Hearing Backwards

Why does everything sound cool backwards? It doesn’t matter what it is, play it backwards and you have a brand new unique sound. The big change you notice when playing a sound backwards is that the envelope of the sound has changed. The transients and attacks are gone. The sound sort of swoops into itself. It’s a very exciting effect. Luckily, playing a sound backwards is also one of the easiest effects we can achieve with sound. Let’s take a look.

In The Old Days

Back in the analog tape days playing a sound backwards was very simple. All you had to do was take the tape off of the machine, turn it over and hit play. Your recording now played backwards. It was slightly more complicated on multi-track tape machines because flipping the tape over changed the track on which the sound played back. In other words, a sound that was recorded on track 1 of a 4-track machine would play back on track 4 when the tape was flipped over.

The Digital Days

Nowadays, reversing a sound couldn’t be easier. Almost every digital audio editor I can think of has a reverse feature. All you do is select the portion of audio you would like to play backwards and then select the reverse function. That’s it!

Now Try This

If you have never tried applying time-based effects to a sound before you reverse it I would highly recommend you do so right now.

  1. Select a sound to use for this example
  2. Apply a heavy reverb with lots of decay to the effect. When I say apply what I mean is process the reverb onto the sound so that you have a new audio file to work with. Depending on your software this is often called “bouncing to disk” or “processing” the effect.
  3. Take your new “reverb-heavy” sound and reverse it. What you should hear is a sound that builds slowly as the reverb tail flows directly into the actual reversed sound.
  4. Try this same trick with a stereo multi-tap delay instead of reverb. I promise you’ll love the results!

For more fun, try this variation of the above technique.

  1. Select a sound to use for this example
  2. Reverse the sound
  3. Apply a reverb or delay to this reversed sound
  4. Reverse your sound again. What you should hear is the reversed reverb or delay preceding or swooping into the original non-reversed sound. I use this effect all the time!

That should be enough for you to work with for now. Try these techniques out on your own sounds. As always, tell me what you think. Are these articles helpful? Have I left anything out? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Do you Pitch Shift? If not, maybe you should.

One of the first things I do when I sit down to create some new sounds is grab a few I want to work with and start pitch shifting them. For some reason sounds almost always take on a completely different and exciting vibe when you push them out of their normal pitch range. I would suggest that you try this on any of your newly recorded sounds. You are almost guaranteed to have loads of fun, as well as many new additions to your sound library. Here are the basics of pitch shifting sound.

Down Shift, Up Shift

Pitch-Shifting a sound down several octaves will often yield an eerie soundscape or drone. This works especially well with sounds that have sharp transients and a long decay, like cymbals and bells.

Pitch-Shifting a sound up a few octaves tends to give it a very sharp glassy sound. In some instances you will also begin to notice some rhythmic content in the sound that wasn’t obvious in the original. This happens a lot with speech. We talk in rhythmic patterns that aren’t really obvious until you speed things up by a couple of octaves.

The Mechanics of Pitch-Shifting

In the old days, the only way to change the pitch of a recording was to play the tape back at different speeds. Playing a tape back at half speed would cause the recording to sound an octave lower and double it’s original length. Analog tape machines, whether reel-to-reel or cassette, usually included some control that changed the tape playback speed. Most reel-to-reel machines allowed playback at speeds ranging from 7.5 inches per second (ips) to 30 ips. Cassette machines would often feature a pitch control knob that would alter the playback speed to certain degrees. The whole point is, record a sound at a fast tape speed and play it back at a slow tape speed. Instant Halloween sound effect!

Pitching-Shifting in the digital world is simple. Most digital audio software offer a pitch control that allows you to input how much up or down you would like to shift the original sound. One of the cool things about living in the digital world is that we are able to change pitch without changing the length of the sound, something that was impossible in the analog world.

