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How do I achieve real reverse recording effects like they did in the 1960's?

A Record-Producer.com visitor asks whether reverse recording effects need analog tape, or can they be done on a modern digital recording system?


Question from a Audio Masterclass visitor...

Hey David,

I was reading an interview that was written about ten years back with a favorite band of mine.

One of the band members had mentioned that one of his favorite effects was recording onto a tape deck and then reversing it. He claimed that nothing made a sound quite like it.

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Might it be the same to reverse a recording using other means, or would a tape make that much of a difference?

If it does make a difference, do people still use this technique, or has new technology replaced this method?



David Mellor replies...

I think we need a little background...

Firstly, analog tape can be loaded 'tail-first' so that it plays backwards. This can be done on virtually any analog recorder.

There are two things you might now do...

One is to record a new track while listening to the backwards music. The other is to add reverb to a backwards track and record that to a new track.

In either case, this is not the end product. You will take off the tape and load it back up again in the correct direction.

Now your new musical part, or the reverb, you just recorded will play backwards while everything else plays in the normal way.

You can find examples of backwards guitar littered through recordings made in the late 1960s. A prime example is 'I'm only Sleeping' by The Beatles on their Revolver album. You can hear an extract here...

Reverse reverb is commonly used for 'demonic' effects and works particularly well on speech. Where normal reverb comes after the original sound and dies away, reverse reverb comes before the original sound and builds up.

In an era of digital technology and plug-ins, amazingly neither of these effects can be achieved directly.

However, you can still perform authentic reverse recording and reverse reverb quite easily by bouncing your existing tracks into a mono or stereo track, loading that up into the playlist and reversing it. Mute all the other tracks temporarily.

Record your new track or reverb, then simply unmute the tracks you originally muted, mute the reversed mix, and play around with the timing of your new tracks until they are as you want them.

The old tape method handled timing automatically, but on a hard disk system there is this extra stage, which you can view if you like as an extra opportunity for creativity.

Where analog tape will add its own kind of 'magic', reverse reverb done using a hard disk DAW in the way described is extremely effective.

By David Mellor Monday August 1, 2005