Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Auto Tune Traveler:

Kanye West ft. Daft Punk - Stronger (Live at the 2008 Grammy Awards)

Auto Tune Traveler:
The new episode of our weekly internet radio show, Six Degrees Traveler is now up on Apple i-tunes (under the "Eclectic" or the "Electronica" sections of their radio page) or at

On this week's edition, we present a musical tribute to the joys of "auto tuning". You know, that vocal effect first made popular on Cher's track "Do You Believe" and that is now seemingly on EVERY hip hop, dance-hall, cumbia and pop record released. Since we can't fight it, this week we embrace it, with tracks by Bon Iver, Imogen Heap, Shulman, Karsh Kale and many others. There's also a first listen to the upcoming new one from the Midival Punditz and lots of crazy bootleg remixes of folks like Burial, Kanye West and Daft Punk.

Auto tune is the name for an audio processor which uses a devise called a phase vocoder to correct pitch in vocals. While it is often used live and on record to disguise bad singing, recently it has become a "go to" effect in it's own right with everyone from country stars Faith Hill and Reba McEntire to Rihanna and Kanye West slathering their vocals in this machine like sound.

While there is a long and rich history in the music business of singers (and rappers) trying their best to sound like robots, it is unclear when exactly the trend started. When Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" became a massive hit in 1983, it certainly spawned a world-wide deluge of "electro hip hop" tracks, all of which seemed to feature prominent turntable scratching effects, heavy handed drum machine programming and of course mechanical sounding, heavily effected vocals that sounded like funky machines had taken over our planet. "Rockit" may not have been the first of its kind but its success certainly made it the "electro, robotic, hip hop" shot heard round the world.

There's no way of knowing exactly when and where those crazy French dudes, Daft Punk got the idea to dress up and sound like robots but it's a sure bet they had seen the Godley and Creme directed video to "Rockit" more than a few times and you've got to believe they had a few P-Funk and Manzel records stashed away in their collections. Whatever their influences might have been, the massive success of Daft Punk's first record made the world safe for robot synth funk once again and their recent collaboration with Kanye West is just the latest example of hip hop's ongoing love affair with auto tuned vocals.

Recently the popular rapper T-Pain has been publicly complaining that HE started the auto tune trend in hip hop and everyone else in the industry has been jumping on HIS bandwagon. He even wrote a song about all of this on his latest album called "Swagger Jackers" that has set off the kind of back and forth "controversy" between rappers that the hip hop industry loves so much. The whole thing is pretty hilarious considering Cher could probably lay more claim to auto tune bragging rights than anyone in the rap world. (on a T-Pain vs. Cher cage match, I'm betting the farm on Cher!).

Every generation has it's "signature sounds" that seem to come in and out of fashion throughout the years. Whether it's the Yamaha DX7 and drum machine sounds of the 80's or the use of a "fuzz guitar" in the 60's, these sonic signposts more often than not tend to terribly date music in the retrospect of hindsight. What sounds incredibly fresh and new in the moment usually just doesn't date too well. This week's show presents a wide range of styles from hip hop to cumbia to bhangra and even folk that utilize the auto tune sound. It will be interesting to see how all of this sounds ten years from now, when we have moved on to the next sonic color in the musical palette. It's all just part of the joy of music.

Check out the full playlist

And here is the rest of it.


Anonymous said...

Rockit? Hmmm... I think Herbie got there about five years before that with I Thought It Was You. And Peter Frampton (wasn't he in King Crimson once? Just kidding Bob!) smacked us up with the Kanye-style vocals before that again.... What goes around is not always a record!

Anonymous said...

And who could forget the wonderful Mandre? Surely another formative influence on Daft Punk's robot-funk!

Global Noize said...

Well- I'm not sure if the Peter Frampton "voice box" technically counts- that's probably a whole other show by itself. (There's something about sticking a tube down your throat to get an effect that puts it in a class all its own!)

Herbie may have recorded "I Thought it was You" before "Rockit" but it had nowhere near the global influence of the later track.

Mandre was without a doubt a "proto" robot funk dude

Flip Chick said...

When has Reba McEntire used this? (I'm a fairly new Reba fan - never seen her live in concert.)

Global Noize said...

According to the Boston Herald, "Country stars Reba McEntire, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw have all confessed to using Auto-Tune in performance, claiming it is a safety net that guarantees a good performance.

Flip Chick said...

Thanks for the quick reply!

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