Audio: [mp3] (3.2 MB)
Vocoders have become a fad in popular music these days, it seems.
A vocoder is a kind of sound processor, typically used to process
vocals. There are two kinds of vocoders. One kind modifies
the pitch of the input signal. This can be useful for doing pitch
correction or harmony processing. The other kind of vocoder uses
the input signal to modify a given carrier signal. This is often
used to produce a robotic-sounding voice.
In 1998, pop diva Cher released her
album Believe, whose title song made prominent use of a vocoder
(of the first kind). The novel thing was that the vocoder was used
as an explicit effect, letting Cher's voice make discrete (and
indiscreet!) pitch changes all over the place. Others followed,
notably the Italian group Eiffel-65 with their album Europop,
which contains dancy songs like the addictive Blue (Da Ba Dee).
The technique is not just used by artists who can't sing: in addition to
Cher, strong vocalists like Christina Aguilera and Faith Hill have
recently used vocoders in a similar style for background vocals.
But vocoders are not perfect. They can easily introduce ugly
glitches in the output. These glitches are easy for listeners
to spot. When vocoders are used for explicit effect, however, then
such glitches are shamelessly left in the final production.
Now you know what my song Singing through a bottle is all
about. Tune in to the chorus after the middle section of the song
to hear what a vocoder may sound like on a bad day. (And, no, the vocoder is not used for anything else in the recording.)
Words and music by Rustan Leino, 2000.
Recorded and performed by Rustan Leino, 2000.
Copyright © 2000, Rustan Leino.
There's that song on the radio
It has the beat,
it has the catchy tune,
it has the groove
but I can't help but wonder
what is that
tonal quality I hear,
it doesn't sound right
Is he singing through a bottle
Is he stuck in a tube
Is his throat full of bubbles
How can he sing like that?
It's the pitch that is so perfect
but the sound is still strange
Is he going through adolescence
That's the crackling, I bet
Wrap your arms around me
Let's take the afternoon off,
I believe in love
after lunch (do you believe?)
into the city of Paris
it sure's romantic,
but is the tower really meant
to be blue (da ba dee da ba blue)