No-input guitar pedals

For a few weeks I’ve been playing guitar pedals without any input. Or rather, making feedback chains through guitar pedals.

I’ve tried a few things but arrived at setup that’s two distortion pedals followed by a graphic EQ and a tremolo. The first distortion pedal (Big Muff Bass Deluxe) has two outputs, so I can tap into the chain here. I run the sound through an overdrive and a delay. Here is an example:

https://rven.se/no-input-distortion/nid/4.9.2019-take28.mp3

It is extremely hard to control in general. There’s a lot of knobs. If you start at a point A, move a bunch of controls to get to point B, and then try to move all the controls back to A I find I often get to somewhere new entirely. At least I don’t manage it that often.

As someone with limited instrumental skill whose approach to music has always been quite cerebral, writing or building rather than playing, this is (1) new and terrifying and (2) lots of fun. I would definitely say that it’s an instrument and I’ve been trying to approach it as such, as something I have to practise. And I wonder what someone with more raw musical talent than myself could do with this!

I think the range of just the four pedals together is quite impressive. The sounds themselves are not what I’d call new or radical, sometimes they remind me of simple analogue VCOs… but since it’s so unpredictable it also gives me something I know I wouldn’t have got elsewhere.

The idea is obviously related to the no-input mixing board, and I’ve seen some reference to noise artists using this technique, but not any real discussion of it.

I found the graphical EQ is particularly great, it makes it possible to almost play melodies. Putting the tremolo in the feedback path makes it do more than just add a pulse, it ends up leading to these almost call and response-type patterns of both pitch and tone. I’ve got an ehx Super Pulsar, which is quite advanced with a little step sequencer. Unfortunately the tap tempo doesn’t work so I can’t get it to sync with other things easily. I’ve been thinking about making a replacement - a VCA with a simple analogue sequencer would be a very interesting addition I think.

I’ve got a lot more recordings and some logs on my “blog” here.

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Here’s a picture.

Thos ehx LEDs are stupid bright, hence the tape.

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i’ll take you up on this challenge
honestly because no-input anything feels like home to me

i strongly favor improvisation, noise, and indeterminate pitch when i make music

sometime this weekend i’ll patch my four pedals and a mixer to record something

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I’ve been no input mixing with guitar pedals since before I started using modular, in some ways as a cheaper version to produce similar sounds.

These are just some general thoughts and experiences:

The last few years I’ve been using a DJ mixer for this purpose. It having a lot of mutes means you can alternate between two radically different sounds (turning pedals on and off achieves this as well of course) and the crossfader is really sensitive, allowing you a lot of control. I try to emulate some turntablism techniques in my crossfade use and while I’m very far from that type of skill level, it can create some very interesting sounds.

I like using octave fuzz pedals, they create this interesting nasal sound.

Electro Harmonix sells these fairly afforable expression and CV step sequencers, which I use a lot to sequence modulation pedals. Modulating the amplitude of one channel can for example change the overall timbre because of EQ differences of two channels or perhaps change in where it clips.
Compressors interact very interestingly with these sequences.

Pedals that create strong peaks, such as wah’s or resonant filters will often make the loop produce a tone around that peak which to me is often less desirable than the multiphonic sounds that this type of setup is so capable of so I try to be careful with using them but mixed in at very low levels they bring a ton to the sound.

In my experience, reverb and delay in the loop takes you into noise territory, most other things stay in weird synth territory. Both are interesting and so is crossfading between them.

Certain delay speeds bring to mind rhythmic noise artists like Winterkälte and Converter to me, when you tweak the sound and hear it create a rhythmic sound.

@rvense Do you not use a mixer? If so, how do you split the pedal output back into the input?

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I love this idea. Years ago I used to run a digitech whammy pedal into a few of delay pedals. Not exactly no input, but I would tap the end of the instrument cable with my finger and then play the buzzes with the whammy, pretty fun. I also have a true bypass loop pedal with feedback control, great with a fuzz or delay in the loop.

Do you not use a mixer? If so, how do you split the pedal output back into the input?

The Big Muff Deluxe Bass has a direct output as well as the effects output. A lot of Digitech distortion pedals do as well (I’ve been thinking about getting their Death Metal pedal, it’s supposed to be hilariously overt-the-top)

I think I have a DJ mixer somewhere. I might try to incorporate it - you’re right about mutes and moving between scapes. One thing I’m really missing is “abrupt” transitions; when you’re just twisting knobs, you’ve only got so many hands, everything tends to become quite smooth, like moving through a landscape as opposed to suddenly knocking down a wall to find yourself in a new place. Or like a pop song with a quiet verse and a huge chorus, haha.

Do you run several chains or just one? I feel like I’m a bit limited by having just one “thing”. On the other hand, I don’t want to add another 20 knobs to this… when I first started acquiring pedals, I always wanted the ones with the most controls, but it gets a bit overwhelming.

I’m also curious if anyone’s mastered something like this enough to be able to repeat a piece, or even tried. It seems like it’d be impossible.

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You can still do this by turning pedals on and off or switching between modes on them. Even a simple boost pedal affects the entire loop.

I pretty much always run at least two loops but I don’t necessarily use all that many pedals in the loops themselves. I can quite often do without pedals, at least for one channel, then mix that with one that uses one or two pedals.

The closest thing to this that I know of is Phil Chambin’s video documentation of his masters research project, where he set up the automation of an SSL desk to play a full musical piece with melodies and harmonies.
It’s very thorough and interesting to watch but quite different from what you’re asking.

