Vocoder – a key that sounds (non) human

Vocoder – a key that sounds (non) human

Many of us have heard, at least once in our lives, whether in music or in an old science-fiction movie, an electronic, metallic, electric voice saying something in human language, more or less (in) intelligible. The Vocoder is responsible for such a specific sound – a device that technically does not have to be a musical instrument, but also appearing in such a form.

Voice processing instrument

The Voice Encoder, popularly known as a Vocoder, is a device that analyzes the received voice and processes it. From the performer’s point of view, it is the case that the characteristic features of the voice accompanying, for example, the utterance of specific words, are preserved, while its harmonic sounds are “taken apart” and tuned to the selected pitch.

Playing a modern keyboard vocoder involves uttering a text into a microphone and, at the same time, giving it a melody, thanks to a small piano-like keyboard. By using different Vocoder settings, you can get a variety of vocal sounds, ranging from slightly processed to radically artificial, computer-based and almost incomprehensible sound.

However, the use of vocoders does not end with the human voice. The band Pink Floyd used this instrument on the Animals album to process the voice of a growling dog. The vocoder can also be used as a filter to process the sound previously produced by another instrument, such as a synthesizer.

Vocoder - a key that sounds (non) human

Korg Kaossilator Pro – effects processor with built-in vocoder, source: muzyczny.pl

Popular and unknown

Vocoder has been and is often used in modern music, although few people are able to identify it. It was most often used by electronic music makers such as; Kraftwerk, famous at the turn of the 70s and 80s, famous for ascetic electronic music, Giorgio Moroder – a famous creator of electronic and disco music, Michiel van der Kuy – the father of the “Spacesynth” genre (Laserdance, Proxyon, Koto). It was also used by Jean Michel Jarre on the pioneering album Zoolook, and Mike Oldfield on the QE2 and Five Miles Out albums.

Among the users of this instrument are also Stevie Wonder (songs Send One Your Love, A Seed’s a Star) and Michael Jackson (Thriller). Among the more contemporary performers, the leading user of the instrument is the Daft Punk duo, whose music could be heard, among others in the 2010 film “Tron: Legacy”. Vocoder was also used in Stanley Kubrick’s film “A Clockwork Orange”, where vocal fragments of Beethoven’s XNUMXth symphony were sung with the help of this instrument.

Vocoder - a key that sounds (non) human

Roland JUNO Di with vocoder option, source: muzyczny.pl

Where to get Vocoder?

The simplest and cheapest (though not necessarily the best sound quality, and certainly not the most convenient) way is to use a computer, a microphone, a recording program, and a VST plug that acts as a vocoder. In addition to them, you may need a separate plug, or an external synthesizer to create the so-called. a carrier, with which Vocoder will transform the performer’s voice to the correct pitch.

To ensure good sound quality, it will be necessary to use a good sound card. A more convenient alternative is to purchase a hardware synthesizer with a vocoder function. With the help of such an instrument, you can speak into the microphone while performing the desired melody on the keyboard, which speeds up your work and allows you to perform vocoder parts during a performance.

Many virtual-analog synthesizers (including Korg Microkorg, Novation Ultranova) and some Workstation synthesizers are equipped with the vocoder function.


When it comes to musicians using a vocoder (and at the same time one of the pioneers in the use of this type of equipment) there was no such giant of jazz as Herbie Hancock 😎


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