Roland VT-4 adds MIDI, control for performer-friendly vocal FX

Roland’s revised VT-4 – the replacement for the first AIRA VT-3 – makes it look like someone finally gets what vocalists want in effects. More effects options, actual control over harmony, and MIDI could make all the difference.

The original VT-3 is a little too simple to recommend. A big dial locks you into some stock effects, without any parameter controls beyond pitch and formant. But at the same time, it is unusually direct and accessible, and it doubles as a USB interface, meaning for singers it’s carry-on luggage friendly. So as a cheap, fun effect, it does have potential. It’s cheap on the used market, but then so are a number of pedals.

Roland have apparently been listening, though. Just as the fun but simplistic TR-8 was replaced with the sample-loading, all-around improved TR-8S, so to the VT-3 has gotten a revamp. The Slimer-green trim is gone, but more importantly, you now can control the way it sounds, via expanded effects options and controls. And it does MIDI input.

Here’s the thing: there are lots of great sounding vocal effects out there, but none of them seems designed with singers in mind. They fit into two categories: pedals that seem to have been created by guitarists, or “studio” boxes that have way too much menu diving. (If you can think of an exception, shout in comments.) The VT-3 was already significant in that it was live friendly. Now the VT-4 fills in the gaps the VT-3 left open.

From the VT-3, and still a good idea:

  • USB audio interface functionality (so you can use this with a computer)
  • XLR mic in with phantom power, plus minijack in
  • Four faders: pitch, formant, balance (for controlling wet/dry of the effect), reverb
  • Push-button preset recall
  • Dedicated bypass switch

But new on the VT-4:

  • A friendly “key” dial at the top right
  • Direct access to “vocoder” and “harmonizer” modes
  • Multiple effects at once
  • MIDI input – so play in the notes/harmonies you want for the vocoder, harmonizer, and pitch engines
  • Variations for all the effects

It’s finally what you want to sing with, whether you’re a great singer or can barely sing at all – direct access to effects, performance-friendly controls. Singers don’t necessarily want to have to do everything with their feet or in pages of menus. This hardware’s designers seems to understand that.

It’s the effects that appear to be totally overhauled. The only variations on the VT-3 are printed directly around the dial – as in, you get two alternatives for the auto pitch, and that’s it.

On the VT-4, there’s a whole slew of effects hidden behind the variation buttons. (Those buttons still double as preset storage and recall, so what you’ll likely do is explore to find the ones you like, then lock them in at the top.)

There are still some toy-like presets as on the VT-3 – though some of those are interesting for processing drums and the like. In addition, though, you also get a bunch of new, musical effects, and enough variations that you can dial in what you need.

There’s a chorus effect (categorized inexplicably as “megaphone.”) There’s a model of the classic Roland VP in the vocoder, along with talk box, advanced, and Speak & Spell (sorry, trademark – “spell toy”) variations. The Harmony option lets you choose intervals (fifth, third, forth below, and combinations, though you can also use MIDI for more). Even robot has octave options and a new feedback variation.

Also, that fixed “reverb” is now really a multi effects unit – reverb, echo, synced tempo delay, and dub echo are now available.

I’d likely buy it for those upgrades alone, but then you can also use a MIDI keyboard as input to control pitch.

I need to research more how multiple effects work and exactly how these models relate to those available on the VT-3 and other Roland AIRA and Boutique series models. But generally these days Roland are constantly improving their modeling and sounds, thanks to architectures that are more flexible than those of the past.

More at Roland’s site:

https://www.roland.com/us/products/vt-4/

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Yamaha’s VOCALOID 5 singing synthesizer available incl. VST/AU

Yamaha Vocaloid 5 featYamaha Corporation has released VOCALOID 5, the latest version of the comprehensive solution for virtual vocal production. For version 5 of the software, the production flow has been drastically overhauled in line with the aim of having today’s diverse music producers incorporate a wider line-up of virtual singers into their music. This new software increases […]

iZotope adds modeling features to Vocal Synth, makes a creative bundle

Singing – it’s the simple most important human instrument, but it’s too often overlooked in technology. iZotope has doubled up on innovations there with Vocal Synth 2 – and in case you haven’t been keeping track, they’ve bundled all their production tools together into the new Creative Suite.

