Creative Vocal Processing Part 2

October 1, 2009

Last month, we used editing and effects to turn a phrase from a lead vocal into a padlike cloud of sound. This month, we’ll ratchet things up. Longtime Keyboard readers know I’m a fan of a technique I call “digital glossolalia.” Literally, the term refers to the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues.” In an electronic dance music context, it takes an existing vocal (that, naturally, is in tune with the original track), and edits it into an entirely new hook. I cover this technique in my book The Remixer’s Bible (Hal Leonard), and a few years back, I used it to create a hook for the remix of Martijn Ten Velden’s “I Wish You Would.” Here’s how it was done. Note: click "Step 4" and steps thereafter for the audio examples.

Step 1. We’ll start by placing the vocal sample, as-is (unsynced) over the Apple Loop from last month’s example.

1009 Do It Dance Mix 1

Step 2. Next, we split that vocal into smaller segments using Logic’s “Split Regions by Playhead” function, which uses a single keystroke: \ (backslash). You could split each segment into varying note lengths, but for this example, we’ll stick to equal eighth-note slices.

1009 Do It Dance Mix 2

Step 3. Once you’ve got everything sliced, it should look something like this.

1009 Do It Dance Mix 3

Step 4. Now, delete a bunch of slices, listening for both cool vowels and melodic notes to leave in. Certain consonants can be problematic, depending on your objectives, so keep that in mind as well. After you’ve made the deletions, your remaining slices may look something like this.

1009 Do It Dance Mix 4

Step 5. Here’s where the real fun begins. As your drums play, experiment with reordering your slices. For best results, try to create a one-measure loop out of the most compatible slices, then copy that loop for four measures, changing the fourth measure subtly for a “turnaround” at the end.

1009 Do It Dance Mix 5

Step 6. Once you’ve got a pattern you like, try adding rhythmic effects. For this type of process, tempo-synced delays are a tried-and-true technique. Here’s an example.

1009 Do It Dance Mix 6

One final note to Ableton Live users: Glossolalia effects like this can be whipped up in record time by simply using the “Slice to new MIDI track” option on a vocal segment. Use eighth- or sixteenth-note intervals, then rearrange the MIDI events into a similarly rhythmic loop. Presto!

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