Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Getting Dirty

It's ironic that during the days of analog recording, we spent ridiculous amounts of time trying to get the cleanest sound out of our gear as possible, but now that digital recording makes most noise issues a thing of the past, we now have plug-ins that emulate the wow and flutter of tape machines, the saturation characteristics of tape, and even the digital degradation on the old generations of hardware samplers to dirty sounds up again. There's no doubt about it, dirtying up your sounds is more popular than ever, and it really does add sonic character and interest. You no doubt probably already have a plug-in or two on your hard drive for this very purpose, but what if you want more unique results? With a few bucks and a visit to eBay or your favorite pawn shop, you can use some more unique methods to filth up those frequencies. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Cassette or Mini-Cassette recorders - People spend tons of money on tape saturation plug-ins, when they could get their hands on the real deal for cheaper in some cases (Obviously, higher end reel-to-reels and professional set-ups will set you back more). Try recording some drum sounds to a tape recorder and re-sampling them. Be sure to try setting the input levels on the machine a little hot so you can get some of that sought-after saturation effect. For an even more lo-fi sound, try to find a mini-cassette or dictaphone type recorder.

2. Guitar Pedals - When you've got a plug-in folder that is bursting at the seams with effects, it's easy to forget this option. Unless you're shopping for crazy boutique stuff, used guitar pedals are easy to find and pretty cheap. Get a bunch and try chaining them together in different orders to mangle your hardware synths or vocals beyond recognition. There is a mind-blowing variety of different effects available, so get a bunch and experiment.

3. Vintage Samplers - Now that software samplers have become the standard for most musicians, old hardware samplers can be had for insanely cheap. Look for some of the older generations like the Ensoniq Mirage or EPS or the Akai S612. They don't have huge sample memories, but when you lower that sample rate, you can fit a surprising amount in them and get a wonderfully crunchy distortion in return.

4. Kid's Toys - Although not commonplace, you can find cheap kids' toys with basic sampling capabilities if you look for them. Check out some of the old Casio SK-1 or SK-5 samplers which are on eBay almost constantly. They may be cheesey, but feed it your own sounds, transpose them out of their natural range and suddenly everything sounds much more sinister. Try some of the crazy microphone and megaphone/voice changer toys that are out there as well. Everyone will wonder how you mangled your vocals so severely... you don't have to tell them it was a $5 toy.

5. Your Cell Phone - If you've got a cell phone, you've already got a variety of options for getting lo-fi sounds. Try using one cell phone to call the other, speaking into one with the ear piece held up to a mic for lo-fi vocals (or if your phone has a headphone output, plug that into your mixer) . Most cell phones also have 'audio notepad' facilities you can use to record short voice notes to yourself. Use it to record any sound you can think of and sample the grainy results.

There's just a few to get you started. What's your favorite unconventional way of getting dirty sounds?



Anonymous said...

GreaT Post

one i haven't tried but have heard of is Video VHS recording then back in to the DAW.

will defs be trying some of these

thanks J

Tom said...

Yeah, VHS tape would probably work great!