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Option-Click: Add Foreign Intrigue to Your Tracks

March 1, 2011
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Fig. 1: Peter Cushing''s career moved backward between Star Wars and Top Secret, but reversing sound is a creative goldmine.

Fig. 1: Peter Cushing''s career moved backward between Star Wars and Top Secret, but reversing sound is a creative goldmine.

There''s a great audio moment in the ''80s comedy Top Secret when Val Kilmer chats with the big-eyed Swedish bookstore owner (Fig. 1): You quickly realize the filmmakers are simulating Swedish speech by playing the scene backward. I enjoy layering background voices in my productions, so I thought I''d try that technique. First, I pasted an English phrase into Speak It!, a terrific text-to-speech app for iOS ($1.99). Then I exported the result as an AIFF file and reversed it in Ableton Live.

Even with music, the effect sounded like reversed speech so I took it further. I translated the text into Swedish at translate.google.com, pasted that back into Speak It!, and re-rendered it with a Swedish voice. (You can preview the voices at acapela-group.com .) The foreign words added the perfect exotic spice.

In the 1980s comedy Top Secret, the producers simulated Swedish speech by playing English backward. Here, I play a backward English phrase followed by the same phrase translated into Swedish. Then you''ll hear the original English phrase followed by the reversed Swedish phrase. (Backward Swedish doesn''t sound like English either, I discovered.) The voices come from Future Apps'' Speak It! text-to-speech app. I then added music in Ableton Live. You may recognize the pad sound from my Korg Kaossilator Pro review.

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