As a teenager, I was into delays. It was a simple and cool idea: put a sound in, and it comes out later. My first delay was a Peavey DEP-800, a fairly primitive digital delay. To my untrained ears, it sounded clean. I wasn’t aware of nuances in various delays at the time. They delayed things. That’s all I knew.
Flash forward about 4 years, to when I heard a song that changed my perspective on delays: Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain.”
The echo in this song wasn’t a simple repeat of a sound. It had weird textures. It would start growing out of control. It was resonant and boomy. It would disintegrate into hiss. It did all sorts of things that the digital delays I had worked with wouldn’t do, but came naturally to tape and magnetic drum delays. It was a musical instrument in and of itself, and it helped make “Maggot Brain” magical.
Skipping to 2019: Don Gunn and I were working on presets for ValhallaDelay. I (once again) went on a rant about how cool the echo is in “Maggot Brain.” So we bought the album (again), put “Maggot Brain” into an editing window, and started measuring things and listening closely.
“Maggot Brain” begins with some sort of microphone pop going through the echo. This is very convenient, as it allowed us to measure the distance between the echo repeats. Don figured out that the echoes were 110 milliseconds apart.
The next thing that was obvious from the impulse response is that there are 3 repeats of equal amplitude. This suggested a multi-head tape or drum echo. The Quad Style in ValhallaDelay was designed for this sort of sound.
We started with the Tape Mode, in Quad Style, and set a delay of 440 milliseconds, and Spacing around 1%. This results in 4 delay taps, spaced (roughly) equally apart.
Listening to the results, Tape Mode just wasn’t bright enough. Switching over to HiFi mode gave us the brightness we were looking for.
Next, we played around with the Tap On/Off buttons. Having the first tap off, and the next 3 on, resulted in the desired repetition pattern.
The echo in “Maggot Brain” has some weird resonances in it. From experience, this sounds like a multi-head echo, where the outputs of all the heads are summed together and used as the feedback signal.