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47 Glitch-Inducing Plugins & the Search for Error

I suspect that the search for and the acceptance of the unexpected in a musical context has been around as long as there have been musicians. Mistakes have long been embraced, especially in jazz.

In Kelsey Klotz’s essay, The Art of the Mistake, she suggests that “wrong notes in jazz are often considered to be opportunities for improvisatory exploration; a note is only wrong if the performer does not know what to do with it.” She quotes Art Tatum as saying, “There’s no such thing as a wrong note” and Bill Evans responding, “There are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions”. (Klotz) And there’s an old saying in jazz: “If you play a mistake, play it again.”

With the digital age came unprecedented levels of accuracy and audio fidelity not possible in analog systems. These changes were revolutionary at the time, but as these new technologies became commonplace and banal, composers began to look to the error as a new source of the material. Kim Cascone identifies these trends as “Post-digital”. He proposes that Marshall McLuhan’s well-known phrase, “The medium is the message” is no longer valid and that “… specific tools themselves have become the message”. Cascone observes:

“…[this new] aesthetic was developed in part as a result of the immersive experience of working in environments suffused with digital technology: computer fans whirring, laser printers churning out documents, the sonification of user interfaces, and the muffled noise of hard drives. But more specifically, it is from the ‘failure’ of digital technology that this new work has emerged: glitches, bugs, application errors, system crashes, clipping, aliasing, distortion, quantization noise…” (Cascone)

The German experimental group known as Oval first explored the possibilities of failure with the release of Oktober 91 (1991). The artists had accidentally “stumbled upon the creative technique of glitch…[having] borrowed a scratched jazz CD from a local library…” The stuttering effect of the defective CD became the impetus for a new aesthetic and ultimately the genre known as Glitch and later, the sub-genre Glitch-hop (late 90’s). (Church)

But although glitch was borne from the unexpected, the sounds that emerged were soon incorporated by artists as raw material to be sampled, controlled, sequenced and further manipulated with the full palette of digital sound processing. Effects plugins were developed to synthesize glitch effects and artists began to “misuse” standard plugins in ways that produced the unexpected and expressed “the sound of digital malfunction”. (Church)

If you haven’t explored glitch music I highly encourage you to have a listen. Check out this article with examples by D.J. Pangburn – “5 Artists Who Are Masters of Glitch Music”

Aside from using damaged CDs or vinyl, or malfunctioning digital equipment, there are several ways to create glitch effects using software that is designed specifically for the aesthetic, as well as with traditional processing effects.

What follows is a long but admittedly incomplete list of audio processing plugins that can be used to create glitchy goodness. Nearly any sort of plugin can be driven to glitch out with extreme settings, but some are more amenable to experimentation than others. These include:

  • Time-Based Effects
  • Saturation, Distortion and Bit Reducing devices
  • Multi-Effect Sequencers
  • Sophisticated Modulation and Sequencing devices
  • Granular Effect processors

It is definitely worth exploring the plugins you already own before dropping your hard-earned coin on dedicated glitch-ware. The means of exploring the aesthetics of error is only limited by the imagination of the artist. While plugin presets certainly have their place, it’s worth remembering that you control the plugin, not the other way around. And one of the beautiful things about digital tools is they cannot be physically broken from abuse. So have at it, break the rules and see what happens. And if there is a random button, hit that sucker!

Logic Pro Effects

Here are few plugs that come standard with Logic Pro that have great glitch potential.

Bitcrusher

One of the fastest ways to get some glitch happening is by way of a Bit Crusher and Logic Pro’s device has an austere interface with simple controls, visualization, and three modes (fold, clip and wrap). This is a very responsive effect that works really well on percussive tracks.

Ring Shifter

The Ringshifter is a full-featured ring modulation device that includes built-in delay, an envelope follower and an LFO. It can quickly be induced to spit out sonic mayhem with a few aggressive settings. Try the Fast Stutter preset as a means of a starting place.

EnVerb

EnVerb is a unique reverb plug that is often underestimated and under-utilized. It allows you to shape the reverb tail with a simple but effective ADSR interface. Try some extreme settings, like Density = 1%, Spread = 2%, and 100% Wet on a drum track to achieve glitchy comb-like effects.

