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vocoders

there was a period of time in the 70s when everyone thought using a vocoder on the voice was so awesome that it flooded the music scene and had the longevity to remain a popular sound modulating technique through the mid to late 80s. gradually the technique phased out, and for about a decade, the rare use of a vocoded voice was perceived as a "retro" sound, a nostalgic nod to the time period in which it was popular.

it feels particularly odd because it's such an "electronic" technique that it seems only natural that it'd be used in a lot of electronica/industrial msuic which was somewhat on the rise at the time. I think that its nonuse was partially attributed to flavor of that evolving music. vocoded voice was synonymous with "disco" and "the robot" and had the stigma of being dated. pop electronic groups like InSoc and New Order still had the dancy feel-good characteristic that the 70s dance scene did, but was trying to create its own sound that was dissociated with that cliche. Industrial groups like FLA and KMFDM and Ministry wanted their sound to be angry, and that was completely at odds with the vocoded voice in the way most people knew it. even the britney spears/nsync equivalents tended to stray away from that stuff because it sounded so old-fashioned.

then, at some point in the early 00's (zeros?), my then-relationship and i were listening to the radio and a pop song came on where the lead singer had a vocoder applied to his voice for a good bit of the song, and it was clear that it wasn't being used as nostalgia but as a "new way to sound cool". i think the song might have been by the group Train.

when i heard it, i had a gut negative reaction. thoughts running through my brain were variations of "what the hell?" especially since it was a rock song and the only big voice-manipulated rock group i ever really thought about was Genesis/Phil Collins. but no one else seemed to bat an eye at it either because they didn't notice or didn't care. i shrugged it off as a momentary glitch in the system that would fade away.

but it didn't fade away - it *grew*.

now we're at this strange point where vocoded voice is used successfully and sometimes innovatingly in a myriad of ways both popular and underground. the easiest example of this is Daft Punk, who is somehow able to make it sound both nostalgic and ordinary and unique all at the same time. and with the popularity of Daft Punk, aspiring groups or musicians take some of that and try to incorporate that same sort of magic into their own art.

which leaves people like me who has a bigger picture of how that stuff evolved, died, and revitalized pretty damned confused sometimes. but not in a bad way. that's the sort of thing that music history in any context loves to focus on and place into neat categories. i wonder if anyone ever has in this context.

Comments

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miss_skillet
May. 13th, 2007 10:49 pm (UTC)
It was on its way out the door when I was a kid during the hi-tech 80's. For me it's still a retro-nostalgic sound that still recalls the thrill of innovation and discovery that I sort of associated with space, supercomputers and the future as a kid. I still like it :)
k_dashineugene
May. 14th, 2007 07:29 am (UTC)
I really really like the vocoded voice technique. If done well it can sound amazing. But it really depends on how it's used. The singer of Imogen Heap uses it in her songs and makes it wonderful to listen to. Something about just perks up my ears and makes me want to hear more.
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