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-   -   Creating "The Chipmunks" Sound (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=809880)

Jinx 11-07-2016 02:47 PM

Creating "The Chipmunks" Sound
 
Wikipedia says that Chipmunk sound was created by recording at twice normal speed. However, in film, fast motion is created by recording at a slower speed and playing back at normal speed. So, by that logic, wouldn't a voice have to be recorded at a slower speed and played back at normal speed to sound like a Chipmunk? Confused. :confused:

Skywatcher 11-07-2016 02:56 PM

Yeah, whoever put that in Wiki got it backwards.

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...pmunks-created

pulykamell 11-07-2016 03:00 PM

The article I'm see on Wikipedia here, says "The Chipmunks' voices were recorded at half the normal tape speed onto audiotape by voice talent." I assume you're referencing another article or that it's been corrected in the meantime?

terentii 11-07-2016 03:03 PM

I was listening to "The Christmas Song" on the radio once, and the DJ adjusted the speed of the record (a 45) so that the voices sounded natural. It was really slooooooooooow!

Musicat 11-07-2016 03:10 PM

I once recorded an answering machine song a la Chipmunks, and it took some training to learn to sing slowly, stay in tune, and make it work. I imagine David Seville had a lot of practice, though.

Musicat 11-07-2016 03:19 PM

Although you often read that the tape was slowed down by half or sped up by twice, in a professional studio there is no need to limit yourself to such fixed ratios. All professional recorders I've seen have a speed control, VSO (Variable Speed Oscillator) that can raise or lower the speed/pitch by any amount.

I once used this function on a 16 track machine, recording a standard B flat trumpet one step low. When played at normal speed with the other tracks, it sounded like a D trumpet -- higher and a little thinner in timbre, the sound I was going for.

terentii 11-07-2016 03:42 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Musicat (Post 19759542)
Although you often read that the tape was slowed down by half or sped up by twice, in a professional studio there is no need to limit yourself to such fixed ratios. All professional recorders I've seen have a speed control, VSO (Variable Speed Oscillator) that can raise or lower the speed/pitch by any amount.

Was this the case in 1959, though? :dubious: :confused:

Jinx 11-07-2016 04:29 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by terentii (Post 19759610)
Was this the case in 1959, though? :dubious: :confused:

How could the average person do this in 1959 or even now? I don't see typical recording devices coming with potentiometers (pots) to tweak playing speed. How could this be "induced" into a device of the 50s or even today? Could you place a potentiometer in-line with the current to change resistance and therefore vary rpms?

Jinx 11-07-2016 04:30 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Skywatcher (Post 19759489)
Yeah, whoever put that in Wiki got it backwards.

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...pmunks-created

Thanks! That's what I would suspect.

Ludovic 11-07-2016 04:35 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by terentii (Post 19759610)
Was this the case in 1959, though? :dubious: :confused:

Once, for 40 minutes.

pulykamell 11-07-2016 04:38 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jinx (Post 19759736)
How could the average person do this in 1959 or even now?

Now? Pretty darned easy. Any digital recording program will let you alter the speed of the recording however you want. Even with the ubiquitous Tascam recorders back in the 80s and 90s (and probably before--that's just my era), you can record at normal speed and playback at double speed if you wanted to. (The normal way was to record and playback both at double speed for higher fidelity.)

TriPolar 11-07-2016 04:51 PM

It wouldn't have difficult in 1959 to record slower or play back faster. There would have been some means of controlling the motor speed that could be modified even if there was no existing control. I don't know what kind of machines would have been used but there may even have been gears or a belt driving the reels that could be physically modified. If the the tape moved at a constant rate with varying wheel rotation speed then then the that rate surely could be reduced for recording.

Trinopus 11-07-2016 05:52 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jinx (Post 19759736)
How could the average person do this in 1959 or even now? . . .

Quote:

Originally Posted by pulykamell (Post 19759769)
Now? Pretty darned easy. Any digital recording program will let you alter the speed of the recording however you want. . . .

Audacity will let you do it, and it's free. (And easy enough to use, even I was able to figure it out!)

ETA: Audacity with both let you change the speed, and change the pitch without changing speed.

Doug Bowe 11-07-2016 06:18 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TriPolar (Post 19759794)
It wouldn't have difficult in 1959 to record slower or play back faster. There would have been some means of controlling the motor speed that could be modified even if there was no existing control. I don't know what kind of machines would have been used but there may even have been gears or a belt driving the reels that could be physically modified. If the the tape moved at a constant rate with varying wheel rotation speed then then the that rate surely could be reduced for recording.