Delay Designer

The Delay Designer provides as many as 26 individual taps, each with separate control over pitch, pan, level and filtering (LP and HP). This is a powerful delay capable of extremely complex structures and a grid that can be set as small as a 1/128th note. Try placing this device after a Bitchrusher for loads of fun. Holding down the command key allows you to draw in data to the GUI with ease.

Phat FX

Found under the Multi-Effects category in Logic, Phat FX is a feature-rich multi-effects processor with powerful filtering, modulation, dynamics and various distortion processes. Effects routing is user configured and the XY pad can control up to four parameters at once. Check out the Resonant Stutter preset as an interesting point of departure.

Step FX

The other Multi-Effect processor in Logic is Step FX. As the name implies this is a step sequencing device that includes three independent sequencers capable of up to 128 steps each. Like the Phat FX device, it has an XY pad as well as built-in delay and reverb controls. Try sequencing the Reverb Mix at a super-fast rate for some nice clicky “errors”.

Ableton Live Effects and Racks

Retro Glitch

The Retro Glitch Audio Effect Rack in Ableton includes several devices: Pedal Echo, AutoFilter Beat Repeat, Echo, and Chorus. It is a nicely configured rack with easily mappable macro controls.

Glitch Delay

Glitch Delay is a preset for Ableton’s standard delay device that allows for independent delay times for each channel (synced or free), filtering, and re-pitching. It allows you to get good results quickly.

Grain Delay

Grain delay, as the name implies, is a granular-based delay device that is capable of unpredictable and potentially delicious results. Automating or modulating parameters like Feedback and Frequency can be especially productive.

Beat Repeat

The Beat Repeat is extremely glitch-friendly and it’s really easy to get something going quickly. The grid setting goes all the way to 1/256! Try the Deconstruct Preset to get started.

Cluster Sound FX – Erosion Delay

This an another Audio Effect Rack that includes three main devices: Saturator, Erosion and Filter Delay. It is capable of crushed and filtered delay effects.

Vinyl Distortion

Really crackly sounds are possible with the Vinyl Distortion device when you push the device beyond its subtle intentions. Crank up the drive, density and crackle volume and enjoy.

More Ableton Effects Racks here.

MAX for Live Devices

Buffer Shuffler

This is an excellent granular-based sequencer that allows for the independent sequencing of several parameters like stutter, gate, pitch, shift, amplitude, and pan. Load any audio source into this thing and you’ll be glitching out almost immediately. Really good!

Granular Lab

This is a collection of devices, effect racks and presets by Amazing Noises that includes:

Grain Cooler – “generates polyphonic streams of short grains. Each stream contains a frozen or stretched granulation of the input sound”.

Grain Crusher – “…is a noise and glitch FSU (F**k S**t Up) audio effect: you can get a lot of strange and unique sounds from its three processing modules: the Delay Modulator, the Grain Mangler and the External Feedback Loop”.

Grain Reverser – granulates the input sound and reproduces it in reverse. It has a feedback circuit and a multi-mode filter. It can create a wide variety of effects, from psychedelic reversed sounds to ethereal resonances to massive harmonic transpositions.

Any of these devices can be glitched out independently or as part of an effect rack in ways that surpass the usual granular palette.

Fragulator

This relatively simple device can achieve successful results especially by shortening the buffer used in the effect processing.

3rd Party Plugins

Harmonic Adder by Anarchy Effects

An incredible shareware plugin with a simple but highly responsive GUI. Try reducing the Render Level for surprising results.

Filter Jam by Audio Things

A surprisingly useful freeware plug that can achieve bit crushing effect when overdriven. The random button is worth hitting a few zillion times.

MangledVerb by Eventide

This is an incredible reverb by Eventide capable of truly weird FX and glitchiness. Check out the preset “Machine Gun Hats” by Headsnack.

FabFilter

Volcano

An incredibly versatile device from FabFilter with sophisticated modulation and filtering possibilities. Check out the Beats and FX preset categories for a wealth of ideas.

