Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
michel devos

Distortion: why do some believe this to be aesthetic?

Hammond distortion   20 members have voted

  1. 1. Do you consider distortion in the Hammond sound as a positive artefact?

    • Yes, it is an acceptable colour of the sound
      13
    • Yes, it improves the quality of the performance
      2
    • No, it degrades the performance
      2
    • No, it is no more than a hardware failure
      1

Please sign in or register to vote in this poll.

59 posts in this topic

At Club Baby Grand Vol. 2 was an early favorite. Live At Smalls, for whatever reason, took a while for me. I'm listening now and I have NO IDEA why. Bizarre. I even tried to sell it either here or on the Blue Note board years ago and the buyer returned it to me because there were minor scratches.

Anyway, I guess I am attracted to distortion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

if one wanted to pursue this I think one might find the origin of the kind of distortion we are talking about in African American vocalizing - check out some of the old Delta guys like Charlie Patton - and then early gospel, like Arizona Dranes and Bessie Johnson, also storefront gospel -

Go back further than that - to West African musicians putting beads on their kalimbas and gourds on their balafons to "dirty up" the sound.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

if one wanted to pursue this I think one might find the origin of the kind of distortion we are talking about in African American vocalizing - check out some of the old Delta guys like Charlie Patton - and then early gospel, like Arizona Dranes and Bessie Johnson, also storefront gospel -

Go back further than that - to West African musicians putting beads on their kalimbas and gourds on their balafons to "dirty up" the sound.

Absolutely!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Are we "dirtying" or "thickening"? The former implies a distinct quality of contact, the latter, more an increased likelihood for fuller contact,

I think the concept of "clean" plays to a physiological distance from one's most immediate environment, spaces of separation. Thick means you always touching something somehow.

Clean is real for some, but so is thick for others.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Are we "dirtying" or "thickening"? The former implies a distinct quality of contact, the latter, more an increased likelihood for fuller contact,

I think the concept of "clean" plays to a physiological distance from one's most immediate environment, spaces of separation. Thick means you always touching something somehow.

Clean is real for some, but so is thick for others.

I'll have to be carefull here, since we are getting into finer nuances of the english vocabulary : I feel "dirtying" is closer to the concept I'm trying to explain than "thickening".I would associate "Thickening "to an intentional cut down of details to keep the most vital core of the musical message and increase its power of impact (usually in short an increase of sound volume/level). Dirtying would be a degradation of the pure sound in the sense of introducing "unclean" elements to the sound, usually produced when overdriving the power amp or feeding a wrong current or tension in the preamp tubes.

I'll describe briefly a practical example : earlier this year, I recorded a gig over 2 evenings with a B3/122. A great deal of the program was in my opinion "spoiled" by distortion, even in some ballads and soft playing where there was no context for intensity, physical or emotional. Having checked three times the whole of my recording gear (Neumann, Sonosax, Sound Devices 24 bits) to make sure nothing was wrong fom my side, I had to accept this was stricto sensu what was coming out of the 122's...

Back home the next week, I consulted two different Hammond experts from which I'll summarize the reports :

"This is a common problem frequently met in old Hams : this distortion comes mainly from worn tubes in the preamp, a.o a penthod for which the HT is wrongly supplied thru a resistor of approx. 2 MegaOhm; the value of the resistor drifts with time to 3 megOhm and more and generates this problem, together with the ageing of the condensers in the circuits. Using a setting of 88800000 in the lower keyboard produces this muddy sound, caused mainly by the 2nd harmonic, and it should be much reduced by using the setting 808000000, since this will cut down the dissonant harmonic""

Now this is a french text written by a foreigner, so there might be some inaccuracies there... But another guy detected definitely a "worn out" organ in heavy need of replacement of the tubes and condos.

What really puzzled me, when I played this recording to knowlegeable jazz nuts among my friends, nobody seemed to notice the distortion which, in this particular case, was caused by worn out components of the B3...

