The phase vocoder bends the pitch of
my voice toward a norm.
Our ability to correct sung pitches was the
unintended result of an effort to extract
hydrocarbons from the earth:
the technology was first developed by an
engineer at Exxon to interpret seismic
The first poet in English whose name is
known learned the art of song
in a dream.
Bede says: “By his verse the minds of many
were often excited to despise the
When you resynthesize the frequency
domain of a voice, there is audible
“phase smearing,” a kind of vibrato,
but instead of signifying the grain of a
particular performance, the smear
signifies the recuperation of particularity by
I want to sing of the seismic activity deep
in the Earth and the destruction of the
earth for profit
in a voice whose particularity has been
extracted by machine.
I want the recuperation of my voice, a
rescaling of its frequency domain, to be
audible when I’m called upon to sing.
Caedmon didn’t know any songs, so he
withdrew from the others in
Then he had a dream in which he was
probably by a god, and asked to sing “the
beginning of created things.”
His withdrawing, not the hymn that he
composed in the dream, is the founding
moment of English poetry.
Here my tone is bending toward an
authority I don’t claim (“founding
but the voice itself is a created thing, and
the larynx operates within socially
determined parameters we learn to
You cannot withdraw and sing, at least not
You can only sing in a corporate voice of
The voice, notable only for its
the brightest object in the sky after the sun,
love will be made beneath it, a voice leveled
to the point that I can think of it as mine.
But because this voice does not modulate
the boundaries of its intelligibility
dynamically, it is meaningless.
I can think of it as mine, but I cannot use it
to express anything.
The de-skilling of the singer makes the song
transpersonal at the expense of content. In
this sense the music is popular.
Most engineers aspire to conceal the
corrective activity of the phase vocoder.
If the process is not concealed, if it’s
overused, an unnatural warble in the
and correction passes into distortion: the
voice no longer sounds human.
But the sound of a computer’s voice is
moving, as if our technology wanted to
remind us of our power,
to sing “the beginning of created things.”
This the sound of our collective
and in that sense is corporate. As if from
the phase smears as the voice describes
the diffuse reflection of the sun at night.
In a voice without portamento, a voice in
which the human
is felt as a loss, I want to sing the permanent
wars of profit.
I don’t know any songs, but won’t withdraw.
I am dreaming
the pathetic dream of a pathos capable of
so that corporate personhood becomes
more than legal fiction.
It is a dream in prose of poetry, a long
dream of waking.
—Ben Lerner’s books of poetry are The Lichtenberg Figures (2004), Angle of Yaw (2006), and Mean Free Path (2010), all published by Copper Canyon Press. His first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, is forthcoming from Coffee House Press. He teaches in the writing program at Brooklyn College.