The Golden Age (Beck cover)

May 5, 2015 4:24 PM

A synthed out, vocoded take on Beck's extremely non-synthy song off of Sea Change, as an excuse to fiddle around with Reason 8.

I used Reason a little bit nine or ten years ago, when I got a questionable copy from a friend; it's a neat piece of software, but not something I'd ever used anything like before so I was very much stumbling around in my experiments with it.

At the time it didn't have any native support for tracking recorded audio; I had to do stuff in Reason, bounce it out, and then incorporate that in whatever DAW I was using at the time as part of a mix. It was a pain, and so it fell by the wayside.

But they've featured up the software a ton since then, including what seems like pretty solid audio recording and editing tools to go along with the crazy simulated rack of electronics hardware and patch bay that's the core appeal of the whole thing, so I decided to finally give it another go.

This is a weird song to do electronically, and the drums and bass in particular are (along with the intentionally sloppy and quickly-overwhelmed acoustic guitar bit) intentionally boneheaded and looped, just because I never ever loop stuff and why not?

In the end it makes a sort of complementary companion to my old cover of O Superman; there I was trying to take a synth+vocoder electronic song and do it entirely acoustically, and here I'm doing precisely the opposite.

posted by cortex (6 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

What a great spin on this great track. The layers are all really tight, and the synth textures are really interesting and fit the song well. Most excellent.
posted by BlackPebble at 11:30 AM on May 6, 2015

Excellent, I really enjoyed that. I'm curious why you decided to pan the strummed guitar all the way to the left? Interesting moments, too, where your non-vocodor voice peeks through like a reminder of the original.

Reminds me of this electro synth cover of Neil Young's Harvest Moon.
posted by Corduroy at 12:46 PM on May 6, 2015

I'm curious why you decided to pan the strummed guitar all the way to the left?

I liked the idea that the mostly-unmodified acoustic guitar (I ran it through an amp plugin to fuck up the sound a little bit, but nothing super aggressive) was an outlier in a song full of synths, so I panned it hard partly to make it exactly that: laying way out to the left, and conspicuous at the start before being mostly swallowed up by the rest of the arrangement for the bulk of the song. I think I panned the little bit of dry pre-vocoder vocals hard right in the same spirit, but it was more subtle than the guitar and I don't remember if I even kept that in in the end.

And yeah, I debated whether to even leave any dry vox in there or just go pure vocoder, but I decided I liked the little bit of blend and the way sometimes the vocoder vox overwhelm the dry and sometimes not so much.

I've been wanting to fuck around with vocoders more since basically forever, and putting this together made it clear to me that there's a lot of potential nuance and signal management in there that I'm just barely scratching the surface of, so I'm looking forward to playing with that as a vocal effect/element in more stuff.
posted by cortex at 12:56 PM on May 6, 2015

Ooh, very cool, thanks for sharing your thought process. I love the way vocoder's can sound, but definitely don't understand how they work at all. How many vocoder tracks are actually in this?
posted by Corduroy at 4:10 PM on May 6, 2015

It's just one vocoder track, processing the melody vocal track and an orchestral synth to create the output sound. The vox in this case are the "modulator" input and the synth is the "carrier"; the modulator provides, at each moment, an amplitude in a bunch of different frequency bands (basically like, say, a 16-channel EQ readout of the vox track), and the carrier provides the actual audio that will be played in each of those frequency bands based on the amplitude from the carrier.

So if I sing a steady Eb into the microphone, and play a C major chord on my synth, the output will be the volume and approximate frequency spectrum of my vocals multiplied by that synth output: a steady C-major chord. If I sing a steady tone but move the actual note up and down, the C chord will remain steady-ish but you'll be able to hear the distribution of loudness for different bits of the chord change because of the varying frequency content of my vocal note. If I change the volume of my voice quickly, the volume of the C chord will change equally quickly.

And since basically what happens when we talk or sing words is we're changing the distribution of frequencies we're emitting (because we change what note we're singing/speaking and thus change the fundamental frequency and overtones of our voice, and because we change the shape of our mouth and throat and thus alter the harmonic overtones emitted even when the note stays the same) and the volume at which we're talking/singing (both in terms of overt changes in volume, and because various phonemes involve restricting or stopping airflow temporarily, and because we pause between words or to breathe), the human voice is constantly tossing around a bunch of varying input. Stick that into a vocoder, and you get a bunch of varying signals fed to your carrier (the synth, here) and out comes a strange approximation of the human voice.

I should learn more about the tech, I've always been interested in vocoder but no relatively little about 'em.
posted by cortex at 5:41 PM on May 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Nice! Kind of sounds like a Beta Band b-side (that's meant as a compliment).
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:59 PM on May 26, 2015

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