Everyone is now aware of the need to conserve resources and recycle unwanted materials such as glass, plastic and metal; multiple recycling bins have become a familiar fixture in many of our homes.
Few would deny that recycling is a good thing, but a recent Mix Rescue project I was working on reminded me that it can also be useful to separate and store unwanted musical material for recycling. The song I was 'rescuing' was made more interesting by exploiting a few noises pasted in from elsewhere. I'm not talking about part‑finished tunes or odd riffs here, so much as unwanted sounds trimmed from mixes in progress or unused tracks, such as guitar slides, odd breathing sounds, the sound of a bass being knocked over while plugged in, and that sort of thing. While few of these noises would be considered musical in isolation, they can be dropped into a mix project, usually after editing and processing them in some way, to provide interesting spot effects and stabs that are less predictable than the expected cymbal crashes.
Distorted electric guitar is a particularly rich source of plunder, as the sound is harmonically complex and lends itself to 'happy accidents'. In fact, the only thing that betters the electric guitar in the serendipity stakes is the electric guitar fitted with a vibrato bar. This can create bent harmonics, divebombs, car‑crash sounds and, with the aid of reverb or echo, the calls of whales and myriad other wet squealing things looking for sex and lunch! Even when you're not playing, the creaking noises you sometimes get when working the vibrato arm can get seriously abstract after processing, as can the humble string scrape.
With the ability of many modern DAWs to time‑stretch sounds beyond anything that is likely to occur in real life, even a fleeting moment of guitar playing/kicking/creaking can be extended to perform a useful function, and if you reverse it, you may find it makes a useful substitute for the somewhat over‑used reversed cymbal as a device to introduce a new section of a song. You may also find something that you can loop to provide a rhythmic backing or a hook for a new song — and there's always pitch‑shifting if your snippet is in the wrong key or you want a bass-type sound.
I'm sure you get the idea, but my main advice is that it is extremely helpful to create folders for different types of accidental noises and then transfer potentially useful items to them as they occur, because as anyone with a huge sample library has undoubtedly discovered, material is only useful when you have a category‑based indexing system that lets you find things quickly. If you can't find something, you might as well not have it in the first place.
Paul White Editor In Chief