Anecdotal Evidence: Concerts: Royal Reversal (Soundcheck at the Berkeley ampitheater)

Excerpt from some mail sent 1998:

...I saw your web page of sound reversals, and I liked it. Furthermore, I was reminded of something that happened to me [several years ago].

Back in my wasted college days, I went to a rock and roll concert with some friends of mine. Before the main act went on, a sound tech checked each of the microphones, speaking into each one in turn. "Check, check," he said. "One, two, three, four," nothing out of the ordinary. "Check, check," he repeated, lulling us into thinking that everything was just business as usual. Then he said, "Sibilants, sibilants." Or maybe it was, "Sibilance, sibilance." Something like that. Whatever; this caused us to sit up and take notice--here was something unusual. Obviously, this was no ordinary roadie. Here was someone with attention to detail, a master of his trade.

A few months later, some of these friends and I were in a band. One day we took a step towards becoming professionals--we went in on a four-track recorder.

Back in our rehearsal space (also known as the drummer's bedroom in the house we shared), a couple of us unwrapped the new toy. We figured out how to set it up, slapped in a tape, and hooked up a microphone to one of its input sockets. As the group's vocalist, it fell to me to choose what we would record on this historic occasion. Remembering that master sound tech, I said, "Check, check. One, two, three, four. Check, check. Sibilants, sibilants." Then, once we figured out the right way to get the recorder to pay attention to its inputs, I said it again, this time successfully recording the sound to tape.

I asked how this recorder could record four audio tracks onto this normal stereo tape. Stereo meant two tracks, as far as I knew. My bandmate clued me in--instead of recording two tracks in direction A and two tracks in reverse direction B, the four-track recorded four tracks all in the same direction. He mentioned that, as a side effect, you could use a four-track as a reverse tape player.

This was too good an opportunity to pass up. I popped the tape out, flipped it over, put it back in, pressed play. There was was a pause, a hiss, and then the eerie words emerged from the machine: "Elvis lives." And then the garbled nonsense one might expect to hear from a backwards recording. I looked over. We'd both heard the fateful words. I rewound, played them again, then flipped over the tape to find out what we were listening to--of course, it was the "Sibilants, sibilants."

We talked a bit. Of course, this was probably all just coincidence. Even if we could have tracked down that roadie, demanded that he tell us the whereabouts of the King, probably it would have been a waste of time.

Since that day, I've been to a few shows, but I never heard a microphone check that included "Sibilants, sibilants." I've been paying attention, too.


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