Most of the time when a mixing engineer loathes reverb or just wants to create a sound with more space around the music than what reverb would allow, he reaches for delays. And it can still be a matter of playing it safe, when he uses the delays in a subtle way, to just create a kind of ambience around the sound sources. You have probably heard many mixes made this way, with a sound being on the verge of dry, but still having a rhythmic quality, where the delays are following the notes like shadows.
Delay – the rhythmic ambience
Sometimes when mixers want to create something new – either emphasize a certain groove, or create a space that would be hard to record properly in the real, physical world, or simply create a kind of space that has never even existed for real – well, that’s when they go crazy and cast a role much more nimble to delays; a role where they can shine and be a well recognizable effect on their own.
Back in the fifties
It started in the 50s, when some guys discovered that they can spice up the rather samey tunes with some repeats created with a few tape machines. Then later, they have come up with all kinds of magnetic delays that worked with either tapes or magnetic drums. But anyway, back to the 50s. In the genre of rockabilly, delay has become somewhat of a signature sound. And it wasn’t like modern rockabilly clones where the guitar player plugs into a delay pedal and that’s about it, nope; back in the fifties they put the delay across the whole fukken mix. Like this:
Gene Vincent – “Be Bop A Lula”
Multitap guitar echo
Of course the Brits weren’t slouch either. Their guitar group called The Shadows with Hank Marvin on his red Stratocaster (ok he had a couple of Burns guitars too, but ssshhh) built the lead guitar sound around certain different multitap delay settings, to create an almost (but not quite) reverb like sound. And when I say multitap, it means the recorded sound gets repeated more than once, and its rhythm pattern will depend on the speed of the echo tape and the distance the multiple heads are placed at. Once they started tinkering with those, they could create certain different rhythm patterns. Even today, when Hank Marvin uses digital delay pedals or digital effects both on stage and in the studio, he still reaches for those rhythm patterns:
Hank Marvin interview – he demonstrates his different echo settings in it
Timed repeat layers
But let’s check out a beautiful example where the delay emphasizes a lead vocal line rhythmically: “Moonlight Shadow” by Mike Oldfield, sung by Maggie Reilly. If you pay attention to the delay, it’s there all the way through the song, but the level of it changes constantly. I suspect that those very evident repeats like the “shadow-shadow” or the “I watch-I watch” parts even have a different layer of delay set to a strictly ¼ note time.
Mike Oldfield – “Moonlight Shadow”
A signature guitar sound based on echo
And finally, because it just has to be done. There’s that guy who’s built not only his own but his entire band’s sound around delays. Yep, The Edge from U2. (Or was it actually their producer, Daniel Lanois who came up with this stuff?) Sit back and enjoy, my delay-coholic friend.
U2 – “Where The Streets Have No Name”