One Thing Doesn’t Sound Like The Other

I would encourage you to try pitch-shifting your sounds in as many different ways as possible. If you have one, use a tape deck. Then turn around and pitch-shift that same sound in Pro Tools. You may notice a difference. Also, don’t assume that all digital audio software sounds the same. I’ve performed the same pitch shift effect on the same sound in Audacity and Digital Performer and they both sounded drastically different. Use this to your advantage when you are creating new sounds for your music.

What About You?

How many of you use pitch shifting on a regular basis? Is it something you never think about or is it a cornerstone of your sound design arsenal? Leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Studios

What does an effective project studio have to to do with designing cool sounds and creating memorable music? Just about everything! You can’t be a prolific producer/musician/sound designer without having a comfortable workspace. This list was compiled over years of tweakin’ the various incarnations of my own project studio. I provide this list as a service to you, my friends, in hopes that you may avoid the sweat and tears I endured in the quest for the ultimate studio.

1. Use patch bays.
Here’s a question for you. Would you rather spend your valuable studio time plugging and unplugging gear or getting actual work done? If you chose the former then you can forget this article because I can’t help you. However, if you chose the later then get yourself some patch bays. My favorite is this one by Neutrik.  Patch bays make connecting your gear so much easier. You have permanent connections that are also flexible connections through the use of a few patch cables.

2. Learn how to use the equipment you have before you add something else.
Put another way, the less gear you have to worry about the easier it is to get work done. Are you sure you use every feature on every piece of equipment you own? Look closely at the gear you have. It may already cover all of your needs. This saves you from the reconfiguration necessary every time you add a new piece of equipment to your studio.

3. Create and use templates.
Anyone that uses anything software related should be using templates. Think of templates as the “blueprints” of your sessions. If you are like me you only have a few pieces of MIDI gear. You probably have some favorite patches that you use all of the time. Why not make a session template that already has those synths and patches arranged in your normal working method? This way you can pull up the template and be working in seconds instead of the 5-10 minutes it would normally take. Nearly all software nowadays allows the use of templates. I strongly urge you to investigate this feature.

4. Arrange equipment ergonomically.
Do you find yourself continually reaching for certain pieces of equipment, while there are other pieces within arm’s reach that you never touch? You may be able to save yourself some time, not to mention a few trips to the chiropractor, by rearranging your equipment. Put the stuff that you always have your hands on close by. The pieces that your rarely mess with can be kept further away. One important example; arrange your monitors so that you don’t have to move to find the sweet spot. In general, everything should be laid out in front of you in a semi-circle, allowing you to reach 75% of your equipment without having to move, stretch or lean.

5. Get a comfortable chair.
Some engineers/producers consider this their most important piece of equipment. The more you sit the more you appreciate a good, supportive chair. A good chair helps to reduce fatigue which, in turn, helps increase your efficiency. I just bought the Tempur-Pedic TP9000 and it has made a huge difference.  You could also apply this same idea to your desk and/or workspace.

6. Follow a consistent organizational strategy.
How do you store your projects? Do you use floppy disks, jump drives, hard drives or cdr’s? Whatever you use, make it as consistent and organized as possible. Nothing disrupts the creative flow more than spending 10 minutes trying to find that cool sound you made last night. If you use a consistent organizational strategy then you always know where all of your various projects are, saving you loads of “down time”.

7. Save, all the time!
Nothing wastes more time than having to recreate something lost due to a computer crash. Unfortunately, most of us don’t fully realize this until we become victims ourselves. Save, save and then save some more. I like to save separate versions of a project as I work on it. Let’s say I start a project today. I would save it as TodayVer_1. Then as I work on it tomorrow I save it as Ver_2. When I work on it next Thursday I save it as Ver_3. This way I can always go back to an earlier version if I find I have gotten away from my original vision for the project.

…and one more tip for good luck!

8. Back-up regularly.
This is a corollary to the preceding point. Make multiple copies of your data. Depending on the importance of your data, you may want to keep copies in different physical locations. It’s not a question of if your hard drive will fail, but when. Make sure you are prepared!