From Vocoder to Autotune: How Did Artificial Voices Change Music?

Robot-style „futuristic” voice renderings are, oddly enough, a thing of the past. Many of these sounds date back to the early 20th century, when the first prototypes of the instrument were called the vocoder. But today pop is full of artificial voices.

Long before artificial intelligence or deepfakes became popular, technology was established to manipulate the voices we consume in music.

How did artificial voices shape pop music today?

Engineer in 20s H. Dudley Developed at AT&T Bell Labs, Voiceover (Voice Operation Demonstrator) era A manually operated electronic voice synthesizer can perform songs and send voice messages. The device was officially introduced in 1939, but it remained popular in music until the 1980s.

A vocoder typically works through a raw filter model for speech, including a speech shape encoder.

In short, it modifies the voice and creates a vocal sound integrated with the original signal, which is identified in the popular imagination with robots like c3PO in Star Wars.

Years after its creation, its use in popular culture spread to many musical styles and gimmicks for film and television.

In A clock orange, For example, the singer sings Beethoven’s Ninth; Inside Star Wars Darkens the voice of Darth Vader and In All over the world Making people dance to the entire song from Daft Punk (1997).

D. Tompkins (2011), in his interesting book How to ruin a good beach , He wonders: „If a string part can be replaced by a synthesizer, why not a voice?”.

Since the 1970s, the vocoder has not only recreated the human voice, but Created an alternative expressiveness in popular music.

Many musicians found the instrument an attractive exploration element, but, mainly, two names used the vocoder as an instrument and made it popular. Vocoder is electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani and the legendary jazz band.

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Both of these names undoubtedly trace the use of the vocoder as an instrument, apparently used to interfere with the voice. But something more subtle and controversial was derived from that instrument.

The story of Autotune

In many ways technology is discussed in music, but with Auto-tune A discussion is going on. This tool, or a vocoder-derived auxiliary effect plugged into sound editing software, does musical magic: Refine and stylize the voice.

Auto-Tune, patented by Andy Hildebrand (1996), is, by definition, a voice encoder or tuner.

Controversy over its use began with Mark Taylor and Cher’s 1998 production of the song. believe. Its inclusion in a subtle way has been described as a kind of miracle, marking an important phase in pop music at the turn of the 21st century.

The team continued Secret Sometimes the way they do it affects Cher’s voice. But Hildebrandt had already sold several copies of his first model at the studio in Los Angeles.

It took a while for the music industry to learn how the tones of Cher’s voice instantly scaled to unnatural.

This chapter is legendary in contemporary music. up to Kanye West He thanked Cher on several occasions for pioneering the use of auto-tune as a technique in contemporary music.

Why criticize Autotune?

The issue discussed about auto-tune may be moral, as it is assumed that tuning the voice in an automatic manner requires less effort. Or perhaps philosophical, because in musical terms, it is believed to be unethical not to work hard to achieve standard Western tuning.

For the purposes of today’s music industry, Auto-Tune is ideal as pop music is in high demand in terms of vocal tuning.

Today the use of Auto-Tune is used in live concerts and artists such as Kanye West, Travis Scott, Migos, Lil Wayne or T-Pain permanently add it to their repertoire.

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However, Jay-Z went so far as to sentence Auto-Tune to death in 2009, in the folded title of his song. DOA ( The Death of Auto-Tune ) .

In some of the statements presented in Hot 97 Jay commented that the song is not dedicated to any artist as one might think. The song has a deliberate kind of chorus.

According to him, his message is towards technology. It’s not directed at Lil Wayne, T-Pain, or Kanye West, but it puts an important accent on his rap ability, and doesn’t add melodies to his rhyming.

Jay called pitch correction technology and its indiscriminate use in hip hop „cheesy”.

For Jay Z, using Auto-Tune in rap was like adding toy instruments to songs. He suggested developing other, less lazy skills, but acknowledged that many artists who use it have created fantastic tunes.

Without a doubt, Jay Z failed in his prediction.

Due to Auto-Tune’s popularity in styles such as indie rock or rap, its use was thought to be limited to recording studios. But today, its direct use is high, although there is a risk of not having this resource at the time of the show. For example, this happened to Travis Scott in the first 40 minutes of a set Miami .

T-Pain, Autotune Vision

The documentary series was released in 2021 This is Bob With a chapter devoted to Auto-Tune.

In it, T-Pain describes all his struggles with the use of tonal correction, depression, and violent attacks triggered by Jay-Z’s lyrics. He has been wearing this item since 2003.

Vocoder is responsible for countless radio hits and styles. Voices sound like synths and vice versa. In addition, it creates compatible settings for the task of auto-tuning to the human voice.

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Its great potential is included in instruments such as the popular Mook Modular Synthesizer. Essential for expanding into funk, electro-pop, house, experimental rock, and any genre that imitates robotic voices.

Some legendary songs from the last century feature the vocoder as their hallmark: Andangakkai D Allen Parsons Project (1975), Back on the road By rockets (1978), Foreword of Electric Light Orchestra (1981), PYT ( Pretty young thing ) of Michael Jackson (1982), Let’s groove D Earth, Wind & Fire (1981), Oh Superman Laurie Anderson (1982) Freaks Come Out Night From Houdini (1984), California Love 2Pac from Dr. Trey and Roger Troutman (1996), Kelly Watch the Stars From Flight (1997), The Intergalactic De Los Beastie Boys (1998).

Classic artists like Kraftwerk, Africa Bambaataa, George Clinton and Job are some of the fathers of the use of vocals. His legacy enriched later musicians such as Daft Punk, Dr. Dre, Outcats, Snoop Dogg, Anderson Bach or Bruno Mars in vocal processing and manipulation.

Others Recent hits include Vocoder as a creator of underground sonic atmospheres that, while they don’t have a strong presence, their sound sets them in a futuristic or dark way. This category also includes sound designs for film and television.

The sound produced by this instrument is also used in percussion, string sessions, synths and quirky and funky bass lines. The most interesting thing is that it can maintain an analog character, which creates interesting movements in chords, choruses or melodies at various levels and frequencies.

The vocoder is approaching 80 years old but some derivatives such as Auto-Tune or its simile Talk Box continue. Today, its use includes any style or form of music. Today it is hard to imagine future music without this technology.

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