Space Madness

Posted by Mattias on 2006-01-07 in Tutorials

Once Upon a Time In Sweden…

Discovering Part7 1

When the distinguished gentlemen of Propellerhead Software set out to create a new reverb unit for Reason, their goal was to be able to stand up and say: “This is one of the best software reverbs on this planet”. They just wouldn’t rest until RV7000 compared favorably to the crème-de-la-crème hardware units on the market. And to all intents and purposes, they succeeded.

Now, it is particularly crucial that a reverb unit is really, really good; unlike other more overtly synthetic, alien sounding devices in Reason, RV7000 needs to convincingly emulate something that we experience in natural environments every day. Consequently, RV7000 has a harder job than any other device in Reason. And what a bang-up job it does!

What is reverb, anyway?

Simply put, reverberation is a natural acoustic environment’s response to sound. Yet, many people view reverb as just another effect, and often use it accordingly. But the term “effect” doesn’t even begin to cover it: Literally everything we hear in real life is accompanied by acoustic reflections. Therefore, a dry, mute, dead sound with no reverberation whatsoever is in fact more of an effect than reverb is, simply because it’s, well, unnatural.

Reverb units are at your service to (re-)establish an air of realism. Having said that, drenching sound completely in reverb isn’t quite the way to go either – one has to take into account the different listening environments the music might face. The room where a pair of speakers reside may add some measure of reverberation all by itself, while as a pair of headphones need all the space simulation help they can get (unless of course the listener has very VERY large ears), so – as usual – a compromise is in order.

Now we will go over a few parameters of the RV7000, specifically those which – while having most appropriate names – aren’t entirely self-explanatory.

  • Pre-delay. Cleverly applied pre-delay can provide a sense of depth. For example, a very long pre-delay gives the impression that you are close to the sound source, let’s say a lead vocalist. It creates a feeling of intimacy and places the lead vocals in focus. A very short pre-delay, on the other hand, sells the idea that the singer is positioned far away at the opposite end of a long tunnel, since the reverb and the voice reach your ears at the same time. This is suitable for ambient sounds, or anything you want to move further into the background.
  • Early Reflections. The first response a room will give to sound is the primary, or early, reflections. The reverb tail that comes directly thereafter is made up of secondary reflections, i.e. not reflections of the original sound source, but reflections of reflections (of reflections… etc). Early reflections (and the intervals between them) are important because they are what establishes the perception of room size, the clue the ear is looking for to roughly determine the size of a room. The larger the room, the further the source is from the walls of the room, and the longer it takes for the early reflections to ‘return to the sender’. While humans are not quite as proficient as bats, we do pick these things up…
  • Diffusion. …yes, we even pick up the character of the reflections; if the early reflections resemble a ‘clean’ echo, we know that the surfaces of the room are solid and flat; if the reflections are more blurry and diffused, we can tell that the room is irregularly shaped and/or contains different objects of different texture, causing reflections to bounce all over the place. The Diffusion parameter featured in some RV7000 algorithms is the ‘space irregularity booster’. If you find a room simulation too harsh and clinical, you can add a little diffusion – think of it as putting up wallpaper on marble tile walls.
  • HF Damp. The reason why most reverbs offer the option to dampen high frequencies – so that they fade out more quickly than their counterparts – is that in the real world, high frequencies are absorbed by the air and the surfaces of the room. This phenomenon is more pronounced the larger the room is, so if you have a long reverb with no HF damping whatsoever, you’re basically simulating a rather strange empty hall with mirrors for walls and some sort of gas in place of air…!

Hand Over the Goods

Surrender your music to room ambience! Seriously, a little reverb on everything does a whole lot. Sadly, many people use reverb as an “either/or” tool. Maybe you recognize this scenario: You open Reason, create a mixer and put a 2-second hall reverb on one of the aux sends. Then you start arranging the song, but you leave most of the sounds dry (at least the bass and the drums) except for pads, strings and pianos which all get a nice dose of reverb. Well, that’s the classic home studio way – maybe it’s just a question of being lazy, maybe it’s about CPU economy, or maybe it’s the trauma of only owning one cheap hardware reverb before software studios came to town – however, in many a professional recording you’ll find that there’s some kind of room ambience on just about every sound in the mix. Producers will often use lots and lots of short and barely noticeable reverb programs (the kind that usually goes by patch names like “studio”, “closet”, “small room”, et cetera). The kind you don’t notice when it’s there, but miss when it’s gone.

Here’s a demonstration: In this track, there are four different short reverbs. On bars 1-4, there’s reverb on all sounds; on bars 5-8, all reverbs are muted, and the mix you thought was ‘dry’ suddenly takes ‘dry’ to a new level…! Take this opportunity to observe what we mentioned earlier about headphones vs. speakers; in headphones, the reverb effects are rather obvious, but over speakers they’re very subtle. Therefore, always do some A/B monitoring when you’re determining how much reverb a mix should have

Now, consider for a moment that Reason is the ideal tool for sticking a bit o’reverb on anything you like: You can have as many reverbs as you please (as long as the CPU can cope) and you can use them both as sends and inserts. Is there any reason not to go reverb crazy? No!

Automation Elation

You may have noticed that the remote panel controls on the NN-XT cannot be automated, and this might lead one to assume that no remote panels in Reason are automation enabled. Not so with the RV7000 however! Here, all parameters can be automated, even all the “soft parameters” on the remote panel. Much fun can be had, so we decided to have some.

Please enjoy this piece of musically ignorant mayhem: 7000_automad.rns

Pin the Tail

If you have been following the Discovering Reason series, it shouldn’t be news to you that we’re big fans of CV and Gate. It’s one of the unique features of Reason – after all, what can be more fun that hot-wiring virtual electronics with no risk of frying the circuitry? RV7000 does not offer an abundance of CV/Gate connectivity, but it has a couple of interesting items. The Gate, for example, can be opened via CV (or MIDI). Now we’re going to show you how to pin a new reverb tail onto a sound. Here’s what we did: First, we routed a few different samples through an RV7000. Then we created a Dr.REX and connected the Slice Gate Output to the Gate Trig input on the RV7000 and enabled the Gate section. Now we have a reverb that only sounds when triggered by the Dr.REX loop slices. Effectively, this means we’re adding reverb to the Dr.REX loop, only the reverberation is not derived from the sound of the REX loop but by a completely different sound. Here: 7000_cvgate.rns. If you happen to have a MIDI keyboard connected, you can try pressing any key on the keyboard and you’ll find that the gate stays open until you release the key. You may also want to adjust the release time of the gate to adjust the length of the reverb tail.

Bottom line

Always remember that reverb is more than a special effect: It’s also a simulation of a natural occurence. Forget the term ‘effect’ and try to picture it as an ‘acoustic backdrop’ instead. Observe the mood and the character of the music, and decide what kind of room you would like to put it in. A church? A closet? A hotel suite? RV7000 is ready to take your room reservation.

Text & Music by Fredrik Hägglund

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