Audio Engineering technique for a reverse reverb
A reverse reverb, or reverse echo of any kind, is created by sending a signal to a time based processor and recording the return of that processor backwards. When played forward along with the original recording, the effect will be heard in reverse before the source signal. Recreating this effect is a staple of analog audio training, and is often taught in conjunction with mixing in the analog recording studio.
This technique, as outlined in this article, requires that you have a tape based analog multi-track machine, and a tape with some tracks recorded on it. Luckily, Omega Studios just so happens to have those things, being a full-service recording studio. You will also need to have at least one empty track (or a pair of tracks for stereo processing) available on which to record the effect. While it’s true that an open reel deck like the ones found in pro recording studios is preferable, the effect can be created on those old cassette four track recorders like the old Tascam PortaStudio! Performing a reverse reverb effect in a multitrack digital audio workstation like Pro Tools will be the subject of a future installment.
So how is the return recorded backwards? Its a 5 step process:
1. Start with a decent rough mix of the song so you can get a feel for the right type of reverb to use.
2. Locate the reel to the end of the song.
3. Remove the reel from the multitrack, flip it over and thread it back onto the multitrack. The tape will now play backwards…and upside down…from the end of the song to the beginning.
The fact that the tape is upside down is critical to keep in mind since the headstack plays tracks 1-24 from the top down, so with the tape flipped over track 24 is playing through output 1, track 23 is playing through output 2 and so forth. For example, if your goal is to affect the vocal on track 20, it will be playing through output 5. So until you flip the tape back, everything you do with that vocal will take place on channel 5 of the console.
4. Raise the send level of channel 5 to the reverb processor. Route the output of your reverb processor to an open track, or even a stereo pair if available. If recording to tracks 21 (Left) and 22 (Right) the reverb return should be routed to tracks 4 (L) and 3 (R) to maintain perspective in our currently upside down, backward multitrack world.
5. Record the reverb to the open tracks from the end of the song to the beginning. Flip the tape back over and enjoy the effect, which will now play in reverse before the source rather than forward after the source. Since the effect resides on it’s own track(s) in can be brought in and out of the mix to taste.
For some examples of reverse reverb used in popular recordings, check out these links:
Madness “Our House” – Effect occurs on the very first note of the song
Phil Collins “In The Air Tonight” – Effect is applied subtly to the beginning of the verses, then more dramatically, right after the first chorus, on the words “I Remember.” (There’s a little vocoder in there too.)
Bauhaus “She’s In Parties” – This particular track is sick with reverse reverb. You can hear it on the first chord and on various drum and guitar parts throughout, but most notably on the break at 2 minutes 20 seconds – revenge of reverse! There are numerous additional examples in the bands catalog, as well as in records produced by Daniel Ash’s subsequent projects, Tones On Tail and Love & Rockets.
This is just one example of the tips and techniques we teach in our music production school.