more human than human

So this whole auto-tune thing is definitly something close to the heart of the (con)temporary. It's been a tendency in pop music somewhere since the eighties I'd say, the robotisation of the 'natural human voice'. But that decade's robopop was wilfully inhuman, a kind of excess of synthesisation that evidenced more just a fascination with the technology rather than expressing emotional truth, so much so that artists like Tubeway Army and Gary Numan found that technologisation of the voice and music could stand for the same social process, one of social alienation:

Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It's the only way to live
In cars

Whereas nineties and millenial pop was focused more thoroughly on 'perfecting' the human voice, the use of digital and manual production technologies to make the voice sound as natural as possible, catch Avril Lavigne for this. This tendency reached its exhaustion point in Cher's Believe, the first track to use Auto-Tune software as a deliberate effect rather than attempt to 'naturalise' the voice - that distinctive pitch mangling on her vocals became a highly used effect ever since.

Nowadays, it's kind of like something of a mixture of these two tendencies, an attempt to simultaneously shoot for nature and effect, that energises a lot of pop music. R&B artists like Chris Brown (see Forever) use pitch correction to excellent effect, accentuating their soulful/soulless music by stretching out modulations, or deliberately over-correcting 'hey' and 'oh' backing vocals. There is a obviousness to this practice that means they are not concerned with 'covering up' their use of corrective software, but rather become virtuouso performers of technology. The human voice is found wanting, or more a base material to be input into a system with far greater fidelity and emotional potential. Not that this hasn't been the very axiom of pop since its conception; the human voice is always object as much as subject. Anyway, in this domain, the idea is that the technologised voice is perfect, not a substitute to 'complete' the human voice, but rather in and of itself beautiful, expressive, its own apex. That we have reached this juncture in our historical ways of listening is quite interesting.

The exhaustion point of this new tendency, I think, would have to be Kanye West's Love Lockdown. This is what marathonpacks calls the "grotesque performance of prolix, technologized amateurism", but I'd re-think that first (and def last) term. It's not so much grotesque as complete - the handing over of emotion to technology. It's as if West cannot deal with the messy grief that consumes him on 808s and Heartbreak, so he relegates (or elevates) this job to technology. Machines that can cry for us.

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