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How to do a Dalek

How to do a Dalek

Once more — and sincere apologies to the five individuals who have been caught up in this — one of those infuriating YouTube tagging games has surfaced, and here I am having to play.

Basically, this time round, I had to make a video of myself at a fictional job interview as I would like it to happen, and this really got me thinking. With a concept like that, there’s not a great deal to do. There were five sentences I had to complete, but none of them gave me any scope to reveal anything about myself particularly: anything new and interesting would have to come from a flight of fancy.

After almost a week of head-scratching, I came up with having myself turn into a monster, but what kind of monster could I do?

To cut a long story short, I went for the Daleks, those iconic monsters of my favourite TV show, Doctor Who. The Daleks are not, as is often supposed, robots, but living creatures encased in sort of personal tanks: not exactly cyborgs, but almost. Their voices are basically organic, but enhanced by some kind of space-age technology, giving them their trademark harsh, grating tones.

To be sure, about 90% of the voice is actually in the performance. The Daleks were created in 1963 by a certain Terry Nation, who based them on his childhood fears of the German Nazis. They have been genetically engineered to remove all compassion, pity and so on, leaving only hatred and (although they claim differently) fear. They are psychotic, and deliver their demands, threats and orders in slightly deranged staccato screeches.

One word of warning: you have to attack the Dalek at 100%, otherwise it will not work, which meant that I spent a good quarter hour (it took several takes to get it right) having a really good rant. My wife says she went outside at that point so that the neighbours didn’t think I was yelling at her.

That done, it still had to be processed to give it that electronically-assisted edge to it. For this, I used Audacity, a freeware sound editor, together with the Killerringer plugin. This is an effect called a “ring modulator”, a digital version of the equipment used for the original Daleks. The file goes in Audacity’s Pluig-Ins folder.

Killerringer is a VST plugin, which some versions of Audacity will support natively; if it doesn’t work, you’ll need the VST Enabler, which also goes into the Plug-Ins folder.

Once you’ve recorded your performance, and have it in an Audacity project, you need to highlight it (or that portion you want to apply the effect to) and select “killerringer” from the “Effects” menu. This gives you a dialogue with three sliders: Root pitch, Speed and Amount. All three need to be set very close to zero: the root pitch can probably be set at zero, the other two around 0.01 or 0.02 — experiment for the best effect.

You’ll never get it sounding exactly right, but if your performance was any good, you should get a reasonable approximation. Once you’ve applied the ring modulation effect, you’ll also need to normalize the audio, otherwise it will be too quiet.

I should point out that the Daleks belong to the Terry Nation estate, so you need to be very careful using this: the estate is extremely protective of Nation’s characters, and if you use the characters in a video, you could be heading for legal problems. Even this video is sailing a little close to the wind — so enjoy it while it’s still up.