Technology finds its way everywhere in every working necessary sector and sphere of our lives. We accommodate it in our houses, workplaces even bodies – our ears while blasting music, preferably whilst conversation; fitness paraphernalia to encompass all the methods of metabolism in our body. Dominating the ever-discovering scientific industry, a functioning powerhouse of data storage, processing, and analyses. It saves lives, through the vision it effortlessly provides within, something not achievable by any manual or mechanical method. It performs surgery in places not possibly permeated, providing solutions to the impossible. Its evolution furthers its flabbergasting nature, it takes to conquer the field of art too, counterintuitively so, since it is a field of human precision.
In the modern era, a raging tide of musicians finds their voice in Autotune. It stands to remove the barrier of needing to have a ‘god gift ‘. A creative tool allowing not only its common auto-correction of the pitch as the name suggests but also its usage in quirky aspects of vocal sampling and vocal style. Modern music like hip hop uses a hefty amount of auto-tune and may just terminate into a new genre of auto-tune. It provides a measurable surprise value to music listeners, certain styles of autotune even marking the artist (drumroll…. Travis Scott! For example).
But in its essence, it is a matter of subjectivity – subjectivity and viewers’ perception of the output of it, while even having this subjectivity embedded in the origin of autotune. It is an origin story of assured dynamic.
In 1976, Exxon, a global contender and supergiant in the oil and natural gas sector had employed an electrical engineer and Ph.D., for a good position in their oil mining unit. He was quite literally a diamond in the dirt for them, as he would prove to be three years later. Dr. Andy Hildebrand diligently contributed to the oil sector through his job of managing, analyzing, and interpreting data. Collected by the sound waves that were shot at the Earth to predict potential gas and oil hotspots. This method was of success and had some probability and uncertainty to it.
A roll now to 1979, three years later. Exxon was falling behind on its seven-year contract with a major oil pipeline, a failure of filling oil in which would lead to a huge incurring of loss for the company. They could not afford any uncertainty in such a last straw. This opportunity was well received by Dr. Hildebrand. He invented a technology that could precisely predict the hotspots by wave correction, to give ridiculously detailed seismic maps of the Earth, which saved Exxon its multimillion-dollar deal.
This heroism proved to be an assurance for a forthcoming entrepreneur. “Dr. Andy”, quit his job. He founded Landmark Graphics, with three more partners and funding. His venture was prosperous. Landmark Graphics harvested an average of 250 million USD a year, with floating a public offering to a listing on NASDAQ. He ran operations to do what he felt he was known for and best at, building software for interpreting sound data to accurate seismic maps. Ten years of success left him enough to kick back and relax. In 1989, he retired from his venture.
Dr. Andy, in his early days, studied music at Rice University in Houston. He decided for his sabbatical to be a blend of his knowledge in both fields of technology and music. He attended the National Association of Music Merchants in 1995 when someone suggested the idea of “making a box to sing in tune”. At first, this idea seemed to be nonsensical to Hildebrand, and he surfed other ideas to develop. But as he went ahead and failed in his endeavors, he arrived back as his lucky hostage.
The art of pitch fixing, and correcting is art being long perfected. The auto-tune was most certainly not the first scratch at enhancing vocals or even using it as a mainstream melodic tool.
The Talkbox came out, in 1939, a simple device from which the artist’s sound was incorporated into the instrument by a PLASTIC TUBE, recorded on the same microphone. This gave a mixed effect of pitch correcting of the right note played on the guitar. Next came the Vocoder in 1971, during the ages of synths, a characteristic trait of the music of the time. The synthesizer in question analyzed a human modulation into its individual bandwidths. It then processed this into different wave patterns to something more artificial; imagine sharpening the waveforms.
But moving back to the main hero of this story, Dr. Andy was on a path of magnificence in technology and art! He never knew that one of his articulate inventions would grow so wide in modern music. He never knew the raw simple idea of “a magic box making anyone sing” could lead to something this explosive.
The human voice has a rich elaborate texture, it can be broken down into a plethora of pitches at the same time (called overtones). Hence the calculations required to digitally, recreate the same waveform with a different pitch, would require a supercomputer! But of his past expertise in wave correction, Dr. Andy Hildebrand devised the calculation in a mere four steps. A true genius.
Now auto tune cannot be avoided in any song; a constant debate is to determine its worth. But nevertheless, who knew singing badly could be a business!