Thursday, November 3, 2011

Time for a rant!

Yes, we know I have my hangups and I'm going to bring out one of my big ones.

The vocorder is a legitimate musical tool that has been badly abused of late.

Most of you know this tool by the brand name Autotune.  There have been many before, the first being created in the 1930s as a way to encode speech for transmission.  The music biz grabbed it at some point (I'm sure if I'd finish reading the Wikipedia article, I could give you a date, but I've had a martini - hence the rant mode - and don't have the patience at the moment.) and turned it into a way to play with vocal effects.

I don't have a problem with that.

Quite a number of musical groups have used the vocorder to add spice to their music.  The Electric Light Orchestra is probably the first I heard use it and they did a lovely job of touching up their singing with a bit of synthetic voice effects.  Several groups have used the vocorder when they wanted to imply computers or robots talking (Styx and some of the music from the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band come to mind - don't judge).  So, for years I didn't have any problem with this particular tool.

Come the mid to late '00s and I have a totally different take on the tool.  (I pronounce it "naughties" by the way.  As in using "naught" for zero.  Since we haven't come up with a universal way of saying "after the nineties but before the teens" I think I can pick and choose my euphemisms here.)  Because somewhere along the way it either a) became such a cool effect that everyone wanted to use it or b) was being used by every producer alive because to not follow the herd would be unheard of (no pun intended).  I strongly suspect the answer is b) moo.  Which is yet another reason I don't listen to pop music on a regular basis.

Now here's the dilemma - there is a lot of pop music that I find fun and danceable and that I like musically.  But if I have no idea what the lead singer sounds like without the damned Autotune, I have a hard time liking the song over all.  Because I want to know that you earned that record contract by having a voice that is worthy before you pump out crap on Autotune.  Owl City has a song "Fireflies" that I would totally love, if I knew they could sing without Autotune.  Ke$ha has a couple of songs that I'd totally dance to, if I knew she could sing.  I know Will.I.Am has a decent voice, but you wouldn't know it if you picked up Black Eyed Peas "The E.N.D." (which I like in a guilty sort of way).  At one point Brittany Spears had a decent voice, but apparently she won't sing in public anymore without the Autotune.  And - especially disappointing seeing as I loved her quirky voice on the first album - even Katy Perry has succumbed to the "follow the herd or be cast out of radio play" and added Autotuned stuff to her newest album (although, not to the extent of some of the earlier examples).

So, here's my opinion on vocorder done right:

A good example of using it as icing to the song.  Keep in mind this was recorded back in the '70s when big fuck-off perms and shirts open to the navel were cool.  Really.  I'm not making that up.
In this case, the vocorder is used to represent the robots.  I promise the song makes a lot more sense if you listen to the whole album in order.  It was meant to be a rock opera.

I could give you more, but I'll leave it at that.  (Besides, I couldn't find the songs from Sgt. Pepper's that I wanted to inflict...uh...share with you.) 

No comments:

Post a Comment