Now reading all the contributions to this thread, I have to admit there are people liking distortion (at least from electro-acoustical instruments). I'll even agree that in some context, it may add drama and intensity to the music. What still remains unclear is : how can one differentiate between an artistic/aesthetic intention and a plain drift of some condenser or resistors..?

Perhaps also this differentiation is not that meaningfull when one is interested in the musical contents only and not in the technical side ?

Edited by michel devos

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

At Club Baby Grand Vol. 2 was an early favorite. Live At Smalls, for whatever reason, took a while for me. I'm listening now and I have NO IDEA why. Bizarre. I even tried to sell it either here or on the Blue Note board years ago and the buyer returned it to me because there were minor scratches.

Anyway, I guess I am attracted to distortion.

Took the opportunity to listen again to this album, probably my fav among most of the JOS records...And I won't change my mind, everything is there, the virtuosity, the musicality, the inventivity, a wonderful programm of standards, lush ballads like Laura, Valentine, Lover man, the archetypical blues playing of After hours, some very audacious (for the time) musical patterns on Slightly monkish, the dramatic intros and protracted endings, etc...That's all of Jimmy, in its original organ guitar drums format. And the recording is adequate, bearing in mind this was a live act in 1957. For the best sounding Jimmy Smith (in my opinion) check Angel eyes : no distortion there (thanks Jim Anderson).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll have to be carefull here, since we are getting into finer nuances of the english vocabulary : I feel "dirtying" is closer to the concept I'm trying to explain than "thickening".I would associate "Thickening "to an intentional cut down of details to keep the most vital core of the musical message and increase its power of impact (usually in short an increase of sound volume/level). Dirtying would be a degradation of the pure sound in the sense of introducing "unclean" elements to the sound, usually produced when overdriving the power amp or feeding a wrong current or tension in the preamp tubes.

I think we might have fundamentally different notions of the uses and functions of sound. It's all good, though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Works done with distortion present from the beginning are statements.

Plainly said, how could we differentiate between an intentional way of expression and a simple material or hardware failure...?

If your equipment detoriates gradually, you might not notice the change, and at some point it becomes part of your sound and you don't want to change it back.

if one wanted to pursue this I think one might find the origin of the kind of distortion we are talking about in African American vocalizing - check out some of the old Delta guys like Charlie Patton - and then early gospel, like Arizona Dranes and Bessie Johnson, also storefront gospel -

the earliest recording I've heard, interestingly enough, with this sound, is from a Bob Wills broadcast with guitarist Junior Barnard, middle 1940s, maybe, and I can only assume that Barnard (a white guy and great jazz player) was probably reflecting what he heard around him in Texas - not to mention the limitation of low-power guitar amps.

Go back further than that - to West African musicians putting beads on their kalimbas and gourds on their balafons to "dirty up" the sound.

I was thinking about this part of African and African-American aesthetics, too - in African music it works nicely especially since much of the melodies are pentatonic and sound too simple without a dirtier sound.

If a music gets harmonically more complex a distorted sound might counteract the musical intentions. But beyond all that it's a matter of personal taste, for the most part - and it depends on the type of music. Imagine a clinically clean toned blues ... since much organ jazz is connected to R & B it's no wonder many like a grainier sound - that's what I heard many organists say about Leslies.

If I were an enginer I would carefully ask if they intentionally want that sound or simply can't afford the repair costs :g

Edited by mikeweil

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

while we're at it think about the growl of a saxophone, too - Pete Brown, Coleman Hawkins, Earl Bostic, etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

while we're at it think about the growl of a saxophone, too - Pete Brown, Coleman Hawkins, Earl Bostic, etc.

Or the deliberate effects of some trumpet players--Bubber Miley, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, Lester Bowie, and others.

I think that such growls and other effects would be considered unacceptable mistakes in classical music, but from an early day were considered desirable and even prized as techniques for jazz expression.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If a music gets harmonically more complex a distorted sound might counteract the musical intentions.  

