Friday, 6 April 2018

What's with all this Autotune business..?

The trend towards using Autotune as a vocal effect has become so prevalent in some types of music that it almost qualifies as a genre. Frankly, the sound of it slathered over a voice, especially a male one, gives me the creeps. Is it just me? I'm not decrying it out of hand since it can be useful when used properly but when it is used for its own sake it find myself being irritated by it almost from the off. Even barking Swedish dark metal doesn't have me prodding for the skip button quicker. Okay I'm an "older" listener, the internet thinks I should be buying "occasional incontinence" pants and the doctor wants to take a routine look up my bum so well outside the 16-24 demographic but I consider myself quite catholic in my tastes and wouldn't dismiss any musical genre per-se ( though my jury is out on ragtime and some of the fustier variants of trad jazz) but I'm far from being a philistine and taste, at the end of the day, is something that can not be accounted for. 

Is Autotune nearly a genre...

Did I say genre? The use of Autotune is becoming ubiquitous in many mainstream contemporary popular music styles. The name, which is the trademark of Antares Audio Technologies (though other pitch correcting processes are available) has, like "Hoover" and "Band aid" come to represent all forms of pitch correcting technology and to the public "that "Cher" sound" Since her release of "Believe" put the effect (and remember, prior to this Autotune was widely used as a tool to correct any unwanted "jazz"-notes in an otherwise on-point performance) into the public consciousness as a "sound". It also receives a fair share of derision from people who watch "The Voice" and "X Factor" when they believe it is being used to "cheat" to make a mediocre voice sound "better" when in fact probably most if not all vocal recorded vocal performances use the technology in some form because it is an incredibly valuable and useful tool when properly used. It's use as an effect is likely attached to some anecdotal story like the genesis of the infamous Phil Collins gated reverb effect (see what I did there?) which arose from technical serendipity and the ability to recognise its possibilities. 

Unctuous? Moi..?

Cherilyn Sarkisian (Cher) is a much loved and well liked performer whos voice perhaps is a little too well known to be exciting and new, so adding a effect which creates a sort of synthetic intimacy (like the proximity effect of close miking plus some musically harmonic phase distortion, like when someone is singing softly close to your ear down a tube) does add a little frisson, however, the sound of some (probably) precociously bearded millennial strumming on his lute and attempting to acoustically insinuate his way into the bedroom of some teen about the same age as my daughter with an unctuous and sickly  meandering non-tune with questionable lyrical value delivered through the harmonic sausage machine that Autotune has become raises my ire so much, sometimes I worry that a little bit of wee might come out.

BBQ sauce...

Yup, some square probably said the same about  The Beatles and their trademark backing vocals that made all the girls loose control of their faculties (and some of the boys) but that was different. That required craft. Autotune is like BBQ sauce or the Red Goop that you squirt on your ice cream cone. Worse of all it is used like a hailing signal or Station Ident the way Scousers (love them, love them all) sometimes do that "eeeeh" thing at the beginning of a sentence. As if declare "this has got Autotune, its the sort of music you like". It could even be considered as a faux genre in the same way that "indie" has become.  This would be preferable since I can be pretty well be sure that if I am going to hear music that at least will be engaging in some way It will not be smothered in Autotune. Failing that, a warning of some sort?  Some kind of filter?

Style vs. substance...

So to those Autotune fanciers out there, who think singing like ventriloquists on helium is a turn on, consider reviewing your personal style guide. Its  almost always a complete deal breaker for me, comedy and irony being the only acceptable application I would approve, oh and Cher of course. Sorry, but even the best song can be rendered inaccessible by that goop in a way that even the Lowest-Fi recording couldn't.  

Or maybe its me.

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