By Your Command: Secrets Of The Battlestar Galactica Cylon Voice

In this series of videos, Joe Grandberg offers an in-depth look at the voice of the Cylons from the original Battlestar Galactica.

Grandberg researched the origin of the Cylon Centurion, and in each of the videos takes a look at a different aspect of the process.

Based on his research, Grandberg thinks these were the key elements of Cylon’s unique sound:

  • ARP 2500 synth sound
  • Voice playback via Nagra III and IV tape machines.
  • EMS Vocoder
  • Countryman Type 968 Phase Shifter
  • Electrodyne Recording Console
  • Teletronix LA2A Compressor

Phaser & Distortion:

Recording Gear:

In the last video of the series, Grandberg demonstrates recreating the Cylon Centurion voice:

Here’s what he has to say about his demo:

“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.”

Check out the results and share your thoughts in the comments!

9 thoughts on “By Your Command: Secrets Of The Battlestar Galactica Cylon Voice

  1. Epic project, wow. Many of the drifty attributes we find charming in vintage equipment were qualities technicians of the time loathed because it made their job harder.

  2. Nobody could have guessed this list of gear, I just got super lucky and met a guy with the phone # of the last person alive who was there in the studio in 1978. Very private individual but he was happy to reminisce with me on the phone and had no trouble remembering any of the gear used. He was very helpful, even interrupting me “oh don’t forget, LA2A compressor!” he still does big-league audio visual arts and I will keep his privacy but I am eternally greatful! – Joe G.

  3. I was seven years old when I saw the pilot, aired for the first time on network tv. This show had it’s own place in my heart, compared to Star Wars, which really had opened the flood gates for Sci Fi then. Those Cylon voices were otherworldly. I enjoy the video series very much. Thank you to you and your studio contact.

  4. watching Battle Star while a late teen , I thought the Cylons and their voices were the coolest things imaginable ! I love this series because i always wondered what it took to get the voice. Thank you sooo much for doing this research !

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