Revolver 9 – How I did it

The 6th single from my band Wayside Drive’s new album “The Other Side“. It’s called Revolver 9 and you can listen and download it for free here.

This song has probably been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever worked on, but that’s exactly why I wanted to do it. The challenge itself was very compelling. I can’t even say how the ideal first occurred to me. One day the idea just popped in my head that it would be fun to record a song that is exactly the same backward as it is forward. I have coined the term Palinphonic*, a combination of Palindrome (a word, phrase, number or other sequence of units that can be read the same way in either direction. Root – pálin – Greek “again”) and Phonic (of, relating to, or producing sound).

I had a game plan worked out in my head but figured out most of it out as I went. Rather than break down my step-by-step I’ve broken this down by concepts used.

My original idea was to simply have a forward vocal melody going against backward one but it just sounded terrible. So I started researching palindromes, phonetic palindromes (a portion of sound or phrase of speech which is identical or roughly identical when reversed) and phonetic reversal (the process of reversing the phonemes of a word or phrase which doesn’t have to be identical when reversed. This is called back-masking when applied to recorded sound).

Now writing those types of things from scratch would have been quite a daunting task. Luckily the magic of the internet gave me quite a few ready examples. One that I used is actually a latin palindrome – In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (“We go wandering at night and are consumed by fire”). I liked the English translation so much I used that.

An example of phonetic reversal that I thought was very cool is “you” and “we”. When used in conjunction and reversed, each word sounds like the other backwards. So if you record yourself saying “you… we…” and play it backwards it sounds like you’re still saying “you… we…”.

One of the biggest surprises I had in this whole process was how easy the music was to put together. I was originally planning on having a forward part playing against a different backward one, similar to what I was planning for the vocals.

After messing with that a bit I realized that if the part was somewhat simple I could actually reverse the part against itself and it produced an entirely new rhythm with a lovely “swooshiness” about it. It also sounded less “obviously” reversed.

So what I had to do is come up with segments to an arrangement, then reverse the audio recording for individual segment on top of itself, then reverse the arrangement pattern. To illustrate, if the song is an A – B – A – C structure, I reversed each segment’s recording against itself (A-reversed is played at the same time as A-forward, etc.) and then I reversed the structure (A – B – A – C followed by C – A – B – A). Basically the arrangement mirrors itself at the halfway mark. Since each segment is reversed against itself and the arrangement mirrors, then the whole song plays the same backwards as forwards.

When you reverse a vocal track it sounds very unnatural because all of your speech patterns are backward. To help some of the vocal bits sound a more natural I recorded the part, reversed it, and then recorded a new forward part mimicking the reversed part. Applying this technique “padded” the vocal so it sounded a little more like a foreign language than a reversed recording yet still retained all of the backwards/forwards functionality.

Beatles Influence:
The Beatles nuts out there will immediately notice the blatant influence across the entire piece, even the title itself. For those who aren’t as familiar, here’s a brief history… The Beatles where one of the first artists to employ reversed recordings on their album Revolver. On the song “Rain” (which is actually a B-Side from the album) the last verse are the vocals from the first verse simply played backward. They also used reverse recording effects on “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “I’m Only Sleeping” from the same album. One of their other most known examples of this technique is their song “Revolution 9” from the White Album which actually employed back-masking (the repeated phrase “number 9” when played backwards supposedly says “turn me on, dead man” which fueled the fire of the Paul is dead conspiracy).

I noticed that the word revolver itself was basically a phonetic palindrome. So I took the “you… we…” phonetic palindrome mentioned above and wrote the line “we love you revolver” and notice when it was reversed it sounded like “we value revolver” which was a pleasant surprise.

The use of a tanpur in the intro/outro was directly influenced from “Tomorrow Never Knows” and the tabla from several Beatles songs like “Within Without You“. I also included a line “everybody’s got one” taken from the garbled vocals in the outro from “I Am the Walrus” (“get one, got one, everybody’s got one”).

*Actually my friend Ned came up with Palindrome-phonic. I simply shortened it.

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