FellKlang Musik Technik
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31 March 2015

Lite £49 | Pro £199 | Pro Extended £299

There’s much hoo-ha about performers promoting themselves as singers while using auto-tune technology to disguise the fact that they can’t sing. They may have the looks and attitude, but when they open their mouths ready to belt it out, teeth grate; ears bleed.

Rather than buying into the con, one could robotise the vocal and go for an electro-pop sound, or just forget about singing and do death metal, or whatever other metal sub-genre accommodates a good ‘graaargh!’ for a lyric. However, get the technique wrong and a career may get dented.

We’re looking at vocal cord nodules, polyps, ulcers, or even paralysis, which ain’t great if you’re halfway through a studio album or tour. So how about taking a leaf out of the industrial music handbook? Use tech to distort, re-pitch, mash and otherwise marmalize the vocal.

Most every electric guitarist has at least one overdrive, distortion or fuzz effect ready to switch on for instant talent, so why not the singer? There are heaps of techie ways to mess up a vocal and one that has pinged loud on the FellKlang radar of late is Krotos Dehumaniser.

Designed for voice-overs and SFX in video games and on soundtracks, this Mac/Windows standalone suite lends itself ideally to monster music production, such is its wealth of tweakables.

For a taste of such, here’s a delightful little ditty featuring a monster having a rather angry day...

Edinburgh-based Krotos was only founded in 2013, but its sole title so far has already made a splash among sound designers and composers. Designer/director Levon Lewis (you may know him from Assasin’s Creed), says: “Instant awesome! Forever in my toolbox. Dehumaniser helped me to generate sounds for the latest Hedgehog game, Sonic Boom, and is inspiration for future projects. Tools like this come out about once every decade. So much fun!”

Musician/composer BT, meanwhile has it thus: “Dehumaniser is stunning. It’s concise, powerful and dauntingly simple. I’ve been using it for atmospherics. Amazing work!” He’s not wrong. On the face of it, the application seems simple enough - just set up the required effects and gibber into a mic, or load a file and render it offline. However, as you’ll see, the number of sound-mangling options is super-huge; the level of control immense.

Krotos offers three iterations of Dehumaniser thus far. Lite is a standalone, 35-preset application which can accept live input from an audio source as well as open WAVs/AIFFs, outputting the results at 16-, 24- or 32-bit. Effects are applied via Voice Designer - a ‘sphere’ around which sit six presets that you blend either by mousing a cursor about or via X/Y MIDI control. Setting up controllers can be done with MIDI-learn throughout, which keeps things simple.

The product ships with demo audio and three libraries of presets which turn human gasps and roars into throaty, gargling life - all very organic and way spooky. Basic presets include such monstrosities as King Kong, Aggressive and Dragon, each very believable once you get into the part. Whipping up an evil guard from the Black Gate of Mordor, or a Jurassic dinosaur running amok in downtown Tunbridge Wells, complete with chronic obstructive pulmonary death-rattle, takes but a trice.

The Experimental and For speech libraries bring robots, insectoids and even a very realistic Gollum into play, should you fancy performing a cover of Led Zep’s Battle Of Evermore sung by a ring-addled Stoor hobbit. And, be honest, who hasn’t? You’ll see that the effects loaded around Voice Designer’s sphere are mute-able for more focused effects, while custom configurations can be saved for later recall, or to swap with other users. At £49, Dehumaniser Lite is great value and provides a great intro to vocal SFX.

If Dehumaniser Pro is more your style, a click on the Advanced Mode icon brings forth a dizzying array of deep-editing options. But then, £199 is a significant spend for many so you’d expect a lot more power - and you get it in buckets. Take a look at this video run-through for an idea of how to get about in Pro Extended...

Yes, it’s something of a brain-melt on first acquaintance, but it doesn’t take long to arrive at stunning laryngeal destruction. Roars and huffs into the mic take on huge menace, so just imagine what it can do for singing, especially if tackling the aforementioned metal genres, indulging industrial escapades, prog-rock pomp or death-reggae.

Hit up the developer’s product pages for Lite, Pro and Pro Extended for an overview of all that’s on offer. For now, it’s worth pointing out that you’re not just stuck with Dehumaniser’s built-in processing. The Dual Plug-ins page offers the means to load two of your own VST or AU devices and hook them up just about anywhere in the signal chain via the immensely powerful Router Window.

Topping off the output, we’ve a Stereo Out Limiter to bring unruly peaks into line and boost quieter moments, and yet another 5-band EQ (these elegant graphic EQs feature on every Advanced Mode page) for global tonal adjustments. If you plump for Pro Extended, there’s also the Batch Processor for taking care of multiple files, a Modulation System that adds further movement to the effects generated, plus a load more presets and three designer libraries supplied by professional sound designers.

Demos are available for Lite and Pro, and the developer has sensibly made manuals available for download on surrender of your name and email address. Meantime, here’s another audio demo, this time highlighting those dread alien species from Planet Zog in outer spaaace...

If you can't be fussed with installing a demo, here's a whistlestop tour of Dehumaniser Pro's many modules. Animal Convolution convolves the original audio with an artificial audio source that is defined by custom vocal cord and tract characteristics. The result passes through an elegant 5-band filter and thus do we conjure the inhuman at the outset.

Next, we've pitch shifting of the two sound layers simultaneously, as well as delayed and polyphonic shifts, the latter of which can be set to respond to variations in level. The Noise Generator is on hand for further distortion and the means to alter the harmonic index when creating robo-gargles, and again, we've a 5-band filter available for further frequency tweaks.

Synthesis next, with a facility to cross-synthesize two input files and so convolve speech, for example, with non-speech audio, plus granular synthesis for further pitch and textural edits, then we're onto spectral shifts within user-defined frequency ranges.

A sample player enables you to play back audio via a MIDI keyboard, time-stretching and pitch-shifting as you go, and then we've the plug-in page. There are two slots to accommodate any VST or AU signal processor installed on your system which, if populated by the Blue Cat Audio PatchWork plug-in host, means a multitude of processors can be brought to bear. And all of these functions feature a 5-band filter each.

Dehumaniser is quite a monster for sound design and opens up huge creative scope for musicians. It's easy enough to render speech completely unintelligible, although the developer has included 'For speech' presets to guide you when striving to keep words intact. The Pro Extended version, meanwhile, offers workflow enhancement, including a batch processor, a load more presets for those in a hurry, and a modulation system available for a number of the effects modules.

Then we’ve the might of the routing system. It’s rather too involved for a written explanation, so watch as Krotos gives you the salient points…

It’s clear that there are yet more developments in the pipeline - a ReWire audio driver shows up in sound settings, so that looks promising. Meantime, the developer’s advice is to use the software with an inter-app audio engine, such as SoundFlower or Source-Nexus, in order to pass audio from Dehumaniser to your DAW.

Overall, Dehumaniser in any of its three guises is a sophisticated signal-processing suite that need not be confined to use with human vocals. Render a guitar lick or synth riff from a project, pass it through Krotos’ monsterizer and achieve unheard-of fume and froth. It could be the secret weapon to make your sound design stand out from the pack. Price-wise, the Lite version is a bargain, offering a good number of tweakables and the performance-friendly Voice Designer.

The Pro edition is for the more ambitious experimentalist, while soundtrack professionals working with intelligible speech will appreciate batch conversion and ready access to a wealth of presets if working to a tight deadline. Let’s leave the final word on Dehumaniser to game-industry veteran Alexander Brandon

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