Today’s unwanted sounds may become the aural delights of tomorrow.
“Oh, the noise. Oh, the noise, noise, noise, noise.”
That word isn’t just a plague on the Grinch, my friends. It’s a plague on me. And since they asked me to write a column, you’re going to read about my feelings. I want to start with noise’s B-side: music.
Music (noun): Vocal or instrumental sounds combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.
Or: The science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity.
Let’s put on our open-minded hats here and consider what that means. I would argue that anything can be music. “No, sir. Some of it is noise,” you say. I’ll humor you for a second, but let’s refer to the dictionary again.
Noise (noun): A sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant, or that causes disturbance.
Or: Irregular fluctuations that accompany a transmitted electrical signal, but are not part of it and tend to obscure it.
These two definitions are pretty clearly subjective. Noise can be music and vice versa. Music is a personal experience. That subjectivity is the root of the problem with calling things “noise.” The concept of noise as art, as an expression of something we all feel sometimes, is important. It reminds me of something Brian Eno wrote: “Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable, and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit—all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided.”
Eno makes a pretty bold statement, but one can extrapolate the concept out to guitar distortion. Overdrive is literally the sound of a machine that can’t keep up with demand, and fuzz started as a malfunctioning preamp that was soon adapted into a dedicated effects pedal.
In a pretty short time, what was “noise” associated with electric guitars became part of the form. Consider the most obvious example: Jimi Hendrix, who kicked off his 1967 album, Axis: Bold as Love, with a piece called “EXP” that was jam-packed with feedback and other “extended techniques.” Do I even need to bring up his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner?”
What “noise” means in American culture is pretty close to the dictionary definition, and we can trim it down further to “sounds you don’t like.” But if you’re willing to accept the dedicated experimentalist Hendrix as musical, then I think it’s fair to entertain the idea that noise, in general, can be musical. A better definition of noise, to me, is unintended or unwanted sound.
What about a field recording of the “noise” in a busy city? The chaos of nature? The symphony of humanity? If some random person was standing next to my recording rig, being bothered by the grumbles of traffic and far-off sirens, that person may hear noise, but I might be capturing music. It’s all about intention, friends.
If you accidentally stumble onto, let’s say, a YouTube video of a product that makes sounds you don’t like, is that noise? The sound is unwanted, for sure. It might even be unintended. After all, who among us hasn’t had their computer open up videos without our consent? Yep. Noise!
On the internet, of course, if you find a gear demo offensively noisy there is only one rational response, and that response is to leave a snark in the comments section. I mean, come on. You’ve had a rough day and now the internet brings you this noise?!?! Your anger is a gift and you’re going to share it with the rest of the world, or at least the product’s creator and the others who watch the video. This may or may not have happened to us.
What I’m getting at here is the relativity of noise versus music. Truth be told, I still get a little riled up when “noise” is used as a dirty word, because usually it means “I don’t like what you’re doing.” The connotation is that “noise” is less than music—less than a knock-off of the Chipmunks doing public domain songs on a flexi-disc that comes in an oversized birthday card. And less than the endless stream of sub-bass drops in the trailer for The 5th Wave.
Since those of us who get “noise” thrown at us don’t have a lot of hope for changing the rest of the world, we can only change how we react. I try to have a little editor in my head that adds lines. For example, “That’s just noise!” translates to “I don’t like what you’re doing.” And then the In-Headitor adds any of the following:
“And that’s OK.”
“But I don’t use pedals.”
“But I do like to eat kittens.”
And then I feel better. I would recommend an In-Headitor to anyone.
What I’m saying is: Don’t yuck someone else’s yum. The effects world is huge and messy and evolving. There really is something for everyone. Just keep the chorus pedals away from me.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.