Auto-Tune Was Accidentally Invented by an Exxon Scientist Studying Seismic Soundwaves

Looks like Exxon is doing more damage to the environment than we initially thought!

So, VEVO pops up these factoids while the next video is loading. And this morning, this was one of them: Auto-Tune was accidentally invented by an Exxon (now ExxonMobil) scientist while doing seismic data interpretation using sound waves.  It was eventually realized that this technology could be used to detect, interpret, and alter pitch, and the rest, as they say, was history.

The engineer was Andy Hildebrand, who was working on methods to interpret seismic data while at Exxon Production Research.  This seismic data exploration uses signal processing and audio interpretation to map elements deep below the earth’s surface.  Which basically means finding oil, without more expensive drilling or invasive techniques.  Eventually, Hildebrand cofounded Landmark Graphics, a stand-alone data seismic research workstation, but Hildebrand was always a deep lover of music.

Which is why Hildebrand began studying music composition at the Shepard School of Music at Rice University. And it’s also why he founded Antares Audio Technologies in 1990, and eventually translated seismic techniques towards a number of audio technologies.  That included things like Pro Tools plug-ins and voice processing technologies, and the now-uniquitous audio enhancement, Auto-Tune.

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 Also check out: “A Brief History of Antares…

The history of pop music (and beyond) was forever altered.  Cher was the first to Auto-Tune in 1998, but her producers quickly ‘altered’ the source of the effect in interviews.  Fast-forward to the present, and Auto-Tune is now baked into endless songs, and a central technology to the identity of artists like T-Pain (and, definitely not a central technology to the identities of artists like Jay-Z).  It’s even being used on stages these days, from what we hear.

All of which raises the question: did AutoTune ruin music by perfecting sub-standard singers and producing an avalanche of pitch-perfect schlock?  Or, is this just another hyper-reaction to technology?  When asked that question by Nova, Hildebrand pointed to some pre-AutoTune tendencies that were equally deceptive.

“‘Cheating’ in the old days used endless retakes to get a final result. It’s easier now with Auto-Tune. Is the actor who plays Batman ‘cheating’ because he can’t really fly?”

One Response

  1. @ccoughtrey

    If you didn’t hate the oil industry before…