Tips & Techniques: "Flanging" Without a Flanger

by Jerry Vigil

Attention small studios: If you're not fortunate enough to have one of the many digital audio processors on the market today, listen up. There are many effects on the processors than can be done with a couple of reel-to-reel machines and a cart machine or cassette deck. Most are old tricks, some are new. We will explore most if not all of them in this section of Radio And Production.

Flanging or phasing is the effect that occurs when two identical signals are combined just slightly out of sync with each other. Slightly, in this sense, means about 10 to 20 milliseconds. A greater delay becomes discernable to the ear and sounds just like a delay, but the closer you get to zero delay, the more the combined signals begin to sound like one signal and the greater the phase cancellation or flanging effect.

All that is needed to get the effect are two reel-to-reels. A third recorder, preferably another reel-to-reel or a cart machine, is needed to capture the effect as the final mix.

Let's say you have a 30 second promo that you want to add this effect to. In the middle of the promo the announcer comes in saying something like "The Five Million Dollar Cash Giveaway!!!". You want this line to have the flange effect.

Produce the promo as you normally would then dub it to cart. Now load up both reel-to-reels and get them ready to record. Use the highest speed available on your machines to eliminate as much tape hiss as possible because your final dub will be several generations old. Begin recording with the mike open and the cart machine (with the promo) in playback mode. On the mike, begin counting backwards from 15 to 1. After you say one, pause for a second then fire the cart machine. What you have recorded on both reels is your countdown and the promo, two identical tracks. Now set both reel-to-reels up for playback and cue both up to the very beginning of your countdown.

Start both machines simultaneously, making sure playback levels for both are equal. This will give you the greatest amount of flanging. Using slight pressure on the feed reels of the machines, slow down one machine or the other to sync both machines with each other. You may also try to speed one up by stroking the rim of the take-up reel in a counter-clockwise manner. It'll take practice but eventually you will sync both machines up with each other and get the desired flange effect.

When you've got the hang of it, get your third recorder ready to record this little event. A cart machine will work if you don't have a third reel-to-reel. If you use a cassette deck, be sure to use high bias chrome or metal tape to reduce tape hiss. We'll assume you're going to cart with the mix.

Cue the machines back up to the beginning of your countdown, roll them and play with the reels until they are in sync again. (You may use a longer countdown if you need more time before the promo starts.) Once they are in sync and the flange is present, note where the pot or fader is for one of the machines and turn it down all the way. When your count-down gets to 1, pause then fire the cart machine to begin recording the promo. At any point during the promo you can bring up the fader for the other reel-to-reel and thereby, control where the flange will occur. With both faders up, speed up or slow down one of the reel-to-reels to get the flange to "sweep" up or down.

Don't get discouraged if you can't do it at first. It takes a little time to get the hang of it, but it is easily mastered. Trial and error is the best teacher. ♦