The History of Reverb: How Humans Conquered Echo

reverb 615 flickr user  Adriano Agulló weir.jpg

(Reprinted from The Atlantic)

When the Harmonicats’ “Peg o’ My Heart” was released in 1947, the harmonica instrumental would have been just another catchy tune on the radio were it not for the surreal, atmospheric reverberation that drenched it. Producer Bill Putnam’s use of an echo chamber (specifically, a microphone and loudspeaker placed in the studio’s bathroom) was probably the first artistic use of artificial reverb in music, and it lent an eerie dimension to the song. The record hit No. 1 on the charts 65 years ago today and stayed there for most of the summer.

No mere gimmick, Putnam’s innovation begat a new twist in humans’ ongoing effort to tame the forces of echo, a quest that has shaped the architecture of ziggurats, cathedrals, and concert halls. As it happened, the otherworldly reverberations of the lavatory at Putnam’s Universal Recording studio in Chicago fit nicely into this millennium-long tradition.

“My dad was really intrigued by artificial reverb,” says his son, Bill Putnam Jr., who took over his father’s business with his brother, James Putnam. “I would say haunted, but not in a bad way.”

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