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.)
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.)