A couple of days ago I was lucky enough to be able to plug my guitar into a Fender amplifier with quite a few road-years behind it. As the amp was switched on and out of standby, an exciting sound emerged from the speakers and increased in volume...
And not just hum, there was hiss, and just a hint of crackle.
Now I would normally class all of these as problems that need to be dealt with and eliminated. But would I want to switch on a guitar amplifier and hear nothing but stony cold silence? No, that wouldn't be right.
There's an excitement when you know something wonderful is about to begin. Hum, hiss and crackle from a guitar amp; the phasey 'swish' from the lead-in groove of a vinyl record; the expectant not-quite-silence of an audience in the last second before the curtain opens. Without these sounds, the excitement is lost, or at least muted.
There are some plug-ins that feature noise of various kinds. A vintage EQ plug-in might have optional hum. A tape emulation plug-in might have hiss. A vinyl simulator certainly would have crackle, because that's the whole point!
What I'm looking for though is a plug-in that is dedicated to hum. 50 Hz hum, 60 Hz hum, hum with harmonics, transistor hum, vacuum-tube hum, amped-up hum, earth-loop hum. There are as many flavours of hum as there are varieties in the Schwartz spice catalog. There should be a plug-in that is capable of producing them all and blending them into a wonderful audio salsa.
And then why not a dedicated hiss plug-in - amp hiss, tape hiss, maybe even unappreciative audience hiss? I'll draw the line at cat hiss.
Crackle - well there are all kinds of crackles in analog audio too. I don't think I want digital crackles though. It would remind me too much of my old ADAT.
How would you use hum?
Well you could add it to the mix at a subliminal level as 'texture'. Or you could use it to open a track - but make sure it doesn't get 'mastered out' at a later stage.
So who is up to the challenge? Surely some enterprising plug-in developer can give us all the old analog artefacts we used to hate but now could possibly love? All controllable and blendable in a retro/vintage user interface.
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