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agreed
i usually stack 2-3 delays and a compressor

the setup leans toward harsh noise unless something external gets fed into the loop

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The whole basis of my newly germinating musical project is manipulating feedback loops—I’m looping the mixer output back through a pedal chain and finally my modular but it’s the same in principle. With a filter at the right stage of the chain and a touch of reverb, really gorgeous, insanely heavy harmonics can happen quite easily. I barely have to touch anything and the composition almost magically creates itself. It feels like divination, almost like a supernatural force. Here’s a very early mix of the first few minutes:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/j58nys216hda7ri/thatnewnew_scratch_090619.wav?dl=0

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That is indeed gorgeous! Thanks for sharing it. Is that real cymbals towards the end? A loop?

Thank you! I’m confident about this new direction. What you’re hearing is a sheet of steel from Home Depot struck with xylophone mallets.

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Looks like I took it down, but I had a recording on my soundcloud of a pedal feedback rig I played in improv classes throughout grad school. It was 3 distortions of various gain/color (a dwarfcraft shiva, and one that I built with 2 stages), a wah, and a trex reverb, all held together by the Death By Audio “Total Sonic Annihilation” pedal. The wah really made some crazy animal voices emerge from that rig. Definitely played with different distortion layers for different effects. Reverb always at the “end” of the loop for tails.
I played it in small and large ensembles 3-4 times a week. We (the rig and I) eventually negotiated a few predictable configurations and I learned how to speak through it with reasonable fluency, but it definitely took a long time to find stability in that system. It was definitely one of my favorite instruments for a long time. But now I’ve misplaced the Shiva and that was a super important part of the rig.
If I could do it all again, I’d put a HUGE volume knob (or a volume pedal) at the end of the whole chain so I could really play it with precision timing.

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I also did this before I got into a pile of eurorack. The piece that was key for me was a DIY passive matrix mixer. There’s some info within this thread:

https://llllllll.co/t/matrix-mixers/17123/44

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i started doing this with a borrowed Ibanez DM 1000 (rackmount) digital delay, back when i couldn’t afford any gear. the raw signal can be tremendous-sounding, ear-piercing, industrial, sometimes beautiful and delicate, but hard to control. reading about toshimaru nakamura (no-input mixer) in WIRE magazine most likely put the idea in my head, and i eventually acquired a second delay, along with a cheap tapco mixer, for live wrangling. i often resorted to it because i was a lousy guitar player. like @oot said, it’s sort of a cheap way to get modular-like sounds. again, echoing @rvense’s statements, it definitely can sound like a VCO- tonal, sustained, burp-y, stuttery, and wild … it’s fairly easy to control the pitch, though the pots’ range are so tight/narrow that it’s hard to dial in a gradual range, or have any real measured, linear control of the pitch.

i made several recordings of it, some early experiments, and then some later on. the original DM 1000 is now missing most of its knobs, after two decades of misuse, or proper use
https://miscellaneousfrankums.bandcamp.com/track/larmn - here i sampled the delay feedback with an akai s20 to several banks/triggers and further altered the pitches using the sampler. i just sort of freestyled (lazily) with the trigger buttons, then added a spare recording i’d made of an outdoor alarm to it. it’s pretty loose/aimless. the s20’s input died soon after making this, after sampling a lot of delay feedback. i’m not sure if it’s because the signal is so hot, or what.
https://miscellaneousfrankums.bandcamp.com/track/open-field-francis - this is a crude melody/sketch. the delay time (mSec) pot is detented- i just turned it back and forth, 2-3 notches, to get a sort of melody going. i doubled up the recording briefly, during the “lead guitar” part, and added a bass line using the green (es1?) synth in logic pro 9.
https://miscellaneousfrankums.bandcamp.com/track/live-feedback-for-cj - this is one of the last things i did with the 2 delay/mixer setup. i sent a recording of a live improvisation, where i played each delay independently (simultaneously) thru the mixer, amplified in a small tiled room, to a friend living in Boulder, Co. he processed it further, and added what sounds like mbv or gate (NZ) -like, soft electric guitar drone/distortion. then i recorded another episode of the same setup, in the same room, using the ‘remix’ for reference/pitch. i tried playing a mic’d clarinet thru an mxr blue box pedal, along with the sustained feedback, but i didn’t last long. i added the subsequent live recording to the “remix”, and it sounded agreeable, pitch-wise. the feedback sounded quite clean and pronounced during the last recording episode.

i’m sorry for the excessive share, here. it’s possible to ‘play’ an amplifier like this, too

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I grew up in Boulder! Maybe I met your friend, depending on when this was…

Reich’s Pendulum Music comes to mind!

The first noise piece I ever saw that totally blew my mind was this very androgenous/agender punk with a table full of pedals and a CB radio mic, and they went around the whole room feeding back the huge PA into their rig, tapping into the different resonant nodes of the room and playing the fx. Denver in…2006? At Blast-O-Mat.

I’ve done some tabletop stuff with a little 4-inch guitar amp, an SM-58 and Max/MSP modulating various extremely resonant filters through a high-feedback delay. It’s so fun to play.

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Multi-fx pedals can be fun for this sort of thing. Switching between different fx can result in dramatic changes. I used to do this with my SP-303 sampler’s FX in the loop and got some good results. If I remember correctly the ring-mod was especially interesting.

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His name is Noah, and the last time I saw him (around 2014) he had long red hair (he usually does) … I believe he’s lived in Boulder for the last 7-8 years. He sent me a cd-r with 23 tracks of sound ideas, and i was able to flesh out (repurpose, add sounds to, etc.) approx. 75% of the material. He processed those results further, and it’s been this ongoing thing, with no fixed results. Re: playing an amplifier, i meant that you can get an audible feedback loop going with just a 1/4" cable.

Here’s one more excerpt from the ongoing collaboration: https://pnpinc.bandcamp.com/track/threnody-for-stars