Thursday, August 27, 2009

I hate the vocorder. Mostly.

The vocorder is to the late 00s what melisma was to the late 90s. Which is to say that it's ruined pop music all over again.

I don't absolutely hate either one, per se, but I definitely hate how widely and inappropriately they've been (mis)applied. The effect works perfectly with, say, Kanye's "Heartless" because it provides an incredibly apt musical texture for the lyric - just when it feels as if Kanye should be at his most impassioned, he sounds his most robotic. And there's an indeterminacy to the effect, too - has Kanye himself become cold and heartless, or has the artificiality of the vocorder overstated his case and, thus, undercut it?

I think the surest sign that the vocorder's reach has become too pervasive is when Mariah Carey - who arguably popularized the pop-melisma in the early 90s - also, and bafflingly, began to use the vocorder on her newest album. (I say 'bafflingly' because the vocorder was first used to subtly hide the vocal shortcomings of people who couldn't sing - ie. Britney Spears - and not to obscure the ability of people who can sing. Conversely, over-indulging in melisma seemed, at first, to be used as a way to flaunt one's voice and only later did it become clear that young singers were being taught to move between notes because they couldn't hold a single note - ie. Jessica Simpson.)

I can't embed Mariah Carey videos, so I'll post some links...
Vision of Love (1990) - The emblematic melismattic song.
Obsessed (2009) - The vocorder song.

And just to include something that, to my mind, uses the vocorder effectively...
Heartless (2008)


Anonymous said...

do you mean the VOCODER (no "r")
A vocoder is used to modify a SYNTHESIZER by mixing it with a human voice, to make the synth appear to "talk" or "sing" - the result does NOT sound anything close to human. AutoTune, is a pitch-processing production unit that detects/alters pitch variation/fluctuation based on user-defined settings. Autotune can make a very bad singer SOUND like a very good singer (to an extent)and when the "Speed" parameter is set to its fastest, we hear that "Cher" effect that was so popular in the late 90s and so much more popular today...again, this is not to be confused with a vocoder. Autotune sounds completely human (the Cher effect sounds slightly computerized) but a vocoder sounds nothing close to human.

neilshyminsky said...

Yeah, my bad. I know the difference now, but I must not have known it then. It's worth pointing out that I was mixing up my technology, though.