A year or so ago, a friend of mine sourced me a beautiful Tascam 34 four-track reel-to-reel tape deck. The idea was it was a loaner, as my slow crawl from software to hardware in my musical adventures had made me analog-tape-curious. A while later, he himself made the move from recording to tape, to using a UA Apollo and the various UA plugs that come with, and no longer saw the need for these decks he had, so he offered the Tascam to me to have and to hold.
When I’m practicing guitar, or noodling with the modular synth, the deck sits at eye-level on my desk, on top of my Motu interface, and just kind of stares at me. It looks like a bug-eyed robot. I haven’t used it nearly enough, and until recently I wasn’t really sure what I’d use it for anyway. Yes yes, I can record on it. And it sounds really good. A natural compression with a little hiss and a lot of fun control with the varispeed… But I just hadn’t really got it going.
Last week I stumbled upon a video:
And it occurred to me that I have everything I’d need to do this. Well, actually, I didn’t have a mixer, as I’d just given mine to a different friend, and I’d not yet replaced it with the Mackie that I’d ordered. But I do have Ableton and a good audio interface (Motu 828mk3) with enough ins and outs to be able to easily route this. So that I did.
For a couple of years, tape delay emulations have been my favorite type of delay effects. I love the sound of the degraded signal after the first couple of echoes. My Strymon El Capistan is my desert island stomp-box, being the one I’d keep if I had to get rid of all of the others. I use the GSI WatKat free plug-in more than I probably should. And a year ago I created a chain of Ableton effects to simulate an over-saturated tape delay in Live.
But routing this delay up through my deck is when I finally really understood exactly what’s going on and why. I have to admit that, frankly, it’s sort of a pain in the ass to set up, and the sound isn’t really any more amazing than I get through the El Capistan. It certainly doesn’t have as much control (no moving heads, no looping) but with EQ, it definitely has the tone control and when it starts howling with feedback, it’s sublime.
I recorded a half hour of noodling with an electric piano in live (via MIDI keyboard) and another half hour of guitar playing, direct into a channel in Live and using a few plugs like the amp/cab in Ableton and U-he’s Runciter, which is a fantastic filter/fuzz plug-in. I edited the 76 minutes down as much as I could, and the result is this track.
The dry signal is panned left and the delay from the tape deck is panned right. I ran the signal from the piano and guitar into a send track in Ableton, the send track was sent directly to the tape deck’s input, and the tape deck’s output, the delays, went to a second input channel in Ableton. As the video shows, this gets a simple slap-back echo. It’s not until you use the aux send on this second delay track that the fun begins with feedback and multiple echoes.
The next day I took some bits of this recording, reversed them and slowed them down, playing with Ableton’s warp modes. This became the track “outside over there.” The sound of a reversed delay is one of my favorites and just makes the piano and guitar melt and weave in a way I really like.
Look forward to more of this kind of thing.