is the process
of reversing the phonemes
of a word
. When the reversal is identical to the original, the word or phrase is called a phonetic palindrome
. Phonetic reversal is not entirely identical to backmasking
, which is specifically the reversal of recorded sound
. This is because pronunciation
cause a reversed vowel
to sound different in either direction, or differently emphasize a consonant
depending on where it lies in a word, hence creating an imperfect reversal. Backmasking involves not only the reversal of the order of phonemes, but the reversal of the phonemes themselves, which means that the reversed sound of a phrase may be hard to predict.
According to proponents of reverse speech, phonetic reversal occurs unknowingly during normal speech.
- In the 1984 American film Amadeus, lead character Wolfgang Mozart claims to Constanze Weber that "[in Salzburg] everything goes backwards." He then proceeds to deliver a series of phonetically reversed phrases, many of them vulgar, which she must guess by reversing them out loud.
- The Paul is dead urban legend arose when DJ Russ Gibb broadcasted part of The Beatles' song "Revolution 9" backwards, and heard what sounded like "Turn me on, dead man
- "Silly Boys", a song on Klaatu's 1978 Sir Army Suit album, was recorded entirely as phonetic reversal of the lyrics.
- For the Radiohead song "Like Spinning Plates", released on Amnesiac, singer Thom Yorke prepared by recording himself singing the lyrics normally, then played them backwards to learn how to sing them backwards. He recorded them backwards and reversed them for the final take of the song. The music playing behind "Like Spinning Plates" is the reversal of the instrumentals of another Radiohead song, "I Will", that was later released on their Hail to the Thief album.
- The Residents used the same technique in the late 1970s to record the "Eskimo" dialogue on the album Eskimo.
- Victor Wooten employed phonetic reversal for the song "Pretty Little Lady", from Yin-Yang.
- In the television drama Twin Peaks, the Man from Another Place's character's speech was phonetically reversed. The Simpsons then used the technique to parody that Twin Peaks episode in "Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part Two)".
- Singer-Songwriter-Multi-instrumentalist Jim Ure is better known by his phonetically reversed name Midge.
- Jeroen Offerman memorized the vocals to "Stairway to Heaven" backwards and videotaped himself singing them in time to the reversed music in front of St. Paul's Cathedral. He then reversed the video, creating a warped rendition of the original song. The finished piece is entitled "The Stairway at St. Paul’s".
- Kate Bush used phonetic reversal in her songs Watching You Without Me (1985) and Leave it Open (1982).
- In 1982, John Wright of NoMeansNo sung phonetically reversed lyrics on the backing vocal to the "Rich Guns" track on the band's first album, Mama.
- In the early 1980s, bass player Bill Lanphier reversed a recording of the "Theme from New York, New York", which he and other musicians mimicked and recorded, and then reversed that backwards recording to create a double-backwards recording: the music is oriented correctly, but the recording retains the aural quality of a backwards recording (mp3 file).
- In 1999, They Might Be Giants released Long Tall Weekend. The track "On Earth my Nina" was recorded as a phonetic reversal of their song "Thunderbird", which was later released on The Spine. Their song "Dinner Bell", from Apollo 18 in 1992, used a technique similar to Radiohead's for one of the verses.
- The instrumentals of Siouxsie & the Banshees' song "Peek-a-Boo" was produced by backmasking. The band learned to play the song backwards, then reversed the track when adding the vocals.
- The BBC Radiophonic Workshop based the audio backing for a science fiction play on reversed voices.
Although not strictly phonetic reversal, because it does not involve speech, playing instrumentals backwards is a similar process that can be used to create a backwards-sounding recording. Part of David Bowie's song "Move On" is an earlier song written by Bowie, "All The Young Dudes", played backwards. Bowie said, "I was playing through some old tapes of mine on a Revox and accidentally played one backwards and thought it was beautiful. Without listening to what it was originally we recorded it note for note backwards". Similarly, Johnny Cash's first number one hit, "I Walk the Line" (1956), was derived from a melody that resulted from an accidental tape reversal. A few of the phonetic reversal examples above also employ reversed instrumentals.