Vocoders -- Beyond The Robot Voice

March 1, 2010

Say “vocoder” and most producers will immediately think of classic Kraftwerk or ’80s funk and rap, but this tool has far more uses than simply generating robot voices. In essence, a vocoder is a highly specialized filter bank and can create exotic effects that are almost impossible to achieve otherwise.

Another common vocoding technique is to use a drum or percussion loop to impart rhythmic effects to a bright synth sound, but that’s also just scratching the surface. If you’ve ever spent a session tweaking LFOs and envelopes in search of the perfect filter sweep, you’re going to dig this month’s tutorial, because vocoders are a fantastic way to create perfectly timed sweeps, stabs, and falls using the most familiar controller you have: you.

0.00001_Vocoder---Raw-VoiceStep 1. Make some percussive and whooshy sounds with your voice. Pops, clucks, and shushes are great starting points for sweeps or percussive effects. This type of unpitched material will give the vocoder more frequencies for the modulator input, so be ridiculous and record the results. --Click for Audio--


0.00002_Vocoder---SubtractorStep 2. Next, create a simple sawtooth patch with the filter wide open so the sound is bright and buzzy. The initialized patch for Reason’s Subtractor is a great starting point, but any bright sawtooth will work. This will be the carrier signal the vocoder’s filters will operate on. --Click for Audio--



0.00003_Vocoder---Vocoded-SawStep 3. Now, using your vocoder’s input functions, set the sawtooth patch as the carrier and the recorded voice as the modulator. By using only a few filter bands — eight is ideal — the results will be more synthetic and less “vocal,” which is the effect we’re after. --Click for Audio--




0.00004_Vocoder---Vocoded-Saw-FXStep 4. From there, you can add effects like chorus and delay to thicken the sound and add ambience. --Click for Audio--



0.00005_Vocoder---NoiseStep 5. Another really cool trick is to use white noise as the vocoder’s carrier. Ableton Live’s vocoder includes noise as an option, so select that as the carrier and apply the techniques described above. This approach is well suited to noise sweeps, retro ’80s synth snares, or even thunder and rain effects. --Click for Audio--




Visit author and electronic music producer Francis Preve at www.fap7.com.

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