Andy Hildebrand, 76, is an American engineer and scientist with a degree in mathematics and a doctorate in geophysics. He worked for Exxon and discovered dozens of oil fields, but he will forever be remembered as the inventor of Auto-Tune. There’s a lot of talk about it these days, especially Samuele Bersani’s Instagram post: “I got a video taken of one of these modern demigods ‘singing’ rhymes, off autotune for a few seconds. on stage,” he writes, “and it was like watching Icarus drown. You feel like flapping wax wings.” A reference to Sfera Ebbasta, but from here the controversy grew and affected the use of Auto-Tune in general. Which, Bersani’s tempo, is huge: it’s estimated that over 90 percent of vocal productions use this technology, or its equivalent.
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Hildebrand joined Exxon Production Research in 1976, where he developed seismic data interpretation algorithms. In 1984, he founded Landmark Graphics, which built the world’s first self-contained seismic interpretation workstation. After leaving Landmark in 1989, he began studying music composition at the Shepard School of Music at Rice University. In 1990, he founded Jupiter Systems to market his first music software product, Infinity.
Hildebrand conceived Auto-Tune at the suggestion of a colleague’s wife, who joked that she could use a device to help her sing in key. Within a few months in early 1996, he implemented the algorithm on a dedicated Macintosh computer and presented the result at the NAMM show later that year, where he “immediately was a huge success.” But this had to remain a secret: recording the perfect vocal tracks took a lot of time for both music producers and performers. As you remember
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In the Netflix documentaryit’s pop), producer Ken Scott recalls that David Bowie was one of the very few who recorded in one take: everyone else needed dozens, if not hundreds of takes, so you had to combine the best bits of each take to create a melodic track. But with Auto-Tune, everything has changed: if before a week of rehearsals was required, now half a day was enough; studios using Auto-Tune can get the job done faster, delight more customers, and cut costs. So Hildebrand sold his invention (which was also available in rackmount form) to all the major recording studios in Los Angeles. Hildebrand says: “I was approached by an important producer to thank me. He said that I changed his life because he no longer has to worry about finding the right people to sell on the market, beautiful people are enough for him.”
The existence of Auto-Tune remained a secret to insiders, at least until BelieveCher’s worldwide hit in 1998: it was the first song to no longer hide this technology, but show it off.
How it works
When an artist sings into a microphone, Auto-Tune analyzes the frequencies of the music and voice; if it detects a deviation from the reference, it applies a correction, bringing the note closer to the correct pitch. This process is known as pitch shifting, and it is not just a change in frequency, as can happen, for example, when slowing down a tape or recording, because this will also result in a different duration of the sound. The magic is exactly that: changing the fundamental frequency of a sound (usually a voice) without changing its duration. And this is possible due to the fact that after the signal is sampled, it is divided into several partially overlapping frames, which are moved to expand or compress the output sound. The point where the correction starts usually marks the jump between the original and the corrected sound, and using Auto-Tune tends to reduce this jump as naturally as possible.
When developing Auto-Tune, Hildebrand included a control panel with which you can adjust the pitch correction speed: “You can adjust the speed from 1 (fastest) to 10 (slowest). Just to complete the picture, I had a “zero” setting, which changes the pitch at the moment the signal is received, ”he explains. IN Believe, producers Cher Mark Taylor and Brian Rowling decided to use “zero” tuning, intentionally changing the singer’s voice and highlighting Auto-Tune interference. Which has since also become known as the “Cher effect” and entered pop music history through the front door. Now available in the studio and live, as a rackmount module or as a plug-in for digital workstations: it holds about 90% of the market and has become synonymous with voice change technology, something like Photoshop for images or Google for search.
For Time magazine, Auto-Tune is “one of the 50 worst inventions of the 20th century”, for the inventor it is the result of years of painstaking research, intense statistical calculations and algorithms that were previously considered impossible. In one way or another, it has been used on almost every hit album over the past 25 years, covertly or more overtly, as is the case with some of the great hits of Janet Jackson, Jason Derulo, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Katy Perry and many more. other. It has been used by monsters like Radiohead and Daft Punk, pop icons like Madonna and the Black Eyed Peas. And countless rappers and trappers, from Chris Brown, Drake and Kanye West to Italians like Gali, Lazza, Capo Plaza, Madame, Achille Lauro. And Thasupreme, cited as an example by Max Casacci, who summarizes the question on Instagram as follows: “For those under 30, Auto-Tune is code and expressiveness, no more and no less than in my 20s it could be in reverb. used in shovels on vibrating voices of insistent, inconsolable and cavernous existential discomfort,” writes the Subsonica guitarist. Recalling that novelties were often viewed with suspicion before they became part of pop culture: “From Joy Division to us, black-clad provincial hooligans who, to many (with the smell of moralism), looked just stoned, who covered up flaws with technological contrivances.” Thus, for Casacci, Auto-Tune becomes as much a tool as any other that adds to a musician’s technological baggage, provided they know how to use it creatively. The discussion provoked by Bersani seems destined to die down soon, and the Bolognese singer-songwriter is aware of this (“All the autotunes in the world would not be enough to correct the lack of irony around,” he wrote), and also because others are being introduced much more breakthrough technologies: even today, artificial intelligence writes music and lyrics, and also invents unreleased songs using the voices of disappeared singers. In addition to autotuning.