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“a film is more like music than like fiction.” —Stanley Kubrik

The Vocoder: New Vox for Sad Bastard Pop

ELS Vocoder

The vocal-bending gizmo known as the Vocoder has made it’s voice heard in a smattering of 20th/21st century recordings. And while it’s been employed by performers as varied as Neil Young, Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, Georgio Moroder, Electric Light Orchestra and Yes (to varying degrees of cheesy delight), contemporary usage of it’s robotic voice has primarily resided squarely in da House of commercial Funk and Hip Hop.

Last year though, I came across two unlikely contexts in which the Vocoder makes not for a gimmicky trick, but a truly expressive voice that lifts simple songs into otherworldly expressions of loneliness.

Both Robyn Hitchcock’s “Because You’re Over” and Bon Iver’s” Woods,” apply the Vocoder to strictly a capella performances. Both layer a Vocoder vox track atop a second, untreated vocal. The technique creates an imaginary friend on whom to project its protagonists’ lonely laments on exile and loss.

Pretty neat trick. listen up:


New York Magazine reviews Dave Tompkin’s history of the device How to Wreck a Nice Beach here. For you techies and sound engineers, here.

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  3. Monday 10.13.2014 | 10:47 EST

    make money from home says:

    Touche. Great arguments. Keep up the good effort.

  4. Tuesday 04.13.2010 | 11:23 EST

    bradyspud says:

    i also like a tiny, tasteful use of the vocoder on another Bon Iver track: “the wolves” at 2:53. Such a tiny moment but it always makes me smile, like a bit of R&B from the passing delivery truck snuck into the recording.

    1. Tuesday 04.13.2010 | 11:30 EST

      chairmanmau says:

      totally! had not caught that, great catch!

  5. Tuesday 04.13.2010 | 11:19 EST

    bradyspud says:

    reading about a new vocoder book recently here and this fact popped out:

    -During the vocoder-heavy European tour for his all-time greatest album (Trans), Neil Young made his guitarist wear five-pound ankle weights so “he wouldn’t bust the noir vibe with his f*ckin’ girly spins.”

    gotta love neil young

    1. Tuesday 04.13.2010 | 11:31 EST

      chairmanmau says:

      “fucking girly spins,” classic. a good dovetail to J Lennon’s studio ire: http://bit.ly/4EWGo8
      thanks for posting bradyspud

  6. Tuesday 04.13.2010 | 11:09 EST

    chairmanmau says:

    Daniel Bellury points us to another interesting example from Imogen Heap here: http://bit.ly/1bY46

    Check our Daniel’s kick ass band here:

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