The Internet, having satisfied itself yesterday with video that faked a Beyonce who couldn’t sing, now imagines news that can. And Steve Reich is proven ahead of his time — again. (Congrats on the Pullitzer – it took them just five decades to notice!)

Yes, Antares’ Auto-Tune plug-in – now so ubiquitous in mainstream, non-audio-engineer knowledge that it’s become a generic description like “Kleenex” – can be applied to everything. (We, um, can only hope these industrious YouTubers are using legally-licensed copies – that is, until Antares releases a 99-cent iPhone app.) And so, hilariously, we imagine a world of news sung hip-hop style.

As it happens, this digital foolery does reveal something deeper. One of the joys of language in general, certainly true of English, is the degree to which musical-like inflection turns our spoken words into songs. In English, these inflections are more decorative than syntactical – good news, as unlike a language like Mandarin, the wrong inflection won’t get you in trouble. But I think a lot of the texture of the music of English-speakers – native and non-native alike – is influenced by the rhythms and melodic contours of our speech. Would Jazz have happened in a country without American English and its regional dialects? Given the sounds of “talking” trumpet mutes, my guess is it would have sounded quite different.

Poor video, but gives you the idea (where’s the official Steve Reich YouTube channel?):

The Auto-Tune News is intentionally silly, of course. But even without digital aids, people have been finding songs in recorded speech. Take composer Steve Reich: without the aid of Auto-Tune, he found surprisingly in-tune sounding melodic fragments in interview recordings for pieces like Different Trains, and later built an entire opera around the technique. (The Cave, with its accompanying video, below.)

Antares, for their part, is keeping a good sense of humor about all of this – and laughing all the way to the bank. There news stream has followed the pop culture references to their product, and even jokingly suggested they would introduce Direct Mind Access Composition Technology on April Fool’s Day. (Don’t laugh too much: I heard composer Jon Appleton, sitting alongside fellow luminaries Bob Moog, Laurie Spiegel, Morton Subotnik, and others, suggest a musical brain hat at a panel on the future of music. I’m happy to actually shut down my mind occasionally, so I don’t entirely understand the appeal.)


AutoTune: The Song, a $99 Version (Hide!), and Some History

And here’s part I of Auto-Tuning the news. Daily Show, eat your heart out:

Thanks to decrepitude in comments. (Erm – that being the dude/dudette’s alias, not actual decrepitude in comments. That we’re not thankful for.)

  • Joachim

    Is Mr. Appleton using Ableton on an Apple making tons of tones?

    SCNR 🙂

  • samu

    GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH, can't stop listening, damn it!

    (hits play again)

  • Welcome to the Aperture Science News Reporting Facility…

  • tb
    the future is autotunes cats, we all know it (not autotune, just the built in pitch corrector in logic)

  • oscar

    An interesting variation of this is Henry Hey's Bush Song, where the natural sing-song of speech is given backup music:

  • infradead

    i liked his Winston Churchill remake better than the news. .. Martin Luther King Sings is interesting as well.. its really refreshing to see novel uses for something that is frankly overused and abused constantly now.

  • sommer

    Interesting when you compare this with the latest findings of science:

    Of course one should always take this kind of science with a grain of salt, but still fascinating if true…

    "Ross analysed the formants of English vowels by asking 10 English speakers to read out thousands of different words and some longer monologues. Amazingly, she found that the ratio of the first two formants in English vowels tends to fall within one of the intervals of the chromatic scale.

    Her results didn't just apply to English either. Ross repeated her experiments with people who spoke Mandarin, a vastly different language where speakers use four different tones to change the meaning of each word."

  • Fascinating article — although, if I'm reading it right, it sounds like your speech is in just intonation, not 12-tone equal temperament, meaning the piano image may not be so appropriate after all. 😉

  • decrepitude

    Thanks for the nod Peter! I'm a dude, btw.I borrowed 'decrepitude' from Blade Runner where the character Pris says the line "accelerated decrepitude", which was also meant to poke fun at my age (now 45).

    I also have a production/performance alias – ManicAudioKinetics. Shameless, I know…

    ~Mark Kunoff
    Bloomington, Indiana

  • Christopher Yabsley

    I find it interesting that it mentions the pentatonic scale as having the most accurate comparison, seeing as though the pentatonic is the most commonly comparable scale between cultures. Perhaps for its listening consonance and numerical neatness I'm not sure.

  • Martin Eckart

    Another take on the sing-song qualities of speech:
    The Happiness Project has musicians interpret the cadence of voices. Sounds real nice.

  • Waffle

    The radio show/podcast Radiolab had an episode on Musical Language a while back:

    In the first part of a show, a researcher is listening to a ~4 second clip of herself speaking on repeat while she works on fixing the sibiliance. She gets up and goes to the kitchen and from across the room it sounds like a melody. It's funny, I listened to this podcast months ago but I still remember what it sounds like.

    o/~ Sometimes Behaves So Strangely o/~
    o/~ Sometimes Behaves So Strangely o/~
    o/~ Sometimes Behaves So Strangely o/~
    o/~ Sometimes Behaves So Strangely o/~

  • Thanks for these links — fascinating.

    @Mark: excellent. Accelerated decrepitude is something we can all relate to.

  • jonnyfive

    Speaking of the Jazz phrasing as it relates to speech:

    Not really sure if I hear it as a dispute, but very cool none-the-less.

    This stuff is of particular musical interest to me. (Different Trains, Ligeti, Tim Exile, (older) Jamie Lidell etc.) I love voices and vocal samples abstracted to the point where you either aren't sure if a voice is the source, or obvious voice-sourced material that is abstracted into purely musical gestures, where the meaning is either unintelligible or one superimposes (often senseless) semantics.

    Re: the pentatonic thing in that study, this to me is some chicken/egg science. I would speculate that music/voices are not similar because they are related to each other so much, but because they both inherit form the physical interaction between sound waves and it's place in our brain evolution. IE we like whole number ratios because they are easier to hear, they reinforce themselves, and therefor are tangibly related, especially 3/2. The pentatonic scale is a series of these 3/2 ratios and in fact equal temperament is a consequence of that ratio. So to me, it's easy to see how we evolved to have whole-number ratio vocal formants; imagine if everyone talked through a bank of ring modulators…

    Anyway, great post, Peter. Way to take the internet meme of the day into heady abstract music nerd territory!

  • mhc

    This is great great great!!! All the links!

  • btw the 99 dollar autotune effect plug in DOES NOT come with an iLok. I just purchased it and was really disappointed to see that!

  • "Armed gangs on the sea"
    "*That means the ocean*"

    I'm crying I'm laughing so hard.

  • Pingback: [Video] This ones for the music guys (VERY FUNNY)()