PowerFX "Big Al" Sings It Right Back to You
(ShackMan | Posted 2010-02-02)
His name is Big Al. Doesn't exactly sound like the usual name for a singer, and he doesn't look a thing like I'd imagine a "Big Al" to be (I'm pretty sure Big Al is actually an insurance salesman), but that's the nickname for the singer in PowerFX's new software that allows users to type in words and melodies and hear it sung back at them without paying for a studio or even taking the time to record it themselves. Want to jot down a song idea quick? Edit a melodic line? Fiddle with the bridge section? Maybe you just want to send a singing Valentine (insert gift idea!). "Al" sings anything you give him.
PowerFX did all this using the same method that Yamaha (who helped with the project) uses to make samples of string ensembles or pianos for their digital piano lines. They took a singer and sampled his voice hundreds of times singing tons of different words and syllables that can be typed in manually or selected. Users can play around with included tools to manipulate or add effects to the voice. Big Al is powerful enough to sing 16 simultaneous lines, so backing vocals and even small choirs are easy to create.
The software is already a smash hit in Japan. PowerFX CEO Bil Bryant says, "The Vocaloid community is active, especially in Japan and the release of a booming male vocalist is much anticipated. Although Vocaloid and vocal synthesis is an evolving technology, the Vocaloid user community enjoys combining illustrations and video with the Vocaloid artist's performances to make their own unique entertainment genre." He went on to speak to composers and producers on top of his songwriter fan base when he said, "Vocaloid as a sound source is a vastly under looked tool, for instance you could use Big Al to create a bass line with a unique vocal characteristic."
VOCALOID software users can also import midi files to Big Al. He then emulates the words and notes given to him. PowerFX claims solid MIDI tracking, but even the Big Two (Finale and Sibelius) have their quirks when it comes to importing files. Still, PowerFX has a great idea here that seems more geared toward the producer or composer or perhaps a songwriter without a voice than anyone with vocal training. More possibilities are yet to be explored, though, and Bil Bryant's suggestions are just the beginning.
The Big Al/Vocaloid package includes a standalone version with export to wav functionality, Real-time VSTi performance and ReWire connectivity. It is available as a download for $149 or $179 for the DVD.