I "knew" this, but have never articulated it to myself (or anyone else) this clearly. Great comment.

If I were an enginer I would carefully ask if they intentionally want that sound or simply can't afford the repair costs   :g

I would guess that many folks here know the story of Willie Kizart's guitar sound on "Rocket 88" by Ike Turner/Jackie Brenston. The band drove from Clarksdale to Sun Studio in Memphis jammed into one car, with the equipment strapped to the top. Somewhere along the way a policeman decided that they looked suspicious and pulled them over; as they pulled onto the shoulder, the guitar amp fell off the roof, damaging the cone of the speaker. The cop decided that they were okay and sent them on. When they got to the studio, they made do with the broken amp - they "fixed" the cone with a piece of paper and rocked.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Works done with distortion present from the beginning are statements.

Plainly said, how could we differentiate between an intentional way of expression and a simple material or hardware failure...?

If your equipment detoriates gradually, you might not notice the change, and at some point it becomes part of your sound and you don't want to change it back.

if one wanted to pursue this I think one might find the origin of the kind of distortion we are talking about in African American vocalizing - check out some of the old Delta guys like Charlie Patton - and then early gospel, like Arizona Dranes and Bessie Johnson, also storefront gospel -

the earliest recording I've heard, interestingly enough, with this sound, is from a Bob Wills broadcast with guitarist Junior Barnard, middle 1940s, maybe, and I can only assume that Barnard (a white guy and great jazz player) was probably reflecting what he heard around him in Texas - not to mention the limitation of low-power guitar amps.

Go back further than that - to West African musicians putting beads on their kalimbas and gourds on their balafons to "dirty up" the sound.

I was thinking about this part of African and African-American aesthetics, too - in African music it works nicely especially since much of the melodies are pentatonic and sound too simple without a dirtier sound.

If a music gets harmonically more complex a distorted sound might counteract the musical intentions. But beyond all that it's a matter of personal taste, for the most part - and it depends on the type of music. Imagine a clinically clean toned blues ... since much organ jazz is connected to R & B it's no wonder many like a grainier sound - that's what I heard many organists say about Leslies.

If I were an enginer I would carefully ask if they intentionally want that sound or simply can't afford the repair costs :g

Agreed : it is tempting to formulate the reverse proposition "The less harmonically complex the music is, the more distorted sound comes in". But that would be awful, wouldn't it? :g It is perfectly possible to play the blues we a very clean sound, as you no doubt will agree...check this

And yes, I'll try that next time to ask that question to the player, provided the check has been paid in advance! :D

Ok, I'll try to watch myself ans stop joking...I notice this distortion problem seems to be less present at the moment. Here is a small list of organ cd's I recently bought and listened to without hearing it:

Pat Bianchi East coast roots

Joey De Francesco Snapshots

Vince Seneri Urban Paradise + Street talk

Organissimo Groovedelphia

Lonnie Smith Spiral

I should also add that some recordings I made last summer with Rhoda Scott and Barbara Dennerlein are completely free of distortion : they were both playing New B3's fed into Leslies 760. So maybe with the more recent equipment, distortion has become a thing of the past and that we'll mostly keep hearing it from vintage instruments?

Edited by michel devos

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jeff - I actually do not believe the story about Brenston's band, as the same thing has been told about 5 other guitar players, from Link Wray to Pat Hare. The problem is, if one makes a hole in a speakler cone, that, by itself, depending on location, does not necessarily present a distortion problem (I've got maybe 4 speakers with holes in 'em that play cleanly). And if the hole is made in a crucial place the sound is not aesthetically pleasing, not the kind of power-tube breakup that we admire - it's more just like a buzz. My take on the sound of that record is that it's classic overdrive.

Edited by AllenLowe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jeff - I actually do not believe the story about Brenston's band, as the same thing has been told about 5 other guitar players, from Link Wray to Pat Hare.

Way to go, Allen - ruin a perfectly good myth with facts, reason, and evidence!