Vocal Synth 2 upgrade

Vocal Synth was already a compelling, semi-modular set of tools for processing vocals and applying vocal tech to incoming signal – something you can do creative stuff with whether you’re a singer, or a producer who sings, or a producer working with vocalists, or a producer pretending you can sing. (Yes, it’s useful even on other inputs, even if you lack the vocal chops yourself.)

It’s really, really good, but – the one thing I sort of expected when I first heard about the product was something like physical vocal modeling in the box. Now, sure enough, they’ve added just that.

So, Vocal Synth 2 delivers:

Biovox: A module for physical modeling of the human vocal track (with “science,” say iZotope), from nasality to formants. This isn’t something like Vocaloid – it’s not about voice synthesis or faking vocals – but in a way, it’s something more musically useful, a model of all the good stuff that happens inside your vocal tract and the resonant cavities in your head, delivered as an effect. That’s really important, because our perception is trained to take all this sort of nuance for granted.

There’s more, too…

Chorus and Ring Mod effects. Yep, less futuristic than Biovox, but very essential.

Improved Shred effect.

Advanced sound, advanced controls. So, hiding controls doesn’t always make things more intuitive – sometimes you actually want to dive down and get something that’s missing in the panel. iZotope say they’ve both improved the sound model, and added the ability to get advanced control over parameters, including “access to Vocoder band controls, per module Oscillator presets, and per module panning and filters.”

Integration with other plug-ins. Since iZotope are selling their production stuff as a suite, they’ve also added the ability for Vocal Synth 2 to show up in Neutron 2’s Masking Meter and Visual Mixer, and in Tonal Balance Control. That means a nice chance to apply Vocal Synth where it does – and doesn’t – belong.

I definitely will review this one soon; this stuff is very much up my alley, and a lot of yours’, I’m sure, too.

Creative Suite

Okay, those of us who also do design or video editing work may shudder and think of big monthly subscription fees from Adobe when we read those words but – don’t panic.

Creative Suite is just the new bundle of iZotope production tools. While they may be more well known for mastering and post production offerings, iZotope have applied sonic science to an impressive and unique stable of stuff you’d use when actually making the music and designing sounds. So, what had been “Creative Bundle” is now the more complete “Creative Suite.”

Included: VocalSynth 2, Iris 2, Trash 2 Expanded, BreakTweaker Expanded, Stutter Edit, DDLY, and Mobius Filter. (I’m pretty sure someone caught on that filter, because I’ve heard it cropping up in new releases. Don’t know if that’s CDM’s fault in part or not. But it is great fun.)

You can buy Creative Bundle for US$349 now, a steep discount, and then get the bigger Suite when it ships – including the new VocalSynth 2. See:

https://www.izotope.com/en/store/deals.html#vox

There are of course equivalent suites for the other interest areas – an RX Suite for post production and correction/cleanup, plus the O2N2 Bundle that covers mixing and mastering, including the industry favorite Ozone.

Yeah, Ozone – there are definitely some mastering engineers out there keeping big racks of impressive looking gear, then, like, doing most of the mastering on Ozone. (And why not? Just sayin’. Ducks…)

More:

Coming Soon: VocalSynth 2 and New iZotope Creative Suite

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Rast Sound releases Sounds of Morocco ensemble library

Rast Sound Sounds of MoroccoRast Sound has announced the release of its first ensemble library (including vocals) from Morocco ever produced: Sounds of Morocco. The library includes sounds from 14 different instruments by 7 players (except vocals) for the ensemble kits, meticulously recorded on location. With co-producer Anello Capuano, we designed the library to offer full usability of recorded […]

