I took away their guitars, but they still found a use for their effects pedals! Presented at EMS07, De Montfort University, Leicester, June 2007

A generation of electric guitarists have put down their guitars. They have not turned to turntables or laptops. They are still guitarists, but with no guitars. The electrification of the guitar has resulted in a gradual shift in its use from producing tonal music to noise. Such a repositioning of the role of the guitar was clearly emergent in the work of Jimi Hendrix: amplification, feedback and overdrive to the fore. And the evolution and development of guitar distortion and fuzz has pushed the perception of the ‘note’ to the limit. Genres such as industrial and drone metal have used the guitar more spectrally. Recent groups such as Sunn O))), for example, work within the realm of textures through the use of multiple amplification and feedback. It has always been true that the amplification of an electric guitar is integral to the overall sound as the guitar itself. With the addition of discrete sound effects pedals (stomp boxes), the instrument of the electric guitarist is more accurately a modular system, which can function without the guitar. It therefore follows that a module can be dropped or exchanged. This includes the guitar. There are some notably guitarists who have unplugged their guitar and have used just their effects or amplification. These include the likes of Toshimaru Nakamura, Otomo Yoshihide, Nic Collins, and Merzbow.

There is an abundance of cheap effects pedals waiting to be hacked or bastardised, or redeployed into feedback loops. The interest in non-digital forms of music making and analogue hardware has also helped the guitarist discover the electronic circuits lying at their very feet. The appropriation of effects pedals has enabled a new group of musicians to explore and develop a new language. Consequently, there is a new breed of musicians taking part in the broader field of live electronics. Many of the musicians involved in this process have a digital mindset, and are used to working with sound processing and transformation techniques. Therefore, working with electronics alone seems a natural progression. In performance there are still some vestiges of the guitar. In some cases the tradition associated with pedals being on the floor has remained, and performers hunch crouched on knees over their effects to operate parameters by hand. As a result of this idiosyncratic mode of presentation, a new performance style has taken root.