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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Compare and Contrast

Posted By on 11.05.09 at 06:59 PM

I am very happy that somebody made a song based around Carl Sagan talking and whooping. Sagan was an amazing man, and since he was also a devoted pot smoker I'm sure he would've dug the song's super-chill vibe. I'm just kind of bummed that so many people, even ones who write for respected online music publications, keep referring to it as being "Auto-Tuned" when in fact it isn't.

Not to be annoyingly pedantic—I try to keep it in check, I really do—but perhaps a lesson in some of the major methods of electronic voice alteration used in music might be in order. After the jump, some examples.

This is Auto-Tune:

Auto-Tune is the name of a Pro Tools plug-in that was intended to correct vocal pitch by basically asking for a list of all of the "right" notes in a song and shifting off notes to the closest correct one. Then dudes like T-Pain figured out that by tweaking it in the right way you could get a weird robot voice out of it and then—according to cranks—pop music was totally ruined forever.

This is a vocoder:

A vocoder uses filters to mix the vocals with the signal from a synthesizer. Since the pitch is determined by the synth and not (as with Auto-Tune) by the vocals themselves, you can "play" the vocals in the same way you can any other keyboard sound, giving them whatever melody you prefer—you can even play the vocals as chords. Prog rock and Italo disco were very big on the vocoder.

This (about 2:30 in) is a talk box:

The talk box is probably the most insane effect ever. It takes the signal from an electronic instrument and runs it through a little speaker sealed inside of a box. The sound comes out of the box through a plastic tube that you put into your mouth, and as you form speech shapes with your mouth it changes the sound of the signal to cause it to approximate speech. Peter Frampton is its most famous user, but Peter Frampton doesn't have shit on Roger Troutman so he's not my example.

Here is the Sagan song. Sounds like a vocoder, no?

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