Karoryfer updates Marie Ork for Plogue Alter/Ego to v2.0

Marie Ork 2.0 for Alter EgoKaroryfer Samples has updated the Marie Ork virtual vocalist for Plogue’s free Alter/Ego real-time singing synthesizer. Version 2.0 adds a clean singing voice, and the talker. Marie Ork is a voice bank for the free Plogue Alter/Ego synthesizer. She was created from recordings of a female death metal vocalist, but is capable of much more […]

iZotope VocalSynth plugin 50% OFF for a limited time

iZotope VocalSynth 50 PluginBoutiquePlugin Boutique is offering 50% off on VocalSynth, the audio effect plugin by iZotope that features four engines to create a wide variety of vocal sounds. Ready for a transformative vocal experience? With VocalSynth, iconic vocal sounds from decades past and the wild vocal sounds you’ve only heard in your head are finally within reach. […]

Humans can mimic machines, too; look out, AutoTune

As machines create more-perfect vocal and instrumental performances, a funny thing is happening: humans are catching up.

The normal assumption about machine learning or “cyborg” technology is, as technology improves, we’ll augment ourselves with more technology. But that misses the fact that humans, both individually and socially, are also smart and adaptable. We start to learn from the tech.

I once met Stewart Copeland (The Police, composer), and he talked about this very phenomenon. A lot of the sound of The Police involved Stewart’s playing routed through various effects. In short, it was something he conceded he couldn’t play on his own. But as the popularity of those tracks grew, he noticed that human drummers were starting to emulate the exact resulting rhythms – possibly even without being aware of the effects routings that produced them.

Drum machines, of course, have had a similar impact. You frequently hear drummers playing with machine-like precision, employing patterns that you simply didn’t hear before. In classical music, we’ve also seen a rise in global musicianship that has produced a level of instrumental virtuosity unheard of in past centuries. Whether the link was intentional or not, even the compositional demands of works like Ligeti’s Continuum have a link to George Antheil’s piano rolls and machine music.

But maybe the best illustration is this: here’s what happens when a vocalist starts to sing like AutoTune.

The singer here is Ukrainian star Aida Nikolaychuk, born in Odessa.

This is an old story. But as discussion of AI and machines learning to emulate humans meets transhumanism, it’s worth flipping the coin to look at human transformation through organic means. It’s not just the machines we add to ourselves, but the way we evolve to adapt to those machines, that may shape that direction.

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With Japan’s latest Vocaloid characters, another song from the future

It’s a cyber-technological future you can live now: a plug-in using sophisticated samples and rules that can make a plug-in sing like a Japanese pop star.

Yamaha has announced this week the newest voices for Vocaloid, their virtual singing software. This time, the characters are drawn from a (PS Vita) Sony video game property:

The main characters of the PS Vita games Utagumi 575 and Miracle Girls Festival, as well as the anime Go! Go! 575, Azuki Masaoka (voice actress Yuka Ohtsubo), have finally been made into VOCALOID Voice Banks!

“Finally.”

Here’s what those new characters sound like:

And the announcement:

Announcing the debut of two new female Japanese VOCALOID4 Voice Banks

The packs themselves run about 9000 Yen, or roughly 80 US Dollars.

Perhaps this is an excuse to step back and consider what this is about, again. (Well, I’m taking it as one.)

To the extent that pop music is always about making a human more than real, Japan embraces a hyperreal artificiality in their music culture, so it’s not surprising technology would follow. Even given that, it seems the success of Yamaha’s Vocaloid software caught the developers by surprise, as the tool earned a massive fanbase. And while extreme AutoTune effects have fallen out of favor in the west, it seems Japan hasn’t lost its appetite for this unique sound – nor the cult following of aficionados that has grown outside the country.

