Clive Davis is a champion of singer/musician Curtis Stigers, who had a couple of enormous mainstream hit singles and then made the journey from pop to jazz years ago. Sadly, it seemed at first that only seven people noticed his migration, including Clive—or as, as wardy observed, seven and two ragged tigers.
This year, on the basis of one single I heard on the radio, I bought East Of Angel Town by Peter Cincotti, who made the opposite transition. I’m making that single, Angel Town [MP3, 4.3Mb], available temporarily to encourage you to buy the album too. Download it now before it’s gone. East Of Angel Town sounds like it had the budget of Gladiator spent on it. In fact, some of the people involved in the last over-produced album I raved about were also involved in the making of this one. After a live small band performance of another track from the album, you can see the cash being thrown at parts of the fully arranged recording in this extract from a TV show on YouTube [lower-resolution—and therefore faster downloading—version here.]
When that sequence was shot, last year, Cincotti was only 24. It’s an advantage for him (I think), given his demographic, that he looks like a well-preserved thirtysomething. He certainly performs like someone older. Two interesting things: according to his MySpace page, although East of Angel Town has been released and promoted all over Europe, it doesn’t come out in the States until the 27th of January next year; according to the intriguing blog thread headed by the following post, Cincotti’s producer, David Foster, used to have perfect pitch, but he doesn’t any more:
Is Perfect Pitch Dying Out Like the Honeybees?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard several accounts of perfect pitch recently starting to fade for people who’d possessed the faculty all their lives. Other musicians have reported hearing the same.
I’m no expert on perfect pitch, but, as a musician, it’s something I’ve been around for years. (I, myself, don’t possess it – and wouldn’t want to, as it would annoy me when listening to musicians tuned above or below the standard A440, or using non-traditional and microtonal tunings.) But I’ve never before heard of perfect pitch fading. I’m guessing it’s a new – or, at least, newly common – phenomenon, and surely a great subject for some enterprising psychology graduation student to study.
The discussion below this is fascinating. I don’t believe perfect pitch is “dying out”. And I also think that people are becoming more sensitive to deviations in relative tuning, just as they became more sensitive to deviations in timing, and for similar reasons. When drum machines became widespread in the 80s and I was listening to lots of music that relied on them, the rhythmic looseness of a lot of recorded music from the 60s and 70s started to set my teeth on edge. Similarly, since the arrival of quartz-locked electronic instrument tuning and pitch correction software, I find it increasingly difficult to tolerate errors in my own or anyone else’s intonation. I don’t have anything like perfect pitch, but there are albums of stuff I can’t listen to any more.
This technological trend has had other odd side-effects. When bands used to play with instruments that were less accurately tuned to begin with and which also were more prone to drift out of (and into) tune during performances, the differences between the guitars and keyboards and vocals at any given moment and over the course of a track “thickened” the overall sound. This richness now has to be generated with various kinds of electronic post-processing. A related kind of manipulation—now made possible by pitch-correction software itself—that has become fashionable is to shift a generally accurate vocal performance up slightly so that it is, on average, microtonally sharp. This has two flattering effects: because most pop singers slide up to notes, it renders the attack of each of their top lines closer to the correct note; and because the melody is then slightly out of tune with the rest of the recording (which, as pointed out previously, is very tightly in tune with itself) it psychologically lifts the singer out of the backing and into the foreground. [And I’m not even going to get started on this year’s Kanye West album…]
- Curtis Stigers migrates from pop to jazz in the face of stubborn opposition from Clive Davis the record producer, but his change of direction is praised by Clive Davis the music critic.
- Peter Cincotti goes the other way, insisting on being backed by New York’s finest, and then tours the resulting album around Europe for months before it even gets a US release.
- Computer scientists develop technology to manipulate the pitch of any melody instrument, including the human voice, almost undetectably and it’s used by music producers to put bad performances in tune and good ones out of tune.
What an interesting post. I don’t have anything like perfect pitch, either, though my brother-in-law comes pretty close. When he tunes by ear, it ends up just slightly flat when tested with an electronic tuner.
When I watch old footage of Jimi Hendrix, he seems to be very badly out of tune just about all the time.
Funnily enough, I cut a reference to the Jimi Hendrix Experience out of an earlier version of this post. I was going to cite its rhythm section as an example of sloppy time-keeping that annoyed me, but didn’t want to get bogged down into an argument about that—or to give the impression that I was making some kind of allusion to matters of race and rhythm.
