Mix It Up with these 9 Amazing Texture Boxes

Bands throughout history have been using the concept of texture to give their sound a little, or in the case of bands like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, a lot of oomph. Can you imagine what My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive would sound without noise and layer upon layer of textures? I can’t either, so let’s not dwell on it. The point is, bands like these used an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to effects. All pedals made it in, and like pedals that belonged to bands sharing their practice spaces. The result was a signature sound, and the birth of a certifiable slice of rock canon—shoegaze. The sky’s the limit with this kind of experimentation—what would happen if you stacked two RATs into a flanger into two more RATs? While this isn’t the most practical setup as far as portability is concerned, there exist pedals that aim to provide all of the frills with significantly less bulk, and they can be yours today. Let us delve into these superior texturizers with an open mind and an ear for the uncommon.

WMD Geiger Counter

William Matthewson of WMD released the Geiger Counter almost 10 years ago, and to this day, nothing even comes close to the level of sonic destruction it is capable of providing. The heart of the Geiger Counter is an actual no-bones-about-it computer that’s driven by a super-high-gain preamp. Among its bevy of capabilities is the ability to actually filter your input signal through a random number. The resulting signal is usually a disgusting harmonic wash, but those three words are the stuff of textural dreams. Taking great care to really dial in the Sample Rate and Bit Depth knobs is the secret to getting the most out of this pedal; they really work in tandem to crush your sound into tiny bits, so running the whole shebang into some kind of parallel effects loop might be a good idea. Still, if it’s good enough to survive all incarnations of texture master Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s pedalboard, you should be able to get a little from it.

Lastgasp Art Laboratories Sandstorm

If, at one point, you may have considered envelope filters to axiomatically reside outside the texture scope, the Sandstorm by Lastgasp Art Laboratories undoes that theory in a hurry. The Sandstorm is a white noise envelope follower, which means that a white noise generator actually tracks to your guitar’s envelope and outputs accordingly. Techspeak aside, the Sandstorm is your one-way ticket to noise swells with the strike of a string. This is all controlled with the Sens[itivity] knob, which helps you contour the Sandstorm to match your picking style. Heavy pickers might want to set the knob low in order to keep the storm at bay, or they may wish to turn it all the way up for some noisy spaz-outs. One thing’s for sure—the Sandstorm only gives you as much noise as you want, because you ultimately decide how much makes it in. In other words, for being a noise pedal, the Sandstorm isn’t very Darude about it.

EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath

Let’s be real for a minute: Nothing says texture like a super dense reverb, and that’s something the Afterneath has in spades. The three controls that scream “texture machine” are Diffuse, Drag and Reflect. Those three names are texture gold. The Afterneath is built around the topology of three separate delay lines that, when crowded together, sound like a reverb pedal. However, the Drag control inserts more and more space in between these three lines, creating a texturally titillating soup of harmonics that please the ear most beautifully. This wash is further augmented by the Reflect control, which controls the feedback of each line. When combined with the Diffuse control, which controls the “attack” of the reverb, the lines between reality and the Afterneath can get blurred in a hurry. A Mix helps catapult the Afterneath into textural superstar territory, as you can dial in just a tiny hint or enough ‘verb to scare your pets. This ain’t your daddy’s spring reverb.

MASF Possessed

Just reading the control names of the Possessed will tell you absolutely nothing about it. This, combined with the name should tell you that the Possessed is far from boring. Atop its crystal-white enclosure are tiny blue letters and nothing else; the five knobs are all labeled according to the five senses. Reading the manual is almost as hard as trying to make sense of the control names, as MASF is headquartered in Japan and the author’s transliteration skills are less than savory. The demos, however, tell you all you need to know in an abstract sense. Pinning down exactly what the Possessed is may prove a daunting task, but one thing’s for sure: it tightropes between tremolo, delay and glitch. The five senses are 100 percent interactives, and you may never find the same setting twice without marking up the face of the enclosure or covering it with unsightly gaffer’s tape. Some might see this as a detriment, but as a texture device, sometimes unpredictability is king.

Red Panda Particle

Much like the MASF Possessed, the Red Panda Particle is a canvas full of broad strokes, and barely conforms to one type of effect. Red Panda itself calls the Particle a “granular delay,” and while the unit certainly seems to focus on a delay effect, simply labeling it as such is a disservice to both Red Panda’s engineering efforts and you, budding experimentalist. In fact, the only way to get a standard delay sound from the Particle is to set the mode to “random delay” and then turning the “randomness” parameter to 0, or “none.” The rest of the Particle is a dense thicket of glitches and chaos, but not one consisting largely of unmusical dreck like 60-cycle hum. Granular synthesis consists of chopping a sampled passage up into fine pieces, called “grains” and then rearranging them into random (or ordered) passages. The Particle does just this over several different modes, including a stellar pitch-shift section which yearns for your atypical musical inklings.

Xotic X-Blender/Lehle Sunday Driver

I know. Seasoned texture vets will scoff at the inclusion of these two innocuous utility boxes, because they only process existing signals rather than create something from nothing. However, I will see your scoff and raise you one higher, because splitting signals and recombining them in interesting ways is the essence—practicality notwithstanding—of real texture manufacturing. And there are simply no finer tools for this type of sound sculpting than these two. The Lehle Sunday Driver is a super-high-quality buffered splitter to cleave your signal cleanly without any unwanted transients screwing up the mix. The X-Blender is a blendable loop, one in which you can add as many pedals as you like, with an onboard boost, three band EQ and a phase inversion switch. Xotic’s Custom Shop also makes a Stereo X-Blender with twice the looping capabilities but without the EQ and such. It’s a veritable texture banquet!

Montreal Assembly Count to Five

Until now, you, the reader, might have been wondering when the Count to Five was going to be mentioned. For the uninitiated, the Count to Five is the texturizer du jour. Made in (you guessed it) Montreal, Canada, Montreal Assembly is the brainchild of one Scott Monk, a student of signal processing who has been pumping out a line of effects that could just as well have filled this entire article. This unique box offers three modes spread over about a zillion parameters. Users have described it as a looper, a delay, a granular synthesizer and whatever else, but all can agree that there’s not much quite like it. The Count to Five began life as another pedal, called Goodbye 24, and Scott himself even referred to that simply as “a thing.” Now with several more options, the Ct5 is currently the reigning champ of experimental boxes. Check out a demo for yourself.

Mantic Effects Flex/Flex Pro

You may remember Mantic as the first company to crack the proverbial nut of the DOD Meat Box and offer it en masse to hungry, protein-starved bass players. Well, Mantic makes pedals that do more than shake your hard-earned dental work loose, and the Flex “series” are among the best for the texture set. To be honest, there’s not a whole lot out there that comes close to resembling the Flexes. Both pedals squelch, make weird fuzz and howl at you on a whim. The Pro model includes a footswitchable LFO for even more mayhem, as well as a Filter control and other things that make no effort to reign this bronco in. Though it seems untamable, the Flexes are surprisingly intuitive and users are able to recall settings without much difficulty because the controls are so fluid. Several exciting textural champions are using these as well, such as gear nerd stalwart Juan Alderete, and if he uses one, it had better be able to get its texture on.

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