Everything sounds better autotuned

March 17th, 2010 by Ben Allen Leave a reply »

The Gregory Brothers’ “Autotune the News” was a minor sensation last summer (the one linked above got some airplay on broadcast media; I found out about them when they were featured on Rachel Maddow’s show). Their stuff works through a sort of arbitrary juxtaposition and decontextualization; they take segments of video and audio that were originally created in purportedly serious contexts — news reports, debate shows, c-span — and craft them into a catchy, funny song, without much regard for the original political content of their material (or rather, through a deliberate and carefully maintained disregard of the political content).

In interviews the Gregory Brothers have noted that the decision of who is or is not frequently featured on Autotune the News is almost entirely driven by whether the figures’ voice can be autotuned into something catchy sounding, so for example Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, who apparently have voices that are easy to make soulful, show up much more often than croaky-voiced Dick Cheney, Keith Olberman gets about ten appearances for each one by Rachel Maddow, and, if one were to judge by Autotune the News, Katie Couric is the only network newscaster in America. Although occasionally political commentary / content from the AtN creators will slip through (for example, the line “I thought this bill was about the climate” in the above video), this is always brief; the political point of AtN is that it’s possible to read news broadcasts as being a series of manipulatable sounds rather than as “serious” political discourse. Frequently AtN episodes will start with the AtN creators green-screened into a Sunday debate show set, shouting “BORING!” over the original, pre-autotuned audio; the twin messages I see here are that:

  • The political discourse on television is so debased (or whatever) that turning it into a song is actually more useful than listening to it, or, alternately,
  • The content doesn’t matter, or at least the raw lulzy fun of repurposing something serious is valid no matter how important the content is

Although the Gregorys are most known for the AtN series, one way they thwart readings of their work that focus solely on the “American political discourse is lame” message is through some of the other videos they have on Youtube, featuring autotunings of acknowledged “great speeches” (for example, they’ve done autotunings of JFK and MLK Jr. speeches).


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