In Defense of Common Sense: Auto Tune does not make ART!

Bob Lefsetz really sums it up nicely here:
“As a result of crass commercialism, primarily MTV and now the Silicon Valley
rush to riches, our vision of art has been skewed. Money comes first. It’s
readily available to he who succeeds, and there are short cuts to ubiquity. But
most people employing these short cuts are not art.”
—The Lefsetz Letter
I found this after I wrote the blog below. Hang onto it mentally if you decide to read the rest of this.

I have wanted to get at this one all day. Mr. Oyola has the right to his opinion for the same reason people have the right to walk off a dock into freezing waters. Now here is mine. The link above is a blog entitled In Defense of Auto Tune. Auto Tune is a device, and now software, which can be used to modulate a sound wave (a vocal recording) and alter it. Many times this is used to make people who cannot actually sing sound like they can. You can read the blog at the link above but I have included (in bold) most of the main assertions the writer, Mr. Oyola, has made in his blog.

“When someone argues that auto-tune allows anyone to sing, what they are really complaining about is that an illusion of authenticity has been dispelled. My question in response is: So what? Why would it so bad if anyone could be a singer through Auto-tuning technology? What is really so threatening about its use?”

First of all I would not argue with anyone whose knowledge base is this challenged about music. The assertion that authenticity is an illusion is a contradiction in terms by the very nature of the statement. If authenticity was an illusion we would not call things authentic, especially since humans have been singing for at least 4-5 thousand years and authenticity gauged that entire time. Magicians create illusions, musicians make music. David Blaine makes us see things that are not there, illusion. Aretha Franklin sings her rear end off, authenticity.
And also to assume that someone who is musically or vocally talented is threatened by auto tune is silly and sophomoric. It is not about the technology being a threat it is about the continual debasement of music or creating a misunderstanding to the uninitiated. Do I care that Lil Wayne uses auto-tune? No. What I care about is someone asserting that authenticity is not real or that it is an illusion. It is a spit in the face of real artists who create music, not because they think it is cool or it would be neat to make a song, but because they have to! They have no choice because there is a compunction inside of them that emits a force which is called authentic talent and it bleeds from their pores.
I have had many experiences in my musical life where a barely functional PA system was in place to reinforce the audio and have had chills run down my spine. Or sat in a room with a group of people and had someone shake my soul with an acoustic guitar and their voice. Or stood in a church and listened to one voice, no accompaniment, bring tears to people’s eyes. Were these experiences illusory? Was there no authenticity present? The only thing inauthentic is the depth of this writer’s experiences.

“Mechanical reproduction may “pry an object from its shell” and destroy its aura and authority–demonstrating the democratic possibilities in art as it is repurposed–but I contend that auto-tune goes one step further. It pries singing free from the tyranny of talent and its proscriptive aesthetics. It undermines the authority of the arbiters of talent and lets anyone potentially take part in public musical vocal expression.”

Karaoke does the same exact thing. It is a definite that it potentially allows someone, anyone, to take part in public, musical, vocal expression. But do we call it art? No. For the same reason that people who create vocals exclusively with auto-tune are not artists but hacks. Used to move a note a micrometer up or down the musical scale is not going to be taken to the task maker but if your entire performance is based around the use of auto tune you are not a vocalist nor does it a vocalist make.

“Auto-tune represents just another step forward in undoing the illusion of art’s aura. It is not the quality of art that is endangered by mass access to its creation, but rather the authority of cultural arbiters and the ideological ends they serve.”

A person capable of making this assertion has not experienced enough music in a true live setting or during their life in general. There is no illusion of art’s aura or it would not be art in the first place. The whole point of art, any art, being special is that it is a rarity, one of the rare things that make humans human. I would not take anything for experiences like seeing RL Burnside perform whilst sitting at his feet, Steve Earle tell a story and then sing a song the story was based around from 15 feet away, or witness Etta James WAIL “At Last” in front of a crowd of 80,000 in Memphis, TN. No sir. The authenticity of any of these, and many other, experiences are without question. And they were done by humans with their own voice, the aid of auto tune happily absent. I have no ideological ends to serve I just like the idea of a real human’s voice.
Just go sit in a song circle in Nashville,TN, a picking party in Appalachia, or a juke joint in Clarksdale, MS and listen for it. If you do not hear it your ears are broken.

“Auto-tune supposedly obfuscates one of the indicators of authenticity, imperfections in the work of art. However, recording technology already made error less notable as a sign of authenticity to the point where the near perfection of recorded music becomes the sign of authentic talent and the standard to which live performance is compared. We expect the artist to perform the song as we have heard it in countless replays of the single, ignoring that the corrective technologies of recording shaped the contours of our understanding of the song.
In this way, we can think of the audible auto-tune effect is actually re-establishing authenticity by making itself transparent.”

The more I read this writer’s word the more I realize that we are not dealing with someone who has really experienced music or understands it. This writer’s grasp or understanding of music should be an inch long and a mile deep but yet it is many miles long and maybe an inch deep. Recording technology does not make talent. It is obvious that this writer has either never recorded in a studio or was not paying attention if he did. The devices available to a modern recording studio only accentuate the sound quality going into the system in the form of a digital capture. Certainly Pro Tools can realign, remix, chop, screw, and blend things into any configuration but at the beginning of each day, each session there has to be something worth opening the mics up for and hitting the red record light.

“These artists aren’t trying to get one over on their listeners, but just the opposite, they want to evoke an earnestness that they feel can only be expressed through the singing voice. Why would you want to resist a world where anyone could sing their hearts out?”

