The Echo Effect

Back when I was in sixth grade, I bought my first stereo receiver with the money I had saved from mowing lawns, cleaning my room, and other chores around the house. It was about $150 if I remember correctly. That was a huge chunk of change for an 11 year-old in 1980. Up to that point, my only piece of ‘equipment’ was a really nice ($65) tape recorder made by Pioneer. With that beast, I would set up my big brother’s stereo speakers side by side and put the tape recorder in the middle. I had already worked out the dimensions and the volume on his stereo for optimum levels. I was a little pre-pubescent sound engineer.

80s_stereoWhen I hit puberty, I went (relatively) high tech. By the time I was in eight grade, I had also purchased a tape deck and a turntable (we called them record players back then). My recordings of albums were now just as good as, or better than the pre-recorded tapes you bought at record stores (yes, there used to be brick and mortar businesses that were entirely dedicated to selling music). One day when rewiring my stereo and some borrowed components so I could do some tape-to-tape action, I accidentally mixed up the wiring on the inputs and outputs between the two tape decks. By switching the in/out on the recording deck (tape 2) I had made it possible to record both the first tape deck AND the record player at the same time.

When you play stereo track on top of each other, you get a strange effect when the tracks line up. It’s similar to a phalanger, which is an effect pedal used with the guitar. As the tracks approach synchronization there’s a tubular effect that increases, then peaks with a kind of high treble muffle, then decreases as the tracks grow more and more out of synch. My turntable had a pitch controller, so I could fine tune the synchronization so that the echo from one source was a whole or half beat behind the other source. I could crank that to quickly bring the two tracks in synch at an epic part of the song for a very cool effect. I made a series of these tapes, and listened to them well into my 20’s. I was still impressed by my happy accident the whole time. Now computers can easily replicate this same effect, but it is harder to stumble upon accidents like these with the technology we have today.

Now, git off my lawn!

About Steve McIntyre

What? The Manifesto wasn't enough? You want more? Really....? Fine. Here are a few "fun facts" that weren't covered: I like chicken. I am six feet tall. I use forks. I can count beyond the number 54. I sleep on a daily basis and I have never died. Happy?