A multi-disciplinary designer’s journey in field recording, sound design, and music.

Pedalboard Madness

Posted: May 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: gear, music, sound design, synthesis
Sometimes sound design requires thinking inside of multiple boxes.

Sometimes sound design requires thinking inside of multiple boxes.

I’ve developed a small collection of handmade and boutique electronic effects and instruments over the years, like the Grendel Drone CommanderLite2 Sound PX, and many more (perhaps the subject of another post). Longtime readers may recall that I just love supporting independent makers and small cottage industries: That’s where all the weird, truly innovative stuff happens, and I (like many of you, dear readers) am more interested in cool sound design possibilities than straight-up distorted guitarrrrrrrr sounds.

Beyond this, I’ve also been expanding my collection of effects pedals. My latest three are definitely the weirdest: The Great Destroyer and Robot Devil from Dwarfcraft Devices, and the Wow & Flutter from Snazzy FX.

 

Dwarfcraft makes pedals that take an input signal, hit it with a meteor, catch it on fire, bathe it in acid, and then set it on fire again. (Dwarfcraft’s inimitable Aen also makes strange and highly entertaining demo videos.) Both of these pedals have a Starve knob that actually robs the circuitry of power, making what’s already distorted and heavy even more broken, robotic, synthy, and strange. Not for the lighthearted. I picked them up from Mike at the awesome EffectOrDie.com.

pedalMadness02The Great Destroyer is an aptly-named pseudo fuzz pedal. If all knobs but Volume are set to their max values, it acts as a heavy fuzz pedal with an almost synth-like quality. Once you start moving that Starve knob down from its max, though, all sorts of weirdness starts, and rhythmic glitches take hold and it becomes either unholy or awesome, based on your point of view. Only significant input signal will stop the satanic rhythms, and note releases/decays are extremely strange.

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Robot Devil (discontinued) has more of an octave-shifting synth thing going on. Like all things Dwarfcraft, the pitch and chaos and everything leads downward. It’s kind of a Great Destroyer-minus-minus. It has more synthetic tone and can get overdriven chiptune-like tones with pretty much any input signal. Note releases sometimes dive in pitch, sometimes become rhythmic, and are always interesting.

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The Wow and Flutter pedal was nabbed as a demo model from Analogue Haven here in California; SnazzyFX isn’t producing them at the time of this writing. Ostensibly it’s a pedal that simulates tape malfunctions and degradations, as its name implies, and it’s good at that…but it is capable of some pretty insane sound warping unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s an analog pitch and delay pedal, akin to the ZVex Instant Lo-Fi Junky, but this unit has a sound all its own. Moving the delay knob makes the signal’s pitch go haywire, which is super fun. Another truly unique pedal…it’s also freaking gigantic. (Side note: I can see why many are opting for Eurorack modules instead of pedals: They’re way smaller.)

All of which leads us to today’s sound samples.

In order to showcase the weirdness of the Wow and Flutter, I struck guitar strings above the nut and below the bridge with a glass slide (for playing lap steel style). The pedal was set to maximum warping and some delay, first clean but then through the not-set-to-destroy Robot Devil.

Today’s second sample is more musical…but since this blog is more sound design than music, well, there’s still occasion for some experimentation. First you’ll hear The Great Destroyer in the left channel and the Robot Devil in the right channel, each with a guitar plugged into them…which wasn’t being played. When cranked and starved, the pedals make their own noises! These were each fed through an Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress flanger pedal and some delay in software. Then you’ll hear three tracks flown in of guitar that’s fed only through the Wow and Flutter pedal with more subtle settings than the previous example, the panned ones having picked textures and the center one with fretboard hammer-ons. A bowed piano sampler instrument comes in next, which is then sent to The Great Destroyer via an Aux send*. It all returns to the self-oscillating Dwarfcraft pedals after the crescendo.

*Try sending a super loud signal over an Aux send with a mono instrument cable with the signal flow going the wrong way. Who needs guitar amps and cabinets to create feedback? :-p

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