Starring Auto-Tune. On the Mediation of Difference through Standardization

Abstract: In the course of the past one and a half decade, Auto-Tune has entered, challenged and molded the pop music industry with the ability to tonally control and alter the human voice in mediation. Whereas Auto-Tune‟s technologically standardizing nature is self-evident, the vocal effect is often unjustly denounced as a culturally standardizing mechanism. Indeed, it could be argued that Auto-Tune has produced „more of the same‟ in popular culture as both a correction and distortion mechanism. However, this assumption limits to see the more subtle implications and opportunities provided by Auto-Tune in the formation of identity in an age in which human and technology are no longer exclusively distinguishable. Taking the voice as its input signal, Auto-Tune is engaged with the mediation of bodily difference. Grounded in a theoretical framework of assemblage theory and posthumanism, this research aims to study the complex interaction between Auto-Tune, the embodied voice, and subjectivity and identity, from the methodological framework of an Auto-Tune-voice- identity assemblage. Such a perspective opens up ways of seeing the technology as an extended form of subjectivity, allowing the posthuman an increased ability to reflexively play and experiment with the construction and reconstruction of identity. A number of case studies provided by Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Bon Iver, and James Blake from popular music, and the „I Am T-Pain„-app, „Auto-Tune the News,‟ and „Symphony of Science‟ from participatory culture, demonstrate how Auto-Tune, as a standardizing technology, can lead to a challenging of culturally persistent identities.

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