As a small child, I tuned my AM radio between stations and spent many happy hours listening to static. The spikey roar sounded like abstract music to me, and I could "play" it by slowly turning the dial, shifting the frequencies of the static. I loved that sound.
I was a huge fan of guitarist Link Wray's "Rumble" blasted over gigantic jukeboxes in neighborhood bars. That first taste of Wray's heavily distorted, fuzzed-out guitar rearranged my brain, and Dick Dale's surf guitar sound took the next step. Then of course, Jimi Hendrix, the Who's Pete Townshend and Cream's Eric Clapton turned the distortion up to "11."
These musicians embraced the sound, and learned to sculpt distortion, to play with it, and modulate the tone -- listen to Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" performed at Woodstock to hear the master at his best. Industrial-strength loud and distorted guitars are featured in classical composer Glenn Branca's "Symphony No.2" which sounds like the end of the world!
More recently, Primal Scream's blistering "Accelerator," the Wildheart's mega-distorted "Why You Lie," and the Magnetic Fields' aptly titled album "Distortion" are standouts. Magnetic Fields' music is melodic and sweet, but the sound is maximally distorted in unusual ways. So many flavors of distortion run through the album.
Speaking as an audiophile, I find the best gear lets me hear the distortion more clearly. How ironic is that -- but lesser speakers and headphones blunt and soften the grungy edge. I was thinking about all of this when I started listening to the new Audeze LCD-4 headphones with the Jesus and Mary Chain's wall of noise. The density of their raw sound was even rougher than I thought, and revealed a deeper, more complex patina of noise over the LCD-4s!
I just recently met classical guitarist Patrick Higgins and fell in love with his new "Bachanalia" album of Bach pieces. Some tracks are left in more or less their natural all-acoustic state; others are massively and beautifully distorted. "Bachanalia" makes use of the reverberant acoustics of St. Cecilia's Church in Brooklyn and at Future-Past Studios, an upstate New York recording complex housed in a historic Lutheran church. Higgins has a mesmerizing sound, at least for listeners who revel in the sound of distorted music.
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