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When reading through a lot of material on any subject one will inevitably stumble upon an opinion piece mixed in with the objective literature. I found this one in Electronic Musical Instruments by Norman H. Crowhurst and it was just so hilarious I had to share it.

After struggling for several decades to develop high fidelity reproduction that would bring into anyone's home musical sounds with a purity formerly found only in the highest quality instruments, some of the younger generation have recently reverted somewhat. To them music is not "loud" unless it is highly distorted. The volume control must be capable of overloading the amplifier, or the system is not loud enough, whether its output is rated in milliwatts or kilowatts! If the system only gives only 10 watts good sound producing 11 watts with about 60 percent distortion is Fine! But if it gives 50 watts good sound while 80 watts produces only about 20 percent distortion, this is a "weak" amplifier to the ears of this younger group. A curious reversion, but true.

At the same time, some of the same generation have what I still prefer to call "musical ears," to appreciate musically pure sounds. Between these differing groups, discrimination between "music" and "noise" has become a very subjective matter! This is not to say that what had gone before this "loudness" craze, jazz, off-beat rhythms such as those produced by Brubeck, etc., which equally broke with traditional forms, were not music. These forms still used what I would call musical sounds; even in their worst dischords the notes themselves were musically pure.

But the group I just referred to seems to put a premium on distortion, a literally broken-up waveform. So insistent are they on getting this kind of sound that they even devise, or have made for them, what they call "fuzz boxes," stages of amplification for insertion somewhere in the earlier part of the system that introduce deliberate distortion. This occurred about the same time that recording companies accommodated the same so-called "musical" groups by recording with distortion deliberately included on the record. It seems that the need is for the music to sound "loud" even when it is played quietly!

Another way of describing some of it would be to say it resembles the sound from a loudspeaker with a loose grill cloth that rattles against the cabinet housing all the time; every note accompanied by a buzzing sound. This kind of sound can originate when an amplifier breaks down, but a broken-down amplifier is not reliable; it may quit working altogether. The need was for a consistent broken-down sound. This urge produced the fuzz-box craze.

Fig. 3-20

A relatively simple way to achieve the desired effect, with an allowable variation in level as the instrument is played, is to shunt the audio signal circuit somewhere with a full-wave rectifier that charges a capacitor across which is a resistor that allows a fairly rapid discharge (Fig. 3-20). The DC that builds up across the capacitor depends on the audio level of the moment, and the charging pulses on both peaks of the audio waveform put in the desired amount of deliberate distortion. The degree of fuzz can be controlled by using a variable discharge resistor.

The fuzz-box device belongs to a category of something that performers do because it is the "in" thing. However, such diversions are a hindrance to cultural advance, in the long run, for two reasons:

  1. While many performers are engaged in exploiting temporary "insanities" like this, they are not making progress toward new sounds that may become a permanent part of a new culture.
  2. The fact that some of these diversions are undoubtedly and indisputably "unculture" leads many to disregard or reject all new things, some of which may in fact be faltering steps toward something that will eventually be worthwhile.

Temporary insanity indeed. The suggested circuit is, as you may have noticed, perhaps a tad unusual. I have my suspicions that, apart from the full rectification aspect he may have based his ideas on a chiff circuit like those found in some transistorized organs. (Mr. Crowhurst has written a few books on that topic as well.)