As an experimental guitarist, I've always wished for an effects pedal that could inject random, uncontrollable noises into my sound at the touch of a
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The Mid-Fi Electronics Glitch Computer offers extreme—and often unpredictable—distortion and octave effects. The pedal is equally at home with instrument- and line-level signals.

As an experimental guitarist, I've always wished for an effects pedal that could inject random, uncontrollable noises into my sound at the touch of a button. That wish came true the day I was introduced to the Mid-Fi Electronics Glitch Computer ($175).

The unit is housed in a generic metal project box with ¼-inch input and output jacks, a footswitch, and three knobs mounted on the side. A crude-looking sticker pasted on top of the box identifies the knobs as Volume, Blend, and Tracking. Inside the review unit are three IC chips and a 9V battery. However, the recently updated version is powered by a 9V Boss-style wall wart and includes an LED that indicates when the effect is active.

So what do you do with a pedal that has no manual and barely readable text? Plug it in, of course. And that's what I did, with the help of fellow noise enthusiast Jonathan Segel.

Source of Uncertainty

Initially Segel and I were blown away — quite literally — by the pedal's high output level when used as part of a standard guitar rig. The volume pot is not a standard taper, but instead seems to go from mute to unity gain between about 1 and 2 o'clock. From the 2 to 4 o'clock position, the level increases noticeably and timbre also changes, with the low-frequency output increasing dramatically. Then through the rest of the range (4 to roughly 11 o'clock), the output gets only slightly louder.

Once the volume was tamed, the Glitch Computer spewed out a bewildering array of distortion and pitch-shifted intervals.

Between the two of us, we couldn't quite figure out how the Glitch Computer did its particular brand of audio magic. But we loved the varied effects, which ranged from over-the-top fuzz (reminiscent of the Z.Vex Fuzz Factory) to unrecognizable sonic mayhem.

The Glitch Computer combines extreme fuzz with an octave generator. But that only begins to explain the mysterious inner workings of this pedal. The interaction of the Blend and Tracking controls produces a number of crazed and unique textures, often with a small twist of one knob or the other.

For example, with Blend fully clockwise (all-fuzz position, 11 o'clock) and Tracking fully counterclockwise, the pedal offers a fairly conventional type of buzzy overdrive. Turning Blend to 10 o'clock morphs the output into a thin hyperdrive that decays fairly quickly into a glitchy dead-battery sound before cutting out entirely. Rotating the Blend control to 9 o'clock opens up a full, richly sustaining tone.

When Blend is fully counterclockwise, the Glitch Computer generates a pitch two octaves down, with square wave — type fuzz added. In this mode the signal is also gated, with the only available gating control being the input level. Setting the Tracking control fully clockwise gives the stablest pitch-shifted tone, although the pedal is not meant to function as either a conventional or clean harmonizing effect. Nonetheless, if stable octave shifting is what you're after, this device works best with sustained and simple waveforms such as the output from an electric bass.

As the Tracking control is turned counterclockwise, the tracking of the signal and its attendant pitch-shifting becomes more and more erratic. Depending on the complexity and decay of the input signal, the Glitch Computer will actually arpeggiate recognizable overtones from the harmonic series, stutter rhythmically, or just break up into random noise.

Twisted Tracks

In the studio I had a lot of fun applying the Glitch Computer to a multitrack master, going track by track through instruments such as drums, horns, bass, and maracas. As you can imagine, running a vocal through the unit while playing with the blend and tracking yields a wealth of bizarre effects. Unlike some other guitar pedals, the Glitch Computer responds well to strong line-level signals.

Furthermore, this demented device stands out from the crowd by being much more than just a one-trick pedal. While its effects may often be surprising and impossible to duplicate, they vary widely and are completely changeable with small knob tweaks.

Feel the Noise

If you're looking for subtle or tasteful effects, the Glitch Computer is not the stompbox for you. But noise musicians will have to have this in their arsenal, as will anyone who has ever yearned to make their guitar, bass, or keyboard sound completely unrecognizable.

Value (1 through 5): 4
Mid-Fi Electronics (distributed by NoiseFX)