Thursday, March 07, 2013

Singing Robots And (Real?) Supervillains

Drawing again on geophysics-based DSP technology, he developed and introduced MDT™ (Multiband Dynamics Tool), one of the first successful Pro Tools plug-ins. This was followed by JVP™ (Jupiter Voice Processor), SST™ (Spectral Shaping Tool) and, in 1997, Auto-Tune™, a program that corrects pitch problems in vocals and other solo instruments. Auto-Tune became an instant phenomenon, firmly establishing Antares (as the company had been renamed) as a developer of truly astonishing products using DSP technology. Auto-Tune quickly became the largest-selling plug-in of all time.

In 1997, Antares made the decision to move into the hardware DSP effects processor market with the ATR-1, a rack-mount version of Auto-Tune.

Antares incorporated in May 1998 and, in January 1999, acquired Cameo International, their former distributor.

In late 1999 Antares once again created a new product category with the Antares Microphone Modeler, a plug-in that allows any reasonable quality microphone to sound like any of a wide variety of other microphones. It was followed in 2000 by a hardware version, the AMM-1. At the Audio Engineering Society Conference in September of 2000, the Mic Modeler was honored with the TEC Award as the year's Outstanding Achievement in Signal Processing Software.

In addition to directly addressing the hardware and software DSP market, Antares is committed to wider distribution of its proprietary technologies through strategic relationships with other key partners, both in and out of the professional audio and musical instrument industries. Partnerships have currently been established with Mackie Designs, Inc., TASCAM, and Others are currently in the works.

A Brief History of Antares
Antares: “For all the
voices in your head”

Today’s post is a kind of catching-up post, and a kind of tying-up-a-loose-end post. There are a couple of topics that I’ve talked about more than once, but for some reason I have not been as vigilant as I should have been about keeping up with them.

So today I’m going to catch-up a little bit.

There might be a third topic involved, also, but I’m not really sure.

The two for sure topics are “Auto-Tune” and robot guitars. These two topics have come together in real life.

I’ve mentioned Auto-Tune explicitly I think only in one post:

You Damn Punk Kids

“...the tumescent German bomb everyone pretends
came from New Mexico by way of Manhattan
falls away from your Nike tapping
to some Auto-Tune Disney girl singing and dancing
and the screaming Apple thing explodes...”

But I was also thinking about it many times, certainly in Digging Britney:

“...Musicians sometimes describe a sequence
that goes piano —> saxophone —> guitar
and then tip back a drink mischievously
and say the cool instrument of today
is a computer program called
and if you want to get the good groupies
learn to play the studio-in-a-box.
Silicon chips. Silica is crushed rock. ...”

Auto-Tune is the software technology from the company called Antares—their slogan really is “For all the voices in your head” [!]—that takes an vocal track and shapes it, keeping it on pitch, or allows the pitch of the performance to be manipulated any way a producer or entertainer (or, I suppose, artist or “artist”) might want to manipulate it.

It is sort of the defining technology and sound of pop music. People don’t make fun of it as much now as they used to, but I think that’s just because everyone has come to accept it. And, as I understand it now, this kind of thing can happen in real time.

So any time there is a microphone between a listener and a singer there is no way, really, for the listener to know if they are listening to reality or a computer.

If anyone ever remakes the movie “Diva”—Style And Substance And Acoustic Terror—the characters can have interesting discussions about why a performer might choose never to be recorded.

And I’ve talked about robot guitars a couple of times:

Gibson’s New Robot Guitar

A Quick Robot Guitar Note

So far as I can tell, the robot guitar from Gibson isn’t getting any attention at all from guitar players. It might be, but I haven’t seen anyone talking about it at the music blogs I check out.

But Antares—the Auto-Tune people—have created technology that can take the string signals from a standard guitar and shape them in real time into “in tune” signals regardless of the strings’ actual condition.

Peavey now markets a reasonably priced guitar with the technology in place. And Antares talks about the guitar technology at their website, too.

The Peavey guitar is different from the Gibson in that the Gibson has little motors in the tuning mechanisms and actually physically stays in tune. The Peavey intercepts the electrical signal from the pickup, decodes the individual string components and shapes them string-by-string using high-speed digital processing.

Now, I am someone who likes high technology. I think this is all very interesting stuff.

And this seems to be the future. More and more control over every aspect of entertainment and artistic production.

But it is completely unclear to me if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I’m pretty sure it is not a neutral thing. And I strongly suspect this is a bad thing.

I was partly thinking about this yesterday when I wrote Miranda’s Words And Caliban’s Music. And I’m pretty sure this is the kind of stuff the great science fiction writer Cyril Kornbluth had in mind when he wrote “With These Hands”—a great short story where a sculptor realizes there is just no place in the modern world for an artist who doesn’t use computer “corrections” in his work (I posted an excerpt from that story in Hell Is The Eclipse Of Art).


The third topic this may or may not relate to is what I talked about in Thinking About Real And Fake Villains—I mean when I wondered about real-life supervillains, and what schemes they might use to “attack” the whole world.

Antares jokes (I think they’re joking!) about “worldwide domination” and I’m guessing they must be smiling when they use the logo line “For all the voices in your head.”

But this really is radically de-humanizing technology.

It can be said this technology “empowers” producers and entertainers and artists and “artists” but at the same time it creates this fake version of reality that real people could never match, never live up to.

For all the people this technology empowers, there are millions—possibly billions, I suppose—that it de-humanizes by creating a standard no real human being could live up to.

That’s what supervillains do.

And this is real.

Our awareness, our consciousness, our very sense of self, is becoming populated—colonized?—by sights and sounds of pseudo-human performances that we could never duplicate or live up to in any way. Unless, of course, we plug ourselves into this or that computer processor. Unless we turn ourselves into something other than human. Processed human.

And of course it is very, very easy to say this kind of stuff is all in good fun. It is entertainment.

And it is fun. It is entertainment.

But it’s more, too. Isn’t it?

Because we live inside our head. Our conscious self is in our mind. And our mind is becoming filled-up with fake realities. And many of these fake realities are so carefully crafted that we can’t even tell they’re fake.

It doesn’t seem like a good thing: A world of processed people who cannot tell the difference between crafted fantasies and reality.

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