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.
The development of music and technology can create a world of mixed feelings. On one hand it creates new genres, new ways of production and unique opportunities that are not possible in an analog environment. The “surgical” control of the mix, sound and feel can be deceiving in many ways, but also extremely useful in many scenarios. On the other hand the tools and control remove some of the artifacts and personality in the process by either using too many polishing effects or simply by using automated and digital tools instead of the “real thing”. The accessibility of these tools are an important factor to the broad use seen in modern music today.
The questions asked in the hypothesis proved to be difficult to give a definite answer to. Instead new questions surfaced and a new level of understanding arose. The hope was not to give an exact answer, but to shed new light on the confusion and even anger towards using polishing effects and tools in music production
Maybe we are losing the human touch in music, or at least if we apply the new methods to old ways, such as authenticity. But in the year 2016, where almost all of the music is made and played on computers with a sound that would be described as unnatural and robotic, the framework surrounding authenticity must surely have evolved with the music. Perhaps not in writing, but in our heads. The academic framework surrounding authenticity feels dated and hard to apply to digital music. A song cannot simply be un-authentic because it was made purely on a computer. Which in theory all new digital and enhanced music would be if following the old frameworks from academic work based of Moore and Frifth.
Authenticity in music is not a solid thing stuck in time, but it feels like it when put in a new context. As long as music is evolving, so is authenticity and the framework that surrounds it. The ways of viewing genuiness and authenticity are perhaps dated and stuck in time, which is resulting in a naive and almost condescending attitude towards the digital and polished music that is flourishing today.
The technical control we have today is amazing. The fact that anybody with a computer and a digital audio workstation could produce, mix and master a song is something that could not have been foreseen. In the analysis in this essay I both applied and removed some of the factors that I believe are included in the human touch, to see if the performance was affected. Pitch correcting Dylan was a driving point, because surely that would remove the authenticity from the original song. The problem is that an already authentic performance proved hard to alter, even when you are using an excessive amount of effects. It is almost like the genuiness cuts through all the added filters and manipulations “like a knife”. The same thing goes for a song that has already been altered, like Believe by Cher. No matter what you do to the song, the “soul” somehow still remains, and perhaps that is where the “problem” lies.
Spectrograms and graphs created by pitch correcting software such as Waves Tune turn out to be excellent material for further analysis. When a track has been manipulated it is fairly easy to spot it using one of the graphs from one of the programs. Same goes with an older, non-manipulated track. The fluctuations and waveforms then look alive and variated while, the manipulated digitally enhanced track generally look more linear in comparison. The examples chosen for this essay were in a way extreme, but they still prove a strong point when it comes to using pictures to analyze music, instead of actually listening to the track.
No one could really say if the human touch is desired or not in today’s music. If it is “accidentally” removed by using modern technology, one could simply not use any modern technology and end up with an authentic result. Previously mentioned Jack White did just that, and in a way removing any confusion regarding authenticity and “cheats” such as pitch correction. But is forcing an authentic product really authentic? Honoring traditions is a huge part of authenticity and playing from the heart and soul is another. To actively think about authenticity as a main factor of your work could seem forced and fake. If one would wish for an authentic performance, just playing the things you want without worrying about frameworks or other people, would seem like the most authentic thing to do, no matter if effects are used.
Maybe it is not perfection we, the listeners are looking for, but it is the way it is become? The most perfect and polished might not actually be the best. Sometimes it is the uniqueness that is the most attractive in a piece of music. You might want to hear the person doing their thing, the thing that makes them unique instead of a perfected, polished product.