There are in fact 2 different types of backward messages in music and they have generally been all lumped together into one category and called backmasking. The first type of backward message is one that has been deliberately placed onto the record usually by the recording studio. The correct term for these messages is called Backward Masking. The second type of backward message, correctly called back masking, are those that have not been placed deliberately onto the record, but are rather formed by the unique way the words are sung in the song. They are, in fact, phonetic reversals – played forwards one message can be heard and play the same track backwards and a completely different message can be heard.
In an article by audio engineer Evan Olcott, Evan claims that backward messages are coincidental phonetic reversals in which the spoken or sung phonemes form new combinations of words when listened to backwards. Olcott states that,
“Actually engineering or planning a phonetic reversal is next to impossible, and even more difficult when trying to design it with words that fit into a song.”
Olcott make two observations. Firstly he claims that backward messages are coincidental. The trouble with this argument is that they are occurring far too regularly, in long grammatically correct sentences, for them to be dismissed so easily. The second point he makes is that it is next to impossible to write a song that says something forwards as well as backwards. This we agree with.
This theory was made popular by fundamentalist Christians. In the early to mid 80s there were many preachers on the church speaking circuit claiming that backmasking was the work of the devil.
They claimed that satan was possessing the minds of the singers to produce these backward messages, many of which promoted satan, drugs or free sex. Conveniently these backmasked messages also seemed to reflect the lifestyles of the bands who had these messages in their songs.
Backmasking is part of a much wider phenomenon known as Reverse Speech. Discovered in 1983 by David John Oates, Reverse Speech evolved from researching hidden messages in music. After realizing that hidden messages were occurring naturally in music (i.e. back masking), David expanded his research to recordings of speech and thus the field of Reverse Speech was born.
Reverse speech occurs backwards in speech and can be heard if human speech is recorded and played backwards. Mixed amongst the gibberish at regular intervals can be heard quite clear grammatically correct sentences that detail what is happening in the unconscious mind of the speaker. If a person is lying in forward speech, their reverse speech may reveal the truth. At deeper levels reverse speech can reveal psychological causes for current issues, whether they be mental emotional or physical.
Backward masking is explored in detail, together with a comprehensive history and examples, at the site BackwardMasking.com. Backmasking examples and history can be explored in detail at Backmasking.com
A historical perspective of backmasking below…
A brief history and some examples of backmasking…
Heavy metal backmasking and backward masking…
Is backmasking real or is it, as Olcott says above, – basically that we hear what we want to hear or are told to hear? Here’s a video presenting that argument…