But you do agree that they probably drove to Memphis in a car?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There's so much we don't know about this. A musician has to make do with whatever instrument he/she can get, whenever. And sometimes may borrow a bit of equipment from someone else. Or find it at a gig. How many times have we heard about pianists who get to the gig and find a crap piano? But they get around whatever problems there are and play effective music as best they can under the circumstances.

Trane used to say that the musician who understood saxes better than anyone else was Earl Bostic. I bet that's reliable evidence. And it means that Hawk, Prez, Bird, Rollins, Stitt, Jug, Ornette and Trane himself were working with a less than perfect understanding of their instrument. So it doesn't matter.

MG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You guys are making way too much out of this.

Why is the organ on Live At Smalls distorting? Because it's a live gig and Jimmy is pushing it at full bore to get above the drums, the guitar amp, the noise from the crowd, from the kitchen, from the city itself. Happy accident. People who wanted to be Jimmy Smith heard that and thought "Hey, that's the way it should sound!" And thus a social construct was formed around the idea of how Jazz Organ sounds.

And it sounds cool. Tubes saturate in a way that is pleasing and thick and creamy. Those live Groove Holmes records are the same way. The live Johnny Hammond Smith records, same thing. Live Shirley Scott. Live McDuff. Live everybody back in those days. PA's sucked. The only way to do it was to push the instrument / speaker to it's limit.

From that social construct learned via live recordings, the sound became standard and so it was replicated in the studio by some. Those Solid State McGriff recordings feature an amazingly saturated organ sound that is gorgeous. Same with McDuff on some recordings. Others chose to go another route, maybe to make themselves different.

A recording engineers job is to capture the sound the musicians produce, not to make a judgement on whether it is aesthetically correct or not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You guys are making way too much out of this.

Why is the organ on Live At Smalls distorting? Because it's a live gig and Jimmy is pushing it at full bore to get above the drums, the guitar amp, the noise from the crowd, from the kitchen, from the city itself. Happy accident. People who wanted to be Jimmy Smith heard that and thought "Hey, that's the way it should sound!" And thus a social construct was formed around the idea of how Jazz Organ sounds.

And it sounds cool. Tubes saturate in a way that is pleasing and thick and creamy. Those live Groove Holmes records are the same way. The live Johnny Hammond Smith records, same thing. Live Shirley Scott. Live McDuff. Live everybody back in those days. PA's sucked. The only way to do it was to push the instrument / speaker to it's limit.

From that social construct learned via live recordings, the sound became standard and so it was replicated in the studio by some. Those Solid State McGriff recordings feature an amazingly saturated organ sound that is gorgeous. Same with McDuff on some recordings. Others chose to go another route, maybe to make themselves different.

A recording engineers job is to capture the sound the musicians produce, not to make a judgement on whether it is aesthetically correct or not.

Jim,

That confirms my own thoughts : originally, the Hammond distortion was generated by overdriving low power equipment in order to try reaching the desired loudness level in noisy environments such as clubs, dances etc...

If one considers distortion as a welcomed musical intention, it has to be open to criticism : you find it thick, creamy, pleasant, I find it harsh, ugly, irritating, that's life.

It is true that many followers of the great Jimmy went as far as copying even the less happy features of the Master's playing : as a result, distortion was endorsed as a trademark feature of the Hammond sound, which I believe it is not.

Regarding the engineer's job, that depends entirely of his Ethics...Nowadays, the engineer is more often than not the producer of the session, especially in tight budget projects. Even if he isn't, I believe it is his duty to immediately report ANY sound anomally he detects. If the player confirms the distortion is intentional, fair enough with me : but what about the final CD listener hearing it? Will he believe this is just another musical signature, or that the recording engineer messed up his job?

Understandably, to do so requires an expertise in the sound aspects of the many instruments one is bound to record : I have this knowledge for a great deal of them, unfortunately not yet for the Hammond/Leslie combination...The whole purpose of starting this thread was to confront my own ideas with the ones of other Hammond dedicated people such as the ones writing in this forum.

