Roland's VT-4 Voice Transformer Looks Amazing, Could be Annoying

Watching the product demo of Roland’s new VT-4 Voice Transformer, it’s hard to shake the impression that it was designed for Reggie Watts. Not only does the performer in the video use the device to transform her voice into an electro-funk slur similar to the layered sounds created by comedian/musician/mad genius Watts, she beatboxes, which is Watts’ signature move.

So I suppose that’s the great danger of the VT-4. When it hits the market, it will inspire hundreds to pair it with a looper and try to do what Reggie Watts does. That danger will be short lived. Only Reggie Watts can do what Reggie Watts does. The problem is Reggie Watts makes it look easy. And it looks like the VT-4 can do a lot more.

The VT-4 is a small but powerful vocal effects processor announced this week by Roland. It has amazing potential as an electronic instrument, but I fear that in the wrong hands it’s going to be nothing short of deadly.

The small vocal effects processor is capable of manipulating the human voice in a variety of ways. It can be a harmonizer, a robotic voice pitch shifter, a hard tuner and an ambience creator. From the demo, it seems that the tiny box can make your voice hit that T-Pain and Daft Punk vocal easily and in a way that’s perfect for a live performance. There’s no computer needed. In fact, you don’t even need a plug. It runs on batteries. Once precocious high school kids realize they can make techno with this box and a looper pedal, talent show performances are gonna look plain bizarre.

But while the machine’s ability to hit familiar and popular sounds was foregrounded in the demo, what makes it truly exciting is the possibility for customizing sounds. The VT-4 interface allows for instant creative control, allowing users to dial in settings that response to their voice, the song and their mood. Or they can run several effects at once, creating a personalized sound by chaining effects together. When connected to a MIDI keyboard, VT-4 users can create multi-part backing vocal stacks on the fly. The VT-4’s compact footprint sits neatly on most keyboards, making it easy to integrate with common performance setups.

Never before has an instrument had the potential to be both so amazing and so annoying.