Voice Control: A Guide To AIR Talkbox

Introduction

When Digidesign released Pro Tools 8 back in 2008, they introduced their new line of plug-ins made by their Advanced Instrument Research (AIR) team. A few years on and I bet some of the more peculiar AIR plug-ins are just gathering digital dust in most people’s systems.

This guide introduces the Talkbox plug-in, an effect which you may remember from the 80’s. The hardware equivalent is a stomp-box with a speaker connected to a plastic tube which ends up in the musician’s mouth. The user changes the shape of his/her mouth to filter the sound which is then picked up by a vocal mic. You can try a similar thing for yourself by playing some music through your phone and covering the speaker with your mouth.

For this tutorial, we will use a one-bar looped guitar riff. Below you can listen to the raw guitar riff and also hear the effects of the plug-in.

Here is the original unmodified recording:


And here is the same recording with the effect applied:


The Setup

The plug-in has some familiar and some potentially unfamiliar controls…

Vowel

This knob lets you set the vowel sound to simulate; there are 13 choices from the basicĀ OO’s and AH’s to the more mouth-bendingĀ ER and AE.

Envelope

This section allows you to modulate the formant settings. Use the threshold control to determine at what level the modulation occurs; the attack and release adjusts the response and recovery times respectively.

Envelope depth

This control creates a positive or negative offset in the vowel control (at centre it does nothing) when triggered; it is triggered dependant upon the threshold setting in the envelope section.

LFO

The LFO section allows you to utilise a Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO) to modulate the formant setting.

Formant

Formant refers to the prominent frequencies which make up the phonetic characteristics of the vowel sound. The control on the Talkbox plug-in allows you to shift these frequencies up or down by 12 semitones; note that this doesn’t pitch-shift the original audio!

Mix

Like in other plug-ins, you can control the wet/dry mix – dry being the unprocessed audio and wet meaning the product of the plug-in. If you are using Talkbox on an auxiliary track you may wish to set the mix to 100% (adjusting the wet/dry mix on the send level) however if used as an insert you may choose to reduce the mix level so that some of the original unprocessed audio gets through.


Final Words

The effect really comes alive when you automate the controls, please check out our plug-in automation tutorial to learn how.

The processed audio file we created for this tutorial mainly utilised the Vowel control. by experimenting with the other controls, especially the LFO and Envelope settings you can create some very interesting sounds indeed!

We would love to hear how you have creatively used the Talkbox plug-in in your mixes; please leave us a comment below or on Twitter.

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