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  • The Boss GE-7 E.Q. and Flexible Speaker Array as Tonal Filters
  • Vic Rawlings (bio)

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The most crucial element of what sounds I present is tone. Tonal filtration is the only sort of signal processing I am interested in, because it leaves no residue on the source signal and is also effective at revealing unexpected aspects of that signal. The source materials I use are pure cracked electronic squeal, with a harsh, immediate and unpredictable character that I do not want to smooth over. My use of a flexible (easily interchangeable) speaker array (a series of tonal filters), coupled with extreme use of a Boss GE-7 Equalizer (E.Q.) (Fig. 9), serves to expand the tonal characteristics and compositional relevance of my source material, so that I can use fewer source sounds. There is also an indeterminate aspect to the source material that is heightened by the indeterminate aspects of the tonal filters.

When I asked Gunter Muller what made his rig work, he pointed to his two GE-7 equalizer pedals and smiled, so I immediately stole the idea. He could change the character of a sound fundamentally and yet retain its essence. It was possible for him to use a very limited amount of source materials and yet present a full complement of sounds that were highly integrated with each other.

I form nonlinear patterns on the seven bands of the GE-7. I most often opt for spiking a band or two while allowing the rest to hover low. The goal is to allow parts of sounds to become more immediately visible, as in macro-photography. The bypass switch is essential—I favor distinct sounds and thus rarely adjust the unit while the circuit is active in the signal path.

My interest in building a flexible speaker array was inspired by an artwork by Jess Goddard that involved switching between several near-identical speakers that had been either filled with plaster, smeared with epoxy or treated in a similar extreme way. I enjoyed being surprised at the unpredictable and widely different tones of each speaker. These were singular tones; I could not imagine sounds with that degree of character and presence coming from a hi-fi.

When I built my speaker array to use in performance I bought a ready-made switch with five selector buttons that could activate any number of five pairs of speakers at a time. I added a master on-off switch (the most important single element of the entire instrument is silence at one switch). I wired only to the left channel of the stereo pairs. Thus, I send a mono signal to up to five outputs.

For the array itself I remove speaker drivers from their cabinetry and place them directly on the floor. I like the immediate visual presence of the drivers and feel more connected to the sounds they are making as I see them vibrate and pulse. I choose individual speakers for their idiosyncratic characteristics and aim to form an ensemble of complementary voices. Each speaker must realize the signal in a profoundly individualized manner from the standpoint of "natural" E.Q. The most valued ones are damaged in such a way as to add a further characteristic acoustic quality to the sound—a rattle or buzz that comes from fatigue or accumulated abuse. These direct tonal filters (the last in the signal line) provide extreme immediacy to the sounds they produce. There is no effect box or modeling device attempting to simulate something known and certainly no default "clean" setting.

I choose to be constantly blindsided by sounds that, were they available as samples or presets, I likely would not elect to use at a given moment. When I select speakers or blindly adjust the E.Q. I am almost always genuinely surprised by the results. By the time I know what the result of a given action will be, it is already present in the composition.

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Fig. 9.

The entire instrument (circuits, switches, speaker array), from the player's perspective. The speaker switch is...


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pp. 37-38
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