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Electronic Guitar: Glitch

June 13, 2017

Glitch is a genre of electronic music that emerged in the late ’90s. It explores deliberately creating sounds that resemble CD skipping, electrical hum, digital distortion, bit-rate reduction, hardware noise, software bugs and crashes, and vinyl-record hiss or scratches.

Developed in collaboration with artist/producer BT, iZotope’s Stutter Edit lets you slice audio in real time in surprisingly varied ways.

Technically anything that makes your guitar sound “bad” by “normal” standards could be called a glitch effect. Glitch effects are used in some forms of metal, where the guitar track may be sliced and spaced to create impossible rhythms. They are employed by Jamie Hince and Nick Reinhart, who step on a Boss delay to produce evocative stutters; and by Stian Westerhus, whose style generally evokes sonic mayhem as much as notes. There are two basic ways to create glitchy guitar sounds—with software or using hardware pedals.

THE SOFTWARE APPROACH

The old-school method of creating glitch effects in a DAW is to manually remove small sections of audio from a pre-recorded track, adding thin slices of silence that create a stutter effect. Other audio slices may be reversed for a different texture.

For those who don’t have the patience to slice entire tracks by hand, iZotope Stutter Edit, Ableton Live Beat Repeat, dBlue Glitch 2, and Livecut by Smart Electronix are among the plug-ins that re-create those effects and more automatically. They work in real time, so if you are among the growing number of guitarists playing through a computer, you can trigger these effects as you play.

Fig. 1. Using a MIDI foot controller, I created unconventional rhythmic effects by triggering the Beat Repeat within Ableton Live.

Check out my video at emusician.com to see Ableton Live’s Beat Repeat triggered by a Source Audio Soleman MIDI foot controller (see Figure 1). I set one of the Soleman’s footswitches to be momentary; that way when I step on the switch, the Beat Repeat plug-in engages and then shuts off when I lift my foot. In this setting, Beat Repeat adds some interesting randomization to the effect.

Fig. 2. Glitchy sounds can be created through clever use of a tremolo or delay pedal, such as the Electro-Harmonix Canyon.
Fig. 3. The Red Panda Particle is tailor-made for guitarists who want to mangle sounds from their pedalboard.

STOMPBOX GLITCH

You know an experimental sound has gotten a toehold in the mainstream when pedal companies start developing effects that mimic it. Today, products by Catalinbread, Red Panda, Dwarfcraft Devices, Hexe, Old Blood Noise Endeavors, Paul Trombetta Design, Z.Vex, and others revel in stompbox tones that in preglitch days would have indicated a broken unit.

However, standard pedals can also be used to create stutter effects; for example, tremolos set to a fast rate and choppy waveform (a favorite of guitarist Oz Noy). Even delays—such as the Source Audio Nemesis, Electro-Harmonix Canyon, and the Boss DD-3, -5, or -6 (but not DD-7)—set to short loop times can provide such effects (Figure 2). Other pedals, such as the Catalinbread CSIDMAN and Red Panda’s Particle and Tensor, are designed specifically to create odd, broken rhythms and loops (Figure 3).

AT THE SOURCE

But you don’t need pedals or software to create glitchy guitar sounds. Owners of Gibson electric guitars discovered long ago that if they turned either their bridge or neck pickup volume all the way down, they could strike a chord and get it to stutter by flicking the pickup-selector switch back and forth. Avant-guitarist David Torn has a button on his instrument that introduces a ground lift to create 60-cycle hum: You, too, can use hum as an effect by simply yanking the guitar cable out of your instrument while the amp is on.

After decades of development in the world of experimental music, glitchy effects are worming their way into the arsenal of every forward-thinking guitarist. Whether with pedal or plug-in, now is the time to start having fun by getting down with your “bad” sounds.

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