This term refers to changes of a sound waveform which occur in electroacoustic systems. Problems in an electroacoustical system which produce distortion are the following: the inability to maintain linearity, resulting in the addition of unwanted harmonics; the inability to pass the complete audio spectrum equally; the inability to handle transients; the inability to pass all signals in the same amount of time.
In electroacoustic music and some kinds of modern popular music, distortion is exploited for musical purposes. The composer may alter the waveform of the original sound by various modulation techniques. Rock groups often create distorted effects by means of feedback or by overloading the amplifiers and speakers. (reduced from Barry Truax - Handbook for Acoustic Ecology CD-ROM Edition. Cambridge Street Publishing, 1999 - CSR-CDR 9901)
Distortion is sometimes used deliberately as an effect, but can also be created accidentally within the process of mixing.
If a sound wave is so loud that the top of its wave exceeds the maximum threshold of the recording tool then the top of the wave will be cut off or ‘clipped’.
This means that the smooth pattern of the wave is interrupted, thus affecting the sound that can be played back.
Distortion as a Deliberate effect
Distortion can be used creatively. It will add noise to sounds and can be used to thicken sound textures and make them seem more impressive.
Distorted sounds often appear ‘fuzzy’ or ‘harsh’.
Listen to this looped sound as it increases in volume and distortion begins to affect the sound. You should be able to hear the 'fuzzy' and 'harsh' nature of distortion emerge.
Rock guitarists often use distortion.
Un-distorted electric guitar
Listen to the clarity and twang of the notes.
Listen out for the roar of the distortion and how it makes the riff fuzzy.
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