April 10, 2005 6:26 PM   Subscribe

For the musicians out there (guitar)....what exactly is reverb? Distortion? Dissonance? Delay? And what are some marquee songs where I can hear them distinctly?
posted by Mach3avelli to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Reverb: Imagine you're in a big room. You call out 'hi', and instead of the repeating 'hi' 'hi' 'hi', you just hear the hi you said spreading out and amplifying.

Distortion: Also amplifying. It fuzzes up the sound. Slow Ride by Fog Hat if you wanna hear what it sounds like.

Dissonance: When you hear two notes together and it just sounds BAD. Your ears bother you. Think of a police siren.

Delay: The house leader in hot water! (Cheesey, I know..)....I can't really figure out a definition besides that.
posted by tozturk at 6:36 PM on April 10, 2005

Electro-Harmonix has some audio clips online of their effects pedals that you can listen to. so does DigiTech (click on the "X-Series Demos button"). if you wanna play around with combining effects, Boss USA has a somewhat confusing virtual pedalboard (click on "Interactive") that you can fool around with.

for more information on the science of effects, try here and here.
posted by mcsweetie at 6:57 PM on April 10, 2005

Reverb - Effect of environment on source sound. Reverb in lots of effects pedals model natural reverberation poorly, and thus sounds very little like the reverberation produced by actual environments.

Distortion - Generally anything which changes the signal distorts it; distortion pedals will usually model the effect of amplifying to the point that the amplifier output is not linearly related to the input (ie. the output signal will not equal some fraction of the input).

Dissonance - Each note is dissonant with some other notes, depending on the interval between them. Playing them either together or sequentially results in dissonance. Might more generally be applied to frequencies as well.

Delay - Holding the input for some amount of time and then outputting it. Somewhat like a singular isolated echo.
posted by too many notes at 7:16 PM on April 10, 2005

reverb is several short delays on top of each other, with some additional filtering. it gives a natural "ambience", a bit more "body" etc. the idea is to mimic the many different attenuated echoes you get in a typical room/hall that you are so used to you don't even notice until they're not there when an instrument is recorded directly and sounds "thin".
posted by andrew cooke at 7:20 PM on April 10, 2005

A few more tips to back up the earlier answers - I'm trying to use really mainstream stuff in the hope that it's instantly recognizable:

Delay: a lot of the U2 hits (Still Haven't found what I'm Looking For) - the Edge uses delay like he invented the stuff.

Distortion: Start with Jimi Hendrix (Purple Haze, Foxy Lady, etc)... actually, it's harder to think of guitar music without distortion than vice versa. There are lots of different kinds of distortion - classic rock is more of a warm distortion (fuzz), and more recent heavy metal sounds a little colder, if that makes sense.

Dissonance: Play two adjacent piano keys simultaneously for a good illustration of this.

Reverb: Think of surf guitar - "Walk, Don't Run", "Wipeout", "Telstar", etc. Or think of early Elvis songs - his voice is drenched in the stuff.
posted by sluggo at 7:26 PM on April 10, 2005

Delay is pretty much the fingerprint of dub (ub-ub-ub-ub). Think Lee "Scratch" Perry, The Scientist, The Observers....

Not much else I can say that hasn't been said better already.
posted by Tuwa at 7:41 PM on April 10, 2005

The previous responses suck.

Reverb is the sound you hear in a tile bathroom.

Delay is echo.

Dissonance is two notes which are not in harmony.
posted by wsg at 9:58 PM on April 10, 2005

Dissonance is an odd man out in this bunch -- it's a subjective concept.

A dissonant interval (shorthand lingo: an interval is two notes being sounded together) is one that creates tension, that feels unstable. Two adjescent keys on a keyboard (that is, two notes separated by a semi-tone) is a good example of this. There's no sense of stability like there is in, for example, a C major chord.

Dissonance is not merely notes that sound bad, though. Dissonance is key to creating interesting tension and a sense of movement in music. When a dissonant interval is followed by an appropriate consonant interval, the tension set up by the former resolves into the latter and, well, that right here is just about every goddam thing you need to know about music.

Good use of dissonant guitar work: The Pixies; guitar solos and riffs are just bursting.

Distortion: destructive amplification of a sound. It's a pretty wide definition if you're talking about sound in general, but I'm guessing you mean as far as guitar specifically. The range of guitar distortion (and, related, overdrive) sounds is wide beyond reasonable summary -- everything from the gentle fuzziness of electric blues guitar to the harsh crunch of heavy metal rhythm guitar falls under the umbrella of guitar distortion.

