A Beautiful Italian Robot Voice

    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:

    SWWE #71: The GRP Vocoder Speaks for Itself (Demo and Sound Tests of the GRP V22)

    A few notes on the wonder of the vocoder and this instrument:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. Here's a half hour from this episode where voices are vocoded, individual bands are triggered as VCAs, other explorations:

  8. SWWE #71: The GRP Vocoder Speaks for Itself (Demo and Sound Tests of the GRP V22)

    Connect with SWWE via Carrier Signal and Vocode on Bandcamp, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google .