I’m tired of all the negativity on here. So today I would like to talk about something completely different: music. Specifically Auto-Tune.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but mainstream hip hop and R&B mostly sucks right now. A big reason for this is Autotune. My understanding of everything I’m about to mention is rudimentary, I read exactly one article about this. So if you’re some kind of music nut and you happen upon this post, feel free to correct me.
Auto-Tune is a music editing program that was invented about ten years ago. It fixes off key shit and makes it sound right. When you run sounds through Auto-Tune, it automatically adjusts the pitch so that it’s perfect. It makes singing a lot easier, I would imagine. Your singing voice could sound like a cat in a Cuisinart and then you can run it through Auto-Tune and the end result will somehow become melodic.
Actually, fixing shitty singing is just one thing that Auto-Tune can do. Another thing it can do is make your voice sound all computer-y. The program has a setting that can give your voice a Kitt-like quality. I’m not talking about Eartha Kitt either. I’m talking about Kitt, the car from Knight Rider. Auto-Tune can take your voice and make it sound all robotic like Kitt’s. So you can sing a hook or whatever, and Auto-Tune will make that shit sound like Kitt after he took voice lessons from Pavarotti. Or if you prefer the female equivalent, Auto-Tune can make you sound like a cross between Aretha Franklin and one of those automated answering service lady voices.
Auto-Tune is like the modern day talk box or vocoder. It is possible that someone reading this is old enough to remember Peter Frampton. If so, you surely remember the epic Frampton Comes Alive and that talking guitar thing he had going on. Do you remember smoking a doobie on your beanbag chair in your bedroom, all alone, while your folks were out to dinner, when your Hi-Fi speakers said, in a weird robot-guitar voice:
Do you feeeeeel like I dooooooo?
Yes? Do you remember sitting straight up and saying in wide-eyed amazement:
“Far out maaaaan, the guitar is talking!”
Of course you do. Frampton was using a talk box, which involved running this tube type thing from the guitar (or the amp or something) into his mouth, and then using his mouth to “shape” the sounds that came out of the guitar. Stevie Wonder actually happened across this technology first, which made this incredible once-in-a-lifetime convergence of FunkyTown and Sesame Street possible:[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN_CIn7Z8rk%5D
So after the talk box came the vocoder, which any Kraftwerk fan is likely familiar with. I’m not sure exactly how that one worked, but it accomplished the same thing: cool robot voices! The thing about the talk box and vocoder were that you had to actually work to implement them, there was some kind of labor involved.
Not so with Auto-Tune. Auto-Tune is a behind the scenes adjustment. Auto-Tune was originally just a tool in a music producer’s arsenal, used in the studio to touch-up the smattering of “oops” notes that are bound to happen when no-talent teenage hacks sing pop songs. No one fucked around with the computer-y voice effect until 1998, when Autotune played a vital role in the creation of the robo-Cher voice you have undoubtedly heard on her horrific 1998 comeback hit “Believe.”
DO YOU BELIEEEEVE IN LIFE AFTER LOOOOOVE?
Ugh. Yeah, that piece of shit song. (I hope it gets stuck in your head all day now! Mwahahahaha!) Her voice is all computer-y. It’s Auto-Tune.
I could have lived with that song if it had been a single isolated abomination. And I would have been positively thrilled if Daft Punk’s One More Time (a song I’m not ashamed to admit that I love) was the end of the road for Auto-Tune.
Alas, hip hop discovered Auto-Tune like two or three years ago. And the barrage of dogshit music hasn’t stopped since. I don’t even know the names of the artists who produce the songs or the names of the songs, and I’m not gonna bother finding out. But popular music has been infiltrated by a shitload of songs that employ the same exact formula: bad MC’ing surrounded by computer-y voices singing hooks. But not just any hooks. Really stupid hooks sung by robots about cars and money and whatever. Never before has the art of making pop music seemed more formulaic. And a huge part of the formula is Auto-Tune. I guess these bozos go into the studio and lay down tracks with their horrible voices and then have the engineer Auto-Tune the crap out of them. Yuck.
Back in the day you had to hire Nate Dogg if you wanted a really badass sounding hook on your song. Not anymore. Had Auto-Tune existed in Biz Markie’s day, would we ever have been blessed with Just A Friend? Would the Biz have opted to sing the hook in the voice of David Hasselhoff’s car? We can thank our lucky stars that he was never presented with that option.
And now I’ve finally gotten to the real reason for this blog entry! An excuse to post Steve Porter’s work with Auto-Tune. This guy is miles ahead of the hip hop producers. Mr. Porter is a house music DJ/producer out of Boston who I’ve been a fan of for awhile. I once had a healthy respect for him, but now I simply idolize him.
Without further ado:[youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CztvSpKdCeY]
and the pièce de résistance:[youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exOxUAntx8I]
Thank you Steve Porter. Thank you Auto-Tune.