Producer, composer, engineer, film-maker, creative agitator and my good friend Tom Kazas dropped by recently to remark on the shimmer verb technique I developed for Melodyne… He had some interesting observations to make and was gracious enough to put them into a post below. Enjoy.

TJ’s ‘shimmer-verb’ method, by way of contrast, dear reader, draws our attention to the operation of ‘standard’ reverb. This being that standard reverb is much less ‘tuned’, (dependent of course on the nature of the input source, among other things), or at best, achieves a smearing of pitches. It is this ‘un-tuned-ness’ that separates the reverb from the rest of the track, that allows space to be defined. This becomes a rather unique sonic position in the mix, given that everything else in the mix is tuned. (Although, this distinction is not that clear given some sounds, e.g. percussion etc, lack an easily discernible ‘note’.) If every other element in the track is tuned, a tuned reverb has to then compete in that dense tuned space. I’m not suggesting that such a sound would be unappealing, but only that its operation in a mix is returned to that challenge that all mix engineers encounter, that of trying to clarify and separate elements in a mix. As in TJ’s online demo, the sparser the setting, the more this tuned shimmer-verb becomes a lush and engaging element in the mix.

This leads me to another way of achieving reverb: the piano-sustain-pedal-method. This is one of my favourite acoustic experiences: press down on a piano’s sustain pedal, then simply shout at the strings. What is heard are the freely resonating strings; some in sympathy with the pitched parts of a shout, and others (I assume) reacting to the pressure waves of air. This ’cause’ activates the ‘tuned’ piano strings, where the moving air is translated into a tuned response. Ok, an electro-magnetic transducer, mic or speaker etc, is much more impressive, and what I detail is an obvious (if a little unconventional) analog technique, but it does reveal that individual sounds have tuned components, and that the untuned components can be transduced as pitch.

The beauty of TJ’s method is that it isolates the tuned-ness of the source, creates new harmonic layers, and shoots those new portions only, off to a digital reverb. And here is the rub: to create a ‘presence of something that is absent’. One ‘transduces’ an absence into a presence by appealing to space, to reverb. In simple technical terms, there is no ‘dry’ signal, but only its ‘wet’ reverb. It is not just the sensual texture of that sound that is engaging, but, for me, it creates the strong feeling that something can exist without any clear, direct, (or even conscious) access; that only a remnant, of something, in itself often hard to define, becomes present in the soundscape. Like a haunting memory of an event we are unaware of, or the residue of an event we have never witnessed. It is this psychological effect, or rather the psychoanalytic effect, and certainly the psychoacoustic effect, (more appropriately ‘affect’) that becomes overriding in the creation of a deep and reactive sonic space. A new emotional resonance is created by this predicament of a presence/absence distinction.

It is this predicament that has always engaged me. The piano piece ‘Berceuse’, (from my album ‘Verdigris’), offers a rather extreme sonic example of this presence/absence binary. In fact, it is ‘absence’ that becomes the privileged term. In this piece of music, the original ’cause’, the piano, is absent. Only the many treated manipulations, (that include variations of a shimmer-verb), of that piano remain. A lush orchestral enormity replaces the small singular piano part. In this way, the piano becomes so much more than it could ever be, but only by its removal. A further distinction is elicited between the single and the multiple. However, to me ‘Berceuse’ is an example of, and clearly suggests that, results of an event can become so much larger and absorbing than the original cause; that features of the result are not present in that cause. Furthermore, it suggests that sometimes the original cause cannot be decoded, or retro-interpreted, from any resultant artefacts. The original cause becomes much less important than the result, and that only the remnant can take on new proportions and new meaning.

I think that we hear some of this predicament in TJ’s Emm Collins/Celemony demo. I suggest that one is responding to the situation (conscious or not) that the source of this shimmer-verb has no presence in the dry sound world; that it is a ghosting from an imagined event, and that a new and much stronger emotional power is created precisely by this separation; by rendering this distinction audible. One could even remark that the shimmer-verb reveals a ‘potential’ of the lead vocal line that is only expressed in the ‘actual’ the reverb. I, like many others, have always found reverb astounding.

I think I’ll go and shout into my piano.

Tom Kazas

TJs recent remix of Tom’s gorgeous track transfusion is here:

More info on Tom and Transfusion here

Tom Kazas is a composer/song writer, record producer/sound engineer, film maker and student of the humanities. He was the creative force behind the Australian psychedelic rock group The Moffs, that garnered international underground attention in 1985 with their song “Another Day in the Sun”. He has composed for theatre, including the 1999 staging of “The Wound”, directed by Lex Marinos. He was the composer and arranger for the Greek Jazz band Xitzaz. He has produced albums for TJ Eckleberg, Magic Lunchbox, Metabass’n’Breath, Tiny Tim, and You Am I. He composed the soundtrack for “The Ifs of Language”, a short film by Peter Lyssiotis and Michael Karris which was a finalist in the 2002 Dendy Short Film Festival.He has made several music videos and short films, including the 2009 16 minute cinema poem ‘The Topologist’.