The pervasiveness of autotuned music is a subject of concern from a musician’s perspective. Is a musician’s performance becoming subordinate to technological manipulation, or will it remain as a primary element in modern music, with technology used to further enhance an excellent performance? Does it matter if the recorded or live performance of a song is strong enough to exist without technological embellishment and/or correction?
In creating modern music, the producer seems to be more essential than the musician. Will increasing reliance on the manufactured singing voice lead toward an eventual retirement of the human source – as in vocaloid; or as in the trend of replacing instrumental musicians via sampling, looping and sequencing technology?
The article states: “In a profound sense, there is nothing necessarily “natural” about the unadorned and unamplified human voice. More often than not, singing involves the cultivation of technique.”
This statement mixes two meanings of ‘natural’ – the first as an innate, undeveloped ability; the second as not being artificial: as organic/living expression, developed through practice and experience, not modified or redesigned by external devices or technology.
The article states: “Regarding the argument that pitch-correction is a deskilling innovation that allows the talent-free—performers who can’t sing in tune without help—to make it. Actually, it refocused what talent in pop is.”
’Talent’ should be distinguished in terms of product vs process: Above, the implied meaning is talent as a human ‘resource’ to be exploited and re-created in the production of music as a commodity. This is in contrast to the conventional meaning of talent as human ‘potential’ and natural ‘aptitude’ which can be developed through a personal process of dedicated practice.
Looking at technology as a tool, we can generally ask whether the musician is subordinate to the tool, generating a dependent sound for editing and production, or in front of the tool, using it as a peripheral embellishment and enhancement of a sound that is already strong enough to aesthetically exist without it.
Broadly, the question regards the degree of dominance of technology over the musician: ranging from secondary functional enhancement toward increasing performance simulation.
Analogies of ‘simulated’ music: a player-piano (or sequenced, looped) performance of a difficult song with the performer passively sitting on the piano bench, or minimally involved in playing a few notes to add to (embellish) the simulated performance; or a well produced ‘avatar’ musician who doesn’t exist in the real world of an unplugged performance.
Musical ‘authenticity’ seems to suggest an ability to sing/play music without dependence on technological manipulation/correction; the ability to perform ‘unplugged’.
The article states: “Paradoxically, Auto-Tune’s most flagrantly artificial effects have come to signify authenticity at its most raw and exposed.”
This statement infers an ‘authenticity’ of the ‘artificial’ (external) process and seems to refer to a producer’s ‘authenticity’ more than a performer’s ‘authenticity’. Interestingly, the metaphorical association of ‘raw’ and ‘exposed’ is flipped in association – music technology exists as an enhancement (smoothing, covering) of the raw and exposed sound of an unprocessed singing voice.
The article states: “Auto-Tune may also resonate as a signifier of ultra-modernity: globalization as an aspirational aim, rather than an imposed hegemony to be resisted.”
Maybe autotune resonates most literally and directly from a commercial perspective, in decreasing the cost-of-production of pop music as a commodity.
Importantly, autotune also seems to embody ‘musical accessibility’: allowing anyone to participate in music performance and composition, without the years of practice required to develop technical and expressive fluency as a musician.
Ultimately, any new technology opens different ways of expressing creativity, each with distinctive advantages and limitations.