Posted by
Nick Thorburn
• 09.21.09 03:24 pm


Islands third record, Vapours drops tomorrow, September 22nd and Gavinnes has asked me to ruminate on it a bit.

Islands third record, Vapours drops tomorrow, September 22nd and Gavinnes has asked me to ruminate on it a bit.

The record leaked a week ago, which is actually the best time to leak an album IF it’s good. One thing I noticed from the twitter comments of those people that have heard it, is that most aren’t cottoning to the song “Heartbeat” and for a very clearly defined reason: The song employs the use of a much maligned, obscenely ubiquitous vocal effect known as Auto-Tune, aka T-Pain’s career. Auto-Tune is a genericized trademark, a proprietary audio processor that corrects pitch, most commonly used for the voice. I’ll assume most people know the specifics, but if not, you can read the Wikipedia entry for a brush-up.

[Audio:Heartbeat.mp3]
Islands “Heartbeat”

Anyhubris, as I said, “Heartbeat” got some flak for this. I demoed it in Garageband, right before going into the studio, as it was the last song written for the record. For a lark, I decided to record the vocals with the pitch correcting plug-in. When I brought the song to the studio, and it was time to “cut” the vocals, neither myself nor the co-producer, found the song worked with an unaffected vocal take. We had a rough take using the effect as a placeholder, until we found something more suitable, less garish.

We spent almost a whole day, wracking our brains trying to come up with an array of alternative studio effects and trickery. Of course, nothing worked, so I consulted Brian Eno & Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies for some guidance. Oblique Strategies was a deck of cards devised and published in 1975 to aide those in the studio who found themselves painted into a corner or stumbling on a certain aspect of the recording process. Cards are to be pulled at random and the advice contained on them is intended to help overcome any problems holding things up. On the first Islands record, Oblique Strategies were put to good use, albeit remotely, when the engineer accidentally recorded over my guitar on the tape machine. We stopped him when we noticed, and we immediately listened back with dismay. I threw a bit of a hissy fit, but co-producer (and bass player) Richard Reed Parry, full-time Arcade Fire member, chimed in with an O.S. nugget recalled from memory. “Honor the error as a hidden intention”, he said. We listened back again, and this time we noticed how well it worked with the guitar drop. It turned out that it had happened at the most perfect place imaginable, creating a seemingly purposeful dynamic that ended up becoming a fixture in the arrangement. (That song is “Volcanoes”, and the moment in question is around the 1:10 mark.)

In the studio for Vapours, there was an actual set of the Oblique Strategies, which I’d never seen before in person. I flipped through them, casually, but didn’t initially consult them. When “Heartbeat” felt seriously stalled, I pulled the drawer open and grabbed a card at random. This would be my first attempt with the cards, and as I was completely deadlocked and out of ideas, I wasn’t expecting much. I turned the card over, and it read: “Change nothing and continue with immaculate consistency”. Considering Auto-Tune is designed to be immaculate and consistent, I took the advice and let it be. The vocal tracks, (main melody and harmonies) heard on the song were all done in one take as a reference vocal, known as a “guide track”. They remained, as immaculate and consistent as ever. So if anyone has beef with this song, take it up with Eno.


Comments
  1. swimmininpussey says:

    yah, but you ain’t no eno. your song still sucks.

  2. drippy dog dix and cum bubbles or something says:

    Would have tried having a five year old girl record the vocal, or someone with a distinct speech impediment, then run that through Auto-Tune. Who knows. It would be cool to hear a version without the effect.

  3. Abby Normal says:

    The entire album is great, including that song.

  4. lulu says:

    thx for this inside stuff. im gonna buy, haters to the left!

  5. tlc says:

    i hate how when someone posts an earnest, heartfelt thought or idea i brace for the inevitable “this sucks/blows/kill yourself” comment. i know you guys are not fazed (phased?), but gawd its gay.
    like your song, nick.

  6. Wack-boy says:

    this sucks/blows/kill yourself

  7. loosejuice says:

    Didn’t much care for Arm’s Way, but this song seems pretty OK.

  8. Otto Tune says:

    Might I suggest you employ your oblique strategies deck when determining set lists for the Vapours Tour. Afterall, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of simple minds, Mr. Diamonds.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Why are you bothering to defend your decision?

  10. You're killing it! says:

    His “heartfelt explanation” warrants an impediment of criticism? This is disney channel drivel. This is Portsmouth Sinfonia Eno.

  11. hm says:

    Whatever, I love the record and Heartbeats is a solid track.

  12. Cpt. Douche says:

    Hey Nick, here’s a quick primer on TM law so you don’t sound like a jackass next time:

    1. If a TM is “generic” (a term of art), it will not warrant protection under the Lanham Act

    2. If a term is “descriptive” (which is what I think you meant to say), it will be afforded protection if secondary meaning (i.e. that it denotes source) can be shown

    It’s probably best if you stick to music

  13. homeless. says:

    i love this shit.

  14. Janie says:

    I just hate the sound of auto tuner. It ruins what might actually be a decent song.

  15. Charizard says:

    I loved it.

  16. Great song. Can’t wait to hear the album.

  17. street bronzer says:

    now that i’m done rubbing my asshole while looking at pictures of men wrestling, i’m here to say that your song sucks.

    just kidding, i was pretending to be one of the young snooty white guys that post insults like that. i like this song a lot. hey young white guy, go make something. fuck.

    if you are a non musician you really ought to read all of these cards, they’re available on a computer randomizer here:

    http://music.hyperreal.org/artists/brian_eno/oblique/oblique.html

    brian eno really is a smart cool guy

  18. incompossible says:

    Mr. Douche,

    I think he meant that auto-tune is a trademarked name for a specific product (namely “auto-tune” manufactured by the company anteres) that has been generalized as the term for any pitch correction software, much like kleenex is a generalized term for paper tissue.

    Your comment reminds me of the someone correcting the grammar in a joke, and thus ruining the joke, but feeling that correct grammar at all times is more important than a joke could ever be. This is a fucking blog post about a band by a guy from the band, nobody but you thought his possible misuse of a term from copyright law made him sound like a jackass. How far up your own ass is your head, anyways?

    Why don’t you stick to whatever the fuck you could possibly do for a living, which I’m sure is so profoundly boring I don’t even want to hear about it.

  19. […] You can also read Islands singer Nick Diamonds explain his Brian Eno inspired use of the controversial Auto-Tune effect on the song “Heartbeat” over at the Street Carnage Blog here. […]

  20. Anonymous says:

    Eno still has it, what a fucking champ.

  21. Vegan Jules says:

    I walked out of your show in L.A. You made for a very mediocre date in which I only got to 1st base.

    The first minute of this song was so unlistenable I had to stop there.

    Gavin needs Amy Kellner back, the musical bar is slipping here.

  22. WunderBarrs says:

    YouFuckingDoucheBags… open your narrow little minds, and give it some time.

  23. ew says:

    you all will never be as talented or good looking as nick thorburn, give it up and go live with your mom. oh wait you already do.

  24. jenn says:

    “Heartbeat” sounds great live.

  25. […] off their brand-new album, Vapours, for the heavily-Auto-Tuned vocals. In this interview over at Street Carnage, Nicholas Thorburn defends their decision to  use it, inspired by their use […]

  26. Some Guy says:

    I can’t stop listening to this song. I think it’s inspired. One of my favorites on the album. Fuck the naysayers.

  27. […] it is. I actually wrote a little thing on a blog yesterday kind of explaining the use of it. On a blog called Street Carnage, which I sometimes write for. I […]

  28. Cannell says:

    Great job on this site. I like comming here to read your articles. Keep up the good work!


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