From singing synths to burbling drums, from swirling textures to startling new melody ideas, vocoders offer amazing creative opportunities.

This week we dig into four O'Reilly Digital Media articles that feature vocoding in surprising new ways. (DMI 09-21-2006: 7 minutes 29 seconds)

Source Articles

Adam Williams: Massive Guitars, Micro Computers

The former Powerman 5000 guitarist reveals how to make huge guitar sounds on a home computer—without waking the neighbors.

The Top 20 Plugins for Musicians and Songwriters

Songwriter and Pro Tools guru Gina Fant-Saez has mastered dozens of audio plugins while running her world-class recording studio. Here are her favorites.

Revenge of the Combinator

Synthesizer expert Jim Aikin explores Propellerhead Reason's mysterious but mighty new Combinator module.

How to Make Your Sound Sing with Vocoders

In this hands-on tutorial, Jim Aikin explains how vocoders perform their magic, how to set up your own software vocoder, and some unexpectedly cool uses for vocoding.

Production Notes

Most of the examples were MP3s from the four articles above. The Styx, Laurie Anderson, and Roger Troutman examples were based on iTunes Music Store previews; I captured them with Abrosia Software's WireTap. I found the Phil Collins example with my front end to Alta Vista's audio search engine. The Gina Fant-Saez example is from our previous episode, "Playing with Audio Plugins." I imported all the files into BIAS Peak, edited them, and exported them as AIFFs.

Next I imported the AIFFs into Ableton Live, where I arranged them around my voiceover and background music. I then rendered the mix to an AIFF file and converted it to an MP3 in Peak.

I recorded the voiceover directly into Peak, again using a handheld AKG D3900 mic through an ART Tube MP preamp into the line input on a PowerMac G5. (Surprisingly, the Mac has better audio performance than my external USB audio interface.) After snipping out some P-pops and false starts, I compressed and enhanced the voiceover with Izotope Ozone and Korg MDE-X. I then created regions in Peakwhere I wanted the voiceover segments to start, and exported the regions as individual AIFF files. Annoyingly, Peak named the files in the format Voiceover.aifINTRO (appending the region name to the end of the file), so I used an AppleScript to batch-rename the files to the format Voiceover INTRO.aif.

BIAS Peak Regions

After cleaning up the voiceover, I created regions in Peak so I could export individual sections and slide them around in Live.

Although I still wrote out a script, I tried to add more expression to my reading this time; eventually, I plan to improvise the voiceover, which should make it more natural sounding.

The background music came together in Live as well. I made the opening sound effect by splicing a compressed mouth noise onto a tone cluster I generated in Native Instruments Reaktor. The main groove is from Steinberg Xphraze. (Jim Aikin turned me on to both virtual instruments in his article "My Five Favorite Soft Synths.") The piano is from the Garritan Personal Orchestra, which I discovered when we interviewed Gary Garritan. Then there are a few percussion samples dredged from my hard drive. Altogether, the mix took just six tracks. Effects processing was courtesy of Live's default plugins and Freeverb.

David Battino is the audio editor for O’Reilly’s Digital Media site, the co-author of The Art of Digital Music, and on the steering committee for the Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IASIG). He also writes, publishes, and performs Japanese kamishibai storycards.

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