What’s better: synchronizing your modulation and delay effects strictly to tempo? Or “freewheeling” it, and letting the effects wobble and drift a bit?
I eagerly embraced tap-tempo stompboxes when they appeared — how liberating to re-clock your effects without stooping over and fumbling with little knobs! But these days, I often forego strict timekeeping in favor of a sloshier, more organic feel.
Sometimes tempo-sync makes parts groove better. And sometime it makes everything sound cheesy, like the computer-clocked sound and lights of a loud and lousy Broadway show.
One thing that made me more reluctant to over-synchronize my sound was the illicit release of the various “Multitrack Master” audio files, in which classic rock recordings were distributed as individual solo tracks — an illegal yet awesome development I wrote about here. This example in particular blew my mind:
Okay, the analog delay effect on that iconic keyboard part is a bloody mess, the echoes flamming chaotically against the played notes. But would anyone dare suggest it’s not one of the grooviest parts ever committed to tape?
On the other hand, when I do go digital, I’m more likely to take it to extremes. Here’s a little example I threw together using a multi-effect plug-in created with Native Instruments’ Reaktor. (Reaktor itself isn’t an effector, a synth, or a sequencer, but a programming environment for creating all those things and more. This plug-in, called Freak Show, is free for Reaktor owners via the Reaktor User Library. The creator is Carsten Brück.) It’s a set of eight effects — but the active effect changes in time with the sequencer. (You might have reverb on beat 1, pitch-shift on beat 2, phasing on beat 3, etc.) Check it out:
When I interview Johnny Marr many years ago, he detailed how difficult it was to manually sync his Fender Twin Reverb amps to create the apocalyptic trem-fest “How Soon is Now?” These days you can obtain a similar effect in seconds with a tap-tempo trem such as the Line 6 Modulation Modeler or the Cusack Tap-A-Whirl. I can’t even say whether Marr’s opus sounds better for its imperfections.
Obviously, there’s no right or wrong. But for now, my attitude is, don’t assume tight synchronization is superior — but if you go for it, then really go for it!