I was listening to Eleanor Rigby off the Revolver album on my iPod. After the intro chorus, Paul’s voice is panned entirely to the right speaker. Gutsy move and interesting choice. Take one of the most instantly recognizable voices in pop music and isolate him to one speaker while the double string quartet takes center stage. That is, until Paul’s voice suddenly fattens up and pops into the middle for ‘All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?’. It then immediately returns to the right speaker.
I love listening to the Beatles on headphones because I am always intrigued by how they decided to mix things. It is on that Revolver album that they first used a technique called Automatic Double Tracking (ADT). This technique allowed them to record two identical tracks with one take. The second track would be played back a few milliseconds behind the first to fatten up the track such as the one heard in Eleanor Rigby when Paul’s voice suddenly jumps to the middle.
That is cool stuff that I gotta try. So, I did. In this recording, of a traditional old set dance called Blackbird, I decided to try a number of different recording techniques just for fun. To start, I placed my guitar inches from the microphone. I then recorded as I played flute into the mic while the strings were sympathetically resonating. Second, I did the equivalent of ADT digitally and doubled the flute track, setting the second a few milliseconds behind the first as seen below.
Once that was in place I decided I wanted to put a drone under it. I have an old fiddle lying around and, in spite of my complete lack of fiddling ability, decided to try and record one single note. It sucked. So, I doubled it up, which you might think would make it twice as sucky. But it did not. Instead it improved the sound as I had hoped.
I then wanted a deeper tone so I pulled down my guitar and recorded one deep note. I took that one note, cut off the pluck by fading in and then put it into an overlapping loop to produce the effect of one really long bass note. I did the same with a whistle. Below is an image of two tracks working together to create the one long bass note. Notice how the wave is the same in each section of the image. That is the the note I recorded on guitar and then copied.
Lastly I added a double delay to the whole track, which gives the flute the sound of being played somewhere down deep in a reverberant valley. It is no Eleanor Rigby, but it was fun.