Melos Tape Echo (and others)

Melos Tape Echo

If, for the purposes of description, the Automatons' sound had to be boiled down to a handful of characteristics you'd probably have to mention echo somewhere. One of the fantasies I had when dismantling the Philips cassette deck was to somehow cajole it into recording and playing back at the same time - I knew another tape head would have been needed - I'd failed to foresee the complex switching mechanisms on the circuit board which could not usefully be interfered with at all.

The joy of echo, along with the drum machine, was that the two of us could make a pretty big sound in our headphones, prior to overdubbing onto a second cassette machine (or directly onto the reel to reel while mastering). Due to the general flakiness of our equipment we didn't usually set out with the expectation of plugging gaps later with overdubs, we preferred to set as many machines up as possible to helps us as we went along.

In the end I bought the Melos tape echo from a guy I knew who had a disco, and who had grown weary of plugging his DJ mic into it. It had a loop of cassette size tape in a cartridge and was a kind of poor man's Roland Space echo. The tape ran past an erase head, the record head and then the playback head all within the space of an inch or two, then went around the cartridge for a little while before being used again. It had a variable speed motor to obtain a range of delays, mix and output level controls and feedback/regeneration.

For some reason I bought another one which had a few more features - I think it had a kill switch on the erase head so that (depending on the motor speed) your sound from a few minutes or so ago would come back. Can't remember what happened to the first one, I swapped the second one for some speakers a few years later.

The sound was surprisingly good considering the tape size and low speed, though the heads would get clogged up and, eventually, rather worn.

Mark had a Carlsboro guitar delay pedal, which was a pretty new thing at the time. We'd normally put it on the effects send of the mixer rather than plugging straight into it.

Having said which I do remember the bass guitar always sounded crisper plugged into the Melos rather than directly into the desk - although they were both high impedance inputs I presume the Melos was higher (and a discrete design rather than an op-amp).

I'm pretty sure I'd done some experiments recording on the Old Valve Tape Recorder and playing the tapes back on the Akai reel-to-reel, but I can imagine the delays were too long to be musically useful, and returning the signal for repeat echoes too complicated (even jack leads were in short supply, let alone mixer channels). [Actually, I'm sure we used this technique on the track Electronic Music, which was featured on the Weird Noise EP - Mark]

Eventually I got a Watkins Copicat with a load of second hand studio equipment and did the old trick of moving one of the heads round to the far side of the chassis, to obtain the option of a seriously long delay.

I left that behind in a pub one night a few years later and couldn't be bothered to go back for it.

The tapes had worn out and the digital era was upon us, I'd come to think of it as a piece of junk. I had a valve Copicat too, which "needed attention", and got left behind in a basement with a load of other gear when I had a near-homelessness experience in Frestonia.

Final honourable mention goes to an Electro Harmonix pedal Mark had which claimed to create reverse delay but really just mis-triggered and splattered all over the place. Probably worth a fortune today; I see even the Melos would fetch over £50 on eBay, which is more than it cost new.

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