One of the sounds that I have always been fascinated with is backward tracks. Backward tracking is a tape technique that has been around since tape was used, but only became popular in the fifties, according to Wikipedia. Being the Beatles fan that I am, my first experience was on Revolver in 1966.
The technique is simple. Flip the tape over so the feed reel becomes the take-up reel. In the digital world, DAWs and audio editing tools allow you to reverse the track.
Reversing a track is easy. Getting it to work within the context of a song is finicky, but not so bad. I get a mix together of where I want the reversed track to show up, paste into a new project, reverse that track and then record what will become the reversed track in the mix against that. It takes some practice, but the track should follow whatever changes are in the composition, the tempo and such. A bit strange to listen to and record against, but you get used to it.
Here are some examples of reversed tracks. First is the track played normally, next is the reversed track:
- from Revolver, the lead break from “I’m Only Sleeping”
- also from Revolver, the lead break from “Tomorrow Never Knows.” I think this sounds fabulous.
- from Sgt Pepper, the inner groove* at the end of the record after Day in a Life. It is quite a jumble. It is also sped up. I slowed it to 74% of the original.
- The last recording I did, “A Delicate Balance” uses a backward guitar track, panning left and right. I included the intro to that song.
*additional notes on the inner groove track.
On the original inner groove track, they seem to be saying, “I never could see any other way.” On the reversed and slowed down track, you can clearly hear the vocal saying “and we’ll all be there to seek your pleasure.” It sounds like they recorded one word at a time and then put them together to form a sentence.
I think what they did was record the initial track “I never could see any other way”, played it back in reverse, and said, “I think it sounds like they are saying “… and we’ll all be there to seek your pleasure.” Which they tracked at a slower speed, reversed and played at the normal speed.
One other thing funny about the Sgt Pepper inner groove track is a high pitch just before the inner groove begins playing. You can see it here:
John thought it would be amusing to include something that only dogs could hear, so they added a 16k sine wave. The vast majority of humans cannot hear that high. But on the slowed track, the pitch is now quite audible at about 10k. You can hear it at the tail end of the reversed track.