Wild and Wacky Reverb Effects
By Jon Chappell |
Creating Environmentally Unfriendly Effects
By Jon Chappell
Too often we think of ambience as a set-and-forget parameter. You choose an acoustical environment (large room, concert hall, etc.) for your music, blend the wet/dry ratio to get it just right, and then you don't think about it any more. But there are many situations where you can use reverb effectively as a sort of "post-note" event - one where you don't try to simulate ambience so much as give the listener an added dimension to the sound that comes after they hear the normal acoustic envelope (attack, sustain, decay/release). This can be particularly effective on notes that stop short - ones that have space after them. In that situation, you'll hear some interesting additional activity after the principal note, chord, or sound decays naturally.
For an example of how this occurs naturally, think of a piano: Even after you release the keys and damp the strings, there's still some ringing from the soundboard. A similar phenomenon happens with hollow-body electric guitars, acoustic guitars, dobros, and the short decay that happens after notes finish sounding in extremely small acoustical spaces.
To start experimenting with this kind of reverb effect, try dialing up a familiar sound and then playing with it - one option is to start with large rooms and halls, then try some simple EQ tricks. One of my favorites involves "band processing," where only certain reverb frequency ranges get the tweaks. For example, to emulate a harsh spring reverb, select a high-pass filter and boost that treble content even further, even to unnatural emphasis. (To improve the "spring" accuracy, also reduce any diffusion control if present.) Remember, you're not using reverb to simulate the environment, so distortion and non-realism are okay here.
A good way to tune any frequency-specific reverb is to turn the mix to 100\% wet and set the room size to large. That way you hear only the affected frequencies and hear them in an exaggerated fashion. In the case of our high-pass/treble boosted reverb, we might hear a tinny sound, but sometimes the tinnier the better if you're going to be mixing this with a full-range dry signal.
Another possibility is creating a super-short reverb - a small room with a really short decay time (Fig. 1). Again, start with a larger room and longer decay so you can hear the effect well, then shorten the times to tighten everything down.
Fig. 1: You can even make a quality reverb like Universal Audio's Dreamverb sound weird if you set the parameters the way designers probably never intended you to set them. This settings gives a really short reverb with a prominent high end.
Once you've decided on your basic sound, you may want to add it only selectively--as in applying it to certain notes but not others. To do this smoothly, route the "weird verb" to its own track and then bring the volume up and down at selected times, but do this with write-automation enabled so the results are almost like an instrument would play - regular, fast, and rhythmic - at least when compared to "normal" mixer fader moves (which seem to favor more gradual and graceful introductions and exits).
What can be even easier, as well as more precise, is to automate the on/off status of the effect itself. If the plug-in effect doesn't have a bypass switch, no worries; simply route the reverb-only signal (i.e., 100\% wet signal) to an adjacent track, write-enable the automation, and turn the track's mute switch on and off as appropriate.
Because you hear reverb on the note's tail end, and because the effect's entrance is usually masked by the note itself, the "hard switch" approach of a mute button works just as well as a fader move. In fact, in some cases, it works better, such as when you turn the switch on and off in rhythm, creating "ghostly subdivisions." It reminds me of when Eddie Van Halen used to flick his guitar's pickup switch back and forth in rhythm, where one pickup's volume was completely rolled off and the other was wide open. Unfortunately, though, doing it with a DAW looks a lot less cool!
Jon Chappell is a guitarist and Associate Editor at Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular For Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).