15 April 2013

"Phasing" and "flanging" in music explained

"The Big Hurt" reached #3 on Billboard in 1959.  From the Wikipedia entries:
"The Big Hurt" is notable because it featured phasing effects which at that time were rare in popular music... claim that "The Big Hurt" was the first commercial recording to feature a technique (or effect) now known as flanging.

The name "flanging" comes from the original method of creation. Originally, a signal would be recorded to two tape machines simultaneously. The playback-head output from these two recorders was then mixed together onto a third recorder. In this form, minute differences in the motor speeds of each machine would result in a phasing effect when the signals were combined. The "flange" effect originated when an engineer would literally put a finger on the flange, or rim of one of the tape reels so that the machine was slowed down, slipping out of sync by tiny degrees...

Older recording hardware could suffer from flanging as an undesired side effect when recording very long tracks. As the weight of the tape built up on one reel, the pressure on the capstans could cause flanging during mixdown or dubbing...
Wikipedia also has an entry of recordings that include a prominent flanging effect.  Lots of familiar titles there, including several Beatles songs, ELO, Doobies, Eagles, and "Killer Queen."


  1. I used to do this physical flanging with two reel to reel decks when I was in college in the 70s. It was really fun to do, and the "whoosh" you get as the recordings pass each other in time is really impressive. You could alternate finger-dragging the flanges on one deck then the other and "pass" the synched playback points back and forth. Digital emulators of the effect (Phlangers) just don't produce that rich analog, organic whoosh.

  2. You can also use dying batteries to create a flanging effect. As the dying recorder has to record has to put more signal on to the tape, the tape slows, and when you play it back at normal speed there are weird pitch changes that correspond perfectly to volume. So I had a weird pitch changing track as I screamed and turned on and off the garbage disposal. A tape loop from an old Phone Mate that I dubbed Spock's conversation from "Devil in the Dark", a hugely distorted bass track I recorded with a cheap mic dropped into a a storm sewer with my practice amp pointing into the storm sewer. My friend Seyed recorded a 4 track version of what I made with his guitar track on the fourth track. Too much tape hiss. We did not know that we had recorded a masterpiece that Culturcide and Negativeland would have loved.

    We could have been underground music stars in our teens if we hadn't trashed the tapes.

  3. 10 years of Stargate and I now know where the term 'flanging' came from.

  4. No, a follow up with "Wow" and "Flutter" :)


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