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Jan. 13, 2010

Auto-Tune the Cosmos: Q&A With John Boswell

by Shelley DuBois

Click to enlarge images
 
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John Boswell Auto-Tuned clips of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos into “A Glorious Dawn,” and the video went viral. Now, he’s created a project called The Symphony of Science. He talks with SciArts about the addictive nature of Auto-Tune, Sagan’s smooth voice and how copyright law can be such a bummer.
 
SciArts: Why do you think your video went viral?
John Boswell: I had no idea it would do so. I think it’s because it’s a relatively new medium.
 
SA: What’s the magic of Auto-Tune?
JB: Well, it’s if you’ve ever played with it, you know how addictive and fun it is to use. You basically select any speech you can find and you bring it into this program and you can look at the visualization of a person’s natural speech variations. You can tune them to hit a different note every half second if you want, but the fun of it is crafting a really meaningful sounding song with powerful quotes.
 
SA: Why does Sagan’s voice work so well for this project?
JB: I can’t quite put my finger on it, but his voice is really smooth–really calm when he talks. The variations in his pitch when he speaks are very little, that makes it easier to auto-tune. In the videos, you have a pretty good picture of Carl’s original speech, but it also has a musical sound.
 
SA: And when did Carl come into your life?
JB: Well, I first got into Carl Sagan’s Cosmos when I was a sophomore in college, which was about four or five years ago. I was into music creation at the time and only this last year did I start getting into doing remixes. I just played around and I put this thing out there, and I had no idea it was going to catch on. That motivated me to follow up with trying to be similar but branch out a little bit more too.
 
SA: Branch out how?
JB: I ultimately want to branch out from here into other types of musical arenas and more formal bands where i don’t have to worry about copyright. I hope to make at least ten songs or ten videos, enough for an album, but there are copyright issues surrounding all this material that I’m not authorized to use. If there is an album in the future, it’s going to be a huge endeavor to clear these hurdles. I’m just kind of flying by the seat of my pants.
 
SA: So what’s the main message that you want people to get from your work?
JB: Ideally, I’d like people to see this as a novel form of entertainment. They’re fun to watch and the visuals are cool. But I would also like people to come away with some knowledge, that’s the whole point. They’re easily digestible samples. A lot of people aren’t used to the philosophy that Carl Sagan and others were promoting. I hope that people will remember some of the lyrics and kind of dwell on that.
 
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About Shelley DuBois

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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