[Dixielandjazz] Reverbs & fashion in recordings

Edgerton, Paul A paul.edgerton at eds.com
Fri Sep 26 13:50:09 PDT 2003

Will wrote:
> The "spring" delays were the cheapies. Telefunken made (very costly) 
> "plate" delays that were the state of the art alternative to a tunnel,
> a stairwelll or a lady's room. I never used one.  And precious few
> engineers knew how to do so with restraint.

There were lots of cheap spring reverbs based on the Hammond reverb tank.
There were also much more sophisticated ones like the AKG BX-20e. But the
fact is, plate reverb was the standard from the 60s though the late 80s when
digital reverbs finally became good enough and cheap enough to replace bulky

I guess what constitutes restraint is a judgment call, but I assure you that
engineers learned both the uses and abuses of artificial reverb. There are
many stories from producers and engineers describing how they came up with
the sounds they recorded, including plenty of unconventional approaches like
the bathroom echo chamber. 

Rudy Van Gelder made his reputation by recoding jazz groups without using
artificial reverb. His stuff sounded like the musicians were right in the
room instead of the speakers. This "they-are-here" approach was the exact
opposite of the "you-are-there" school of recording. And you know what? The
musicians *were* in his living room, and he didn't *have* artificial reverb,
at least in the beginning. That sound was well suited to the type of jazz
Alfred Lion was releasing, and it became very popular.

But Rudy wasn't the only one, listen to the old Dukes recordings for another
approach to "high fidelity" recording. Or listen to something from Capitol
records, probably made with closely-placed condenser mics in a big studio
and using an acoustic chamber for reverb as well a plate.

The important thing is to recognize how the availability of tools has
influenced the kind of sounds that are recorded. When nobody has reverbs and
live recording is the rule, you get a loose natural sound. When multiple
microphones and isolation booths are used or when musicians are overdubbing
on basic tracks, you get a larger-than-life sound having microscopic detail.
Sonic fashions have changed over the years, but the older techniques remain
a valid choice, and they are often appropriate to OKOM.

Finally, remember that producers try to create records that will sell, and
that typically means they try to make their records sound like current hits.
All recording is the creation of an illusion. That is, there are no
musicians in your living room or car while you're listening. So what kind of
illusion should we create? Do we want the listener seated 5th row center
section at in an auditorium? Do we want his head inside the piano? Should
the listener become part of the drum kit? How about having a horn player in
each ear and the singer right in face? (hmmm... which singer?) Should we do
all these at once, or would this tune sound better at the other end of a

There are many ways to record, just as there are many ways to play. They're
all valid. And we all have our favorites.

Paul Edgerton
who has made enough recoding mistakes to know what he's saying. 

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