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Distortion. Why are we drawn to it?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #1
Distortion. Why are we drawn to it?

For a long time I’ve developed a theory that humans are drawn to noise, despite our seemingly unrelenting quest for big dynamic ranges. I feel it helps give a sense of “place” to a sound, just like there would always be ambient noise in a non-studio environment.

But what about distortion? It’s less of a thing with synthesizers, and more common for guitars and sometimes drums, but I personally feel the best synths have some internal saturation characteristics at the bare minimum, and in best case, have overt ways to push the VCF, VCA and even circuitry like Moog’s “multi-drive” to just distort things in a pleasant way.

But why is it pleasing? To me, there’s often nothing more sonically satisfying than an ultra saturated sound. So harmonically rich... If an instrument I own doesn’t have it’s own built in distortion, I buy a dedicated device for it. I’m wondering if anyone’s done some psychological based study on why this might be so attractive?

Plus, add your favorite ways of distorting a synth! GO!
Old 2 weeks ago
  #2
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Harmonic richness and unpredicability is the key, I think. I have old string machines that distort and add overtones in an incredibly pleasing way, even if on paper they're not the most impressive and high-specced machines.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #3
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It's not just theory - I should point you in the direction of the work done in 1992 by Dr Alban et al "Flatulence and the fetus in utero". According to this paper the developing embryo exhibits delight and appreciation upon hearing any gaseous seepage being expelled.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #4
Quote:
Originally Posted by lectrojape View Post
It's not just theory - I should point you in the direction of the work done in 1992 by Dr Alban et al "Flatulence and the fetus in utero". According to this paper the developing embryo exhibits delight and appreciation upon hearing any gaseous seepage being expelled.
I think you’re confusing classic modular fart noises with distortion.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #5
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by wendell r. View Post
Harmonic richness and unpredicability is the key, I think. I have old string machines that distort and add overtones in an incredibly pleasing way, even if on paper they're not the most impressive and high-specced machines.
This x1000. Something being complex and unpredictable while at the same time comprehensible is about as close as you can get to intrinsic aesthetic appeal, imo.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #6
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Real big sound
Old 2 weeks ago
  #7
Gear Maniac
 

I've wondered about this and had thoughts along the lines: Our lives are almost dictated by duality and maybe distortion gives us a glimpse into non-duality.

Don't know if that means anything but..
Old 2 weeks ago
  #8
It's aggressive sounding. It's cathartic to make aggressive sounds. Same goes for singing, martial arts, and ****ing.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #9
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robotunes's Avatar
We respond to big, unruly, bad-ass things. Cars, action heroes, wild animals, architecture, villains, monsters, fires, weather events.... Sounds are no different. That's my hypothesis, anyway.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #10
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enossified's Avatar
The extra harmonics is the main reason.

Hearing "Satisfaction" when you're 9 years old helped in my case
Old 2 weeks ago
  #11
Gear Addict
 
CathodeRay's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Petajaja View Post
I've wondered about this and had thoughts along the lines: Our lives are almost dictated by duality and maybe distortion gives us a glimpse into non-duality.

Don't know if that means anything but..
I tend to agree with that , i think your close. much in the same way good girls like the "bad" boy , or why some men of power and wealth pay others to humiliate and dominate them. I think humans are drawn to chaos, distortion represents chaos.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #12
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Moonwhistle's Avatar
 

Run synths through lousy 60’s gear with germanium transistors.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #13
Gear Head
 
Stoneblack's Avatar
 

I think distortion quite simply adds complexity to the timbre of a sound and it is dynamic and evolving so it makes it like the thickness you get with combining several voices or instruments. What is the psycho-acoustic phenomena that makes it pleasurable to turn a single instrument into an ensemble using such an effect?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Devastator Music View Post
It's aggressive sounding. It's cathartic to make aggressive sounds. Same goes for singing, martial arts, and ****ing.
this
Old 2 weeks ago
  #15
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grumphh's Avatar
 

Fun fact: Analogue users are drawn to distortion, because analogue is boring on its own, i mean, wow, a filtered sawtooth or squarewave (or a plucked string for guitar players or a tonewheel organ), never heard that before, have we?
Yes we have - let's spice it up!!!

- the advantage of digital is that there is so much harmonic complexity inherent in digital sound creation that you don't need to add more overtones.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #16
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before we go into one specific variety or modification of sound, it may be helpful to take a step back and look at a more fundamental question: why do we like or certain sonic patterns in general? I think the answer will equally apply to distorted sound. I assume it had to do with the stimulating nature of harmonic richness and perhaps some associative aspects
Old 2 weeks ago
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grumphh View Post
Fun fact: Analogue users are drawn to distortion, because analogue is boring on its own, i mean, wow, a filtered sawtooth or squarewave (or a plucked string for guitar players or a tonewheel organ), never heard that before, have we?
Yes we have - let's spice it up!!!

- the advantage of digital is that there is so much harmonic complexity inherent in digital sound creation that you don't need to add more overtones.
Then there are those pesky hybrid synths, with their digital oscillators and analog saturation. And weirdos who run entire digital stems right out the box, through some analog "mojo", and back. I bought a stereo analog dirt pedal that was marketed on Rhodes samples from a Nord, but I think it sounds better on analog or digital (synth or sample) drums.

