Updated: Let me sum this up. Ableton may or may not have a vocoder in the works (signs actually do point to yes on that). The best part of this story is the remixed “no one needs a vocoder” video, which encapsulates electronic music’s current love/hate/cliche relationship with the thing. And other than that, there’s a lot of me talking without really have any idea what I’m talking about — which is why I usually don’t post on Sundays. Doh. Just watch the video / sample it in your next Live set.

I haven’t necessarily been following Live’s forums lately, but apparently one of the hot-button issues lately was a rumored "secret" vocoder in a future build of Ableton Live. The myth goes something like this: a camera crew doing a behind-the-scenes look at Ableton’s Berlin office accidentally captures a brief moment in which an unreleased vocoder appears in the bottom part of the screen. I’ve been hearing buzz about this for weeks, but Garret Collins is the latest.

I actually really recommend the Inside Ableton MusoTalk video (German); it’s a great little feature. But, of course, the hint of something new in Live has now upstaged that original video.


Live fans go even further, so that the Vocoder — hang on, it’d need a simpler Ableton-y name, like … uh … Carrier or Encoder — is part of a massive conspiracy by which Ableton keeps you from getting the bezier-curve envelopes you really want. (Side note: I prefer Catmull splines, myself.) And it turns out David Zicarelli was on the grassy knoll working for the CIA, or something. (Another side note: I just got to link to Geocities! And it’s still running!)

It seems zany, but then this is the week when the mainstream computer tech blogosphere is speculating about the likelihood of Microsoft switching to spherical interfaces. (Look out, Apple "i"! And will that get people high, like the sphere in Woody Allen’s Sleeper?)

No One Needs a Vocoder – Henke

Okay, I digress. The really amazing thing is this comes up today, again, when shortly after the original video was widely debunked earlier this year. Here’s the problem: just a few days after the video, Ableton co-founder Robert Henke had this to say about vocoders — hilariously:


We can add this to the long list of things we’d like to put on t-shirts. This is the same event at which Henke told a crowd that no one needs 64-bit, and sometimes you don’t even need 16.

And, yeah, the debunking music video is more fun that the original rumor. Speaking of which, I suppose Ableton could still be working on a vocoder. After all, Steve Jobs infamously told the press in 2004 that Apple might just as well make the iPod a toaster as add video capability. (Engadget, tragically, said something even more embarassing: "Fair enough, but it means that they’re basically ceding the market for personal video players to Sony, which will be making a big push in this department soon." Uh … right. The PSP and UMD destroyed Apple’s future.)

Just to cover my own blog, I’ll say this: Ableton could turn all of Live 9 into a giant vocoder / talkbox. Think drum racks, but the whole Session View is one big carrier. It’ll be sold as a separate bundle, and Laurie Anderson, Daft Punk, and Kraftwerk will contribute presets.

Or not.

It could, or could not happen.

You heard it here first.

Okay, update — as it happens, check out comments for some excellent arguments for the vocoder resurfacing.

Since I can’t bring any resolution to the existence or non-existence of an Ableton Vocoder (and if I knew of one, I couldn’t tell you, anyway), I’ll just conclude with this: it doesn’t matter. No, really — it doesn’t matter. If Ableton builds a vocoder, we’ll have a blast with it. It won’t influence the development of Live the host, just as other instruments haven’t; the host has continued to mature. If they don’t, well, we’ll go make one in Reaktor or Max or Pd or something. (It’s not actually that hard to build a vocoder technically, which could give people additional fodder to assume they may have done it.)

Ableton, you’re welcome to use my name suggestions if you like. 😉

Latest updates on the forums: Robert didn’t know about the parody video, and supposedly Ableton is working on a vocoder, or some other special effect.

Read more here (for Robert) and here (latest forum discussion).

Ah, but how do you know I’m not working for Ableton to put everyone off the scent.

And I could be inside Robert’s mind right now.

Thank goodness music software companies aren’t as secretive as some companies in the tech world.