Next-Level De­lay

We ex­plore the depths of mod­ern de­lay tools

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

In a mu­si­cal project, just as in a rail­way net­work, de­lays are an es­sen­tial part of the ex­pe­ri­ence. The idea of re­peat­ing a piece of au­dio, au­to­mat­i­cally and along with the mu­sic, has been-with us for so long that we’ve be­come duly ac­cus­tomed to it, and so too have our au­di­ences.

To­day’s de­lay pro­ces­sors feel as so­phis­ti­cated as an avocado in a Happy Meal. It’s so easy to load a de­lay plugin on a track – or just mind­lessly send el­e­ments to the pro­ces­sor that’s in­evitably part of a DAW’s tem­plate project – that you can be for­given for not go­ing down the rab­bit hole and ex­per­i­ment­ing with the mod­ern tools we all have at our dis­posal. We’re go­ing to set you on the right path here.

Not only have de­lay plug­ins them­selves been ma­tur­ing, but the tech­niques used by pro­duc­ers to push their tunes fur­ther us­ing the tech­nol­ogy has also been com­ing on in leaps and bounds. We’re go­ing to give you some in­sight into ev­ery as­pect of to­day’s top de­lay tools and prac­tices, giv­ing you a few pro­duc­tion work­outs along the way.

Echoes of yes­ter­year

When record­ing studios emerged in the ’50s, sound en­gi­neers were just find­ing their feet. Once you’ve got con­trolled sonic setup in a treated room, how do you bring back some of the real-world ef­fects? This was the agenda that the stu­dio boffins – and in­deed, the mu­si­cians they were record­ing – now faced.

The real world has com­plex sonic scenes – re­flec­tions of sound, build­ing and grow­ing; some­times short, some­times long. Per­haps the most ob­vi­ous time-based ef­fect was the echo, and this was soon con­jured up with tweak­ing the tape ma­chines that were used to record sound.

A tape ma­chine had two mech­a­nisms of op­er­a­tion: one for record­ing and a ‘re­pro head’ for play­ing the recorded sound back so it could be mon­i­tored. By mov­ing the re­pro head fur­ther down the tape (later in time), that sig­nal could be de­layed, and by rout­ing the ‘mon­i­tor­ing’ sig­nal else­where – back into the in­put or to an­other tape ma­chine – the tape de­lay was born.

Soon, ded­i­cated pro­ces­sors for tape de­lay emerged. The Echoplex and later the Space Echo in­hab­ited a con­ve­nient hard­ware box that could be lugged around, and tweaked to pro­vide far-out echo­ing ef­fects: you can hear its unique stamp on reg­gae from the time.

The next in­no­va­tion in de­lay came when the elec­tron­ics them­selves be­gan cre­at­ing the ef­fect. It was the ’70s – bucka­roo – and the de­vel­op­ment of bucket brigade de­vices saw the use of ca­pac­i­tors to hold the in­put sig­nal for a cer­tain time be­fore out­putting it again.

Of course, a chain of ca­pac­i­tors on a cir­cuit-board was much lighter, cheaper and more con­ve­nient than tape-based set­ups, and so por­ta­ble stomp­boxes like the Elec­tro-Har­monix Deluxe Mem­ory Man and the Boss DM-2 brought de­lay tech­nol­ogy to gui­tarists.

With the added flex­i­bil­ity of elec­tronic de­lay, shorter de­lays were also within reach as tim­ing wasn’t lim­ited by phys­i­cal play and re­pro heads, and flang­ing and cho­rus ef­fects were born – no­tably the Boss Cho­rus En­sem­ble and the MXR Flanger/Dou­bler.

While re­verb and de­lay are re­lated (re­verb is ba­si­cally lots of tiny de­lays, as we’ll show you in a cou­ple of pages’ time), re­verb tech­nolo­gies de­vel­oped in iso­la­tion, us­ing phys­i­cal hard­ware like plates and springs rather than be­ing elec­tron­i­cally gen­er­ated.

It was in the dig­i­tal world that re­verb and de­lay’s paths fi­nally met, with mul­ti­ef­fects pro­vid­ing co­pi­ous ef­fects re­sources for gui­tarists and units like the PCM42 giv­ing up the goods in the stu­dio.

If the dig­i­tal seeds had been sewn in hard­ware, they blos­somed

in com­put­ing. To­day’s de­lay ap­pli­ca­tions in­clude loop­ers, com­plex mul­ti­tap set­ups, and of course, plenty of em­u­la­tions of the vin­tage units from the days gone by.

Mod­ern wiz­ardry

The mod­ern, com­puter-based stu­dio can be a play­ground for cre­ative ef­fects, and with pro­cess­ing power at an all-time high, there are few de­lay and re­verb set­ups that can’t be catered for. The world is now the cre­ative devel­oper’s oys­ter, and we’ve seen plenty of de­lay in­no­va­tions in re­cent years.