Ok he really jumps the shark on this one. Why would you resist a world where anyone could sing their hearts out? First of all they are not singing their hearts out. They are blathering into a microphone and someone else engineers it to sound like it is melodious. I reject this as valid art for the same reason that I would reject a robot created to mimic the talent of Michael Jordan or Alber Pujols. Sure it would be neat to watch a robot make shot after shot or hit dinger after dinger but after a while it would get old. It would be a pointless exercise devoid of humanness. We follow sports as much for the failures they bring our hearts because every so often a human does something that defies our collective minds and souls, same with art. If I scan a Van Gogh and then reproduce it with a printer in 3D am I an artist? Absolutely not! By the logic of this writer it is totally acceptable and authentic or by his terms it pierces the veil of authenticity which I doubt he would know if it really, not authentically, ran up and bit him in his ass.

Eddie Vedder was on TV!!! Eddie Vedder was on my television…did I mention Eddie Vedder was on the TV

Yes Eddie Vedder was on TV strumming a 4 string guitar and man I felt the usual thing I felt. A kinship with him when he does his art. What is that exactly. It is like “Yeah Eddie I am with you man.” He looked his usual un-shaven slouchy dressed self, my fashion cue for most of the 90s, and there were no visible marks of a surgeons hands. Eddie keeps it real folks and let’s just face it. You are witnessing, with or W/O 4 string guitar, one of the last ones: a real life rock star.
Why? What do I mean?
There are others and yes some are out there now but not at the regularity they used to be, or at least they are not noticed in the constant sludge of suck and glitter and sheen and plastic and collagen.
Before me that night was what made a rock star, scruffy shoes and all, and what was that? Pure unadulterated passion, great vocal, and a genuine care for his art. When Eddie does it I do not feel like I am getting ripped off. Of course this should not be surprising from someone who was willing to sacrifice his career as a million dollar rock star to fight the system in favor of the fans, his fans, when we did not know an internet from a VCR.
See the fans remember.
Here is proof
When Eddie Vedder and company took on Ticker Master, the only game in town, I thought then “THERE ARE OUR CHAMPIONS.” For the uninitiated you did not take on Ticker Master in the 90’s because they controlled everything in the live world. Imagine being a software company taking on Microsoft? Get the picture. Pearl Jam did they took that s*&^ to Washington. And you know what
Music aside (which is stellar, always)
I have been in their corner ever since.
Thank you Eddie Vedder for being your bad a#$ self!

All You Need is Songs

Still reading All You Need is Ears by Sir George Martin. If you do not know who he is I am sorry…
Just kidding
He produced much of the Beatles work and is considered the “5th Beatle.”
Great book by the way.
What keeps popping up is the material.
In today’s world the Beatles would never have happened. This of course does not diminish the greatness of their work, but arguably, they were a phenomenon we will never see or hear again. Many complex systems came into play in making them become “the monolithic rock group” all others will be balanced against.
In today’s clutter they would most likely be diminished in comparison to
the clamor they caused in their own time. Again this does not diminish the Beatles talent at all.
That is what keeps popping up.
Are they the greatest group ever? The answer to that involves subjectivity.
Are they greatness personified in their musical work? Heck yes.
George Martin notes, in the flurry of activity that began surrounding him and the Beatles that with their success, that he thought “this cannot possibly continue.” He alludes to him first questioning the group’s ability to keep the great materially coming with the pace of their success. They never failed to produce. He noticed that they only got better, more focused, more creative, and more developed as songwriters and craftsmen. Had they not been up to this task we would be talking about the Beatles in the same breath as the Dave Clark Five.
(Side note I love the Dave Clark Five)
Here is the lesson. While focusing on your youtube video,facebook, twitter, and all the other accounts and apps you are using remember that they are merely functions to spread the message. They are the messenger.
The vinyl album was the messenger in its day and if, within its tooled grooves, it did not contain something worth listening to it was discarded or traded in today for value points at the hipster indie stores.
By all means do not kill the messenger. Just remember to give it something good to carry and deliver.

Keep all the Rest: Give me Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor died today. She was 79. When they say “a legend has passed” this is one of those legends. Though this blog is about music and promotion or the lament of trite sounds flooding every place it could possibly come out of this makes a good place to mark something. With the passing of Elizabeth Taylor, as with all the great musicians and artists of the last couple of years we are seeing the departure of individuals who not only set high marked standards but created a standard before there was one. Elizabeth Taylor was unlike any other actress, her beauty all her own and not just her physicality but the way she mixed both, being strong, even in scenes where she was supposed to be vulnerable, tough as a sword blade when just a nail would do, and her eyes, always possessing some secret anyone watching had to know within their violet depths. Was she the greatest actress ever? Probably not. Was she flawed? Most definitely, as are we all. I always wanted my Pygmalion to have a error in her veneer, my Aphrodite blemished.  As an actress she was a complete artist who refined her craft constantly. Yet with greatness it is much more difficult to name the fine points as it is to explain what they are not.

Elizabeth Taylor was not a flash in the pan. She was in it for the long haul. Elizabeth Taylor did not take her beauty and expect it to command talent. She took what talent she had, developed and just so happened to be stunning. Elizbeth Taylor’s tragedies in life (many) were not used to jump back in the game or create a media hype. They really almost destroyed her but she persevered through them. We are missing so much of these characteristics today or those artists are just stepped over in favor of plastic and hand of a surgeon intervention.

Just like you cannot polish a turd you cannot surgically implant grit and talent. So you just go on and take all the others and just leave me Elizabeth Taylor.

Oh also Elizabeth Taylor embraced AIDS patients when a majority of the world would not even touch them.