Even if it appears I do not concur with the majority of the opinions expressed here, I am very grateful to have the opportunity to discuss it with all of you. :lol:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I prefer a rather clean sound myself, but if a player likes it dirty, who am I or you to say it's wrong?

I doubt anyone would blame you, as the engineer, for a distorted organ tone.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I prefer a rather clean sound myself, but if a player likes it dirty, who am I or you to say it's wrong?

I doubt anyone would blame you, as the engineer, for a distorted organ tone.

Good to hear that...and you must be right, after 7 months nobody tried to shoot me yet..!

Answering your question would depend from which point of view I'd look at the problem if asked :

As a plain engineer hearing heavy distortion from a Hammond /Leslie, I might tell the player his Hammond remains a machine and, as such, obeys the design laws of every machine : that is, if one operates it outside its design envelope, it will no more function in accordance with its specifications and one of the results would be distortion. So, this answer would be : wrong.

I might, in case that was not intentional, advise him on ways to eliminate the problem : better amp, more efficient drivers, more power etc...

As a sound engineer, I would know that the words 'wrong' or 'right' have little meaning in art... and tell him rather I do not like his 'dirty' sound and why. That's way ahead of saying it is wrong...

Simple matter of taste.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Last friday, I went to listen an organ group with which I have a recording project goin'...The organist was playing an XK3 linked to a Leslie 3300, both brand new : not a hint of distortion here, the club room was bathed in flows of pure, warm sounds, with a perfectly adequate loudness althought the room was about 700 cubic meters, furnished with tables, chairs and carpets and around 150 people attending.

I heard the guy tell me he had switched recently from his CV/Leslie 122 combo because he was fed up of the struggle to get heard over the noisy crowds in clubs and the distortion produced by his vintage gear...No doubt Jim will agree with this choice. For myself, I am confident that the spread of the leslie 3300 is goin' to make Hammond distortion nothing more than a (bad) souvenir in the comin' years! :rofl::D:g:wub:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dream on! :)

I think there are still some that will choose to use distortion as a color and texture. I know I would. (And above, just to correct something you mentioned, I was not talking about JUST guitar.)

I like me some distortion as a musical choice. I'd be very unhappy if it were eliminated altogether by some sort of music-dictatator decree!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dream on! :)

I think there are still some that will choose to use distortion as a color and texture. I know I would. (And above, just to correct something you mentioned, I was not talking about JUST guitar.)

I like me some distortion as a musical choice. I'd be very unhappy if it were eliminated altogether by some sort of music-dictatator decree!

Dreamin' is a sweet, nice activity...and it does not prevent reaching compromises. I would be more than happy if distortion kept restricted to people who deliberately use it as a musical choice, as you call it : that would leave room to discuss it as a personal taste, and not as an equipment shortcoming.

The remaining ones would probably be as happy to enjoy playing or listening without the damn' thing, even if, according to the poll results, that would only account for 20%!

Well, still a long way to go then... ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some guys, like myself, want a clean organ sound. For me (and them) the 3300 is definitely an amazing Leslie. Of course, you can also get that grunge from it as well due to the tube preamp. I like it to start to break up just before the top of my expression pedal range. But your friend is right; the 3300 has enormous headroom, way more than a 122 or 147, and you can play it as quiet or as loud as you want. I love mine.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

it all depends what yr doing, really- if you are jon lord in deep purple, you are going to need it. if you are jackie davis playing hammond on jackie gleason 'aphrodesia', you are not going to need to sound like deep purple (btw thats an -essential- hammond lp if you dont already have a copy, jackie gleason aphrodesia)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

it all depends what yr doing, really- if you are jon lord in deep purple, you are going to need it. if you are jackie davis playing hammond on jackie gleason 'aphrodesia', you are not going to need to sound like deep purple (btw thats an -essential- hammond lp if you dont already have a copy, jackie gleason aphrodesia)

Tell me more, Aric.

MG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.