I have begun practising playing guitar pedals without guitar.
A few of my pedals have dual outputs. Patching one output back to the beginning of a chain creates barely controllable feedback noises on the other so long as there's a bit of gain somewhere along the way.
A few months ago, I purchased the biggest, dumbest multi-effects board I could find: the Boss GT-6. It's from 1999 and intended for extremely guitaristy guitarists. This is it with an Ibanez Tubescreamer Bass attached to its "external distortion", one long take, no dubs.
It has all the "normal" guitar effects. Not always the most indepth editing, but more than a lot of guitar pedals. It also has a rhythmic slicer effect (heard at the beginning and end). One of its dumbest features is "Auto-riff" which appears to be some sort of sequencable pitch shifting that's supposed to be used to turn sustained notes into riffs. Unfortunately it doesn't do much when you send feedback into it.
I'm not sure I'm extremely crazy about the overall tone, but it's got a lot of knobs to play with and an easy way to switch the individual effects on and off. I wish switching presets didn't cause the audio to cut out, because changing the tone abruptly like that could be a very interesting technique. Maybe a more recent stupid big multieffects board will handle it better. For the price, this was a decent experiment, though.
I've been trying to replicate my success at layering. I really like the piece I post two weeks ago, but the few attempts I've done since have been bad and I don't want to put them here even though no-one is reading.
Playing with different chains and pedals, I picked out my Zoom MS70-CDR. After a brief honeymoon period (and the big effects update for the MPC Live), I mostly lost interest in that pedal. But it has some sequenced filter effects and some reverb, and I got this without even trying:
I change the tempo about 1 minute in, but other than that I didn't really feel like touching the parameters. I just let it play and marvelled. So simple, but with a lot of nuances. The distortion isn't doing that much, but it's needed to add a bit of gain. Just plugging an angled jack from left output to left input on the Zoom didn't work so well. Unfortunately.
Here is a first attempt at layering synchronized recordings. I started with one improvisation at full length. No real planning, just the same approach I've learned over the past month. I then added a few layers and a touch of effects - on take I added an ensemble effect to make it wider, another had a bit of reverb to send it to the back a little. No mixing, no editing.
It is interesting how much layering changes not just the result, but in a sense also the process. Even if I just layer improvisations without editing, the "product" is now no longer the single performance, but the layered recording. I found that there was a big change in how playing felt when I started recording what I was doing and setting a time limit. All of the recordings below have been done with a maximum recording time of 5 minutes and 51 seconds, so I knew I had to get started, move somewhere, and bring it back down in that period. This is very different to just playing around. Playing with the knowledge that something else is going to go on top changes the situation yet again.
It also means that repeatability becomes less of a concern. If I layer the same instrument on top of itself many times, the end result is by definition not something that can be performed again. So there is no need to, and I can embrace the impermanence.
Since last I've been experimenting with adding a pitch shifter to the end of the chain. It gives some cool effects. I don't normally like the sound of this Boss PS5, but its grainy digitalness is actually OK here on the otherwise quite analogue-sounding timbres.
I have also discovered that the Super Pulsar syncs very well if you send it a rimshot sample or similar to the tap tempo input. So I can now sync it to my MPC Live, which should at least allow overdubbing. Interesting.
The same chain as the last two, with the tremolo in the feedback loop. I like the results I'm getting a lot. The rhythms as well, except for the aforementioned sync issues.
As far as performing structured pieces go, I'm beginning to see a few limitations.
Firstly, the lack of repeatability. I'm not sure it's really possible to have something like a piece that can be performed again and sound the same. But maybe that's a matter of practise.
Second of all, this is a monophonic instrument. It has a large range, but it is fundamentally one-thing-at-time. Adding a delay with feedback allows something more like transitions, and the tremolo in the feedback can give call and response-like effects (e.g. 2:30 in the last one here, 5.19.30-take30.mp3), this mostly does either squeals or brutal bass noise, but not one on top of the other.
Third, I've only two hands. This is always a problem with electronic instruments, of course. But I dislike that it is hard to do sudden transitions that are less like morphing between two places and more like opening the door to another room. And this comes back to the lack repeatability: it is hard to move from A to B and then back to A again. At least, I feel like I have limited luck with this. When using feedback as a sound source, what came before now is obviously quite important for what happens right now, and that makes this quite difficult - going back to the same settings does not always yield the same sound when many things have changed. Again, maybe more practise and more careful attention to parameter settings can help this.
I'm also considering whether adding another "instrument", either a second chain of pedals or something else, is a good solution to some of the above. It might also be fun to find someone to jam with.
I had missed one from last week. Came out a bit techno.
The two are with a different chain, where the tremolo pedal is in the feedback path. I think I will use this for a while, it makes the rhythms more interesting I feel. I also replace the BYOC echo/chorus with a simple Boss DD3.
I have also been experimenting a bit with playing along to samples and loops, but it is very difficult since the main rhythm comes from the Super Pulsar tremolo, and it doesn't have MIDI (and the tap tempo on my mine does not work reliably at all). I will need to find/build something that can make it sync or replace it with something else to remedy this.
I added the Tube Screamer Bass back to the "beginning" of the chain, so the feedback loop is now
Tubescreamer -> Bass EQ -> Yamaha distortion -> Big Muff bass
Followed by the Super Pulsar and the BYOC delay + chorus.
And I left it at that and have been recording all week.
I feel like I'm on a bit more familiar ground now, but I still find it very hard to predict what will happen when I turn a knob.
These are all still irrepeatable improvisations, though I have tried thinking about where I'm starting and where I'm going. It's pretty difficult to control, though. Turning a knob back where it was does not necessarily bring back the sound you had.
Same as yesterday.
The ehx Super Pulsar is nominally a tremolo pedal, but in addition to LFO modulation, it also includes a small step sequencer.
Here I just added it to the end, so it's eq -> yamaha distortion -> big muff deluxe and feedback, with the Pulsar and BYOC echo/chorus for post-processing.
Hey, Bo Didley. Kind of.
Did another two with the same chain as yesterday. The EQ really adds a lot of possibilities, I just wish it had more bands.
I'm looking forward to my Super Pulsar tremolo pedal to this, which allows for rhythmic effects. But I'm also becoming conscious of the fact that there's probably too many knobs to keep track of in this setup.
Another one with a slightly different chain, replaced the Tubescreamer with a Boss GEB-7 graphical EQ. This is what gives the "melody", different combinations of bands give different notes. There seems to be some potential in this approach.
These two examples were recorded with the following chain:
Ibanez Tubescreamer Bass -> Yamaha MBD-20M -> Big Muff Bass Deluxe
And from there back into the Tubescreamer. The second output from the Big Muff goes through BYOC echo and chorus pedals and from there to my MPC live which acts as a recorder. The echo/chorus make the result significantly less abbrasive. Sell-out. Soccer mom.
No planning, no editing, just playing with combinations of knobs at random, trying to dwell a little in one place before moving on.