Pete's Blog

Perfect pitch

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Some years ago Cher put out a record called, I think, "If You Believe" or something like that. Even if that's not the title the main tag line (and one memorable part) of the tune used that lyric. Most distinctive of all, at that point in the chart the producers treated her voice with a device called a Vocoder, which made her sound like a robot. There was some debate among the lower reaches of the music-critical establishment whether this was a) a legitimate trippy effect; b) a heavy-handed ploy to salvage some kind of relevance for an aging star; or c) a desperate attempt to solve the eternal problem faced by all Cher's producers - she sings sharp. Over the intervening years I have come to my own conclusion, that it is, intentionally or not, a lovely piece of subversion. Because once you hear "If You Believe" you will be able to recognize the computerized pitch-correction used by many if not most of the singers recording today, which is based on the technology that gave us the old Vocoder. The effect flattens out the voice and gives it a keyboard-like finish, a bit like the clavinet Stevie Wonder plays on records like "Superstition." Once you learn to recognize it you will hear it everywhere, one more evidence of the creeping phoniness that will be the legacy of today's corporate overlords. They call it perfection, and I suppose you can't blame a recording engineer for wanting to make the whole world sound like Steely Dan. But give me a home where the Buffalo roam.

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