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Even though the Internet is, in theory, a technology which opens the floodgates and makes the acquisition of information more fluid, more chaotic, and more free, the simple truth is that as a result of that (over-)abundance, we feel the need to divide lest we forget how to conquer. What hypothetically should enable us to digest music without its labels ultimately leads us to label it even more ridiculously than we did before, to compartmentalise in new, almost innovative ways just in order to construct a road-map through the hell of cyberspace and the ideas with which we’re presented.

This isn’t exactly a revelation, but what interests me is the way we handle it when an unexpected event screws with our neat ideas of what constitutes good, bad, pop, metal: how do we adjust when someone moves the goalposts artistically? This has to be a test, because no person is capable of removing the art they’re experiencing entirely from its context or from the discourses surrounding it. Would that it were possible, but it isn’t.

So when Bon Iver punched through the speakers to deliver the curveball that was “Woods” way back on his Blood Bank EP, everyone went insane. You’ll recall that this was a point, distant though it now may seem, when Justin Vernon was still in most regards a cult superstar and perceived as a lonely, bearded guy with a guitar. Nobody expected anything else from him; if they claim they did, they’re having you on. But here he was, on the finale of his new mini-release, using vocoder in such a bold and unequivocal fashion as to almost explicitly ask: “does this still make my music feel personal?” And it did.

Quite why that was a surprise is answered simply by the chain of events I detailed earlier. Cher’s chart-storming “Believe” had brought on demonised opinions of digitally-altered vocals for the last however many years, and the revelation that now such technology was being used to help artists “cheat” – even when “playing live” – did the sound no good at all. But the stigma attached to it didn’t cling to Vernon and Bon Iver the way it did most artists – we have For Emma, Forever Ago’s intimacy to thank for that – and so we learnt to look at it from a different angle, because our notion of Vernon as a genuine artist mattered more to us than our notion of auto-tune as a fundamental symbol of pop music artifice. It was a simple matter of sub-conscious priorities.

I ask, and ramble about these things, because the new Fun. album (did you even see this coming?!) contains several heavily vocoder’d (what’s the correct way of saying that?) passages that are likely to throw off people who were big on Nate Ruess’ raw-ish pop stylings on earlier releases. But have we reached a stage now, through Bon Iver and Kanye (ft. Bon Iver, as well), where we can perceive the charm of something auto-tuned on its own merits, rather than linking it back and forth with the last instances we knew? Are we capable of hearing a song like “Stars” and looking at it as one artistic whole instead of two distinct styles? Probably. It’ll probably be a while before Titus Andronicus go all “Woods” on us, though.





Knott-
02.19.12
I just got to thinking quite a bit about how people had been asserting that Nate Ruess' artistic integrity is immediately compromised as soon as he puts his voice through a vocoder and then I wrote this and nobody will care but the blog's been quiet so shut up!

Deviant.
02.19.12
I see autotune as a way to perfect the obviously imperfect, but for me running your voice through a vocoder or any other voice altering mechanism not designed simply to smooth out the wrinkles merely ends up being just another "layer" of sorts, that purposefully accentuates or diminishes certain phrases or lines in music. Not in any kind of androgynous way (even though that has happened!) but in a way it almost neuters emotion, or at least causes us to be a little hesitant when we attempt to extend empathy, because it seems so distant

DaveyBoy
02.19.12
Fantastic write-up Adam. Very thought-provoking... Or at the very least, pointing out what should be obvious to those who turn a blind eye to one artist, while berating another. Hell, it could have just as easily been T-Pain as the finale... Or Cobra Starship... Or whoever.

I guess the moral of the story is that each case should be judged on its merits. Unless, of course, you just dislike vocoderoded vocals... Then all of these suck from the start.

Knott-
02.19.12
Yeah but I think my point Dev is that we have to stray away from such generic descriptions of what effect vocoders "achieve" because I think for example that "Woods" would be a drastically less emotional song without the filtering.

I like "vocoderoded", Davey, I'll use that in future :D

Deviant.
02.19.12
But see that's kinda what I'm getting at: that it's more than just a cheesy effect - there's a reasoning behind its use, a method in the madness. You can put forth the idea that it's being used as a crutch to potentially convey something that the singer's voice ordinarily wouldn't be able too, and there would probably be enough "evidence" to support that, but I think it works

fish.
02.19.12
Bon Iver have an EP?
I'm on this shit

Omaha
02.19.12
Very interesting post. Yeah, I tended to disregard autotune until Bon Iver so you're right on the money there.

