Long, long ago, before the overly auto-tuned musical landscape we live in now, when artists wanted to try experimental effects with their vocals, they almost always did so with one of two instrument augmenters: the vocoder or the talk box. The talk box is most closely associated with the guitar, but is by no means limited to a six-string. Stevie Wonder was an early adopter of the talk box–sometimes known as effects pedal. He was having so much fun with the unit in the early seventies that he even used it during a performance on Sesame Street.
It’s easy to confuse the functions of a talk box and a vocoder, because they perform similar functions. However, a talk box/voxbox is a unit which uses the voice to manipulate the instrument, and that goes vice-versa for the vocoder. The vocoder in contrast uses the instrument to manipulate the voice. See? Easy as … 1-2-3! [Insert Fozzy Bear’s “Wocka wocka” here.]
You’ll very easily recognize the effects of the vocoder in Imogen Heap’s “Hide And Seek.” That track was on many early 2000s soundtracks (including being used in the amazing “Dear Sister” SNL sketch) and it was of course sampled in “Whatcha Say” by Jason Derulo. The vocals were being synthesized by the keyboard to produce a fuller sound and range from a single voice.
Besides the above video, popular uses of the talk box/voxbox include the intro to Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” the vocals in Daft Punk’s “Around The World,” and my all-time personal favorite talk box riff: “Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh.
This concludes our counting and vocal manipulation lesson for the day!