Timeless

More than your average delay plugin, this device includes a full plate of modulation possibilities and filtering. Check out the Stuttered preset under the FX category and try filtering out the low end. Some nice settings under the Reverb category as well.

Saturn

Once again FabFilter goes well beyond what you might expect in a saturation plugin by including a robust modulation section and full-featured multiband control. Check out some of the presets under the Sequence category such as Loop Destroyer.

iZotope

Trash 2

Trash is my go-to plugin when I want to completely dismember a sound or if I’m feeling particularly angry that day. A very satisfying device capable of a huge variety of sounds from a single source.

Vocal Synth 2

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To limit the use of this incredible plugin to only vocal manipulation would be a waste of processing capability and a missed opportunity for some glorious glitch. With seven effects and five different vocoding-style algorithms, the sky is the limit with this device. Check out the Shred module for cool stuttering effects.

Vinyl

A full array of vinyl-based effects once despised and now sought after including dust, scratch, warp, mechanical and electrical noise. You can even choose a specific a year (1930 – 2000) and RPM which applies some sort of filtering based on the technology of the time. Input some sound to get it going and try using it like a gated sine wave triggered by a sidechained transient from another track.

Stutter Edit

This is an astounding full-featured piece of software that allows you to play your effects using MIDI. Notes can trigger effects gestures for realtime mangling and stuttering effects. Phenomenal!

KiloHearts

I wrote about the KiloHearts plugins back in January 2019. It is an amazing collection of function-specific modules that work independently or within their Snap Heap ecosystem. In terms of glitch-ability, three modules particularly standout:

BitCrush

A simple but effective Bit Crushing device.

Faturator

This is one of their premium plugins that can also work in Snapin Mode. It is a simple distortion device capable of nasty, gritty, dirt in a retro-style interface.

Trance Gate

A volume modulator with up to 1/64th note resolution.

Soundmagic Spectral by Michael Norris

This is an amazing shareware collection of 23 Audio Unit plugins based on FFT and spectral processing. The no-frills interfaces use simple default sliders and number boxes, but do not be fooled, these things are extremely powerful and offer extraordinary control over the underlying algorithms. Many are great for generating drones and strange spectral effects and three are particularly glitch-friendly:

Grain Streamer

A granular mayhem device that generates truly surprising results.

Idee Fixer

More granular mayhem with added transposition, looping controls and more.

Spectral Bin Shift

A strange FFT device capable of gritty distortion and weird resonant delay effects. I’ve heard nothing quite like it.

Native Instruments

The enormous suite of plugins offered by Native Instruments is one of the best collections available. In my experience, nearly everything they develop sounds great. Their interfaces are stunning, intuitive and responsive. They offer many, many instruments capable of glitchy greatness and there is a wealth of third party instruments that work with Kontakt. In terms of audio processing, below are a few suggestions for glitching things up:

Bite

A simple and effective Bit Crusher that gets nasty in a hurry. Part of the Crush Pack Series.

Driver

A fantastic modulated distortion effect goes way beyond simple saturation. Check out the Beast and Bass preset for a taste.

Guitar Rig

While commonly used for guitar effects chains, the incredible array of devices combined with the routing and modulation possibilities of Guitar Rig should not be limited to one purpose. While it may require a bit of time to learn, the results can be truly astounding. Check out the Stutterbutter preset that uses Beat Slicer, Peak Filter, Delay, LFO and Analog Sequencer.

Output

When you’re talking about stunning graphic interfaces and jaw-dropping sounds, LA-based developer, Output needs to be part of that conversation. Their Kontakt-based instruments like Analog Strings and Analog Brass and Winds are some of the best sample-based libraries available. But equally as great is their audio processing effects.

Movement

Billed as a rhythm processor, this device is a sophisticated processing environment with four independent 32 step sequencers, internal effects chains, and a huge searchable preset collection. The XY pad can quickly morph a preset into something unique. Plenty of glitch possibilities with this thing

Portal

This is Output’s newest offering, a granular FX plugin. Granular effects have an inherent glitchiness to them and this device offers substantial parametric control and modulation possibilities in a beautifully designed animated interface. Read my recent review here.

