This 290‑page book, published a few months ago, is the latest addition to the Focal Press Perspectives On Music Production series, and it focuses on the creation and application of distortion in all its forms as a musical effect. In the interests of transparency, I should mention that yours truly is quoted briefly a couple of times, as are several other SOS colleagues and contributors, but that’s probably not surprising given the significance of Sound On Sound magazine as a source of reliable information in the audio industry!
Edited by Gary Bromham and Austin Moore and featuring 17 chapters, Distortion In Music — The Soul Of Sonics (ISBN 978‑0‑367‑40585‑4) is written by 19 different authors and is divided into four sections. These cover the technology, the perception and semantics, retrospective perspectives, and musicology of distortion. So, in simple terms, it’s the how, what, when and why of creating and using musically-pleasing distortion effects. The book appears to draw heavily on academic research papers and presentations, and although it couldn’t be described as a light read it is very readable, and has logically separated chapter topics. I found much of interest throughout, with some fascinating insights, as well as a lot of historical information on the development and use of distortion effects and techniques that were previously unknown to me.
I found much of interest throughout, with some fascinating insights...
Section 1 covers the technological aspects of distortion in five chapters, including its historical development in analogue circuitry, modern software implementations, and its use as a side‑effect of dynamic range processing and in different mic preamp topologies. Section 2 covers the terminology employed to describe different distortion effects and spans three chapters, while Section 3 uses four chapters to examine how distortion effects have been used in the past. Finally, the last section’s five chapters examine relatively contemporary applications of distortion and the associated aesthetic aspects of its use. Comprehensive references are included at the end of each chapter for further reading opportunities, as might be expected in a book of this type, as well as a full index.
To nitpick slightly, there are a few diagrams that, at least in the hard copy version, were rendered less useful than they should be due to their having been created in colour but rendered in black and white. A few typos here and there made it past the proofing stage too, and there were occasional claims and assertions which raised a sceptical eyebrow in this reader. Nevertheless, taken as a whole this book is informative and interesting, and it presents some enlightening viewpoints on the creation and application of distortion as a musical effect, both historically and as a current production tool.