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The World of Auto-Tune

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Even if you've never heard of auto-tune, you've heard it -- it's that slightly robot-like vocal processing effect that's used in every other pop song these days. Developed more than a decade ago as a studio tool to allow engineers to fine-tune the pitch of a singer's performance, it's become standard equipment. Time recently quoted an unnamed Grammy-winning recording engineer as saying, "Let's just say I've had Auto-Tune save vocals on everything from Britney Spears to Bollywood albums. And every singer now presumes that you'll just run their voice through the box." The same article expressed "hope that pop's fetish for uniform perfect pitch will fade," speculating that pop-music songs have become harder to differentiate from one another, as "track after track has perfect pitch."

A number of singers refuse to use auto-tune for reasons of artistic integrity. Death Cab for Cutie were recently seen wearing blue ribbons to protest its overuse in pop music, and singer Neko Case recently went on a mini-rant about it in Pitchfork:

When I hear auto tune on somebody's voice, I don't take them seriously. Or you hear somebody like Alicia Keys, who I know is pretty good, and you'll hear a little bit of auto tune and you're like, "You're too good for that. Why would you let them do that to you? Don't you know what that means?" It's not an effect like people try to say, it's for people like Shania Twain who can't sing. Yet there they are, all over the radio, spraying saccharine all over you. It's a horrible sound and it's like, "Shania, spend an extra hour in the studio and you'll hit the note and it'll sound fine. Just work on it, it's not like making a burger!"

You might not notice subtle adjustments in a performer's voice like a singer like Case does. But I'm certain you've noticed auto-tune used in the much less subtle way that's become super popular of late -- as an over-the-top voice effect which broke onto the scene with Cher's 1998 hit "I Believe" and has now become indelibly associated with T-Pain (here's a classic example). Thankfully, hopefully, auto-tune is starting to become passe -- the first sign of which are elaborate YouTube parodies of the technique. Here are a few of my favorite, by YouTuber schmoyoho.

Check out what auto-tune can do even to people who aren't singing -- like Newt Gingrich and Katie Couric -- and it becomes obvious how powerful a tool it is when used on the voices of people who are. (And doesn't it sound silly?)

Or, if you'd rather get historical up in this, here's Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech -- auto-tuned.

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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
Fisherman Catches Rare Blue Lobster, Donates It to Science
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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Live lobsters caught off the New England coast are typically brown, olive-green, or gray—which is why one New Hampshire fisherman was stunned when he snagged a blue one in mid-July.

As The Independent reports, Greg Ward, from Rye, New Hampshire, discovered the unusual lobster while examining his catch near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Ward initially thought the pale crustacean was an albino lobster, which some experts estimate to be a one-in-100-million discovery. However, a closer inspection revealed that the lobster's hard shell was blue and cream.

"This one was not all the way white and not all the way blue," Ward told The Portsmouth Herald. "I've never seen anything like it."

While not as rare as an albino lobster, blue lobsters are still a famously elusive catch: It's said that the odds of their occurrence are an estimated one in two million, although nobody knows the exact numbers.

Instead of eating the blue lobster, Ward decided to donate it to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. There, it will be studied and displayed in a lobster tank with other unusually colored critters, including a second blue lobster, a bright orange lobster, and a calico-spotted lobster.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy Murdoch University
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Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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