Ev­ery DAW has its own stock de­lay – if not mul­ti­ple – that would make pro­duc­ers of the past gasp at the ease with which com­plex pat­terns can be cre­ated. While sim­ple set­ups are fair game for use in your tracks, it’s the third-party de­vel­op­ers, with their need to of­fer you some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, who are tread­ing out the new paths in de­lay and re­verb tech­nol­ogy.

Ana­logue em­u­la­tions still grace many pro­duc­ers’ tracks. Univer­sal Au­dio’s re­cent UAD ap­ing of the Roland Space Echo is a great way to get started with those of-the-time dub ef­fects, while Au­dio Dam­age’s Dub­sta­tion 2 pro­vides a cheaper way to get the same flavour, and doesn’t re­quire the spe­cific hard­ware that UA’s op­tion does. If you want to go through the dig­i­tal look­ing glass, you should cer­tainly check out PSP Au­dioware’s PSP 42, a plugin em­u­la­tion of a [gulp] dig­i­tal hard­ware de­lay unit, Lex­i­con’s PCM42.

Mul­ti­tap de­lays of­fer a vis­ual way of ma­nip­u­lat­ing your de­lay sig­nal. In­stead of one fixed-time de­lay line be­ing run through it­self un­til the sig­nal dies down, th­ese let you ex­actly de­ter­mine spe­cific re­peats at strengths and times of your choos­ing, help­ing you cre­ate un­usual rhyth­mic pat­terns… or just a slightly more cus­tomised ‘nor­mal’ de­lay sig­nal. Push­ing the bound­aries is D16 Group’s Tek­turon, which fuses a se­quencer into the bar­gain. More on mul­ti­tap later.

For a do-it-all de­lay stu­dio, check out FabFil­ter Time­less 2. Ba­si­cally a blank can­vas for de­lay-based shenani­gans, this plugin uses two sep­a­rate de­lay lines (each with left and right sig­nals), has you feed all four back into each other as you see fit, and then sticks them through two fil­ters in par­al­lel or se­rial con­fig­u­ra­tion. That’s all joined by FabFil­ter’s ex­cel­lent mod­u­la­tion sys­tem, which lets you whip up LFOs, en­velopes, X/Y pads and more, and route them to prac­ti­cally any pa­ram­e­ter at a depth of your choos­ing.

De­lay doesn’t live in a vac­uum, of course. Other ef­fects you can cre­ate us­ing de­lays and echoes in­clude mod­u­la­tion ef­fects. Re­cently, de­lays that are built with this in mind have sur­faced – units that of­fer not just clas­sic de­lay but also in­built mod­u­la­tion ready for craft­ing cho­ruses and flangers. PSP Au­dioware’s PSP stom­pDe­lay takes on a gui­tar ef­fects bent, as the name well im­plies. Cru­cial to the stom­pDe­lay ex­pe­ri­ence is the large LFO, which au­to­mat­i­cally cre­ates flang­ing and cho­rus­ing ef­fects out of the de­lay pro­cesses. With this much versatility on tap, you no longer have to draw a line be­tween mod­u­la­tion and echo pro­cesses.

Else­where, the world of glitch plug­ins is still go­ing strong. Clas­sics like Ef­fec­trix are now be­ing ri­valled by com­pa­nies like In­ear Di­play, whose In­cipit De­lay is pro­claimed as a ‘cre­ative de­lay tool­box’, pro­vid­ing three chains for ma­nip­u­la­tion along­side four LFOs and a host of other tweak­ables.

An­other cat­e­gory of ef­fect is the hum­ble looper. Orig­i­nally pop­u­lar with gui­tarists, th­ese ‘macro’-style de­lays take in far larger chunks of sound – whole bars or oth­er­wise sev­eral sec­onds of au­dio – and re­peat them ad in­fini­tum as you play other ma­te­rial over the top or add to the sig­nal. Loop­ers aren’t just the friends of buskers, though: check out Un­fil­tered Au­dio’s Sand­man Pro for a new take on the con­cept. While it func­tions like a reg­u­lar de­lay most of the time, Sand­man’s Sleep func­tion acts like a freeze func­tion in a de­lay or re­verb pro­ces­sor, and of­fers mod­u­lar patch­ing for flex­i­ble rout­ing, and plenty of cross-feed­ing po­ten­tial.

With pro­cess­ing power at an all-time high, there are few de­lay set­ups that can’t be catered for

The uniquely-por­ta­ble-for-the-time Echoplex – a key com­po­nent in reg­gae

Un­fil­tered Au­dio’s Sand­man Pro bridges the gap be­tween looper and de­lay

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