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  • Are you familiar with Radiohead's "Fitter Happier"? It's the seventh track on Ok Computer (click the player above to listen to it now if you need a refresher). Thom Yorke once said that he considers this song to be the most upsetting thing he's ever written

    But what makes it so upsetting? The music plays a part for sure. The words too. Especially the words. It isn't just the words (a frustrated list of mid-90's slogans interspersed with the shards of an impending nervous breakdown) or what they represent, it's their delivery. I can't say for sure, but it's my hunch that Yorke chose that voice instead of his own because his was too human to do the song justice. What better way to deliver such disconnected, self-deceiving, hopeless, hollow prose than by marrying it to a voice that can only pretend to be a person? Listen again now and see if you can suss out why that voice is so inhuman.

    I'll give you a hint: It's not what's there, but what isn't.

    Give up?

    The computer isn't breathing.

    Listen for the breath before the words in that song: There's nothing there, and it sounds... wrong. Programmers noticed this problem a few years back, and added subtle little intakes of breath into the spaces where we're all so unconsciously accustomed to hearing breathing happen.

    If you're reading this on a modern Mac, then you can hear it for yourself. Highlight this paragraph and the one just above it, and then control-click the highlighted text. Then select first "Speech" - and then "Start Speaking". Listen for it just after the commas, and just before each new sentence begins. It's hardly perfect, but it's a whole lot closer to real than it used to be.

    What you just heard contains the key to changing chords like a pro. I'll explain how this works in my next post, "Easy as Breathing: Part 2".