When asked about digitally processed or synthesized vocals, the average person might reference Kanye West or Rihanna’s use of auto-tune, or perhaps talkbox vocals from the likes of Peter Frampton. Maybe the casual listener even knows about Kraftwerk’s “The Man Machine” or Air’s frequent use of vocoders, but they very likely have heard the vocoded lines from Tupac Shakur’s “California Love,” delivered by Roger Troutman (more on him below).
When used wisely, synthesized vocals can add an additional sonic character to a track, regardless of genre. Arca and The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson, in particular, are two artists who have exploited the possibilities of vocal synthesis. In last year’s single “Reverie,” Arca warped his operatic vocals in an alien-like way (starting at 2:20), while Dreijer Andersson regularly uses pitch and formant shifting to make her voice sound low, dark and unsettling.
The techniques of vocal synthesis and processing are many and varied. And the real fun comes about while experimenting to find new sounds, not trying to exactly replicate a synthesized vocal timbre. But, for those looking to get started, what follows are three ideas for processing vocals with VocalSynth.
1. Create ethereal vocals
Want something more ethereal? Well, there are plenty of ways of thinking about how to do this. The ultimate approach is really up to the individual as far as what sort of timbre, effects, and overall sonic aesthetic is desired. But let’s say you want to create a sound somewhat inspired by Grimes or, heck, maybe even a more digital sounding version of Enya!—that is, breathy, dreamy high notes. Well, now is a perfect opportunity to flex the VocalSynth muscles with various modules and other features.
Grimes’s song “Colour of moonlight” at 1:29 has a really interesting layering of effects—chorus, reverb, and perhaps a little bit of a vocoder effect. The sample we have here—an “Ahhhhh” taken from Splice—is split into two tracks. One track is in G# in the Major scale, while the other is set to F# in Major.