On a related front, I recently went to a hearing-aid shop in Hove—where else?—to get a quote for moulds for my in-ear stage monitors. When their rep rang me later with the numbers, I began to say:”There was another thing I was wondering…”
before he interrupted: “I know what you’re going to ask: can we match your skin tone? Of course we can!”
I wasn’t going to ask that at all, but it’s good that people think about such things these days.
Completely engrossing. More, please. And more often: you’re always brilliant on this. I was beginning to worry I wouldn’t read anything interesting again in 2008.
I wonder if the “I’m losing my perfect pitch” feeling is related to the “I’m losing my memory” one? The latter can safely be regarded as illusion and groupthink and changes in life context. Mebbe the other one can too.
Thank you, James.
I find blogging about music a bit like blogging about photography: they’re half-artistic, half-technical pursuits that I like to think I know more than average about, but, when I try to share this supposed knowledge, I realise that I can only think of about a dozen insights that might be worth sharing or that I can express in words—and writing the same twelve things down over and over again with different links gets a bit boring.
The most important insight is of course not original at all: if you want to be good at music or good at photography, you really do have to be intensely boring and do the same thing over and over again. It’s called practising.
Interesting. I find that lots of exposure to drum machines (years of programming them, apart from anything else) has made me more sensitive to rhythmic looseness, yes, but I don’t find it annoying. And what you mention about pitch-correction software of course has its analogue in rhythm software: most modern drum machines have various settings designed to push the beat further away from perfection, whatever that is. Which implies that there are a lot of people out there who not only, like me, don’t get annoyed by rhythmic imperfection, but who actually aspire to it.
Fun fact: Graham Coxon tunes his guitar once per recording session, at the start, and refuses to do it again. William Orbit found this surprisingly different, apparently.
I should have distinguished between different kinds of rhythmic looseness.
I love it when a band deliberately speeds up and slows down for different parts of a song, especially when they do so in a way that’s sensitive to the meaning of what they’re performing. I love it when one or more members lock(s) in slightly ahead of or behind the beat in a way that adds tension.
But I hate it when musicians can’t keep in time with each other. I hate it when people try to play a pattern that’s too difficult at the tempo they’ve chosen and, as a result, mess up its timing. And I hate it even more when some technical glitch splices in or skips over fractions of a beat. There’s a workshop in Hell where a team of demons builds CD players that jump inconsistently.
Most of the kinds of looseness that drum machines and sequencers add these days are groove-based: elements shift and stretch within a cycle in a consistent way (or they’re dynamic: hits vary in velocity in a way that suggests a human drummer for example). Grooves are great. Shambles aren’t.
Darn – I was anticipating another cricket-related post.
Btw – what’s wrong with a tune one can whistle?
You know what’s good? Even when I can’t understand your whole post it’s fun to read. That’s good writing that is.
I did briefly post a gloaty one about the Australia–South Africa Test series, but pulled it because I thought it wasn’t in the spirit of the season. If it turns into a whitewash then the temptation could prove overwhelming.
Thank you, Kibi. All these compliments are a nice way to end the year.
OK, fair enough. But how is any of that fixed by drum machines? In my experience, musicians find it harder to play in time to a drum machine than to a drummer, because it’s completely unforgiving and will never adjust to them. The only thing a drum machine fixes is the rhythmic consistency of the drum-beat, which is why I thought you had to be talking about natural human rhythmic variation rather than fuck-ups.
By the way, Happy New Year!
You know, thinking about this some more, you’re absolutely right about when music started getting tighter, but I don’t think it’s down to drum machines. I reckon it’s because of multitracking and the ability to re-record each instrument in isolation.
That’s often the case, but it’s also true that a lot of, if not most popular music, is (as you point out later) recorded by playing along with other already-recorded, and therefore unforgiving, tracks and that playing along with a metronome is one of the best ways to learn a piece of music properly.
Happy New Year to you too!
I don’t have perfect pitch, but I feel oddly, subliminally “disturbed” when a piece of music I know is being performed at the wrong pitch or even in a different key. It’s worse if I am part of the performance – singing, perhaps, I will completely fail to hit the right notes because they’re “wrong”. So perhaps I am close.
Anyway, if peoples’ perfect pitch is failing them, I expect it will turn out to be a consequence of global warming.
I do have perfect pitch and have never heard of anyone “losing” it before. However, when I am really tired or after a good few beers(!), my pitch perception begins to “wobble”, similar to seeing things less accurately (or double) when people are drunk. Have any other perfect pitch people experienced a similar thing?