Distortion doesn't make every sound better. Well, I don't really believe that. I'm just repeating what people tell me, there. But I'm not the only one who likes some analog saturation with his digital sound creation.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #18
Gear Maniac
 

I’d always assumed it was because it’s not something that occurs in nature so we are sort of programmed to notice it more when we hear it (perhaps on a primal level, out of safety) so being able to create it ourselves is immensely satisfying because we’re not ‘supposed’ to.

Hence I suppose, why even children love big machines, motorbikes, race cars, electric guitars...noisy, unnatural and attention grabbing.

(No science, just musing)
Old 2 weeks ago
  #19
Since 1958 nearly everyone has tried to sound like Link Wray ... lots of distortion and feedback.

I'm not a guitarist so my effects of choice on synths is a HPF with overdrive and resonance on max, and at the moment the Elysia Karacter FET distortion unit for 500 series. Delay feedback too, also on max.

BTW anyone who says analog is boring, needs some quality time on an ARP 2600.

Old 2 weeks ago
  #20
"I think perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion." - Yohji Yamamoto
Old 2 weeks ago
  #21
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‘S phat.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #22
Gear Maniac
 
Liquidaudio's Avatar
 

If you take a guitar solo for example.

Sudden, jarring changes in pitch and frequency play on the same emotional mechanisms as the signals which animals use to alert one another of danger.

When animals cry out in distress they force a large amount of air through their voice box very quickly, producing a discordant effect designed to grab the attention and provoke an emotional response in other animals.

Darwin believed that music was primarily concerned with mating calls and reproduction, similar to some of the functionality attributed to bird "song" for example.

We like loud motorcycles, powerful guns, big engines, a lion's roar, rhythmic loud music, anything that gets our primal senses going and makes the hair at the back of our necks stand up.

We're just mammals.

Last edited by Liquidaudio; 2 weeks ago at 06:34 AM..
Old 2 weeks ago
  #23
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7Wave's Avatar
Distortion is ultimately the sound of an overloaded circuit. It's edgy and aggressive, even rebellious in a way. It has a certain abandon, as if intentionally destructive, which fits with certain styles of music.

I think probably the biggest development in the use of distortion in music came in the 70s and 80s when punk bands and later industrial bands started applying distortion to the whole mix -- not just guitar, but vocals, drums, bass, everything.

We can talk about how distortion adds or alters harmonics but people like it because it sounds out of control. It sounds broken and volatile, like the people who make the music, and the people who listen to it.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #24
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guyaguy's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by wendell r. View Post
Harmonic richness
This but it's also because we've come to love it as an established norm. It's a sound that's been around since before I was born and so an established norm to fall back on--like 4/4, the backbeat, circle of 5ths, and kazoo patches.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #25
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pr0gr4m's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by zerocrossing View Post
Distortion. Why are we drawn to it?
What's this WE business?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #26
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grumphh's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by pr0gr4m View Post
What's this WE business?
It's the modern way of starting internet debate.

Take a personal preference and present it as if it was a universal fact.


Smugly watch the debate that follows.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #27
Gear Maniac
 
Liquidaudio's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by pr0gr4m View Post
What's this WE business?
Well WE as in it's in our DNA to like it. DNA is not correlated to taste or preferences.

We keep trying to emulate analog for a reason that reason is noise and distortion.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #28
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Never been a big fan.
tho have some favs


mini korg into an og ts808

almost anything into roland bolt amps

vintage tubes in a electribe

overloading the inputs of an akai mg 12
Old 2 weeks ago
  #29
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SkyWriter's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by zerocrossing View Post
For a long time I’ve developed a theory that humans are drawn to noise, despite our seemingly unrelenting quest for big dynamic ranges. I feel it helps give a sense of “place” to a sound, just like there would always be ambient noise in a non-studio environment.

But what about distortion? It’s less of a thing with synthesizers, and more common for guitars and sometimes drums, but I personally feel the best synths have some internal saturation characteristics at the bare minimum, and in best case, have overt ways to push the VCF, VCA and even circuitry like Moog’s “multi-drive” to just distort things in a pleasant way.

But why is it pleasing? To me, there’s often nothing more sonically satisfying than an ultra saturated sound. So harmonically rich... If an instrument I own doesn’t have it’s own built in distortion, I buy a dedicated device for it. I’m wondering if anyone’s done some psychological based study on why this might be so attractive?

Plus, add your favorite ways of distorting a synth! GO!
Not big on distortion for anything other than guitar*. Sometimes the synth mixer stage over drive sounds good, sometimes it's too much. If you like lots of harmonics get ANS3.

*-have a hex pickup guitar project to finish. 6 channels of separate effects. The most interesting effect is a per string distortion, so you don't get the complex wave clipping of a polyphonic input.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #30
Gear Head
 

....because of the same reason a variable pulse-width sounds much more interesting than a plain square-wave:
constantly changing harmonics.

Or a bit more specific: distortion changes *small* variations in mostly the amplitude domain into *BIG* variations in mainly the time-domain.

Just look at it with an oscilloscope!
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