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This blog post is written for assignment #5 for the Introduction to Music Production course at Coursera.org.

In this post I will describe the use of chorus and phaser in a recording previously posted on this blog.  I demonstrated and explained these effects previously in this post.  Briefly, chorus works by creating copies of the input signal (in this case, my voice), then delaying them slightly and modulating the pitch slightly.  Phaser works by splitting a signal- half the signal is processed by altering its phase.  When combined with the unprocessed signal, certain waveforms cancel each other out, while others increase in amplitude.  The resulting effect is a spacey, psychedelic trough and wave effect.

On 3/13/13 I recorded a rendition of Dai Segaki, the Japanese Zen chant for the dead, in memory of a long-gone friend on the occasion of his birthday, in accordance with Japanese tradition (even though I am not Japanese.  Besides, he was on my mind).  A recording of Dai Segaki being chanted in a Zen service can be found here, beginning at 1:34.

When chanting this in a Zen service, chanters keep in time with each other, but do not necessarily chant the same pitch, leading to strange, ethereal harmonies and timbres- an effect fascinating to hear and unlike anything I’ve encountered in Western music.  In theory, this effect could be replicated by multitracking a single voice, then using a plug-in to modify the pitches on the different tracks.

Instead of trying to directly mimic that effect, I used the idea as inspiration to create a different sound.  I wanted to create the effect of an otherworldly three-dimensional space to heighten the sense of an intensely spiritual experience.  I realized I could do this with the combination of delay, chorus, and phaser.  The delay functioned to provide some degree of echo, which creates the sense of space for the listener.  Chorus was used on each track to hint at the illusion of multiple voices (I did not allow enough separation of the voices to fully create the impression of multiple voices; instead, the layers of chorus modified the timbre of my voice to add thickness and weight, without fully suggesting multiple voices).  The phaser created a  trough and valley effect that heightened the ethereal, otherworldly quality.

I began by recording three tracks using REAPER- a vocal track with the chant, a track with a homemade wooden hammer tapping out a quarter note rhythm on a piece of wood, and a track with a Tibetan singing bowl used as a bell.  I did not have latency problems, so the tracks matched up well.  Try the chant (the text can be found here) and you will see you cannot go very long without taking a breath, so I allowed myself to take breaths while recording.  I edited out these breaks.

The next step was multiplying the vocal track.  I created 4 more vocal tracks that were identical, leaving me with 5 total (tracks 1, 4, 5, 6, 7). On each I applied a chorus (set to 5- 7 voices, chorus length 15 ms, rate: 0.5 Hz, pitch fudge factor: 0.7, wet mix -6 dB, dry mix -6 dB), delay chorus (delay 300 ms, feedback: -6.0 dB, output wet w/chorus: -6.0 dB, output wet without chorus: -6.0 dB, output dry 0 dB, chorus period 500 ms, chorus length 2.0 ms), and phaser (rate 0.5 Hz, range min 440 Hz, range max 1600 Hz, feedback -3 dB).

At the time I did this recording, I understood what these effects were but didn’t have the in-depth understanding of what these parameters meant or how they worked.  I have a much better understanding of them after covering them in this course. All these parameters are the default parameters for the respective plug-ins, since I didn’t understand the parameters at the time and didn’t take the time to play with them.  I didn’t understand then (but I do now) that I actually applied two chorus plug-ins- a chorus plug-in and a delay chorus.   This contributed to the ethereal feel, and thus was a happy accident- I probably wouldn’t have done that if I fully understood what I was doing.

Once these were done, I rendered the track to wav format, then applied a compressor in Audacity.  I applied fade in and fade out to the ends of the piece, and it was ready for posting on Soundcloud.

The result feels to me not like the effect of a group of people chanting the Dai Segaki, but a non-human, almost alien sound of an  ethereal chant, which is the kind of sound I was aiming for.

For the purposes of this assignment I considered remixing this recording.  I experimented with manipulating the plug-in parameters, but found that I did not like the results, so I stayed with the 3/13 mix. I considered applying a noise gate (a plug-in I didn’t know about then but understand now) to these tracks to eliminate mike noise, but elected not to bother with applying the gate and remixing/remastering the track solely for that purpose.  Were this an attempt at a professional recording, it surely would be worth applying the gate and remixing.

I hope you enjoyed listening to “Dai Segaki” and this description of the electronic processing.  Please feel free to comment or ask questions below.

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