Wormhole by Zynaptiq

Zynaptiq devices are extremely well-loved by sound designers and producers alike, as they can create everything from subtle nuanced colors to extreme sonic mangling. Wormhole uses filtering, frequency shifts, and reverb to severely alter the input as desired. There is a robust collection of glitchy presets to explore. Check out Garbled Transmission B.

DriftMaker by Puremagnetik

What’s happening?!? I’m not sure the developers even know with this thing. Six dials to create sonic mayhem. And it’s freeware!

Decapitator by Soundtoys

The Decapitator gets its name from its common use as a hard-limiting distortion effect. But for the adventurous sonic explorer unafraid of being “wrong”, this thing will drive you to the gates of hell. Check out the MurkyBreakUp preset as a starting place.

KrushPro by Tritik

A great plugin that includes bit crushing, ring modulation, morphing and filtering with a surprisingly robust modulation section. Super fun presets to get your juices flowing.

Glitchmachines

Below are two freeware glitch plugins you need to have.

Fracture

Sounds great from the first instantiation! (and by the way, why don’t all plugins do this?). This is a great stuttering glitch device that begs for experimentation.

Hysteresis

This device features stutter, filter, delay and modulation sections. Like its sister plug (Fracture), it thrives on extreme settings and will deliver sonic chaos quickly and without mercy.

iPad apps

There are dozens of glitchy iOS apps worth trying. Below are my top three favorites that I seem to go back to time and time again.

For more iOS weirdness check out my article here.

Hexaglyphics

A very strange app that never fails to impress. Hieroglyphic computer-based gibberish animates when touched and spews out unexpected yet somewhat controllable noise.

Borderlands

This is perhaps the best granular-based processor on the market. The interface is stunning, intuitive and responsive. A must-have for any serious iOS producer.

BitWiz Audio Synth

This app allows the user to generate random code with a simple swipe. Incredible and deliciously glitchy results are possible. If you’re code-savvy, you can go further and edit the randomness or start from scratch.

Conclusions

While many of the devices I’ve mentioned here are not necessarily intended as glitch makers, their designs invite experimentation and creative abuse. Extreme parameter settings can yield unexpected and fruitful results. In some cases, presets can point the way forward and randomizing buttons are always enjoyable. Creating glitch chains from several effects is another approach that works well. Although there are many plugins designed specifically for glitch, it is certainly worth your time to explore the possibilities with the devices you already own.

Serendipity is an old friend of the sonic explorer. I consider Glitch more of an attitude, than a specific sound. It is a willingness to open your ears and accept what was unintended or unanticipated. A healthy respect for the “mistake” is common among artists from all disciplines. It skews our creative process away from expression and towards discovery. Embrace the error. If you succeed, fail, fail again!

References

Cascone, Kim. “The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post-Digital’ Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music.” Electronica, Dance and Club Music, 2017, pp. 97–103., doi:10.4324/9781315094588-7.
Church, Scott Haden. “Against the Tyranny of Musical Form: Glitch Music, Affect, and the Sound of Digital Malfunction.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, vol. 34, no. 4, 2017, pp. 315–328., doi:10.1080/15295036.2017.1333624.
Klotz, Kelsey. “The Art of the Mistake.” Common Reader, commonreader.wustl.edu/c/the-art-of-the-mistake/.
Krapp, Peter. Noise Channels: Glitch and Error in Digital Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
Pangburn, D.J. “Experience next-Gen Beat-Making:” 5 Artists Who Are Masters of Glitch Music, www.izotope.com/en/blog/music-production/5-artists-who-are-masters-of-glitch-music.html.

Check out my other articles, reviews, interviews and my video tutorial series, Synthesis 101 available exclusively on The Pro Audio Files.

Follow me on Twitter: @PMantione
Instagram: philipmantione

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Philip Mantione

Philip Mantione

Philip Mantione is a composer, synthesist, guitarist, educator and sound artist active in the LA experimental music scene. His music has been presented in festivals, museums and galleries worldwide. His current project is TriAngular Bent, an electroacoustic trio featuring Don Preston (founding member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention) and circuit bending virtuoso, Jeff Boynton. Details at philipmantione.com

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