Sound Design Workshop: Bouncing Off the Wall

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FIG. 1: This modified version of Aether''s 150 Cathedral preset uses a mostly serial LR to ER signal path as indicated by the Cascade knob and switch settings.

You can do a lot more with reverb than control the ambience and sense of space in your tracks and mixes. A little creative routing, knob tweaking, and automation will bring out sounds you never knew were in there.

For my examples, I''ll use the Mac/Win reverb plug-in Aether 1.5 from 2CAudio, but you can rig up some variation of most of these examples with your favorite reverb. Aether offers features and routing options that make it ideal for creative processing.

Most full-featured reverb plug-ins give you some degree of separate control over the early and late parts of the reverberation process. Early reflections (ER) occur in the first few hundred milliseconds and often border on discrete echoes. Late reflections (LR), also called reverb decay, take up where early reflections leave off; they are more dense and diffuse, and can last far longer.

Aether blurs those distinctions by letting you predelay both the ER and LR phase for up to a second, and even more unusually by letting you route the output of either stage into the other instead of restricting you to standard, parallel routing. That is managed with the ER section''s Cascade knob and switch (new in Version 1.5). The switch sets which section comes first, and the knob determines the ratio of parallel to serial operation—0 for fully parallel and 100 for fully serial. If you''re not using Aether but your reverb lets you turn off or neutralize ER and LR separately, insert copies on two separate aux buses and then use an aux-bus send to route one to the other.

Cascading is particularly effective with rhythmic parts such as rhythm guitar. Start with a fairly long reverb tail (time) and no predelay in the LR section, as in Aether''s 150 Cathedral preset, and use an ER predelay of roughly an eighth- or 16th-note (30,000 or 15,000 divided by the tempo). Disable the LR section using the button adjacent to its gain knob''s label and set up a clean ER repeat (see Fig. 1). Then with both sections enabled and the Cascade switch in the LR position (LR feeds ER), use the Cascade knob to go from distinct ER pulses to blurred pulsing of the reverb tail. Next, try automating the Cascade knob (see Web Clip 1).

In addition to standard mono and stereo operation, Aether integrates mid-side (M-S) conversion in both the ER and LR sections. If you''re using a different reverb, see the October 2008 EM “Making Tracks” column for instructions on mid-side conversion.

M-S processing works well for submixes with a mono solo part such as bass or lead vocal combined with an ambient background spread across the stereo field. (Thanks to Andrew Souter of 2CAudio for suggesting this example.) Although not obvious from the name, mono material, no matter where it is panned in the mix, shows up in the mid channel after conversion. On the other hand, phase differences in material spread across the stereo field will be captured in the side channel. ER processing (ER Cross = 0.0) works well for the mid channel where you want to keep the part cohesive. LR processing (LR Cross = 200) can add space and motion to an already diffuse ambient background (see Web Clip 2).