Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Essential Dub Effects

Dub is one of those genres that has sort of perpetually been hip. Started in the late 60's in Jamaica, dub was a remix-oriented subgenre of reggae, but as time went on, it's reach and influence would eventually surpass the style that spawned it. The influence of the genre mainly stayed within the reggae community until the mid-late 70's when punk artists such as the Clash started picking up on it and incorporating it into their own music. In the late 70's producer Martin Hannett would make extensive use of dub production effects and techniques to sculpt the icy, precise sound of Joy Division. At techno began to arise by the late 80's and early 90's, dub effect would again come into vogue, particularly the use of tape echo with artists aligned with the more ambient end of the spectrum. Now that we're into the 21st century, the sound of dub has influenced many IDM and tech house artists, not to mention inspiring the rise of dubstep. So while you might not like dub music as a style, consider for a fact that you may really like the effects used to produce the genre's general sound... and maybe you didn't even realize it. So here's a look at a handful of effects worth checking out if you want to infuse some dub influence into your music.

1. Tape Echo
A tape echo is generally exactly what it sounds like. It's a device that produces echo by recording the incoming audio and then playing that back on specifically spaced playback heads to create each individual repeat. Tape echo has some specific features that set it apart from your bog standard digital delay. The first is that the echos can be made to degenerate in tone with each repeat, so each echo can get either progressively brighter or progressively darker as it goes on. Quite a nice effect! The other is that the tape echo can be made to feed back upon itself, so the echos gradually BUILD in volume, distorting and contorting with each echo in a really interesting, organic way. Tape echo effects can be great for adding atmosphere and life to just about anything you feed into it, so be sure to experiment. Don't be afraid to try assigning a MIDI controller to the tape echo plug-in's parameters for some real time tweaking. Logic Audio comes with a really nice tape echo called Tape Delay, but several other ones are available for free. Not all of them are built the same, so be sure to try them all out to see which one suits your needs the best. Check out: TAL Dub-III, or MDA DubDelay, or LowCoders King Dubby or GSI WatKat.

2. Spring Reverb
Back in the days before digital reverbs, most reverb effects were produced by causing the vibration of an actual physical object such as a metal plate or spring. The spring reverb has an especially unique sound, with a spooky, almost subterranean, liquid vibe. The fact that it is not used nearly as often these days also makes it stand out as sounding very "retro". In fact, it's the first effect I reach for if I'm trying to make something sound more 'vintage'. Try it on snare drums especially. Instant retro vibe! Free reverb effects can be a bit hard to come by, so for free options, you might get better results looking got impulse responses that can be loaded into a convolution reverb such as Logic's included Space Designer (which comes with a ton of nice spring reverb settings to get you started). To get started, check out the following: Fokke van Sanne's Impulse Reponses, or EMS Spring Reverb IR, or EchoChamber's Free IR's.

3. The Dub Siren
The dub siren was a very simple, usually hand-built synthesizer that usually consisted of a sweepable oscillator, an LFO for modulating pitch or amplitude, and little else. It was used by some artists to add spacey swoops and unusual FX type sounds to their productions. Very often these were fed through loads of tape delay to further "spaceify" them. If you're on a PC and work with VST format plug-ins, you can check out Interuptor's Dub Siren. To be honest, though, just about any simple virtual analog should be able to emulate these sounds Just use a single oscillator set to a basic analog waveform. Assign an LFO to modulate that oscillator's pitch. Then try altering the amount and speed of the modulation in real time. Incidentally, in case you thought the description of what a dub siren is sounded an awfully lot like the recently release Korg Monotron, you wouldn't be far off. The Monotron is marginally more complex, but it could be incorporated to dub siren duties very easily.

If you enjoy messing around with these genre-specific effects, start picking apart other genres you come across and try to figure out what the effects that help define what that genre are. See how you can apply to your own music, even if it's in a totally different style. You may inadvertently create the next big thing!

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