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Music and Technology: The Pop-Star/Rock-Star Cyborg May 1, 2009

Posted by yakshi in cyborgs.
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An article in Rolling Stone called “Alternate Takes: Disco-Cyborg Takeover” by Joe Levy from 2007 discusses an unintentionally leaked track from Britney Spears’ album Blackout:

“What made that ballad so can’t-look-away strange was hearing a vocal free of Auto-Tune, the pitch-correction software that defines pop music today. You know the sound of Auto-Tune, at least pushed to its limits, when it produces the vocoder-like robotic vocals of T-Pain’s “Buy U a Drank”and other summer ubiquities such as Rihanna’s “Umbrella” or Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls.” All of them deploy the digital effect that comes when vocals are tuned too tight, a quavering disco-cyborg melisma that’s become the keynote of so much of the Top Forty.”

Levy observes that artists today seek the digitally enhanced sound in their music, and that in turn their voices are merged with technology. The track no longer belongs to the performer, it is a cyborg-creation indebted to Auto-Tune and other studio equipment. The product is artificial, and lacks the raw, honest quality of original pop recordings from the 1960s like The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer.” If pop icons like Britney Spears typically do not write their own lyrics or music, and their voices are digitally enhanced, then American consumers are really only prizing them for their appearance. It seems Britney Spears is some type of programmed fembot!

It is easy to peg contemporary pop musicians for their heavy-handed incorporation of technology into their music, the manipulations have become a part of this genre’s aesthetic, but what about rock musicians who originated the use of vocoders and talk boxes?  In Frampton Comes Alive!, Peter Frampton used a talk box for two tracks to modify the sound of his guitar. He spoke into a tube attached to his mic to alter the sound of his electric guitar, relying on music technology to surpass human ability. The robotic like sounds made him eternally famous. In Frampton’s case, as compared to Spears’, I find that he made a conscious, artistic decisions to alter his music, and did not use his talk box as a means of hiding his lack of talent. 

You can find the article in Rolling Stone here: http://www.rollingstone.com/rockdaily/index.php/2007/09/10/alternate-takes-disco-cyborg-takeover/

And a video of Frampton with his talk box: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nu2bw2QCOO4&feature=related

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