The Daleks: Lords Of The Ring Modulator

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Chris Morley talks like a dalek.


What drives that distinctive Dalek sound? From their first appearance back in 1963, the men giving them voice have used the ring modulator.

As Harmony Central explains,
"A ring modulator is a simple device that can be used to create unusual sounds from an instrument's output.

It effectively takes two signals (each with some frequency), and produces a signal containing the sum and differences of those frequencies. These frequencies will typically be non-harmonic, so the ring modulator can create some very dissonant sounds."
Dissonance which is used to turn a normal human voice into that of a Dalek.



Nick Briggs has been the man tasked with giving them voice since 2005, when one returned in the Ninth Doctor adventure Dalek. Asked about his technique by Den Of Geek, he said
"It's true to say they spend most of their time being angry - you just have to work out exactly how angry they are and what they are angry about at any given moment.

Of course, the first Dalek story I did for the new series was a lovely challenge. The Dalek was having to resort to being devious, because it didn't initially have the sheer power the Daleks usually have.

It had to coerce Rose into touching it so that it could absorb all her time travel energy stuff. Oh yes, I understand it all, you know!"
Of course, Briggs was not the first to plug in. One of his main influences was Peter Hawkins, who worked on several of the early Dalek stories.



Nick would pay tribute in saying,
"Peter was ‘the’ voice of the 60s; he was Captain Pugwash, he was Tony the Tiger and on just about every public information film or TV commercial, it seemed. Peter had that wonderful, insistent quality to his voice."
Honourable mentions also go to David Graham & Roy Skelton, the latter of whom lent his voice to Zippy from Rainbow after Hawkins departed that particular high water mark of children's television.



Speaking of his work on Doctor Who before his passing, Skelton revealed that his dulcet tones had not merely been confined to the sons of Skaro.....
"Ah, Doctor Who. It's been great and it's very nice when the cheques come in, still, from America actually, which is not bad. I've done Daleks, Monoids, and the original Cybermen. I did the Krotons, which was quite fun because they were evil creatures and so I played them with South African accents."
In a sense he was merely building on the work started by Hawkins & Graham in that first Dalek serial. David Graham explained how they created the distinct sound.
“I created it with Peter Hawkins, another voice actor, We adopted this staccato style then they fed it through a synthesiser to make it more sinister.”
Sound designer Brian Hodgson can probably take much of the credit for introducing the ring modulator into proceedings.
"I'd done a voice for a robot butler in a children's radio series and used a ring modulation system.

So we used that again and just had to make sure that [voice artist] Peter Hawkins gave a monotonous delivery. So it was a blend of my treatment and Peter's performance."



It was a small piece of technical advice from Hodgson that really got the Daleks into fine voice. Expanding on his collaboration with Hawkins, he would add,
"I asked him to elongate all the vowels because you only hear the modulation on the vowels. If you modulated the consonants they disappear and you can't hear it - so he did it on all the vowels and that became the Dalek voice."
Nowadays, though, things are a lot more practical given the advances in audio & indeed its attendant technology. Back to Nick Briggs...


"I have control of the ring modulator that my voice goes through during the filming. I'm there on set, sorting that out.

I can only really do the voice when I can hear the effect on it… It's a bit like playing a strange musical instrument - you judge what you're doing by the way it affects the modulation."
A repeat viewing, or perhaps more accurately listen, to The Parting Of The Ways, reveals a once tried but never again repeated spot of experimentation by the current voice of the Daleks. Remember the deeper sound of the Emperor, not seen or heard since The Evil Of The Daleks, in comparison to its subjects/worshippers?


"You can get much more effective differences by changing your own vocal quality, being a bit more gruff or pitching it up, that sort of thing."
Even as recently as Victory Of The Daleks a little technical jiggery pokery was deemed necessary.
"You know, no one said to me, 'We should do a slightly different voice for the new Daleks,' but I just thought, 'We probably should!'

So, I made a technical adjustment to it. I added more low frequency oscillation, and also I did the voice in a slightly different way- only a slightly different way, 'cause hell, they're still Daleks, aren't they?"
To paraphrase those he voices - Mo-dul-ate! Mo-dul-ate!

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