11: Creative use of Reverb – Listening Exercise

 

In this exercise, I’ll be looking for uses of reverb that go beyond putting a sound into a “room”, that would classify as a creative or artistic addition to the production. For this, I’ll be listening to the following material:

  • Arctic Monkeys – Fluorescent Adolescent
  • Radiohead – Exit Music (For a Film)
  • Radiohead – House of cards
  • Kings of Leon – Knocked Up

Starting with Fluorescent Adolescent, I’ve noticed that most of the reverb used is very subtle, and comes under the category of creating a “space” for the production. One interesting use is on the vocal, which is more of a slap-back delay than a reverb. Although this doesn’t necessarily apply directly to my goal, I think it’s important to know when other methods can be used in place of traditional reverbs, and this is a good example of that. The vocal is the obvious focal point of this song, and therefore the use of an interesting slap-back effect gives the whole song an interesting retro tinge. I think that this re-enforces the point that identifying the most “important” features of the song, and treating those with your “special effects” is a key consideration for good production.

Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film)” is an interesting production in terms of reverb. The acoustic guitar has a large space around it, but has a fairly “natural” sounding reverb. I’d assume that it was either recorded in a large, somewhat reflective space, or that some form of hall or chamber reverb has been used. It’s far from dry, but has just enough to give the guitar the sense that it’s in a larger space. The vocal on the other hand is treated with a much more obvious reverb, or recorded in a much larger, more reflective space. It’s very obvious due to the long low-mid and mid RT. There is a moderate pre-delay, which keeps the vocal at the front of the production, and it seems the reverb has been somewhat darkened, as the obvious plosives and “lip noises” present in the sound of the vocal are extremely dry, adding to the sense of the vocal being right in front of you. Something also worth noting is that when the choral singing enters the song, it’s comparatively much drier than the other elements. This fits well, presumably due to the sustained nature of the sound, and the more up-front sound this gives on the periphery of the sound field adds to the sense of space and depth through contrast.

Radiohead’s “House of Cards” is again, an interesting production. It’s use of contrast is obvious, but well implemented. The opening guitar riff is very dry in comparison to the rest of the song. Then a “springy” delay is added, but only to the “string slaps” which is an interesting special effect. At the same time, there is some pseudo-random guitar buzzing/tapping that is heavily reverbed, with both these additions being panned far left and right. This opens the production out a lot, and greatly contrasts the dryness of the first few seconds. A vocal line is then added, with an extremely wet, long-tailed reverb. The main point of interest is the lead vocal, which uses a reverb with a long RT, and an unusually long pre-delay time, which seems to “groove” with the song. This idea of using a pre-delay to groove in time with the song is one which I find very interesting, as it breaks the convention of using “realistic” reverbs, and instead uses them as a tool to enhance the production in an interesting. Other elements are very wet, and maintain this extremely spacious feel that the song has, while the original riff remains present, still very dry as a point of contrast.

In Kings of Leon’s “Knocked Up”, reverb is very much used as a creative tool. The kick drum has a hall-ish sounding verb, which softens it. Due to its consistent nature, I feel that this helps the song to not sound to “housey”. The guitar riff that then enters has a very “ethereal, crystalline” sounding reverb, which may be some sort of bright plate. This reverb seems to have some movement to it too, which is a nice idea, and a good consideration for me to apply to future productions, as giving reverbs movement isn’t something which would usually cross my mind. The vocal reverb seems to also be some sort of plate, with an added pre delay. The tail is very smooth and despite it being mixed quite loud, it doesn’t distract from the vocal, and adds a nice “frame of space” to it, whilst keeping up up-front. Using plates with a pre-delay is also something that I would like to experiment with, as typically plates have an instant response, but I feel that this effect could work very well to make a “point of interest” reverb.

Overall, this exercise has taught me that some considerations in using reverb in a more interesting matter are to carefully select the instruments you’re using them on, and see them as manipulate-able effects rather than static senses of space. Also, long reverb times are not necessarily a bad thing as long as the production suits it, and it’s used tastefully.

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