Being Modern: Auto-Tune


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The Independent Culture

It is as influential and manipulative as Simon Cowell. And, as psych-trance enthusiasts are wont to declaim at house parties, it's just as responsible FOR THE DEATH OF MUSIC. Few technological advancements outside of a nuclear arms race have been as divisive as Auto-Tune.

Hard to believe that this pitch-correcting software was conceived only in 1997, the invention of scientist Dr Andy Hildebrand after he was challenged to invent a program that would help a fellow dinner-party guest hit a note. Fifteen years on, and it's the sine qua non of every neophyte futuro-fluoro-dance-diva and priapic boy band looking to iron out "inconsistencies". (Occasionally, someone who has no recourse to such trickery emerges; they are what is known in the business as "worthy".)

But far more fun than all this smoothing-over is the capacity to distort one's pipes, whereby its settings can be squizzed to create an inimitable electronic tickle. This – as with so many things we appreciate, from fishnet body stockings to never-ending swansongs – was pioneered by Cher with 1998's "Believe". Since then, everyone from Kesha to Bon Iver to Kate Bush has called on the handy inflection, capable of evoking both dystopian melancholy and ruthless superficiality.

And so to those haters who gonna hate. There was Jay-Z, the rapping seer whose dull 2009 jeremiad "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" spelt the death of tunes about the death of Auto-Tune. There was the anti-Auto-Tune campaign that travelled the length and breadth of the Death Cab for Cutie fan community. And the X-Factor controversy of 2010, during which tabloids raged against the debasement of this stripped-back soirée.

To which we say: bore off and go fulminate about the authenticity of Lana Del Rey's earlobes or something. As anyone who has flatlined in front of The Voice will know, pop music really isn't all about the voice. Or rather it's about the voice that will treat itself the way it damn well likes. And if that happens to include evoking a cyborg in need of Calpol, well so be it.