Good examples of distorted guitar: Every damn rock song since about 1960. If you can be more specific, people can provide a lot of examples.

Delay: repeated and diminishing echoes of the source sound. Take a sound (say, a note played on a guitar) and repeat it every m milliseconds, n times, getting quieter every time. Can be used in a wide variety of ways, but generally has a distinct echo sound used to build up a guitar track.

Good examples of delay effects: Pink Floyd, Another Brick In The Wall (parts I and II); U2, various tracks (the Edge uses a lot of delay in his guitar work, or at least he used to).

Reverb: reflected and repeated sound. Different from delay because it's not discrete echoes but rather an overlapping set of reflections. Reverb effects vary, but the general idea is to create the sense of the source sound playing in some physical space -- a shower or a concert hall or a basketball arena. Depending on how it's used, it can give a track a sense of "live"ness, create a sort of spacy ambient atmosphere, or just muddy the hell out of a track.

Good reverb isn't always obvious reverb, so it's harder to point to examples of subtle and professional use. Any acoustically live recording that was made in a dry little box of a studio has had some reverb work done, but you don't notice it because it just helps the sound out.

BIG reverb is easy, though; listen to the snare drum on Simon and Garfunkle's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," for instance. (Of course, that wasn't a reverb post-effect; they actually used an elevator shaft.)
posted by cortex at 10:24 PM on April 10, 2005

cortex is right. More on dissonance: dissonance is defined by its opposite, consonance. A consonant interval is one that is considered stable, at rest. A dissonant interval is unstable, and must be resolved to a consonance.

In classical music, a major 7th was considered a dissonance, and would usually resolve up to an octave. In jazz, however, a major 7th is often treated as a consonance, and needs not be resolved. A piece of classical music would almost never end with a major 7th chord. A jazz piece often does.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:50 PM on April 10, 2005

Dissonance itself is not a particularly subjective concept. How dissonant something sounds is a subjective concept. To explain:

Classically, dissonance is defined as the complexity of the relationship between note frequencies. The simpler the relationship is, the less dissonant (more consonant) it is considered to be. So, a 2:1 ratio (an octave) is considered to be more consonant, whereas, say, a 19:3 ratio would be considered more dissonant. Admittedly, this definition was an attempt to explain why some things sound "right" and some things don't, so it came after the fact, but seems to generally hold - you can pretty much put things on a scale of "more dissonant" to "less dissonant" by how complex the fractional relationship is, so that's not particularly subjective (although it still is a little). But, as has been pointed out, where on that scale you put the "this is the point where things get really dissonant" mark can vary, so that's entirely subjective.

Of course, it isn't even quite as simple as that, since you can fudge it a bit. On a piano ("even-tempered") scale, all half-steps are separated by a ratio of the 12th root of two, so that every half-step interval is the same. However, this means that ratios between notes separated more widely (such as fourths and fifths) aren't quite the same as the actual "true" fourths and fifths you get by, say, dividing a string into simple fractions, the way you do on a violin. If you listen closely, you can hear this difference, but it's close enough that it still "sounds" consonant to the ear. So, you could even say that the consonance to dissonance scale isn't so much a matter of simple to complex fractional ratios, as it is a matter of ratios that are close enough to simple ones to fool the human ear.

Incidentally, if you really want to listen to music with a different definition of where "very dissonant" lies, listen to a tradition that employs microtones. A seventy-two note scale has a lot more note relationships than a twelve-note one.
posted by kyrademon at 9:06 AM on April 11, 2005

so you're saying I paid too much for my dissonance pedal?
posted by petebest at 9:50 AM on April 11, 2005

posted by kyrademon at 10:05 AM on April 11, 2005

Unless it's vintage.
posted by cortex at 1:46 PM on April 11, 2005

Being only a singer and lyricist, I don't know too much on this, but I’m taken back that no one has mentioned Sonic Youth. I’m not sure you can get any more distortion from a guitar and still call it music than what they have. Their last album was fantastic.
posted by Neosamurai85 at 2:07 PM on April 12, 2005

This was the thread that finally pushed me into creating an account so I could post. Pink Floyd's "Sorrow" came around on my playlist, and I just melted into my seat. The first 2 minutes of the track are pure unadulterated distortion. Yeahhhhhhhh!

I don't know if it's appeared on other albums, but the version to get is from Pulse, disc 1, track 9.

Btw, do you have a Guitar Center or similar local musician's store where you could simply walk in and ask for a primer? If it's not busy when you're there, any clerk should be proud to show off a few effects pedals, since it's an excuse to fool with the equipment, for a customer's benefit.
posted by Myself at 9:17 PM on April 14, 2005

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