Side chaining—the studio practice of ducking instrument volumes in sync with rhythmic elements—is a fixture in everything from dance music to fist-pumping stadium rock. It’s a clever way to add impact, animate ordinary rhythms, and make a straight-ahead track into a dance floor corker, which is no small currency in today’s pop music production climate. Side-chaining can be used for any instrument. But when it’s applied to guitar in the studio, it can sound like everything from tremolo to reverse reverb to heavy compression.
With the Deep Space Pulsar, the ever-clever David Rainger has stuffed an effective side-chaining device in a compact enclosure designed for performing guitarists. Like all Rainger effects, it can look and feel scarily unorthodox. But it’s a cost-effective and surprisingly straight-ahead means of achieving tightly sync’d ducking effects without MIDI. It’s so accommodating to lo-fi, lo-tech approaches, in fact, that it can be triggered by a microphone stuffed in a kick drum and wired right back to the pedal!
Tiny Purple Beat Slicer
David Rainger takes inventive approaches to interfacing with effects—and even the guitar itself—and his work often assumes that you’ll interact with your guitar in ways your music teacher didn’t cover. That aspect of Rainger’s design ethos is strong here. But Rainger’s ingenuity pays more practical dividends too—most notably in an effective, flexible control scheme that fits in a “mini” pedal enclosure.
The Pulsar’s two primary controls make the pedal feel a little like a mutant tremolo/phaser/compressor hybrid. The dip control changes the intensity of volume drops. The “rel” (release) control, meanwhile, regulates the rate with which volume returns to normal after the drop. A volume knob controls the output. But there’s also a cool inverse button that flips the relationship between the rhythmic pulse and your instrument so they hit simultaneously.
On the top of the unit, just next to the I/O jacks, you’ll see a 1/8" jack that is key to making the Deep Space Pulsar work. It receives input from your rhythmic “controller,” which can be the included Igor tap tempo unit, a drum machine, or best of all, a microphone on a drum kit. It’s this latter trick that makes the Pulsar so accessible and full of possibilities as a live improvisational device. And it’s a cool flipside to the rigid side-chaining typically used in pop and EDM.
Parts That Pop
Though the control set is easy to grasp conceptually, most players will need time to adapt to the way it feels. Bold use of the effect means an inherent latency between what you play and what you hear, which will probably change the way you approach your parts rhythmically and dynamically. What’s cool is the way that limitation can make the Pulsar into a riff-writing conspirator—forcing unorthodox meters and rhythmic shifts that can transform simple melodies and chord changes.
The Deep Space Pulsar is good for much more than heavy-handed effects. I loved using fast release times and less intense volume dips, and then driving the effect with a drum machine or kick drum to create subtle, poly-rhythmic tremolo effects. It’s a trick that adds cool complexity and movement to chord patterns and works well with spacy reverbs and delays downstream. If you’re a fan of My Bloody Valentine’s dance/space pop hybrids, you’ll love this facet of the Pulsar’s personality.
The Deep Space Pulsar isn’t a pedal for minimalists. At the very least, you’ll need the tap tempo controller to make it work. And if you get hooked on the pedal’s potential—which is likely—you’ll almost certainly want to explore the possibilities of miking drums or syncing up to a drum machine via a cable splitter. On the other hand, the Rainger is brilliantly set up to do all this with a minimum of fuss and space. Given the potential sonic dividends and songwriting inspiration, it’s an avenue worth exploring for even the casually curious.