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In this installment of Foundations of Audio, author Alex U. Case explains the fundamentals of delay and modulation effects and how to apply these effects, technically and creatively, to improve the sound of a mix. The course covers adjusting individual parameters such as delay time, level, and feedback; working with long delays to create echoes, enhance groove, and add support; using delay modulation for chorus and doubling effects; and dialing-in spectral effects from delay, such as flanging. This course also includes Get in the Mix (GITM) sessions for both Avid Pro Tools and Apple Logic Pro. Exercise files are also included with the course.
An alternative name for the heavy use of modulated medium delays to simulate more than one player is chorus. The idea is that through the use of several different modulating delays in the 20 to 50 millisecond range, one could transform a single track into the sound of several voices. The delays simulate other voices singing along but phrasing things a bit late, humanly out of sync. The modulation of those delays introduces small amounts of pitch shift, creating the illusion of a natural amount of pitch variation for these added simulated performers.
No two performers sing with identical pitch and phrasing, and 40 singers would create 40 unique sounds, even as they try to sing together. Modulated medium delays evoke the sound of several simultaneous performers, converting one voice into a choir. Thus, the term chorus. Naturally, stacking up 39 medium delays around one single live vocalist will not convincingly sound like a choir of 40 different people. Think of it instead as a special electronic effect, not an acoustic simulation.
And it isn't just for vocals. While we might instinctively avoid walking into a room with 40 actual guitarists, it turns out that the chorus effect on a single guitar track makes it richer and lusher, converting a six string guitar into a twelve string like sound. Chorus is the kind of pop polish that fits into certain mixes, and plan to get creative because there's no reason we can't apply this mix move to bass, keys, or any other track. Chorus plugins provide us delay processors tailor made for providing multiple modulated delays with feedback and filtering possibilities.
I'll add a chorus effect to transform a two-part harmony into a richer sounding full chorus of singers. Here's the original unaffected track. Listen as I increase the delay time on this chorus effect to a spot that sounds appealing, and makes it sound like more than two singers. That's sounding more interesting. When the delay time's too long, it reveals the effect too much and sounds like a studio gimmick. Too short and the vocal starts to sound phasey and psychedelic. The happy middle ground does the best job of sounding like more people are actually singing.
Okay, I admit it. There're times when the sound of a studio gimmick or a psychedelic phasey quality is desirable. I don't mean to suggest the other delay times are wrong. Just that they aren't exactly what I'm going for now. We make these kinds of decisions track by track and tune by tune whenever we mix. Adjusting the modulation rate and depth also reveals settings which expand that continuum from obvious to not so obvious, synthesized to natural. Listen as I tweak the modulation parameters. Again, here I'm going for the most natural sound possible.
Some chorus plugins let you pull out the lows from the effect, and when they don't, I often insert a separate one. The purpose of a low cut filter is let the source tracks themselves be the sole source of low-end warmth for the vocals. Introducing multiple medium delays will cause variable amounts of phased bass increases and decreases in level for the slowly moving low frequencies. While this is embraced when we go for flanging effects, it undermines our purpose here. So I find it helpful to cut some lows, especially for what happens next. This chorus effect is built on two modulated delays.
One singer becomes three, the original plus these two delays. In this way, two singers become six. For the illusion of even more singers and the pleasure of listening to a larger than life cluster of voices, we can make the chorus effect richer by simply adding more voices. Let's listen to that in the context of the mix. Of course, this is a mere starting point You owe it to yourself to experiment further. Chorus comes in countless flavors, found by exploring a vast range of parameter settings available to you.
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