A capella music - the kind that consists of just the human voice, was once strictly the domain of college glee clubs and barbershop quartets. Now, it is having something of a cultural moment.
The mega-hit TV shows Glee and The Sing-Off are the most obvious proponents (Glee even inspired its own karaoke app), but vocal harmony fever runs much deeper than that. The indie music world, for example, has worshiped at the altar of Brian Wilson for what seems like ages. And it doesn't look like the trend is going away any time soon, what with harmony dudes du jour Bon Iver getting Grammy nods and collaborating with Kanye.
Talkapella (free for iOS) arrives just in time to capitalize on a capella's moment in the sun. Like its sister app, Songify, Talkapella effortlessly transforms ordinary speech into music. But instead of Songify's glossy contemporary pop results, Talkapella turns your talking into (you guessed it), rich, four-part, a capella harmony.
It's a nifty premise, and Talkapella delivers on it handily. Operation couldn't be simpler: Click the record button and start talking, and the app handles the rest.
Using an effect similar to the notorious Auto-tune, Talkapella automatically shifts the pitches of your speaking voice to match a number of preset melodies and harmonies. With the aid of a couple more automatic effects, including stretching out your vowel sounds for more realistic "singing," and occasionally offsetting one of the harmony voices to simulate a round, Talkapella produces impressively musical renditions of whatever speech you throw at it.
The app comes with two free songs into which you can speak, with many more available as in-app purchases. And while all are fairly traditional - folk tunes, Bach Chorales, and the William Tell Overture, to name a few - the sound of this thing is anything but. The Auto-tune effect gives your voice the coolly robotic sound familiar to anybody who spent even a modicum of time listening to pop music in 2011, while layered harmonies make the whole thing sound otherworldly. This effect is more James Blake than Jesse St. James, so if it's Glee-like sounds you're after, consider yourself warned.
However, if you've always wanted to turn anything you say into a mantra chanted by a chorus of Daft Punk robots, look no further.
Talkapella creates a handy inline player when you share a track via Facebook.
Bonus points to the developers at Khu.sh (now part of Smule) for making it so easy to share your Talkapella jams via Facebook, Twitter, and E-mail - all can be done with just a few clicks. It's easy to see this thing catching on as a way to leave quirky birthday messages and the like for friends, so having quick social integration is a plus. The e-mail feature is especially useful, as it's a quick way to export your songs and save them for later listening.