At that time it was likely Ampex tape recorders. The professional machine would have had a fixed speed switch at 7 1/2, 15 and 30 inches per second. Record at 15 and play back at 30.
You have to talk and sing like there's a grapefruit in your mouth.

cochrane 11-07-2016 06:24 PM

If you want to hear a good example of the chipmunk effect, get an original copy of Billy Joel's Cold Spring Harbor. Joel said that when he put the record on his turntable, he became so angered, he ripped the record off the player, ran outside, and threw the album down the street like a Frisbee.

elfkin477 11-07-2016 07:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jinx (Post 19759736)
How could the average person do this in 1959 or even now? I don't see typical recording devices coming with potentiometers (pots) to tweak playing speed. How could this be "induced" into a device of the 50s or even today? Could you place a potentiometer in-line with the current to change resistance and therefore vary rpms?

It's been possible to do this with an ordinary tape recorder for a long time. I have a recording my brother and I made twenty-one years ago that we sped up to make a skit we wrote sound like the Rescue Rangers that we were parodying, and all we used was a hand-held tape recorder.

Musicat 11-07-2016 08:26 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by terentii (Post 19759610)
Was this the case in 1959, though? :dubious: :confused:

I can't provide experience from that era. My example was from ca. 1973.

But multi-track recording was being experimented with in the 1950's and it doesn't seem a stretch for someone with some engineering chops to make such a multi-speed device then. Les Paul used many tracks, although his early recordings were not multi- in the sense used later, but sound-on-sound, where previous recordings were added to new takes, building up layers. Even Patti Page had a hit record in 1958, Everybody loves a Lover, where she sang a duet with herself.

Besides, for chipmunks, all you need is a recorder with 2 speeds, something almost every recorder had, home or studio.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jinx (Post 19759736)
How could the average person do this in 1959 or even now? I don't see typical recording devices coming with potentiometers (pots) to tweak playing speed. How could this be "induced" into a device of the 50s or even today? Could you place a potentiometer in-line with the current to change resistance and therefore vary rpms?

That's not the way it is usually done. First, most recorders had 2 or 3 speeds built-in. If that was not sufficiently flexible, consider what I did in my own lab, ca. 1974 (presumably I could have done it in 1958):

I bought a used 100 watt mono power amp, and an audio frequency generator. I rewired a Pioneer open reel RT 1011 recorder, severing the power lines to the synchronous capstan motor (synchronous means the speed is controlled by the frequency, usually 60 hz powerline in the USA). I powered the capstan motor from the power amp, driven by the audio generator. It worked perfectly.

I could control the capstan, and therefore the tape speed by changing the audio generator's output. 60 hz was standard, but I could go from about 40 to 120 hz with the attendant pitch/speed variation of the tape. And I could double or halve the speed with the built-in speed change (7.5ips to 15ips or 3.75ips, for example).

(The 40-120 range was limited since the capstan motor wasn't designed to be much different from 60.)

Now, it's much easier. You can change the pitch without altering the speed, or vice-versa, with a free program for your PC.

burpo the wonder mutt 11-07-2016 08:46 PM

I have a device I program for gigs (TC Helicon "Voicelive"), that shifts pitch all by itself--yes, it can shift up two octaves. I haven't had time to program Alvin and crew, but someday... .

I've had this device for almost 10 years.

It's beautiful.

drad dog 11-07-2016 09:29 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Musicat (Post 19759542)
Although you often read that the tape was slowed down by half or sped up by twice, in a professional studio there is no need to limit yourself to such fixed ratios. All professional recorders I've seen have a speed control, VSO (Variable Speed Oscillator) that can raise or lower the speed/pitch by any amount.

I once used this function on a 16 track machine, recording a standard B flat trumpet one step low. When played at normal speed with the other tracks, it sounded like a D trumpet -- higher and a little thinner in timbre, the sound I was going for.

By slowing or speeding to half or twice, or other exact multiples, you retain the notes pitch identity, in a different octave. IOW you can overdub normal sounding instruments onto it in the same key. Maybe this was a consideration.

Musicat 11-07-2016 10:12 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by drad dog (Post 19760377)
By slowing or speeding to half or twice, or other exact multiples, you retain the notes pitch identity, in a different octave. IOW you can overdub normal sounding instruments onto it in the same key. Maybe this was a consideration.

I wasn't present during the recordings, but my guess is the instruments all played first at normal speed and pitch, and the vocals were added later, slowing the previous recordings while the vocals were added. After all, the whole idea was to make it seem like the chipmunks were singing to a normal orchestra.

It's not a complicated concept, but has to be artfully done to be effective.

Just a guess, but since each of the individual chipmunks had a slightly different voice pitch, perhaps recording each one required a small speed difference. Either that, or David Seville raised/lowered his voice accordingly. Either one would work.

