When Jamie announced that our NAMM release this year was a dark modulated delay, my ears perked up immediately. My internal monologue (in between thoughts about Geddy Lee) would have read something like this:
“Only 600ms of delay time, you say? Hey, I like short delays . . .”
“Sounds to me like the shorter delay time would be perfect for someone who spends time in the rhythm section. A bassist, perhaps? Go on . . . “
“Onboard modulation engine? Tell me more . . . “
“Variable waveshape LFO? Now I’m interested . . . “
“It uses an old karaoke machine chip?! Sold!”
I find that I prefer darker delays when playing bass, because they allow the transient of each note to poke through, and the repeats don’t clutter the mix the way some brighter sounding delays do. This is vital when you want to get spacey but still remain locked in with a drummer without being a slave to tap tempo. Who's got time for that?!
So, it turns out that yes, the Space Spiral is exactly the “dark and dreary” modulated delay I’ve always wanted. The six knobs atop this stardust bedazzled stompbox can call up a dizzying array of sounds: anything from traditional tape-like slapback, greasy pitch-bent oil can echoes, to grimy dub oscillations, or wobbly shape-shifting sonic mutations - the aural equivalent of a funhouse mirror. Let’s go inside.
The top row of controls adjusts the Space Spiral’s delay line. Time, as one might expect, selects the delay time from 30ms, which puts the Space Spiral well within double-tracking range; all the way to 600ms, which is really great when you’re working up that Live at Pompeii cover set you always wanted to do.
Moving right along, the Repeats control adjusts the regeneration of the delay from a single echo into self-oscillation and beyond. The lower end of the dial is where you’ll find more traditional bucket brigade-style repeats, but as you get closer to 3 o’clock, something interesting happens. Between, say, 2:30 and 2:45 the repeats begin to cluster and build right to the razors’ edge of self-oscillation, which when mixed with a little modulation, creates an ambient bed that’s not quite reverb and not exactly delay. I found this to be especially effective with shorter delay times, toying with the Mix control to find the perfect balance.
The lower set of controls tweaks the Space Spiral’s modulation engine. Depth selects the amount of modulation applied to the delay’s repeats for anything from subtle chorusing to chromatic pitch bends. Shape twists the LFO waveform from a gently sloping triangle wave, through a jagged square wave. Rate adjusts the speed of the LFO. Slower speeds yield a subtler chorus that’s great for thickening up those repeats, while faster speeds deliver delays with a squirrely vibrato effect.
Spend some time learning how the Time, Shape, and Rate controls interact, because there’s an entire galaxy of polyrhythmic fun to be had by setting the Rate to a subdivision of the delay Time, and vice versa. Using a softer waveshape results in a smooth glide, while square wave settings create abrupt jumps in pitch that can be effective if correctly timed.
In each example I’m playing an Electrical Guitar Company Series One bass, recorded direct with a Tronographic Rusty Box and Tech 21 SansAmp RBI.
Example 1 uses a slightly longer delay time to introduce some shimmery syncopation into a staccato ostinato. I let the Space Spiral fill the space between notes, adding a little bounce to this straightforward pattern.
Example 2 takes a similar approach, only this time I set the Repeats to minimum, and turn the Shape closer to the triangle side of the dial to inject a slimy pitch bent note at the end of each phrase that sounds like, well, like it's being sucked into a Space Spiral. I’m picking the first two notes of each triplet and letting the Space Spiral make it nasty on the third note.
In Example 3, I bring the Time all the way down to 30ms and crank the Repeats up to the verge of self-oscillation to place this riff within a creepy context that’s neither delay nor reverb.
Example 4 dials back the modulation for a gentle take on a classic delay sound. See? The Space Spiral can play nice.
Sure, there's plenty of modulated delays on the market, but look, ours is silver! Just kidding! Underneath the sparkly exterior of the Space Spiral, there's an entire universe of sounds to be discovered, to infinity and beyond.