Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Distortion, An Expression of Anguish - Chapter 1: Why Distortion Continues to Satisfy the Savage Listener (Editorial)

Distortion. Overdrive. Pain. These are all things which have come to be associated with rock and roll to such a degree that they are almost prescriptive instead of descriptive. Ever since the first sonic pioneers discovered the beauty of a dimed electric amplifier, musicians have been using distortion and overdrive in one way or another for the better part of 50+ years. This cultural hurricane changed the face of rock and roll forever, and its effect is still felt to this day. 

As a result, distortion has always been in great demand, the 1980's in particular seeing how far into the realms of hyper-distortion a guitarist could tread, and modern psychedelic records like those of the Wooden Shjips demonstrating how one can layer on copious amounts of fuzz without seemingly any restrictions. 

However, to pull away from the generality of speaking of all rock music, in this editorial series I want to focus solely on why distortion continues to be so compelling to the human ear to this day in a myriad of genres such as rock and roll, garage, desert rock, roots psychedelia, ect.

Distortion is the purest form of human anguish and distaste. When one listens to a searing guitar lead cut through the mix of a steady percussion section, it evokes something in the mind and body of a human which can be described as almost metaphysical reaction. The pain that every human, even the most contented human, feels is remedied by the embodiment of savagery that is heard in harmonics of distortion and overdrive. 

Think of how you first felt when you heard the signature guitar riff of 'All Day and All of the Night' by the Kinks (notable for being one of the first uses of a serious, beefy garage tone), or when the heavy riffage of 'Tree Smoke' by Kikagaku Moyo erupted into the mix - that feeling of completeness, and satisfaction is the invigorating ability of musical distortion.  

In the coming weeks, I will try and elucidate upon several more elements of distortion's continuing attraction and why it remains so embroiled in the human psyche, discussing different elements and emotions the broken signal can produce. I will also discuss the previously mentioned metaphysical reaction caused by distortion in more detail too - in this way I can delve further into the deep recesses this peculiar subject has to offer, and explore one of the trusty steed in any musician's emotional tool box. 


You can hear Kikagaku Moyo's Tree Smoke, and purchase the album it is from, here.

Written by Daniel Sharman.

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