AliW1993
02.19.12
I've never really had a problem with autotune so long as it's used in a "tasteful" way, although what that constitutes is clearly open to interpretation.

It's interesting that you used the Bon Iver example, because I was under the impression that all of Vernon's vocals are autotuned?

LegendofPittman
02.19.12
Honestly I don't like the vocoder sound, but if it's pulled off in a way that suits the song, I don't mind it that much.

elephantREVOLUTION
02.19.12
you forgot the best use of vocoder, hide and seek by imogen heap

Knott-
02.19.12
I'm not sure if all of Vernon's vocals are autotuned, Ali... certainly I've never been aware (and haven't heard it in 478927492 listens) on any song on For Emma other than Wolves. If you're right, it would raise another interesting question, I guess, about intimacy and that kind of thing.

Also, fuck yes elephant.

theacademy
02.19.12
much better than the last, similarly titled installment

i hate generalizing about good autotune and good vocoder and gratuitous production and all that

if i like the song, i like the song.

theacademy
02.19.12
this should clear everything up

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5d858rrxpE

theacademy
02.19.12
ooooooooooh yea

let me see them hands

AliW1993
02.19.12
Yeah Wolves is the only song where it's blatantly obvious, but I think that the rest is processed more subtly too. I may be completely wrong, though.

gabethepiratesquid
02.19.12
Yeah, what Ali said. Most of Bon Iver's songs are really subtley vocoded/auto-tuned/whatever.

I think the tool is being used a lot better. In some situations it gives a great atmosphere to where it wouldn't sound anywhere near as appealing if it was sung by a really good natural voice like with some earlier Drake it gives this cold, atmospheric reverb-y effect and even on some T-Pain songs it sounds really good. Obviously sometimes it just goes to a cheese factor and sounds like shit (like Lil Wayne's How to Love, even though Loillipop is a good example of auto-tuned pop)but I hate when people automatically dismiss an artist using auto-tune.

Acanthus
02.20.12
For the most part I find myself enjoying enhanced vocals, though normally the enjoyment is reserved for samples or newly found bands.

Lucid
02.20.12
James Blake has the most artistic vocoder use of any album I've heard.

AggravatedYeti
02.20.12
love this Adam

even if Cher makes a cameo.

Aids
02.20.12
Agree with Lucidity, James Blake's autotuned stuff is out of this world.

For me, it's just another effect or instrument to play with. Sometimes I love how it's used, sometimes I hate how it's used, just like everything else is music these days.

I'll finish with this:
"I'M ON A BOAT ANNNNND, I'M GOIN FAST ANNNNNND, I'M WEARING A NAUTICAL-THEMED PASHMINA AFGHANNNN"
==> T-Pain's sublime vocoder voice

Irving
02.20.12
If I like the song, I like the song [2]

thebhoy
02.20.12
opening paragraph sounds familiar....

Just kidding, this is good stuff

wabbit
02.20.12
James Blake has the most artistic vocoder use of any album I've heard.


bitches don't know 'bout neil young.



write up is pretty cool and stuff, gj adam.

Good Job

ReturnToRock
02.21.12
Thought this would be about Ke$ha.

Douglas
02.23.12
James Blakes knows his shit.

Douglas
02.23.12
blake*

TrstN01
02.27.12
This is a great write up.

One thing I want to say, though, is that there are some tiny differences between auto-tune and a vocoder (not directing this to you, Knott, just people in general who don't know). Auto-Tune is one thing: the software made by Antares Tech. It takes a recorded sound, and lets you tell it what not to adjust it to using one of several interfaces (when I was playing around with it, I preferred the graph interface). A vocoder is usually a piece of hardware, like an effect pedal for a guitar. I don't know if it's true for all vocoders, but mine gives you a couple options: you can adjust how tolerant it is of off-key-ness, whether you want to set the key you want it to be in or to just go to the closest note to the input, or to use a midi controller to force notes. It also gives you some other effects, but those are the main points.

Knott-
02.28.12
Yeah, I'm actually completely aware of the difference between Auito-Tune and vocoders, and I know their different effects, too. I'm aware I used both in the write-up and that was partly out of believing that by this point the two have almost become synonymous in common discourse. But yeah, I should maybe have stressed the technical difference at some point.

TrstN01
02.28.12
Ah, it's cool. Like I said, it wasn't really directed at you. I just felt this was an appropriate place to mention the differences. Ever since I did a project for a class where I tried to design an auto-tune program, which turned into a vocoder, which turned into a paper about how I don't have the skills to do either, it's bothered me when people don't know the difference. But yeah, it wasn't aimed at you. Just a general statement.

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