WRITTEN BY RYAN GEGENHEIMER

 SOUND EFFECTS EDITOR AT BOOM BOX POST

The Morphoder is Waves' version of a vocoder.  A vocoder combines two audio signals in a specific way to get a unique effect.  Most commonly the vocoder is used to create robotic, alien, or other unusual sounding vocal or speech effects, but it can also be used as a sound design or musical tool as well ('musical', referring to other-than-speech or vocal uses).  In this post, we're going to give a quick run-through of the plugin's GUI and parameters, then give a few examples of how it may be used.  Hopefully after this intro, you'll be armed with some basic knowledge to start making your own vocoded creations! 

Morphoder 101

As mentioned, the vocoder combines two audio signals to create it's unique effect.  One signal, the 'carrier' is affected by the other, the 'modulator'.  Typically the carrier is a synth and the modulating signal is a vocal or speech.  As a basic description of how it works, the vocoder processes the modulator signal, extracting a number of fundamental frequencies (*formants) from the audio, and then passes them 'into' the carrier wave where the final sound is created.  If the carrier signal is a synth, the final combined resulting sound can be 'played' through the synth.  

*Formants are fundamental pitches at which the air inside a vocal tract vibrates. These frequencies depend on the size and shape of the opening (the throat and mouth)

Morphoder's Features

• The Modulator and Carrier signal source selections are made here.  The Modulating signal can be a track or a sidechain input.  The Carrier can be the Morphoder's internal synth, a track, or a sidechain input.

• The Morphoder has a noise generator whose properties can be tweaked here

• If you are using the internal synth as the carrier signal, here you can select from a number of synth types and adjust the tuning and spread of if desired.

Morphoder EQ.png
  • The eq section here is applied to the output signal

This section adjusts properties of the eq contour of the Modulator signal

This section adjusts properties of the eq contour of the Modulator signal

• Pressure:  used to control the dynamics of the modulator signal (like a compressor / limiter)

• Formant:  shifts the modulator's frequency contour up or down before applying it to the carrier (for example, this setting can be tweaked to make a vocal sound more masculine or feminine)

• Smoothing:  this setting is to define how smoothly the filter tracks the frequency contour of the modulator (kind of like a gate)

• Release:  sets the release time for the 'smoothing' parameter 

This is the Morphoder's output mixer.  Here you can adjust the levels of the Carrier and Modulator signals, the Noise Generator, and the Modulated Carrier (the combined signal)

Here, you can play the 8 voice polyphonic synth of the Morphoder on the plugin GUI itself, or you can click the 'MIDI' button to the left to receive MIDI input from a controller.  Selecting the 'Sustain' button on the right will cause any triggered notes to sustain until another one is keyed.

Some examples of the Morphoder in action

Here's an example of the Morphoder / Vocoder doing what it's typically known for, processing speech to sound robotic or otherworldly:

- A faux sportscast to be used for processing

…and the processed / vocoded sound ('played', changing notes on a MIDI controller)

Here's an example of choosing your own sound (other than the internal synth) as the carrier signal.  The carrier signal is set to be the sidechain input, which is being fed by another track in the session:

- A steady 'magic tone' sound chosen to be used as the carrier

… and the final processed sound (the modulating signal being the faux sportscast from the previous example)

Finally, here is an example of just one of the many ways that the Morphoder can be used as a sound design tool.  As a way to create the sound of a sci fi, cartoon-y, or otherworldly engine sound, you may try something like this

- A motorcycle idle:

…mixed gently in with the Morphoded / Vocoded output


Well there you have it!  Hopefully now that you've gotten a proper intro to the vocoder and Morphoder plugin, you'll now have another sound design tool in your pocket to use as you go.

As a bonus, here are links to two examples of the vocoder in popular culture:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmgNW7M1J8A - this is a progressive house remix of an Underworld song called 'Cups'.  It's one of my personal favorite tasteful uses of the vocoder on a vocal (vocal starts at 0:59)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOu3hYXE_tM - this is a compilation video of the character 'Soundwave' from the classic Transformers animated series.  His dialog was processed through a vocoder.

What are you favorite examples of vocoding in Music, TV or Movies? Let us know in the comments!

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