MATRIXSYNTH: Voice of the Cylon - Battlestar Galactica, The ARP 2500, and the EMS Vocoder 1000

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Voice of the Cylon - Battlestar Galactica, The ARP 2500, and the EMS Vocoder 1000

Published on Nov 20, 2019 supajc

Amazing series sent my way via John L Rice. Playlist and descriptions for each video in the playlist above, directly below. Enjoy. ;)

See here for previous posts featuring Battlestar Galactica.


1. Voice of the Cylon Pt. 1 The Synthesizer [ARP 2500]
Battlestar Galactica fans & synthesizer community, rejoice! For the first time in history the mysterious sound of the Cylon voice is revealed. I tracked down probably the last person alive who knows the entire formula, very private individual still works in visual arts. To him it was just a job he did 40 years ago, to me it's one of the most mesmerizing sounds in musical/sci-fi fx history. 6 parts to this series as of 11-2019.
2. Voice Of The Cylon Pt. 2 the Voice Recording
My contact told me "they brought us the voices" on Nagra III and IV tape machines. Vocoder recorded back to Nagra for film sync. Voice actor Micheal Santiago was hired to do the voice, but didn't, telling youtube user intromix later that "they ended up getting someone cheaper" to do it. One actor did all the voices, for consistency, reading the script in a lifeless, monotone voice as to not shift the frequency spectrum in the vocoder.
3. Voice Of The Cylon Pt. 3 The Vocoder [EMS Vocoder, specifically the Vocoder 1000]
Finally it is known exactly which vocoder was used for the Cylon voice. Universal Studios had rented the EMS and Sennheiser, and when sound designer Peter Berkos was asked about it circa 2008 he mis-remembered due to having the Sennheiser manual still. Youtube user intromix has owned both and tested oscillators, it could not have been the Sennheiser but now we know for sure anyway.
4. Voice of the Cylon Pt. 4 the Phaser & Distortion [Countryman Associates Type 968A Phase Shifter]
The rare, quirky effect box that was used as an impromptu distortion device. My contact told me that they floated the idea of using a guitar amp and/or pedals, but did not even try it once they found this. ** Also, he told me NO Marshall Time modulator was used as it hadn't even been released yet.
5. Voice of the Cylon Pt. 5 Recording Gear
Two main pieces of studio recording gear that were present at Universal Studios in 1978 that had a big impact on the sonic character of the Cylon voice recording. Big thanks to Ken from Electrodyne for all his advice, as well as and
6. Voice Of the Cylon Pt. 6 Audio Demos & Credits
Resurrecting the sound of the Cylon Centurion from the original Battlestar Galactica 1978 using the original equipment. Once the vocoder was recorded, it was further altered/degraded by multiple tape transfers in the video editing process, post-production techniques (EQ and reverb, to "place" the character in a big room, spaceship, etc) My contact said there were just pieces of tape on the gear to place knobs/switches back where they were; and that the synthesizer frequently sounded very different from day to day or after a power outage. In the series there are wildly differing Cylon tones, tiny movements in gain or EQ settings (especially the ringy ARP 2500 filters) radically alter the vocoder due to the ultra-harmonic richness of the tone. So many preamps and transformers involved, it was hard for THEM to make the Cylon voice consistent. Supposedly sound designer Peter Berkos wrote notes on the process, Universal Studios couldn't locate any info at all, it likely all burned down in the great fire of 2008 as well as the golden ARP 2500 oscillator used all throughout Galactica 1980.
Preamp was running a bit hot in this demo, didn't catch until after, so this tone sounds extra crunchy in this example. I sampled my tones with lowpass filter a bit too low, hope to get another chance with the real thing some day.
7. Gold Cylon Voice Vulpa [extra video]
Recreating the lower voice of the Gold Cylon commander. There are so many steps and factors to re-creating the Cylon voice even the original crew could not make it consistent on a day-to-day basis. Out of hundreds of test files this year I'm only really happy with about 5 of them but will keep working to recreate it perfectly.


  1. Oh, yes. I definitely spent the last forty years agonizing over... this. Yep. I sure did. Couldn't keep my mind on anything else.

  2. Six part video should of been condensed in to one video. Well I guess he needs to increase the viewer counters on his YouTube channel. For every single viewer should they decide to watch each video he will get six viewer counts.

    1. The same reason on-line magazines spread a one-column story over twenty columns: clicks and ad revenue. Then, they wonder why people get tired of their magazine and stop reading it.

  3. Probably did it this way because 25 minute videos are more of a commitment than most people have attention spans for these days :)


Comments are moderated. Constructive feedback on gear is welcome, insulting people is not.


Patch n Tweak

© Matrixsynth - All posts are presented here for informative, historical and educative purposes as applicable within fair use.
MATRIXSYNTH is supported by affiliate links that use cookies to track clickthroughs and sales. See the privacy policy for details.