Yesterday, Sean Booth of Autechre did an ‘ask me anything’ stream on Twitch.tv. I watched the last half live, and today I caught up with some of the bits I’d missed at the start. I was pleased to find that he’d answered a question about Autechre’s use of reverb. Here’s my transcription of that section (in the first video, from 00:38:50 to 00:43:58 https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1495243649).
travx259r: your use of reverb has always been inspiring. any comment on your approach designing reverb in songs?
Sean: Yeah, I mean, I sort of… A lot of my reverb… Oh wow! Look at this bug. Oh, it’s flown off. Yeah a lot of my reverb is tuned. I love eighties reverb. You could always hear a good producer in the eighties cos he would not just arbitrarily shove the reverb on something, it’d be somehow in tune with the other elements in the track. You get it more in hip hop than anywhere else. You get it where somebody’s laid the beat down and the reverb’s in the mix already but then the MC’s come in, and the MC’s got the reverb in his cans and somehow it’s informing the pitch of what he’s doing. He’s sort of in tune with the whole tuning of the track, and I dunno how much people are aware of when they do this stuff but I just think that they’d do it anyway, they’d do it naturally, right, so they just find the tuning. It’s a bit like if you write a beat on a 606 and then you go to write a 202 pattern over it, you’re gonna write something that’s in tune with the snares and the hats. For it to sound good, you don’t just arbitrarily… Cos I’ve never done that, I’ve never thought “Oh, these are rhythm elements and their pitch is unimportant, and these are the song-writing…” You know, I can’t think like that at all. To me, the whole thing is music. And I think good producers – this is what makes good techno producers – a lot of the time is they’ve just got a knack for picking up that natural tuning. And it’s the same way you might pick up the natural… the types of rhythm that work at different tempos, for example. You know what I mean? And you’ll have the types of tunings that work with certain drum machines, if they’re not the sort of drum machine that you can tune. I mean, you can tune a 606 I guess, if you get the back off, but a lot of people don’t.
I think with reverb, the sort of eighties reverbs a lot of the time they had a very definite tuning. They had a sound that some people described as metallic and inharmonic, but you always got a sense that there was some sort of key coming off it, sort of a HHHEEE [breath sound] or a HHHUUU, you know, different notes. And so, um, I quite often use very simple reverb topology, but, like, I have a hand in influencing the tuning of it, so, depending on what the chords and the melody are doing, the reverb’s tuning will be different and it’ll change over time. That’s the key thing, I think, if you want to get that [American accent:] ‘Autechre reverb sound’. Again, I’m not telling you how to do it that way, that’s just what I like, I just like those shitty reverbs from the eighties, the MIDIVerb and the Quadraverb. The topologies are seriously fucking useful and very very low on your CPU and give you “THAT” sound, if it’s that sound you’re after. In my case it’s just experience of having had those machines for years and just loving ’em because I’ve had them for years, you know what I mean? I’ve just grown to love them the way that you love your dog or something, so, you know, it’s like that. And I’m not saying they’re the best type of reverbs. They’re definitely not. You know, there are some modern convolution reverb that are just beautiful. That thing Zynaptiq did, whatever it’s called, that’s a seriously gorgeous sounding thing. But it is what it is, right? It does what it does.
Quite often I’ll use other techniques that aren’t reverb at all, so I’ll have, like, lots and lots of delay lines and all-passes but not set up in a normal reverb topology, and just explore different topologies because there’s just so many ways you can connect all-passes and delays and combs that you can make anything, almost any of those combinations of those things is going to be a bit reverb-like. But you might find that it might make more interesting tones or sounds than you would get from a reverb that’s designed to be an all-purpose reverb, if you know what I mean. Quite often the smaller, shitter topologies can sound more interesting. There are no rules with reverb. When you start researching different types of reverb design over the years you realise that there are no hard and fast rules. Everybody’s just doing different shit. And some of the more effective topologies aren’t necessarily the most complex. You know, getting complex results doesn’t rely on building a complex machine. This is a really important thing to note. Sometimes the most simple machines can give the most complex results and the most pleasing results. You might not even be after complexity. It’s something I like, but not everyone does. Just experiment, basically. But that’s just general advice. I’d say always experiment.