Too clean is too bad
Probably the most underrated aspect of popular music is distortion. It all started when guitar players started to use tube amps on early blues songs. And because these amps where too small to handle the loud volume they started to distort. It resulted in the sound we felt in love with: the sound of rock and roll.
We still love distortion even when it’s applied to other instruments. Most musical equipment has some kind of distortion going on in its signal processing. We’ve become addicted to self-oscillating filters, low bitrates, errors and glitches. We love it when it’s not too clean. And therefore also in software we add these kind of distortion effects to sometimes way-too-clean sounding signals.
But let’s go back in time a bit. In the 80s something went wrong. Sound wise. Digital was the new thing and many producers decided to focus on a 100% digital signal flow, creating DDD recordings for CD’s. Even guitar players started to use a guitar sound with extreme transparent highs. And they balanced out their overdriven sound which made it more even sounding, more flat sounding, more boring.
Music needs contrast. It needs tension and release. It needs high and low notes. It needs loud and soft notes. And like a photo without contrast, music without contrast sounds flat and boring.
One of guys who totally understands this is engineer and producer Tchad Blake. He did something rather unique at the time by instead of making stuff sound as clean as possible, which was totally normal at the time, he did the opposite by adding guitar distortion to almost anything you can think of. Including drums, bassguitars, keyboards and also vocals. Do check out the amazing things he’s done for Los Lobos, Tom Waits and many others artists and bands.
Tchad is using a simple rule: combine clean sounding parts with overdriven/dirty sounding parts. When everything is clean, it sounds bad. And when it’s all dirty, it sounds bad too. But when you combine clean and dirty signals you’ll get that sound we all love.
The ultimate sound mangler
For me the Pulveriser device in Reason is the ultimate sound mangler for doing this. It’s almost as if Propellerhead has asked Tchad for advice on creating the ultimate device to dirty things up. But I guess that’s not the case. As far as I’m aware of Tchad is not even using Reason.
What I like about the Pulveriser is that it can mangle a sound dramatically in a quick and simple way. But it’s also capable to generated more subtle changes in sound. Thanks to the mix parameter I can blend both the original signal and the mangled sound.
To give you some ideas of what I’m planning to share on the Pulveriser for the coming weeks I will show you how to use the Pulveriser for: gate effects / compression / LFO sculpting for synths and effects / parallel channels usage / design explosions and film effects / …
Here’s a recent bumper track of mine (for video, commissioned by the Belastingdienst) on which I use large amounts of overdrive and compressing to get a nicer sound out of the Reason Kong drum: