Ambient Guitar | Sound Design Sessions 3

Less talk, more audio. In a lot of ways, I’ll admit that previous “releases” of mine may have been better put to use as personal, or shared, demos that illustrate specific techniques and approaches. I’m trying my best to get those out in a more productive way to make way for deeper, more engaging recording projects in the future.

Two guitar loops run through a series of delays using flange and phase for modulation.

All sounds created with guitars:

The Problem with New Gear

A couple weeks ago I waded through the epic sea of other gear heads over at the Brooklyn Stomp Exhibit. It was an intense event with hardly any room to move, let alone enough room and silence to really hear the effects I got to try out.

Despite all the mania, I did get to try out one incredible delay pedal, the Thermae from Chase Bliss Audio. This thing was insane–really, that’s how enthused I am that I have to say that. While the disorientation I was experiencing from the event made it tough to really zone in on what was going on with this device, the layers it was able to generate was incredible–and the expandability through midi and CV audio–make it just what I’ve been looking for out of a guitar pedal that’s more forward thinking in its application. Interfacing something like that with the Helix or my other delay pedals would not only allow me to explore some of my existing sounds in new ways, but would open some new approaches to performance and composition.

But I can’t get it yet! Sure, the price is part of that, but mostly because I know that this device would radically change my approach right now and I’m not yet sure I’m ready for that. My current setup really works well, and I’m not yet done exploring all I can do with that. I’m not necessarily referring to the limitless capabilities of the Helix, but I’m referring to how the Helix is working with everything else.

I’ve got a groove; I know where I want the sound to go eventually, but I’m not ready to shake things up. It’s a lesson I’ve learned to not only be content with the gear I have, but to recognize what I can already do with the existing equipment at my disposal–allowing me to expand mindfully and where it’s necessary, ready for all the challenges and changes that come with adding a new component to the arsenal.

Let it Ring

As I wrote about earlier, pushing the guitar into a sound space it doesn’t occupy natively (that is, the essence of strings pressed against a surface and amplified acoustically or electrically) has pushed me to find more creative ways to achieve not just ambience, but dynamic ambience of the kind we tend to expect from electronic instruments that use a variety of sequencers and other automated processes that allow the musician to operate between the boundaries of composition, experimentation and performance (and no, I’m not just referring to improvisation).

This has been one of those discoveries: letting the ebow rest on the strings (lapsteels are best) and running the sound through a variety of effects that either create unique sounds over time (delays, and stacks of delays, for example) or ones that can be manipulated; plus, when your hands are free, you can more directly adjust and manipulate effects without needing to keep the strings wringing with a pick or your fingers.

This is also a fantastic way to burn through 9 volt batteries on the ebow.