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Creative Distortion

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Brad Harris:

--- Quote from: Russell Ault on May 16, 2021, 05:45:25 pm ---I debated whether to put this here or the Basement; my apologies if I've picked wrong.

Does anyone have any good resources or suggestions for learning about the intentional use of distortion (transformers, tube preamps, tape saturation, etc.) in live audio?

My impression is that most of the people mixing Bands You've Heard Of are employing distortion as an artistic choice (from plugins all the way up to the three large transformers that live in the doghouse of Scovill's personal S6L) and I'd like to learn more.

(Note: in an effort to head off the inevitable, I want to acknowledge up front that this sort of thing is absolutely the fondant on the icing on the cake. It will not fix a bad mix or bad P.A. or a bad room. Etc.)



--- End quote ---

Last fall on Scovills "weekly" LAB session (can be found on the AVID or Scovills YouTube channels), he went though various plugins (on the S6L ... AVID and 3rd Party) and what they do (harmonics, distortion, etc). I believe it's LAB 12 (2 parts)


Tim Weaver:
Saturation, Distortion, Tape Emulation, whatever you want to call it. It's a favorite trick of the home recording crowd to make something sound bigger or louder in a mix. It is often overdone.

I use the Yamaha Tape "Open Deck" on both drums and keys. I send the drums to a stereo buss and insert open deck. Dial it up until it seems like it's doing something then back it off a tad. Send that to the mix. I often also run a light compression on the buss as a sort of "glue".

I do the same with key rigs. It helps give a hint of authenticity to digital keys by passing those "too clean and perfect" synth patches through some kind of distortion.

Jeremy Young:
Not directly related to the use of distortion in Live Audio, but the London Power books are my go-to for understanding valve/amplifier circuits and might (if nothing else) create more fun questions: Link

Tim McCulloch:

--- Quote from: Riley Casey on May 17, 2021, 09:36:03 am ---The formative years of modern pop music were the 1950s and early 60s when transformer coupled vacuum tube electronics were the rule. Over driving these devices even slightly created 2nd and 3rd order harmonic distortion which was to some extent ( to a large extent if you're talking Jimi Hendrix and a Marshall stack ) musically "simpatico" with the desired sound of the performance. Modern electronics and particularly digital processing are linear until they aren't and when they go non-linear the distortion products are anything but musically additive. Digital recreations of the harmonic distortions of early tube compressors and even the slight non-linearity of an over driven mic or line transformer simply attempts to recreate the sounds of a Memphis or London recording studio circa 1959-66 - or a complete F ing disaster when used inappropriately . 

JR's life spent building linear electronics senses a disturbance in the force.  ::)

--- End quote ---

^^^ more of THIS RIGHT HERE.

@Brad Harris comment about the Scovill Lab is spot on, and Robert has talked about various non-linear plugins several times.

Analog was a series of many, tiny non-linear things all going on at once in an analogue device, whether deliberate or simply the luck of component tolerances and age.  Now we spend a lot of time recreating those things because we miss them.  For whatever reasons.

Russell Ault:

--- Quote from: Tim McCulloch on May 17, 2021, 09:50:42 pm ---{...} For whatever reasons.

--- End quote ---

To me, this goes back to the art/science divide.

To be clear, I'm always amazed by the truly astonishing progress that people like JR have made on the science side over the last few decades. The linearity and precision (and cost-effectiveness!) of modern digital audio devices is, frankly, staggering. To extend the usual metaphor: the canvas on which we all paint is so much blanker than it was even a decade ago. That blankness gives us all new opportunities to paint things that wouldn't have been possible before.

But art is different. Where the job of the science is to "tell it like it is", the job of the art is to communicate the expression of the artist. To extend our metaphor even further, most western paintings are far from photorealistic, and any deviation from photorealism is, effectively, a kind of distortion. Importantly, though, a painting is an intentional distortion, and the distortion serves the artist's purposes.

Of course, in audio, sometimes we want a photograph (or even security camera footage), and the wonderful progress that has been made on the science side has made the photographs clearer than they've ever been. I think it's made things better on the art side, too, but I think many of us are still trying to figure out how much of the distortion that came gratis with the older, lesser science was unwanted, and how much of it had a positive impact on the "happy accident" that is all art. The real advantage of the modern science for the artists is that, now, the distortion can be intentional.



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