This week, we brought the entire team together to record alien walla (otherwise known as group vocals) for an upcoming season premiere episode.  Jeff is the real performer in the group, but after seeing how much fun he had at the mic, the rest of us were game to jump into the spotlight, too.  Check out this fun video montage of our raw performances!

As this was our first time improvising, Jeff wrote up a few scenarios to get the creative juices flowing.  Here is his take on the best way to get a good performance:

When I’m recording any alien or monster walla, I find it helps to create a story in my head. Since we can’t put any discernible English in our sound effects tracks (that would make it dialogue), I simply trick my brain into having conversations that are an approximation of English. I have found that this not only gives me material as a jumping off point, but also gives the performance movement and inflection.
— Jeff Shiffman, Co-Owner of BBP

After the the record session was finished, we each took our own performances and set to the task of processing them to sound like aliens from all different worlds.  Here's what each of us came up with:


In the case of these first two sounds, I imagined each voice as one side of a conversation between two aliens haggling over price. The vendor (performance 1) is aggressive and does NOT want to go any lower than three thousand Glorkarian space credits (not a thing) and the buyer is doing his best to make a case for knocking off a few bucks. Now that I had my story, I could easily get lots of character out of the record. 

I utilized the Dehumaniser plugin for both of these performances. The first a mix of a 'Rage Monster' with a little 'King Kong' and small alien mixed in for texture. The second, a mix of a few super strange alien presets giving it a real chattering sound.

Performance number three is a Ray Ramano sad sack sort of character. Again going with Dehumaniser, I used a robot filter and took advantage of the built in pitch control to pitch myself way down. I love all the weird artifacts this produced.

Lastly, I had a sort of gloppy, throat performance. I wasn't loving any of the Dehumaniser presets with this one, so I went a different route. After using Waves Doubler and an EQ to make it sound less terrestrial, I vocoded it with crickets that had been running through a crazy MondoMod preset with lots of phasing and motion. The vocoder works by layering this cricket sound on top only when speech occurs, giving it lots of crazy bug-like texture.


Jeff suggested that I capitalize on my talent for trilling my r's, so my first three files are made up of trills.  For the first one, I imagined I was an alien flirting over cocktails during the record. I processed that one with a mod delay.  For the second, I did a more excited and fast-paced version and processed it with Sci-Fi, then mixed the original back in for clarity.  For the third, I recorded a more conversational version, pitched it down, and processed it with Enigma to give it a more wobbly nature. 

For my fourth alien, I imagined myself to be a very small alien with a very squeaky guinea pig-like voice suffering from a serious napoleon complex.  Since this one was so high in pitch, I pitched it down an octave and then added frequency modulation with the envelope following a wah.  

My final recording was of a huge breathy alien.  Since my voice only goes so low, I pitched this one down but left it otherwise untouched.  


For the first alien vocal, I went ahead and dropped the pitch about 20% and then just ran it through Metaflanger. The second alien vocal, I once again dropped the pitch and then ran it through Doubler. I then processed it with various settings in Dehumanizer and adjusted the EQ as well. Finally, the last alien vocal, I pitched up about 20% and then processed it in Dehumanizer with some adjustments to the EQ as well.


During the record session, my inspiration for these three characters were duck alien, tiny alien who just won the lottery, and an alien socializing an drinking cocktails. I think they've turned into slightly different creatures after having manipulated them.

The first you will hear is my "Duck Alien." I pitched down the recording and ran it through Lo-Fi because I pictured this to be a larger alien and wanted to give it a heavier sound. To make it more alien-like, I used Sci-Fi and MondoMod. The end result to me sounds like a large duck-like alien with something stuck in its throat. 

The second recording, the "tiny alien who won the lottery" was pitched up a lot and ran through Morphoder. I found a sound I liked using Morphoder that was more robotic than alien-like to me, so I just embraced it and turned this tiny creature into a robot. My final step was running it through Rectify to add slightly more robotic textures.

The third was my cocktail alien. This one I started by pitching the recording way down, which sounded funny to me so I kept it. I ran it through Lo-Fi to add weight and finished with Morphoder. The end result sounds more like a large dog-like alien mob boss to me than an alien at a cocktail hour, but you can take a listen and let me know what you think it could be!

Question: Have you ever tried to create alien vocals?  Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!


Featured image by photovision.

Like the song in our alien vocal video?  It's Jeff's band, Assemble the Noise!  Check out more of their music here, and watch out for their upcoming new EP.