Copyright ©2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Digital technology has transformed the way we take pictures, the way we communicate, the way we listen to music, and as our resident musician David Was notes, it's also changed the music itself.

DAVID WAS: The digital revolution has given new meaning to the phrase fix it in the mix, which formerly meant that little pops and glitches could be glossed over or repaired after a recording was finished. Nowadays, using powerful software like Melodyne made by the German company, Celemony, tone-deaf, no talent howlers can have their pain-inducing vocals corrected.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Before the night was through.

WAS: With a couple of clicks and drags of the old mouse...

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Before the night was through.

WAS: Mind you, there is a garbage in, garbage out aspect to all of this. Roseanne Barr is not going to sound like Barbara Streisand with the flick of a switch, but she needn't make cream curdle next time someone lets her sing the national anthem, heaven forbid.

The software, if used with a light touch, is subtle enough to change pitch and even tempo without leaving a distorted digital footprint. Listen to the last note of this operatic phrase made higher and higher by the software, though it was only recorded once. ..TEXT: (Soundbite of woman singing opera)

WAS: The curious thing is, modern-day record producers don't mind turning the dial to 11 when modifying a performance, resulting in half-human, half-robotic sounding vocals, as was done with Cher's hit single "Believe."

(Soundbite of song "Believe")

Ms. CHER: (Singing) So sad that you're leaving. Takes time to believe it.

WAS: No, they did not insert a microchip in the ageless wonder's larynx. They simply streamed her vocal through software that knows the exact frequency she was trying to hit. Twist the knob a bit more, and she becomes a soprano Darth Vader.

(Soundbite of song "Believe")

CHER: (Singing) I need time to move on. I need love to feel strong.

WAS: Combining the human voice with an electronically-generated pitch was conceived back in the early 1970s, when synthesizer pioneers Robert Moog and Wendy Carlos frankensteined the choral parts of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony using a vocoder or vocal encoder.

(Soundbite of synthesizer music)

WAS: Pretty soon, bands like Craftwork and Pink Floyd were using the device to give an other-worldly quality to their productions. More recently, Imogen Heap took her song "Hide and Seek..."

(Soundbite of song "Hide and Seek")

Ms. IMOGEN HEAP: (Singing) Where are we?

WAS: And ran it through the industry standard microcord synthesizer.

Ms. IMOGEN HEAP: (Singing) Where are we?

WAS: What's really going on here is a massive digital cheating scandal at the top of the pop charts.

(Soundbite of song "Piece of Me")

Ms. BRITNEY SPEARS: (Singing) You want a piece of me? You want a piece of me?

WAS: Britney Spears is reportedly never without a meladine assistant.

(Soundbite of song "Can't Believe It")

Mr. T-PAIN: (Singing) Make the people say yeah. Yeah.

WAS: Nor certainly the hip-hopper T-Pain, who's "Can't Believe It" would be twice as hard to fathom without genius German software engineers watching his back.

Mr. T-PAIN: (Singing) Girl, ain't nothing to the Pain, ain't trickin. If you got it, what you asking for? Put you in a mansion.

WAS: And let's not forget the eminent non-singer, yours truly, Mr. David Was.

(Singing) On a day like this with a girl like you.

WAS: I sang four forgettable lines into the old Apple computer the other day and stood clear while the box of bolts turned me into Tony Bennett.

(Singing) On a day like this with a girl like you. Going to steal a kiss.

WAS: Don't judge the old dog too harshly.

(Soundbite of music)

(Singing) Oh, baby. I'm a G, and you know it's true. This is David Was for National Public Radio.

BRAND: David Was is half of the musical duo Was (Not Was).

WAS (Singing): On a day like this with a girl like you. Going to steal a kiss cause that's just how I do.

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