance, Ecphonema set out to establish a distinctive sound all our own. We invested heavily in microphones and sound equipment, eventually obtaining an almost-self-contained sound system that could travel with us everywhere. Individual miking let us balance vocal effects that would otherwise never be heard, and yielded a sound that you truly need to hear to believe. We unveiled the New Ecphonema at the Claremont Shades' SCAMFest, a massive intercollegiate concert. The set, featuring a brilliant Phil Collins medley and the first incarnation of the RivWeeker-Lemon-Power Ecphenomenon, received thunderous applause from our peers, and it was a hell of a lot of fun too. The new style was a keeper.
The Tour. We wanted to do the east coast. So we sent out feelers, called in favors, and managed to book ourselves an itinerary over our spring break. We devoted countless hours to rehearsals, slaving over mike technique, set lists, and unfamiliar mixing equipment. Finally, with a lot of sweat and a little help from a cappella gods spiralmouth, we were ready. We put on 10 concerts in 9 days, interspersed amidst countless hours in a 7-person RV with more malfunctions than we could count. Despite flaring tempers and innumerable equipment problems, we got to sing with and hear some fabulous groups, including several perennial BOCA favorites, plus Boston pro group Ball in the House. And we all made it back in one piece.
After a much needed rest, the Second Annual Love Sucks concert, and more rest, we accepted a commission to record a song for the annual Ditch Day video. Scott wrote and arranged it, and the Class of 1999 funded our first trip into a recording studio. It was a blast! The finished product, "One Day", is not to be missed; if you can get a hold of the 1999 Ditch Day video, be sure to check it out. We also benefitted from and appreciated the free studio experience, looking ahead to our CD plans for the future.
Commencement came again, this time featuring NBC Nightly News anchorman Tom Brokaw. Hoping to establish a tradition, we worked our way into the program, introducing him with a funked-up version of the Nightly News theme. A bigger audience, bigger speakers, and an even better reception than last time made it a memorable moment. Plus we got free hats.
Outside commitments took away Joe, Paul, and Evan, robbing the group of soloist, tenor, and megabass (not to mention one of our co-founders and three of the most dynamic group members). Ecphonema had to accept our first serious change, and it was not easy. Thankfully, the talent pool that auditioned for us this year was amazingly strong, so while our original members could never be replaced, they could be well succeeded. Auditions brought rumble-bass Zander Nicholson, uber-tenor Marc Popkin-Paine, crowd-pleaser extraordinaire Jason "Chewie" Chua, and veteran a cappella swingman Chris Kurtz.
After a slow start, learning new music and re-learning microphone technique, we plowed into the busiest non-tour concert season in our short history. With concerts nearly every weekend, we aired out a number of new originals and new arrangements, to appreciative reception. When the dust settled, we looked ahead to solo concerts, CD recordings, and visits from pro groups spiralmouth, Ball in the House, and Boyz Nite Out.
Further bulletins as events warrant.
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Pages maintained by Joe "Animal" Cook