The Friday Fillip: Singing a Different Tune

Back in the day some important numbers in music were 78, 33 1/3, and 45. Now, of course, numbers just don’t enter into it — the “it” being the speed at which data is lifted off a medium: “faster” (cousin to “more”) is the only watchword, as numbers exponent (should be a real verb) beyond our understanding.

(An interesting sidelight: I always thought these numbers represented technological progress or something akin to that. Turns out that, like so much else, they were simply fabrications born of capitalist competition, designed to dupe the rubes. And for a forehead-slapping “Doh!” incident, I learn from the same source an obvious fact: that the music was distorted as the needle made a circuit faster and faster spiralling in to the centre.)

Faster and faster: think Alvin and the Chipmunks or, if you like your e.g.s a little loftier, David Bowie’s Laughing Gnome. Good for a giggle, especially perhaps in the last half of the last century when there was a sentiment that things weren’t changing fast enough. Now we’ve got more of the speed we wished for and, like a lot of boons, it’s grown unwanted hair.

So we’re slowing things down now.

This slowed, dropped-pitch song was making all the rounds a little while back, and I offer it here as the first bit of evidence that we’re putting on the brakes: Slow Ass Jolene turns Dolly Parton’s 1973 song “Jolene” into something . . . quite other, and to my ears, something improved: httpa:// But a few people were irked that when the song was slowed Parton’s pitch was radically dropped, so another version was produced that slowed things down but kept the original pitch and that Dolly voice we know and love, albeit with less of its natural “chipmunks” quality: httpa:// (Because of the goose and gander sauce thing, someone thought that if you could go F to M with a slowdown, maybe you could go M to F with a goose in speed, and who better to try this on than The Boss. Turns out that Mr. Springsteen is in reality Ms Parton at 33 1/3: httpa://

Of course, once the idea caught on of slowing songs down examples multiplied on YouTube and elsewhere. I’ll only offer you three instances here: the radically distorted Justin Bieber: httpa://,
“Glenn Gould slowed down 16.75 times”
and the happily corrected Beatles’ Real Love, which was apparently juiced in post production to be boppier, with the unhappy effect of pulling John’s voice up too high (compare the released version here: httpa://

The Beatles – Real love (original key and pitch, final speed)

It’s not just songs that are getting the disk brakes. Here’s a weird recording of a bunch of crickets slowed waaaay down, until you can hear them as if they were a human choir. There’s art here, too, because the maker, Robert Wilson, arranged for a singer, Bonnie Jo Hunt, to do a descant above the insects, and you can hear her voice blended beautifully with the sound of the bugs: But for the truly weird — and distressingly creepy — I close with the snail’s pace bawling of a baritone baby: httpa://

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  1. Hey Simon:

    I hate to be the one to call out your physics but the needle doesn’t actually go faster as it nears the centre of a vinyl record. The needle covers each track in the same time based on the rotational speed of the disk. The distortion is caused mostly because the track itself is shorter near the centre so the relative speed of the needle along the vinyl is slower, resulting in loss of fidelity of higher pitches. For the true geeks in your audience, there are also effects because of the greater curvature of the track near the centre of the disk. The difference in length between the inner edge of the groove, which usually carries the left track, and the outer (right track) edge is also greater near the centre.

    Thanks for a great trip down memory lane on a Friday and for highlighting some of the goofier things that were done back in the analogue days.

  2. @alan Thanks for the correction. I’m maintaining that it was the forehead slap that did it.