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  • Audio Y Connectors:My Secret for Instant Guerrilla Oscillators, Raw Synthesis and Dirty Cross Modulations
  • Andy Keep (bio)

Perhaps I am overly enthusiastic about audio Y connectors, but I have realized that nearly all my performance and research over the last 5 years has been made possible because of them. It is not that I think they are aesthetically pleasing in themselves, even though I have a small collection on every desktop, shelf and workbench in my home and studio. Some have been lying around since the 1980s, when I used to try and squeeze as much action as I could from a few cheap pieces of music technology. Now I use lots of them, as the core configuration element in creating instant nonlinear performance instruments and processors that exploit electronic feedback.

Live electronics entered an exciting post-digital phase with the possibilities created by the mixing and matching of any era or technology of audio equipment to create unique modular performance environments. Both live electronics and the use of electronic feedback have received much renewed interest over recent years. For many in the field, the proliferation of cheap audio hardware devices and the potential sonic complexities found in multiprocessor DSP chips have opened new possibilities. With the use of cheap molded plastic Y connectors, I have rejuvenated and reinvented just about all my studio equipment new and old and accessed a rich interactive relationship with the resulting electronic feedback.

By wrongly wiring any piece of audio hardware, a sometimes-vast palette of sonic activity can be discovered. Singular dynamic processors or equalizers with the audio output connected to the audio input create what I call "guerrilla oscillators." My notion of raw synthesis involves either more objects in the loop chain or the out-to-in connection of more complex DSP-based processors, allowing multiple effects to be internally chained and configured. To access the sounds created by such an act, one needs a "tap" out from the closed circuit loop. The use of a Y connector at the output jack stage provides this (Fig. 2). A further connector on the input will also allow an audio line-in if the intention is to process sound through the loop.

An additional sonic feature of the connectors can be described as dirty cross modulation. It relies on the nonlinear modulations that occur when the output of two or more of the above setups are squashed into the same input of another piece of hardware (amplifier, mixer, EQ, etc.) through Y connectors. The level of interference from each signal, and the resultant mix of the composite signal, is an unstable balance of the input signal levels. Varying connector formats are available to accommodate different jack sizes, but added spectral coloration can be gained when using stereo versions, as they sometimes cause comb filtering or other phase-related artifacts, or simply confuse balanced in/outputs.

Of course it is possible to use the Tudoresque approach of running the inputs and outputs of many objects into a mixing matrix that can create and access a number of potential feedback loop points and routings to a master output. Another option is to use a

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Fig. 2.

A three-band parametric equalizer and a simple distortion pedal each create guerrilla oscillators by connecting output to input, using Y connectors to access resulting sonic activity. Both outputs are combined in a further Y connector at the input to a mini amplifier, creating potential dirty cross modulation in this small modular feedback instrument.

Photo © Andy Keep

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soldering iron and create custom hardwired looping components or objects. However, the Y connector offers access to any discrete loops for modular performance or any interrelated configurations. This allows for fluid potential topologies of electronic feedback instruments that can be explored, configured and reconfigured easily during performance. It is also a really quick way to assess potential instrumentalization of any piece of hardware when searching through old equipment that has been stored in the back of the studio or garage for years. Used surreptitiously, this method can be very useful when looking to purchase any bargain or second-hand equipment, so I...


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