Exapno Mapcase 11-07-2016 10:18 PM

There was nothing unusual about this technique even in 1958.

The Alvin and the Chipmunks page says:
Quote:

The technique was by no means new to the Chipmunks. For example, the high and low pitched characters in The Wizard of Oz were achieved by speeding up and slowing down vocal recordings. Also, Mel Blanc's voice characterization for Daffy Duck was sped up to some extent. ...

The technique was used extensively in the British puppet show Pinky and Perky, which pre-dated the Chipmunks.
Another contemporary was The Purple People Eater, released in mid-1958, whose page says:
Quote:

The voice of the purple people eater is a sped-up recording, giving it a voice similar to, but not quite as high-pitched or as fast, as Mike Sammes's 1957 "Pinky and Perky", or Ross Bagdasarian's "Witch Doctor", another hit from earlier in 1958; and "The Chipmunk Song" which was released late in 1958.
And if you check the Pinky and Perky page:
Quote:

Pinky and Perky spoke and sang in high-pitched voices, created by re-playing original voice recordings at twice the original recorded speed; the vocals were sung by Mike Sammes[1] while the backing track was played at half normal speed (Sammes did the same job for Ken Dodd's Diddymen, as Ross Bagdasarian did for the original Chipmunks in the early 1960s)—hence the expression "Pinky and Perky speed", when an LP record is played at 45 rpm or 78 rpm instead of the correct 33⅓ rpm.
The Wikipedia page got it right in the first place and supplies all kinds of evidence for the use of the technique other than the Chipmunks. I wonder how all this information got ignored by the OP.

terentii 11-07-2016 10:53 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Musicat (Post 19760450)
Just a guess, but since each of the individual chipmunks had a slightly different voice pitch, perhaps recording each one required a small speed difference. Either that, or David Seville raised/lowered his voice accordingly. Either one would work.

He did. He wrote a three-part harmony and recorded each of the Chipmunk's voices separately over the very slow orchestra track.

Obviously the basic technology for producing the Chipmunk voices existed in 1959; I got their first album for Christmas that year. It was all of the fancy high-tech stuff mentioned above that I was wondering about.

Chronos 11-08-2016 07:09 AM

While it is possible to alter pitch without speed, or vice versa, with modern equipment, it isn't lossless like a simple change of tape speed is. That's why autotuned music never sounds quite right.

Peter Morris 11-09-2016 06:10 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jinx (Post 19759463)
Wikipedia says that Chipmunk sound was created by recording at twice normal speed. However, in film, fast motion is created by recording at a slower speed and playing back at normal speed. So, by that logic, wouldn't a voice have to be recorded at a slower speed and played back at normal speed to sound like a Chipmunk? Confused. :confused:

I don't think either one is accurate. They don't exactly record it at slower speed either. What they do is:

1) Make a normal recording of a song.
2) play the recording back at double speed.
3) re-record the double speed version.

I see where they're going with "recorded at twice normal speed" but it's misleading.

The song itself has to be played at a slow pace, with every note twice normal length.

Musicat 11-09-2016 06:32 PM

Forget what Wikipedia says, right or wrong.

Y'all do know that recordings like the Chipmunks involve multiple recordings, at different speeds and different times, before being combined and transferred to a composite mono or stereo mix, don't you?

The Chipmunks orchestra (rhythm section and whatever sweetening was used) was recorded at normal speed, whatever that was for the recorder used, probably 15ips. David Seville played that back at half, or close-to-half speed, and recorded each chipmunk voice one at a time, probably on separate tracks, at his normal voice register, singing much slower than usual. When played back at 15ips, his voice sounds like a chipmunk.

He overdubbed the "Seville" voice, i.e., "Alvin!!" and other normal-sounding voices at normal tape speeds sometime during the process.

He then mixed, in real time, at normal speed, the multi tracks, to a mono and/or stereo mix for public release, to an intermediate tape, then typically on 45rpm records or as an album, 33 1/3 rpm records.

Is that clear? Cheesh.

MovieMogul 11-14-2016 08:03 AM

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Walt Disney's CINDERELLA, which famously used similar methods for several songs. In fact, it was the first animated film to get an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Recording for that very reason.

Sent from my SCH-I435 using Tapatalk

bunworthy 11-14-2016 04:27 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by terentii (Post 19759610)
Was this the case in 1959, though? :dubious: :confused:

I'm pretty sure the technique was pioneered by Les Paul in the 1940s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Pa...ng_innovations

HeyHomie 11-15-2016 11:28 AM

I'm confused. Does that mean that the vocalists have to force themselves to sing excruciatingly slowly so the meter (or whatever word you need to use here) will be whatever it needs to be when sped up?

burpo the wonder mutt 11-15-2016 11:41 AM

^Yep. But it makes for great diction when sped up.

