Saturday, June 20, 2020

Everything you need to know about effects part 3/4: Reverb and Modulations 2

CLICK HERE FOR PART 1/4: Fx routing, in studio and live!

CLICK HERE FOR PART 2/4: Reverb and Modulations 1

CLICK HERE FOR PART 4/4: Distortions!

We have started digging into the modulation world, but the reality is that it's a rabbit hole with infinite variants, so what we're going to do today is to finish covering the modulation macro areas that are most known and used.

Let's start today with the one that can be considered probably the king of all modulations, the most used and in my opinion more useful and pleasant sounding: the delay.
In the '50s sound engineers were looking for a way to recreate the echo effect that one would obtain by yelling for example inside of a cave, with the soundwave bouncing around and coming back after a certain amount of time: the voice gets reflected and comes back to the listener summing up to the original one.

This effect is called echo, but with time the use of this echo in music became more and more creative, stemming many different types of echo, and today we refer as this type of effect as delay because we refer to the time distance from the original source and its reflection. 

One of the coolest ways to use a delay when mixing is the so-called "slapback" delay, which is a delay with just one repetition of the original sound: this type of delay is particularly cool because it lends itself to being used in creative ways with the stereo field, for example sending one repetition left and one right in 2 slightly different moments or following 2 different time signatures, and this creates a sense of depth and 3d-like sound which can make our vocal or solo tracks really stand out.

Finally, delay is one of the most beloved guitar effects because it can seamlessly give depth and atmosphere to a clean guitar part or smoothness to a hi-gain solo, and countless pedal producers have put in the market their interpretation of this effect.

Proceeding with our walk in the world of modulations, the more we dig the more we can find interesting uses, and in this the guitarists of the '60s (for example Jimi Hendrix) have been exceptional innovators, looking always for new and creative ways to play with their sound. 
A classic example of this research is the tremolo, which emulates a fast, rhytmical opening and closure of the guitar volume knob, or the vibrato, which is a fast, rhytmical alteration of the sound pitch, or the rotary effect (also known as Leslie, from the name of its inventor), which consist into passing the sound through an actual speaker which rotates inside a box.

Now it's time to move to another group of modulation effects which are a bit less common, because they are more particular sounding and are used for quite specific purposes.
Let's start from the ring modulator: this effect would deserve a lot of space because its actual uses are infinite, but let's just define it broadly, by saying that it takes two different sounds (for example a guitar and a voice) and puts them in correlation, producing a sound that is the result of the interaction between the two (for example the famous "talking guitar" of Peter Frampton).
Then we have the huge world of pitch shifters, which are the processors that take one sound and produce a copy in a different pitch; among these, the most used are the octave, which creates a copy of the original tone shifted one octave below, and the harmonizer, which creates a harmony of the original tone, and usually it features an intelligent system which respects the right interval between the notes to make it musical.

One last modulation that is worth to be mentioned is the vocoder, which is a tool that takes a sound, usually a vocal track, and "passes it through a synth": this was a very popular effect in the '70s and '80s, used for example by Earth, Wind and Fire, but also more recently by Daft Punk (e.g. in the song Harder, Better, Faster.   

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