HOW VOCODERS WORK

Well if you really want to get that freaky robot voice going, all you have to to is fly to the edge of the immediate solar system and dock at the outpost, find a friendly centurion and ask them to say your words and record it.

Duh. No… the mystery of the vocoder is elaborately explained everywhere. We start reading and then we don’t care. Things are hard, and why are you yelling at me?

But it’s simple:

1. Your voice (or your drum machine or whatever) becomes the rhythm. The envelope of when sounds start and stop.
That’s called the carrier.

2. Your synthesizer, or guitar, or ocean waves become the melodic content determining what notes will sound.
This is called the modulator.

3. Sometimes there are knobs to adjust things and it looks like a graphic EQ. It is. It adjusts the level of the frequency bands to shape the sound of the output of the combined sounds.
You can take some away, or add some, alternate them, or leave them all in the middle.
With modular vocoders we can patch them, and even do stuff with just those bands of the output. It can get really neat.

3a. Sometimes vocoders don’t have any of those knobs or levers, but we can still change the sound of the modulator (they keyboard, guitar or the ocean) and shape the output sound that way.

Vocoders are really cool. So are talk boxes. Doing things to voice and rhythm and turning them into melodic parts, or taking melodic parts and turning them into percussive parts can be totally inspiring.

We don’t just have to make cylons, or sound like Kraftwerk. Vocoders are fascinating, and people tend to respond positively when they hear them.
As always, be creative, learn all you can, too much of any one thing (no matter how good it is) can get really boring, really fast and break your heart.

Take care of your heart.

4 Comments

  1. Deteriorateone:

    How did you get a cylon and Princess Leia in the same lesson!

  2. Sunshine:

    @deteriorateone – Hahahahahaha!
    Different universe. In the Star-Wars universe it’s a sample and hold on the filter of an Arp 2600. But that’s a totally different story!

  3. Borealwild:

    I used to date an audio engineer who I would annoy to no end by constantly insisting on calling the vocoder a “robot box”. We were listening to a LOT of ‘Trans Am’ at the time.

  4. Sunshine:

    @Borealwild – I’ll bet he was pretty convinced you were definitely a cylon by the end of that fun! <3

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