Re-amping as a creative tool, Part I • Introduction

by Nikolay Georgiev on December 26, 2010

Introduction

The following article is written with the intention to show a few different situations in which the technique of re-amping audio could be used to achieve unique, spacious and remarkably rich sonic pictures.

I. The common case. Re-amping electric guitar (Part I)
II. Re-amping in the time of low budget productions (Part I)
III. The uniqueness of every space. Re-amping vocals inside a washing machine (Part II)
IV. Mixing with no faders or pan pots. Multitrack re-amping of acoustic material pre-recorded in a dead room (Part III)

I. The common case. Re-amping electric guitar or bass.

Most often when engineers talk about re-amping, they usually refer to the process of playback of a prerecorded trough a Direct Injection Box (DI), unprocessed signal from electric guitar, through a re-amping box (or reversed passive DI) into a guitar amplifier. This is done with the intention to re-record the so electrically and acoustically altered sound. The process although not completely transparent (DI, mic preamps, re-amping box, converters, valves, etc.), allows for further work with or without the presence of the player. The engineer now has the comfort to play with the sound of the amplifier and the recording chain until he finds exactly what he needs. This technique can not only provide certainty during a time limited recording session. It could, as well, become an endless creative tool on our disposal. Just think about the possibility of using multiple different amps, different rooms, their placement in the room, the microphone technique involved, etc. For example, a guitar part could be tracked separately both through a clean and driven amp or from a different distance and the recorded tracks blended, panned, or treated with different effects for a very special tone.

Typical signal chain for electric guitar re-amplification.

However the term “re-amping” (short for “re-amplification”) is one with a much wider meaning (so broad that literally it should include almost any kind of re-amplification – even one which doesn’t happen in the acoustic domain and is entirely electrical). Thus it makes more sense to accept that any series of actions of playback of prerecorded sound through an amplified transducer and the acoustic re-capturing of this sound could fairly be called re-amping (or more precisely: acoustic re-amping). This process is among some of the oldest techniques used by engineers ever-since the birth of sound & music production and the case above is just one of many. Lets just think for a second about the experiments of Pierre Schaeffer, the mixes done by Phil Spector, Abbey Road’s Studio 2 reverb chamber or the wonderful old school spring and plate reverbs. Re-amping is everywhere and in many different forms. And if guitar re-amplification has such a great potential for creativity, then what about re-amping in general?

II. Re-amping in the time of low budget productions.

The most common re-amping signal chain consists of several electrical and an acoustic phase of alternation of the so manipulated sound

The advent of modern computer music has changed our reality of music making for good and for bad. We pay for our comfy low budget bedroom freedom with the lack of real space in our mixes. The amazing depth and separation between the instruments in the mix, which can be heard even in music recorded half a century ago, is now gone. We often use only synthetic instruments, record in horrible acoustics from no distance, or use the sample banks of others. To hire a proper studio for a longer period, which allows for experimentation, is often beyond any realistic budget. Only the most wealthy “stars” can afford it. Sadly most often even their productions lack personality, following the so popular “in your face sound” and “lack of dynamics” concept. For the rest the art and pleasure of mixing often becomes a never ending ordeal to recreate artificially what’s missing. The nowadays bedroom enthusiast thinks that by the use of low pass filter or high shelf EQ build-in into his DAW and lots of artificial plug-in reverberation, the recorded from 5cm with a cheep directional microphone tiny particle of acoustic guitar will sit back in the mix as if it has been recorded in that way. Large format mixing consoles, tape machines, hardware plate reverberation and effect units, great converters and high end outboard gear will always only be available for the high budget projects. Furthermore, with the extensive use of other people’s samples or software synths, and without the option to make our own decisions during the recording process, we don’t have anymore the possibility to choose the colours of our sounds and record them in the “right way” for their purpose and place in the music and the  mix (how far or close, how dry or wet, how wide or narrow, how bright or dark, etc.). All this affects the sound of our modern music world. And when on top of all this we add the fact that nowadays everyone is an audio engineer and a music producer, then the outcome could be only one… Let’s face it: our mixes lack depth, clarity and sound strident.

I have found that re-amping is a partial solution to many of those problems and can give back a lot from what’s missing in our modern productions. The following article will discuss the use of re-amping as a powerful and creative acoustic tool, which could deliver a new degree of spaciousness and uniqueness and add some of that old school analogue feel to our contemporary “bedroom projects”.

Read more about re-amping:

I. The common case. Re-amping electric guitar (Part I)
II. Re-amping in the time of low budget productions (Part I)
III. The uniqueness of every space. Re-amping vocals inside a washing machine (Part II)
IV. Mixing with no faders or pan pots. Multitrack re-amping of acoustic material pre-recorded in a dead room (Part III)


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