auto-tune the muse

3 minutes

comparing auto-tune to instagram is problematic for me as the two are associated with different mediums and the two are not completly analogous. so we can only really speak in aesthetic subjective terms.

by ragesoss (own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via wikimedia commons

there is an important difference between the way an instagram filter is applied to a digital entity vs they way autotune is. instagram filters, process, alters, and re-express the whole of the digital object in a new form. auto tune however is applied (in general) to a melody line – a digital element or subset of the whole audio work. in production terms an instagram filter is more like an EQ – this (to me) is an important distinction.

auto tune essentially causes a melodic line to be digitally broken down, processed into its constituent frequencies, and re-expressed as data points on a fixed musical scale (but as my good friend @gutbuck3t pointed out to me on gchat the other night, what it’s actually doing of course is removing the frequencies between the notes). thus the re-expressed melody has a β€˜pixelated’ quality. to the listener superficially at least, autoune feels like a β€˜snap to grid’ was applied. and even more so when applied to human speech, it reveals the natural melody of speech.

it is exactly this quality i mean when I say a auto tuned melody line β€˜sounds’ a lot like a pixel β€˜looks’.

auto tune is a process filter that processes audio captured at a much higher resolution and mapping it to a scale. the same way older 8-bit/16-bit images captured at a much higher resolution look pixelated.

:: pixles vs waves –  β€˜seeing’ music ::

of course talking about auto-tune in terms of pixels is unusual and perhaps unhelpful as digital audio is more commonly expressed as a wave form. i remember my first experience of β€˜seeing’ music this way. back in the day with winamp. later, with audio tools at school/university they became familiar and garageband was there installed like a second nature on my friends macs.  recently and ubiqutously (I would argue) with sound cloud’s wave forms

the waveform like the pixel is now beginning to #newaestheticly find its way into mainstream culture ::

the waveform is a base constituent part of all digital audio, the same way the pixel is a fundamental part of a digital image. this must be remembered by the viewer/listener at all times. the music you are hearing if digitally produced is constituted of many wave forms and images many pixels.

:: but can auto-tune said to be creative? ::

personally? yes – in the same way that overtone compositional works explored by stockhausen or the constrained writing of georges perec are creative explorations within artificially applied restrictions  – however the inherent creativity of auto-tune it must always be remembered lies not with the artist or the producer, but with the programer. which leads me very nicely to my next point:


there is of course a contradictory element that i touched on before. it is the question of resolution. a waveform is made up of constituent frequencies in bits and bytes and an image is made up of pixels, bits and bytes. in which case i agree with nathans point β€˜digital music is to digital photography. much of both reject the snap-to-grid mentality’ as ultimately its just all the same β€˜malleable digital stuff’.

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One response to “auto-tune the muse”

  1. […] With the launch of Instagram came filters. I wrote a note on them back in 2012 on filters vs autotune. […]

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