Machine Elf 11-15-2016 12:21 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by HeyHomie (Post 19783570)
I'm confused. Does that mean that the vocalists have to force themselves to sing excruciatingly slowly so the meter (or whatever word you need to use here) will be whatever it needs to be when sped up?

Yup. A similar thing happens in reverse for the production of some music videos: the music on the set is played at X times normal speed (where X>1, e.g. playing a 33 RPM record at 45 RPM) while the movements of the video actor(s) are recorded, and then during playback the video and audio both get slowed down so the music is heard at its original tempo, and the movements of the actors have thus been unnaturally slowed down. It lends an otherworldly grace to their motion, e.g. hair or dresses moving in the wind. Since the music is sped up while the video is being recorded, it means that anyone who is supposed to be singing in the video has to move their lips fast to keep up with the music; if the original music is fast-tempoed, then it can be hard to do this well. Here's a tutorial on the technique, cued to the final result; the performer seems to have pretty bad timing, but if you back the video up to 1:27, you can see how fast she has to move her body/lips to keep up with the sped-up song; it's quite a challenge.

Gunslinger 11-16-2016 05:40 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Doug Bowe (Post 19759999)
The professional machine would have had a fixed speed switch at 7 1/2, 15 and 30 inches per second. Record at 15 and play back at 30.

That was extremely common, if not standard. Same principle as the different tape speeds on VHS VCRs -- record at a high tape speed for better quality, low tape speed to get more on a standard-length reel of tape but at reduced quality.

(Also, it occurs to me, pretty much the same as having different bitrates for mp3s back in the Napster days -- 96kbps was good enough for most people taking hours to pirate a song on a dialup connection to put on their player that had a capacity of tens of megabytes, but if you were fancy and could afford the wait/faster connection and storage space, you'd encode at 328kbps. And also the lossy encoding required to pirate a DVD onto a video CD to sell to your classmates. There just wasn't a physical switch on the player for the digital formats.)

DesertDog 11-16-2016 08:09 AM

Not many know this but in Hitchcock's Rear Window "Songwriter," one of Jefferies' neighbors across the way* is played by Ross Bagdasarian, David Seville's non-Chipmunk name. He has nineteen other acting credits as well as 63 soundtrack credits (natch).

*Hitch makes his appearance winding his clock in the guy's apartment.

terentii 11-16-2016 08:54 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DesertDog (Post 19785740)
Not many know this but in Hitchcock's Rear Window "Songwriter," one of Jefferies' neighbors across the way* is played by Ross Bagdasarian, David Seville's non-Chipmunk name.

I knew that! :)

Fenshaw 11-16-2016 11:53 AM

Slow times
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by TriPolar (Post 19759794)
It wouldn't have difficult in 1959 to record slower or play back faster.

I was doing a lot of recording in those days. Almost all of the reel to reel recorders had two speeds, 7.5 inches per second (IPS) and 3.25 IPS. If you were recording voice, or something low fidelity you would use 3.25 to save expensive tape. If you wanted higher quality you used 7.5. There were even machines in the high end with a 15 IPS setting when price was no object. I had a court reporter's recorder that had a 1.75 IPS so the reporter wouldn't have to change tape during a long session.

Saint Cad 11-16-2016 02:10 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase (Post 19760465)
Quote:

The voice of the purple people eater is a sped-up recording, giving it a voice similar to, but not quite as high-pitched or as fast, as Mike Sammes's 1957 "Pinky and Perky", or Ross Bagdasarian's "Witch Doctor", another hit from earlier in 1958; and "The Chipmunk Song" which was released late in 1958.

And you do realize that Ross Bagdasarian is David Seville right? Witch Doctor was his own inspiration for The Chipmunks.

Musicat 11-17-2016 07:20 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Fenshaw (Post 19786448)
I was doing a lot of recording in those days. Almost all of the reel to reel recorders had two speeds, 7.5 inches per second (IPS) and 3.25 IPS. If you were recording voice, or something low fidelity you would use 3.25 to save expensive tape. If you wanted higher quality you used 7.5. There were even machines in the high end with a 15 IPS setting when price was no object. I had a court reporter's recorder that had a 1.75 IPS so the reporter wouldn't have to change tape during a long session.

Nitpick: Your speeds are a little off. Here are the common tape speeds; each is half of the previous:

30 IPS
15
7.5 (7 1/2)
3.75 (3 3/4)
1.875 (1 7/8)

Note that professional recorders had an adjustable speed feature (VSO) and were not limited to these fixed speeds. I think (but I'm not sure) at least one Ampex had a way to speed up or slow down by musical half-steps so the engineer didn't have to guess or calibrate.


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