I don’t have perfect pitch. One of my long-suffering former Flatland music tutors would however be amused to read that the other day I noticed that my toothbrush was playing the key note of a Kelly Clarkson song and I wandered over to the piano and played the scale along with it—first time! I never seemed to master that trick; she should have tried putting a tuning fork to my jaw.
For those who do have it, perfect pitch can be a curse, but there must be lots of amateur hacks like me who can’t bear to hear stuff performed out of tune or out of time. I hate karaoke and if one of those TV talent shows is on in the corner of a room I have to leave. Yesterday I was in a shop where the canned music was chart R&B coming off a CD compilation with a skipping problem. Standing in the queue and listening to familiar songs remixed by the apparently random excision of fractions of a beat I was afraid I was going to have some kind of seizure.
On a related matter I think I might have once attended that “R&B” nightclub in North Street that they shut down last week because of the violent characters it attracted. I’ve inadvertently been hangin’ with gangstas! Wait till I tell the guys at chess club.
I share your pain. It never ceases to amaze me that people can listen to, for instance, badly tuned radios, without screaming and ripping off their own ears. People actually seem not to mind. Weird.
The interesting thing is the difference between singing out of tune badly because you can’t sing and singing out of tune well because you’re a genius. Shara Nelson very rarely hits the correct note, but always hits the right one. Similar things could be said about the fine line between bad rhythm and beautiful phrasing — Slash’s guitar playing springs to mind: he’s so far off the beat you have to wonder whether he can even hear the rest of the band, but he is, without doubt, brilliant.
Out-of-tune good: Jon Anderson, Joan Armatrading, Jimi Hendrix, Seal, Sting
Out-of-tune bad: Chris de Burgh, Dido, Katie Melua
An ex-professional musician friend of mine told me that vocal tracks are now broken down by syllable, tuned, and then put back together. Some vocal tracks you hear are made up the artist recording the vocal a number of times, and the best bits of each are used.
I’d say that most of them are. It’s called “comping” and it’s been going on for decades. Though these days it’s much easier.
In other news, Antares released a fresh update of Auto-Tune for Macs this week, with—I am not making this up—a new “Humanize” knob.
I can honestly say I’ve never used Autotune. I think it’s better, on balance, just to get a shit-hot singer. There are one or two marginally out-of-tune bits on our albumum, bit I like them. An acquaintance of mine uses Autotune, but has placed me under strict instructions never to let the singer in his band find out. She’d be mortified.
I reckon Katie Melua’s tuning is good. It’s her tone of voice I can’t stand. Something about what she does to vowels, especially “oo”, just winds me up the wrong way.