Living in an increasingly digital world is going to have profound effects on musicians, and singing is probably going to change in ways we don’t totally understand yet.
One of the more recent phenomena is “auto-tuning”, where a digital plug-in can fix a singer’s pitch automatically. This leaves certain artifacts on the sound, and just like guitar amplifier distortion before, these artifacts have become an interesting sound effect that is intentionally employed. You can hear this in Kanye West’s “Heartless”.
Amazingly, Autotune can be used on non-musical sources such as speech to create a melody where previously there was none. The band The Gregory Brothers have created a —well, that’s the task, isn’t it?– comprised of various news sources that have been auto tuned. News anchors and politicians are all “unintentional” singers. They have created an entire series of these, and they often pump these things out 2 or 3 days after the original broadcasts, which is very impressive.
Amazingly, it turns into really good music. I have watched this particular clip at least 20 times now, and I still marvel at its ingenuity. There’s a through composed structure, good melodies, rises and falls, and everything you would expect from a real composition. The Gregory Brothers play various characters in the piece and do the only real singing and instrument playing, and the style sounds like a mix of new R&B and disco.
What do you call this? What do think about digital adjustments to our recorded voices in general?
If that wasn’t enough for you (watch for the The Music Man reference):
Hi, I love these particular videos just because I watch the Lehrer Report and know all the players. I also think they’re constructed really well. As far as straight programming that’s pre recorded there has been a messing around with voices for a while. Some years ago, listening to NPR of course, there was a piece on how the voice was speeded up to allow for more to be said in the timeframe of any given program. When you think about it, that would really help something like the Diane Reem show because she suffers from a disorder that causes serious slow distortions in her voice. As for auto tuning the news – maybe more people will choose to be informed if they can laugh their way through watching the news. After all, there was content in there.
Ian Sidden says
Yes, it does help to know who the characters are. For me, my favorite moment in the top clip is John Boehner singing “Hell no!”, and it partially has to do with knowing how his voice sounds normally.
It’s true about voice manipulation. “Revolution 9” by the Beatles is a series of sounds with distorted voices, and that and its copies have existed for at least 40 years.
Haha. Yeah. Truthfully, I’ve been pondering this a lot, lately, since I listen to hip-hop quite a bit…and I’m a bit scared about the possibility of having a day when needing to be able to carry a tune in a bucket is no longer a requirement for any “singer.” Haha. I am also against amplification of the voice, in opera. That has been happening, too, and I think it’s not being true to the art or the technique.
I agree. I saw an opera recently where the amplification was obvious, and it was very weird.