GRENOBLE, FRANCE: music software company XILS-lab is proud to announce availability of its XILS V+ virtual instrument and effects plug-in, a faithful emulation of a well-known keyboard vocoder classic, as of May 27…

Following a year of intense instrument modelling deep inside XILS-lab’s ear-opening laboratories, the XILS V+ virtual instrument and effects plug-in has finally emerged, sounding nigh on indistinguishable from an instantly-recognisable keyboard vocoder classic much loved by both contemporary and acclaimed artists alike. But what keyboard vocoder are we talking about here exactly? And what’s a vocoder, anyway?

By definition, a vocoder is a synthesizer that produces sounds from an analysis of speech input. Vocoders arguably had their musical heyday in the Seventies with the likes of British record-producing heavyweight Jeff Lynne’s symphonic rockers ELO making much use of them throughout several striking recordings — think smash hit ‘Mr Blue Sky’ and the Time album (featuring the Roland VP-330 Vocoder Plus keyboard) — while German techno pop pioneers Kraftwerk crafted themselves an ongoing robotic vocoder-led career that’s still resonating throughout EDM’s many modern-day stylistic offshoots; French house music stalwarts Daft Punk became big vocoder fans with several memorable club-friendly hits to their eminently danceable name, par exemple. Historically speaking, the aforesaid Roland VP-330 Vocoder Plus is also musically immortalised on celluloid thanks to Greek synth wizard Vangelis’ memorable early-Eighties electronic scores to the Oscar-winning Chariots Of Fire and Ridley Scott’s sci-fi film noir classic, Bladerunner, both of which made much use of the instrument’s signature Strings — ‘emulating’ the sustained portion of orchestral strings — and Human Voice Ensemble ‘choir’ — remarkable and unique — sounds. Subsequently the long-since-discontinued VP-330 Vocoder Plus has become something of a sought-after classic itself… for those in the musical know. Yet finding a fully-functional, pristine example of this 30-plus-year-old temperamental hardware has become nigh on impossible. Which is exactly where XILS V+ comes into play, of course, thanks to XILS-lab’s labours.

So how, technically, does that historic hardware produce those distinctive sounds? And, more to the point, how has XILS-lab been able to magically model them? First things first. Just like the real thing, XILS V+ is based on a Top Octave Divider oscillator — the hidden heart of almost all vintage string machines. Basically, back in the day, this clever concept enabled hardware designers to achieve 49 notes (or more) of polyphony without having to stabilise and tune 49 (or more) oscillators! Instead, a single square wave-generating so-called Top Octave oscillator designed to oscillate at very high specific frequencies is ‘divided’ to provide 12 standard tempered frequencies over four (or more) octaves that are then used to create the waveform for each individual note. All notes are kept in phase with no drift between octaves and only a single tuning ci.

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