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eMuse (TM) by Jeff Talman


Digital Images and Imaginings

...manipulation is taking on a level of subtle intrusiveness which possesses a chilling intensity...Sound is another type of digital information capable of similar manipulation, mass reproduction and dissemination. The sound is an 'image' nearing that of the performers' and/or producer's intent. As such, as easily it becomes part of the daily mass of image in/image out. Manipulation of sound information today typically occurs in both studio and distribution. Unknown to most, this manipulation is taking on a subtle intrusiveness of chilling intensity which will undoubtedly have unexpected long term effects.

Software auto-tuning is an invasive technique that is part of typical sound studio preparation. Auto-tuning is a process, used by studios world-wide, that precisely tunes or 'corrects' out-of-tune pitches. Mostly used for vocal correction, the software 'fixes' are applied to music of virtually every equal-tempered genre, including Classical Music. Although the software has been developed by a number of industry corporations, the recognized leader is 'Auto-Tune' by Antares Audio Technologies, Billed as 'really cool stuff for making music,' Antares 'Auto-Tune' will nudge false pitches to the correct frequency almost effortlessly. Globally a string of notes may be relatively tuned, so that they center around their correct frequencies while maintaining something like the typical dips, swoops and rapid oscillations around a pitch that are typical of normal, expressive singing.

In a very real sense the humanity of the voice is traded for accuracy of image.'Auto-Tune' can also tune with pin-point precision, such that normal inflections are almost entirely by-passed in favor of dead-on accuracy. This type of processing, where every note is fastidiously tuned, is not atypical. The effect, handled by a seasoned studio pro with sharp ears, can be revelatory but also disturbing regarding the very nature of tuning and the human voice. In a very real sense the humanity of the voice is traded for accuracy of image. In the short term we hear perfectly tuned performance. In tonal music the pitches take on the nature of their tonal function with a transparency that is unusual and at first enlightening, though this quickly pales as the homogenized mass becomes increasingly apparent. Musicians for centuries have 'leaned' one way or the other to heighten tonal function. These leanings can be paramount to expression and here they are wiped out.

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Copyright © 22 April 2000 Jeff Talman, New York City, USA


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