Dance Ethereal Vocoding

In the March 2010 issue, I covered using vocoders for unique filter sweeps. As any fan of vocoders will tell you, they’re capable of astonishing and otherworldly effects when not being used for making robot voices that say, “rock your body.”
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In the March 2010 issue, I covered using vocoders for unique filter sweeps. As any fan of vocoders will tell you, they’re capable of astonishing and otherworldly effects when not being used for making robot voices that say, “rock your body.”

This month, we’ll go deeper into an exotic trick I call “ethereal vocoding,” a mainstay in remixes by legendary DJ and producer Sasha. This technique is easily accomplished using Apple Logic’s or Ableton Live’s stock vocoder, as the essence is simply to create as many vocoder bands as possible, then make the range of each band extremely narrow. The result is a haunting, metallic sound that’s great for everything from drum loops to voices.

Here are three easy-to-implement examples of this effect at work.

Ethereal Sweeps
Apply a slow sine or triangle wave LFO to the pitch of an oscillator that’s generating a sawtooth wave. Square waves work well, too—just be sure the waveform has a ton of harmonics. If you use the result as both the modulator and the carrier for the vocoder, the result will be a metallic, formant-swept undulation that’s difficult to achieve any other way.

Bell Drums
Here, we use a drum loop from Loopmasters’ Joey Youngman library as both carrier and modulator in a narrow-band vocoder. The result is a bell-like rhythm with the groove of the source material. Often the kick drum in a loop will create too much low-frequency information, so slap on a highpass filter somewhere in the chain. Add a touch of delay for more rhythmic complexity.

Ghostly Metallic Vocals
This example is based on an excerpt of an interview I did for David Battino’s “Digital Media Insider” podcast. We use a standard sawtooth pad as the carrier, but again, with our narrow- band vocoder. The result is much like the classic vocoder effect, but with a distinct metalloid texture. For an example of this trick in context, check out Sasha’s “Involver” remix of Grand National’s “Talk Amongst Yourselves.”