Does the latest music album sound more than perfect to your ears, as it dribbles or blasts out of the earbuds of your music player? Not a note out of place, no little rough edges that would make you squirm?
There's a reason for that in this world of hyperdigitization. Auto-tuning is the trick. Steve Guttenberg of Cnet.com muses on whether technology is robbing music of its soul.
Today, for example, Auto-Tuned vocals are so ubiquitous that my friend, mastering engineer Dave McNair, exclaimed, "The only way to know for sure a vocal hasn't been Auto-Tuned, is an out of tune vocal." So once a new technology is available, the engineers can't resist using it. This isn't so much about analog versus digital recording formats. No, it's the way recordings are made. Too many are assembled out of bits and pieces of sound to create technically perfect, but soulless music. It's not that great music can't be made with computers, but it's sure less likely to get my mojo workin'.
I love the ability of some of the new software to manipulate vocals, having toyed with Audacity myself. I record myself singing, wince over how it sounds, raise the pitch by one step or two, sit back and listen to myself singing as I would have sounded when I was in my twenties, with all the technique honed by the added years, yet more of the sweetness that is lost to age and countless infections thickening the vocal cords.
But using Auto-tune to change that which is unmusical into a tune, while not new, has been taken to new heights, in this 'music video' consisting of auto-tuned utterances of well-known scientists.
Or, witness Neil deGrasse Tyson, converted from bathroom singerhood into passably stageworthy in this hilarious Nova Science segment on PBS.
When a performance has been digitally pieced together off several imperfect takes,or slight off-pitches corrected, what does it do to the experience of the listener? We often listen without realizing the amount of correction and can only sigh at our inability to replicate the perfect renditions, a feeling of audio envy, much like the photoshopped perfect models on magazine covers who trigger look envy.
Even live performances aren't immune to this kind of doctoring, with stars resorting to lip-syncing to their own recorded vocals, just because of the physical impossibility of dancing vigorously while belting out high notes.
I came across this video of a Kathak dancer who actually sings and dances, admittedly one of the slower types of dances. No lip-syncing here, you can hear her breath grow slightly heavier after fancy footwork in places. So what if it isn't perfect, the genuineness of the experience more than makes up for the occasional off-pitch note.
That's the reason why even crackling, terrible old recordings of long lost gurus are capable of moving me to tears. even with the imperfections, speeded up audio, flubbed lyrics or more. The quest for digitized perfection leaves an older generation of listeners in the cold, while the newer generations get used to a degree of improbable perfection that will never be matched by the pleasures of a live performance.