Sasha Frere-Jones on Auto-Tune

A great article that gets at Auto-Tune and some larger issues around recording and the artificial/real world that recording gives us. The closing paragraphs are, as often with Frere-Jones, magnificent:

Someone once asked Hildebrand if Auto-Tune was evil. He responded, “Well, my wife wears makeup. Is that evil?” Evil may be overstating the case, but makeup is an apt analogy: there is nothing natural about recorded music. Whether the engineer merely tweaks a few bum notes or makes a singer tootle like Robby the Robot, recorded music is still a composite of sounds that may or may not have happened in real time. An effect is always achieved, and not necessarily the one intended. Aren’t some of the most entertaining and fruitful sounds in pop—distortion, whammy bars, scratching—the result of glorious abuse of the tools? At this late date, it’s hard to see how the invisible use of tools could imply an inauthentic product, as if a layer of manipulation were standing between the audience and an unsullied object. In reality, the unsullied object is the Sasquatch of music. Even a purely live recording is a distortion and paraphrasing of an acoustic event.

Sir George Martin, via e-mail, wrote to me about his work with John Lennon, one of the most famously processed voices in pop history. “It’s true that John was never satisfied with the sound of his voice,” Martin explained. “He failed to realize that what he heard came through the bones of his body and was not his true sound. He was always looking for perfection, and in his imagination his voice was always superior to the sound of anything on tape.” To paraphrase, what we hear on Beatles records is Lennon’s imagination. T-Pain’s deployment of Auto-Tune is a similar assertion of self, no different in kind from the older, more traditional tricks of tape-splicing, double-tracking the voice, and adding a little reverb.

Source: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/musical/2008/06/09/080609crmu_music_frerejones

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