Unsurprisingly Vocoders have always been associated with vocal processing, after all this is what they were originally designed for. This preconception shouldn't affect the way you use your Vocoder as they are perfect for processing just about any source.
In this article we'll take a look at how we can use a Vocoder in Reason 5 to transform the sound of more traditional instruments such as drums and guitar.
Pretty much any vocoder can be used to process your instruments but in this tutorial we'll be using the excellent BV512 Vocoder that's bundled with Reason 5. Not only is this a very capable processor but due to Reason's flexible routing system the set up is pretty transparent.
I thought these features would help the beginner amongst you understand the basics of routing vocoders. Although other applications don't use a graphical system like this one does, hopefully you can picture this example when performing a similar set up in another DAW.
No matter what you plan to process with your Vocoder you will need a carrier and modulator. The carrier can be any instrument or sound source but essentially this is the sound you will use to create the melody. The modulator is the sound you want to process and is traditionally a vocal.
In this case our modulator is a drum loop from a Dr.OctoRex and the carrier signal is a simple synth string patch from a Thor Synthesizer. With the connections made and the drum loop playing back we won't actually hear anything. We'll start to make some noise in the next step.
To make our drum loop sing we'll need to play some MIDI into our carrier device. Make sure your drum loop (or any other instrument you maybe using) is playing back at this point.
Play any notes you like into the Carrier instrument and you should hear the Vocoder kick into action. You'll still hear the dynamics and groove of the original loop but the timbre and tuning of the sound will be transformed.
Much of the final sound's qualities will depend on the settings you employ. Many Vocoders will allow you to adjust a few key parameters, namely the amount of bands used, the high frequency emphasis and the mix between the Carrier and Modulator.
The amount of bands will affect the complexity of the sound, while lower settings will give you a grainy robotic effect and higher settings will be more intelligible. Here I have opted for the highest setting giving the smoothest response the BV512 has to offer.
You can also improve the intelligibility of the original signal by upping the amount of high end in the signal or using the wet/dry mix. I tend to find that with the high band count you can get away with a totally wet signal. You can hear the final vocoded drum loop below.
The dry drum loop:
... and now treated with our Vocoder set up and recorded melody:
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