📑 In the Air Tonight’s influence, intrigue, and THAT drum break that endures 40 years on

Bookmarked In the Air Tonight’s influence, intrigue, and THAT drum break that endures 40 years on by Matt Neal (ABC News)

In the Air Tonight shaped the sound of the 1980s, but beneath its explosive percussion lies a sinister urban legend.

Matt Neal reflects on the forty years since Phil Collins’ released In the Air Tonight and its ongoing legacy.

Neal talks about the famous drum solo and its use of ‘gated reverb’ and the happy accident that brought it about:

Somewhere among all this, Collins found time to play drums on ex-bandmate Gabriel’s third solo album, where a happy accident in the recording studio would shape the future of music.

A microphone used to communicate between the drummer in the studio and the producer in the control room was accidentally left turned on while Collins drummed on Gabriel’s track Intruder.

Producer Hugh Padgham was impressed by the sound coming through the talkback mic capturing the echo — or reverb — of the drums in the room loudly before suddenly cutting off before the echo could fade away naturally.

Padgham and his engineers worked through the night to rewire the desk so the sound could be replicated to record Collins’ drums the next day, and a technique known as “gated reverb” was born.

In a Vox Earworm video, Estelle Caswell dives into the world of gated reverb. In it, Susan Rogers describes the sound as follows:

It makes a drum sound like a whip. Picture it like a tidal wave, a huge wave suddenly stopping and hitting a brick wall. That’s the sound of gated reverb.


This reminds me of Steven Johnson’s discussion of music and malfunctioning machines:

For our new episode of the Wonderland podcast, I dove into the fascinating history of tape recorders and malfunctioning machines, beginning with a story about the composer Steve Reich that I first encountered in Alex Ross’s brilliant book, The Rest Is Noise. The episode kept expanding as we explored a whole web of connections to Reich’s early tape loop experiments: to the music of Brian Eno, Public Enemy, Kanye West — and to the broader question of how new sounds make their way into the mainstream of popular taste. The episode has an incredible cast of special guests: Eno, Alex Ross, the Pulitzer-prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, experimental artists and technologists Carla Scaletti and Antenes.

Neal also talks about the various myths around the meaning of the song. This includes anger at the breakdown of his marriage or the drowning death of a friend. Maybe such truths cannot be known and are a part of the joys of art. For example, I have heard The Churches’ Under the Milky Way described as a song about living in the Southern Hemisphere, as well as a song about a Berlin nightclub called The Milk Way. I wonder if it really matters, maybe it is just about how the song makes you feel.

When I look at the long list of songs that use gated reverb, I am left thinking that, maybe more than synths or sickly sweet melodies, it is the thing that draws together so many of the songs I love.

Maybe Kevin Parker is right, drums might possibly be the most important ingredient?

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