Vocaloid isn’t really robotic – it uses extensive, detailed samples of a real human singer – but the software is capable of pulling and stretching those samples in ways that defy the laws of human performance. That is, this is to singing as the drum machine is to drumming.

That said, if you go out and buy a conventional vocal sample library, the identities of the singers is relatively disguised. Not so, a Vocaloid sample bank. The fictional character is detailed down to her height in centimeters, her backstory … even her blood type. (Okay, if you know the blood type of a real pop star, that’s a little creepy – but somehow I can imagine fans of these fictional characters gladly donating blood if called upon to do so.)

Lest this all seem to be fantasy, equal attention is paid to the voice actors and their resume.

And the there’s the software. Vocaloid is one of the most complex virtual instruments on the market. There’s specific integration with Cubase, obviously owing to Yamaha’s relationship to Steinberg, but also having to do with the level of editing required to get precise control over Vocaloid’s output. And it is uniquely Japanese: while Yamaha has attempted to ship western voices, Japanese users have told me the whole architecture of Vocaloid is tailored to the particular nuances of Japanese inflection and pitch. Vocaloid is musical because the Japanese language is musical in such a particular way.

All of this has given rise to a music subculture built around the software and vocal characters that live atop the platform. That naturally brings us to Hatsune Miku, a fictional singer personality for Vocaloid whose very name is based on the words for “future” and “sound.” She’s one of a number of characters that have grown out of Vocaloid, but has seen the greatest cultural impact both inside and outside Japan.

Of course, ponder that for a second: something that shipped as a sound library product has taken on an imagined life as a pop star. There’s not really any other precedent for that in the history of electronic music … so far. No one has done a spinoff webisode series about the Chorus 1 preset from the KORG M1. (Yet. Please. Make that happen. You know it needs to.)

Hatsune Miku has a fanbase. She’s done packed, projected virtual concerts, via the old Pepper’s Ghost illusion (don’t call it a hologram).

And you get things like this:

Though with Hatsune Miku alone (let alone Vocaloid generally), you can go down a long, long, long rabbit hole of YouTube videos showing extraordinary range of this phenomenon, as character and as instrumentation.

In a western-Japanese collaboration, LaTurbo Avedon, Laurel Halo, Darren Johnston, Mari Matsutoya and Martin Sulzer (and other contributors) built their own operetta/audiovisual performance around Hatsune Miku, premiered as a joint presentation of CTM Festival and Transmediale here in Berlin in 2016. (I had the fortune of sitting next to a cosplaying German math teacher, a grown man who had convincingly made himself a physical manifestation of her illustrated persona – she sat on the edge of her seat enraptured by the work.)

I was particularly struck by Laurel Halo’s adept composition for Hatsune Miku – in turns lyrical and angular, informed by singing idiom and riding imagined breath, but subtly exploiting the technology’s potential. Sprechstimme and prosody for robots. Of all the various CTM/Transmediale commissions, this is music I’d want to return to. And that speaks to possibilities yet unrealized in the age of the electronic voice. (Our whole field, indeed, owes its path to the vocoder, to Daisy Bell, to the projected vocal quality of a Theremin or the monophonic song of a Moog.)

“Be Here Now” mixed interviews and documentary footage with spectacle and song; some in the audience failed to appreciate that blend, seen before in works like the Steve Reich/Beryl Korot opera The Cave. And some Hatsune Miku fans on the Internet took offense to their character being used in a way removed from her usual context, even though the license attached to her character provides for reuse. But I think the music holds up – and I personally equally enjoy this pop deconstruction as I do the tunes racking up the YouTube hits. See what you think:

All of this makes me want to revisit the Vocaloid software – perhaps a parallel review with a Japanese colleague. (Let’s see who’s up for it.)

After all, there’s no more human expression than singing – and no more emotional connection to what a machine is than when it sings, too.

More on the software, with an explanation of how it works (and why you’d want it, or not):

https://www.vocaloid.com/en/vocal_synth/

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