THE BEATLES USED IT. SO did the Stones, the Byrds,
Pink Floyd, and a zillion other
bands during the psychedelic
era. The “backwards tape” process
reversed instrument notes
so that instead of fading out
from an attack, they faded in
to an attack.
Doing this with tape required
flipping the reels so that the
tape traveled in reverse, from
the end of the song to the beginning.
You’d then play along
with the reversed sound, and
record your playing on a spare
track. Flipping the reels back
restored normal tape travel,
but also reversed the instrumental
The golden age of tape is
behind us, but it’s easy to
reproduce this effect today.
Most DAWs have a DSP function
that reverses audio, and
it’s useful for more than just
creating subliminal, backwards
satanic messages. Reversing
audio is invariably a destructive
edit in the sense that it’s
not real time, but instead alters
a piece of audio for playback.
Because the backwards tape
effect isn’t particularly rhythmic,
you can often get away
with just noodling around,
reversing the part, then sliding
the audio on the timeline
until it more or less fits the rest
of the music. But for “gourmet”
backwards tape, here’s
a recommended procedure for
 Record a lead guitar
part that sounds really good
and fits the music well. Create a premix of your
existing tracks, including the
guitar solo. Mix the solo higher
than normal. Use DSP to reverse the
premix. Solo the premix. Play along as closely
as possible to the guitar solo,
which is now reversed. It won’t
be easy, but the objective is
to remember that the solo’s
structure needs to be reversed.
For example, if the solo builds
toward the end by going up
a scale, when recording the
part to be reversed, you need
to start with the highest note
and go down the scale. Often
a dry guitar part is best—not
a part with distortion or sustain,
because any sustain will
work against a dramatic backwards
effect when the part is
reversed. Turn off solo for the
reversed premix track and
mute it. Reverse the guitar solo
using DSP, and shift its position
on the timeline to line up
with the scratch guitar track.
It likely won’t line up exactly,
but tweak the track position
so it lines up as rhythmically
as possible with the song.
This often involves having the
reversed attacks line up with
the beginning of beats.
Adding some echo or reverb
can be very effective (and these
effects often augmented backwards
tape parts in the ’60s). You
might also find when recording
dry guitar that the backward
effect is too pronounced, leading
to an excessive amount of
“snap” at the reversed note’s
end. The fix is to use a transient
shaper effect, which can
soften the part’s attack somewhat,
prior to reversing the
part you recorded.
Craig Anderton has played on
or produced more than 20 major
label releases, mastered hundreds of
tracks, and written dozens of books.
Check out some of his latest music at
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