Thursday, July 9, 2009

Using Delay for Lo-fi Robotic Effects

Vocoders are so common these days, that it's easy to forget that in the era before plug-ins, they were only available to musicians with a hefty pile of money. Musicians being a crafty lot, though, meant that those without the money to buy the real deal looked for other methods to simulate the robotic effects vocoders are most well known for. Fortunately, one of the most common effects in the studio can be called into action for a rough approximation of these effects.

By using a delay with extremely short settings and high feedback levels, you can achieve cool, lo-fi metallic resonation effects that can impart some rough, robotic goodness to whatever audio you send it. As usual, I'll be doing this in Logic, but you can follow along with any delay effect that has freely assignable delay times.

1. Call up an instance of Stereo Delay on the track you wish to apply the effect to. This effect handily defaults to sync to specific note values to match the BPM of your project, but we don't want that, so deselect the BEAT SYNC button in the top center of the effect.

2. Change the RIGHT and LEFT DELAY TIMES to something extremely low, such as 10-20ms. At settings this low, you stop hearing the delays as individual echoes and more as a metallic ringing. But in order to really hear the effect, you need to increase the number of repeats.

3. In order to achieve this, we need to crank up the FEEDBACK level. Try setting the LEFT and RIGHT FEEDBACK levels to something pretty high - say, 70% or higher. Don't go
too high, though, as the effect can get a bit out of hand and you'll end up with some very unpleasant shrieking instead of the desired androidification we're after.

4. Finally, adjust the LEFT and RIGHT OUTPUT MIX until you hear the desired amount of effect. Go for something relatively high here as well.

If you've done everything correctly, you should hear something like this:

Experiment with different settings for the left and right channels and, of course, try it out on all different kinds of audio. It sounds great on drum and percussion parts, but you can also get some fun "Planet Rock" style vocal effects, too. And don't forget to play around with your DAW's automation features to create more complex effects!


Darren Emanuel said...

Nice post.
With a little experimentation you can find the delay times for various pitches and then automate them for a melody. It takes a minute but it's worth it.

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