I will be posting segments of my bachelor thesis “Out of Touch – The Framework That Is Supposedly Killing Music”. The whole essay can be found at: Link to essay
The main discussion points in the thesis are authenticity, Auto-tune and the obsession with perfection in today’s music.
Throughout this essay I will illustrate the different perspectives that I believe to be the defining factors of the Human touch in music. With each perspectives follows a question that directly correlates with my idea of the human touch.
- Authenticity – A theoretical perspective
- Can a pitch corrected and manipulated track still be regarded as authentic?
- Perfection – A psychological perspective
- Is the “natural sound” starting to die out or is it simply not wanted?
- Pitch correction is being used as a first resort instead of a last. Why is this?
- Pitch obsession – A technical perspective
- Is it possible to spot vocal manipulation simply by looking at the spectrograms or waveforms?
- Is it possible to fake the human touch or to remove it using modern technology?
- The Human Factor – A philosophical Perspective
- What is the human factor in music and is it starting to get replaced by technology?
When I was 12 I started to discover music in a different way. I have always, or for as long as I can remember, been obsessed with music; much thanks to my dad for always having Beatles or Dylan blasting through the speakers at our house. Around the same time I started noticing things in music, things that might have not been the first thing you hear. Small artifacts, small mistakes, things that make a particular song stand out, or that makes you wonder, why did they leave that in, or why did they add that? These artifacts are starting to, or have been fading away for a long time in my opinion. Today it is more important to achieve a perfect sound, a perfect take or at least as close to it as possible.
This evolution is not only very interesting, but it is also what sparked my interest in writing this essay. What is more interesting is that this phenomenon is not exclusive to pop music. This trend, the so called “perfection” trend is seen in almost every genre. I, being a fan of virtuosity and technicality was rather surprised when I found out how much post-processing there was behind my favorite metal or progressive rock music. Not only is there vocal manipulation, such as pitch shift and Auto-tune, but there are so many shortcuts used to achieve that sterile and artificial sound. The fact that MIDI-drums have become acceptable in professional recordings and, as of lately also amp simulations such as AXE FX and Kemper is not nearly as big of a surprise as the “copy-paste” trend that came along with the EDM and “home studio” trend. You could without, any problems make almost any genre of music with solely the help of a computer. The question is whether this has changed the way we listen to, or even view music?
I have chosen to call this phenomenon the human touch based on the fact that it is basically what it is, namely the human interference with music; from the pluck of a string or the grit of the voice to the press of a MIDI-keyboard. The “amount” of human touch is like authenticity a subjective and frameless thing. With this essay I am hoping to bring some new light on the matter.
Material and Method
The research part of the essay is divided into four different sections that each discusses the human touch in music from a different unique perspective. The majority of the theoretical material is based around previously published research in similar areas such as authenticity, musicology and psychology in music. The analysis section was done using several different software, plugins and original analysis methods. The programs used throughout the essay were Melodyne, Waves Tune and Auto-tune. The digital audio workstation used with these programs was Reaper.
The material surrounding authenticity and perfection were purely academic, while the analysis section used several magazine and internet articles discussing Auto-tune, pitch correction and virtual studio technology (VST) in general. Audio tracks were also used during the analysis sections to point out the use of different manipulation software.