Money magic for musicians

Vintage Keyboard Instruments
Hammond B3
Prophet 5
Digital Sampler
Other Classic Synths

Electronic Keyboard Legends


Electronic Music Guide

Synthesizer Resources

The Vocoder

Weapon of Choice: Vocoder

A vocoder (name derived from voice encoder, formerly also called voder) is a speech analyzer and synthesizer. It was originally developed as a speech coder for telecommunications applications in the 1930s, the idea being to code speech for transmission. Its primary use in this fashion is for secure radio communication, where voice has to be digitized, encrypted and then transmitted on a narrow, voice-bandwidth channel. The vocoder has also been used extensively as an electronic musical instrument.

Vocoder theory
The human voice consists of sounds generated by the opening and closing of the glottis by the vocal cords, which produces a periodic waveform with many harmonics. This basic sound is then filtered by the nose and throat (a complicated resonant piping system) to produce differences in harmonic content (formants) in a controlled way, creating the wide variety of sounds used in speech. There is another set of sounds, known as the unvoiced and plosive sounds, which are not modified by the mouth in the same fashion.

The vocoder examines speech by finding this basic carrier wave, which is at the fundamental frequency, and measuring how its spectral characteristics are changed over time by recording someone speaking. This results in a series of numbers representing these modified frequencies at any particular time as the user speaks. In doing so, the vocoder dramatically reduces the amount of information needed to store speech, from a complete recording to a series of numbers. To recreate speech, the vocoder simply reverses the process, creating the fundamental frequency in an oscillator, then passing it through a stage that filters the frequency content based on the originally recorded series of numbers.

Follow this link to hear a great vocoder demonstration: keyboardmuseum

Musical applications
For musical applications, a source of musical sounds is used as the carrier, instead of extracting the fundamental frequency. For instance, one could use the sound of a guitar as the input to the filter bank, a technique that became popular in the 1970s.

Musical history
In 1970, electronic music pioneers Wendy Carlos and Robert Moog developed one of the first truly musical vocoders. A 10-band device inspired by the vocoder designs of Homer Dudley, it was originally called a spectrum encoder-decoder, and later referred to simply as a vocoder. The carrier signal came from a Moog modular synthesizer, and the modulator from a microphone input. The output of the 10-band vocoder was fairly intelligible, but relied on specially articulated speech. Later improved vocoders use a high-pass filter to let some sibilance through from the microphone; this ruins the device for its original speech-coding application, but it makes the "talking synthesizer" effect much more intelligible.

Carlos' and Moog's vocoder was featured in several recordings, including the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, in which the vocoder sang the vocal part of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Also featured in the soundtrack was a piece called "Timesteps," which featured the vocoder in two sections. Originally, "Timesteps" was intended as merely an introduction to vocoders for the "timid listener", but Kubrick chose to include the piece on the soundtrack, much to the surprise of Wendy Carlos.

In the late 1970s, vocoder began to appear in pop music, for example on disco recordings. A typical example is Giorgio Moroder's 1977 album From Here to Eternity. Vocoders are often used to create the sound of a robot talking, as in the Styx song "Mr. Roboto". It was also used for the introduction to the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland.

Vocoder has appeared on pop recordings from time to time ever since, but in most of cases vocoder works just as a some kind of special effect in pop music. However, many experimental electronic artists and representors of "new age" genre often utilize vocoder in a more comprehensive manner. Jean Michel Jarre (album Zoolook, 1984) and Mike Oldfield (album Five Miles Out, 1982) are good examples. There are also some artists who have made vocoder an essential part of their music. Those include the famous German group, Kraftwerk, jazz/fusion keyboardist Herbie Hancock during his late 1970s disco period, Patrick Cowley's late recordings and more recently, avant-garde-pop group Trans Am. The song "O Superman" by avant-garde musician, Laurie Anderson, is a popular recording released in 1981 that incorporates the vocoder. The KLF used vocoder-distorted voices in their 1991 "Stadium House" mix Last Train to Trancentral (Live from the Lost Continent). In 1998, Marilyn Manson utilized the vocoder heavily in their glam- and 70s-influenced LP, Mechanical Animals, whereon such songs as "User Friendly" and "Posthuman" among others make substantial use of the technology. Since 1998, Manson has favored the live concert use of vocoders and many concert-goers can hear him use the technology when performing many songs, notably, "Antichrist Superstar". The bands The Faint, Air, Ween, and Death From Above 1979 all have extensive use of the vocoder. Daron Malakian, guitarist of System of a Down has used a Vocoder in the songs, Sugar, War?, and Old School Hollywood. Muse used a vocoder on their latest album, Black Holes and Revelations, most notably on the song "Supermassive Black Hole".
-- courtesy of wikipedia

The Vocoder in Action

Listen Further/Buy
I'll begin here by setting the record straight. Roger Troutman of Roger and Zapp fame DID NOT use a vocoder. He used a talk box which was a popular effect used by a lot of guitarists in the 70's. So the first sample is of Roger so that you can hear the difference. It's still really funky though!!
Joe Zawinul "Bimoya"
Beck "Hell Yes"
Underworld "Cups"
Daft Punk "Television Rules the Nation"

Sample 6 is a cover of Sly Stone's "Sing A Simple Song" that I recorded on my Innocent Bystander CD. For this track I used a Digitech "Talker" triggered by a Roland D-50. However, Digitech no longer makes the "Talker" effects pedal. I think the effect has been absorbed into one of their other pedals.

Vocoder Emulations

Vocoders have made a come back with the rise in popularity of electronic music. In fact many electronic keyboards include vocoder capabilities. In addition, there are a number of really good VST plug-ins available. Here's a very short list of what's out there.
Product Name Manufacture Comments
EVOC Logic This is a really powerful vocoder, but it is only available in Apple's Logic music production software
Orange Vocoder Prosoniq Probably the most popular software plug-in vocoder. I've messed around with the demo version of this vocoder and it is really great. But since I use Logic I didn't really need it.
Triton series Korg The Korg Triton series has Vocoder capabilities. ( not sure if it is on the LE versions ) I have used this live from time to time and it is very functional.
MS200B/MicroKorg - keys
Radias -keys
Korg I use the vocoder in the MicroKorg a lot live, but i haven't figured out how to get the words to come through clearer. I'm still working on it. It could be because it is only 8 bands.
Links to Vocoder Parts, Maintenance and more

Here are a few links to some great Vocoder Sites Build your own vocoder with this kit.
Vocoder Tutorial Great tutorial on how to use a Vocoder on vocals, drums, and other instruments. Primarily based on the vocoder in Propellerhead's Reason software.

Current Releases

Rodney Lee -- The Satellite Orchestra

Innocent Bystander

Alien Chatter
Satnam Ramgotra &
Rodney Lee

Need Sheet Music Fast?
Digital Sheet Music
from the number one source on the web
zZounds Musical Instruments
zZounds offers the lowest price on synthesizers from nearly every brand: Roland, Korg, Yamaha, Alesis, Nord, Waldorf, and many others. You can purchase over 125,000 different products from their website 24 hours a day. Check it out!
© 2006 -- Home | | contact | sitemap | links