- Hello everyone, welcome back to Spoken Word with Electronics. This week, after a short stay through customs, a wonderful box arrived from Italy: the GRP V22, an all-analog vocoder. GRP Synthesizer is a small Italian company which assembles its electronics by hand and spends years on development, imbuing their work with a European craftsmanship that is often faithful to original electronic concepts. The wall-sized A8 synthesizer and very creative R24 sequencer are two examples of their impact on the electronics community. And now they have a vocoder. An amazing vocoder built as authentic to original designs of how a vocoder works as possible. It's pretty damn exciting. But what is a vocoder? Despite vocoders' ubiquity in plug-ins and other formats, fully analog vocoders with access to the spectral analysis are exceptionally rare. This week's show we vocode thoroughly:
- Vocoder technology pre-dates the modern sense of a synthesizer by at least a decade. It was first used for military telecommunication in 1940, and is one of the earliest examples of encryption.
- The Internet has such a wealth of rare-to-find information. Be sure to read: The Carrier Nature of Speech by Homer Dudley (The Bell System Technical Journal, 1940) — While there, be sure to grok all the incredible imagery in the document!
- The encrypted voice of a vocoder is the voice of a user being spectrally imprinted onto a square wave or triangle (neat!) – And if you use a synthesizer to vary this soundwave you have a musical application. This is found in historic examples of Peter Frampton, Bruce Haack, Beastie Boys, Laurie Anderson, others.
For all vocoding, note the use of the brain!
- Analog vocoders that provide envelope outputs of each analysis band are uncommon. There is the Bode 7702, which has been recently been reissued by Moog. The other full-size example is the Kraftwerk-famous Sennheiser VSM-201. In Eurorack there are close comparables in the Frap Tools Fumana, the Verbos Bark Filter, and a few others.
- For all of these you'll confront the terrible burden of analog vocoding: Price. Expect about $1,000-$5,000. Want one at 1/1000th the price? My favorite cheap example is the iphone is the Matrix Vocoder, and only $5.00 – or, for keys and straight vocoding: the $500 Behringer clone of a Roland VP330.
- So why pay nearly ten, a hundred, or a thousand times more for an analog vocoder with knob per function? The answer is the sounds of a vocoder provide more than just robot noises. With dedicated inputs and outputs you can imprint any one sound onto another. This is as vast a palette as mixing two separate colors. You get a robot if you imprint a voice onto a square wave, but what happens if you reverse that? Or imprint wind harmonics onto a tractor? That's the sort of discovery allowed with an analog vocoder. Particularly when you're allowed envelope outputs of each filter band. A good vocoder can provide both the voiced and unvoiced components of the signal, as well, providing what is called 'Ghost Voices' of the signal and other cool Tesla-era ideas of sounds as specters. This fellow understands!
- Here's a half hour from this episode where voices are vocoded, individual bands are triggered as VCAs, other explorations:
A few notes on the wonder of the vocoder and this instrument: