How To Make Hideous Sounds With Your Modular Synthesizer

When Angela Seo and Jamie Stewart of LA experimental Xiu Xiu stopped by Perfect Circuit recently, they came to make some noise.

Or as Perfect Circuit puts it, the duo demonstrated “a number of ways to make sounds that were as hideous and disgusting as possible”.

In the no talk video embedded above, Seo sculpts feedback loops with a collection of her favorite pedals from Earthquaker Devices, Boss, and Death by Audio, while Stewart helms the mixer and Trogotronic’s Valykrie, a modified test equipment oscillator.

Next, Seo switches over to her Waldorf Streichfett, while Stewart moves to a couple pedals of his own: Death by Audio’s Echo Dream 2 and Benidub’s DS71 Dub Siren. They then both perform some solo Eurorack patches, and Seo closes things out with a solo performance on her Streichfett and pedals.

In the second video, embedded below, Xiu Xiu demonstrates how they make “the most disgusting sounds” possible.

With a variety of gear, including the Make Noise DPO, Verbos Harmonic Oscillator, and the Total Sonic Annihilation from Death by Audio, they show off a few setups for building up immensely destructive audio.

Along the way, Seo and Stewart also discuss using feedback and noise with intention, to make musical use of more unpredictable and harsh sound design.

42 thoughts on “How To Make Hideous Sounds With Your Modular Synthesizer

    1. Synthesizers are a tool to make sound…not everyone who uses one is after musical results. Have you heard of sound design? Installation art? You seem to be missing the point, these videos are just demonstrating how to make abrasive sound. It’s juvenile for a hip hop producer to pop up and comment on a video tutorial on how to make jazz “eww, learn some real scales”. Move along and watch something else instead of wasting time with snarky inane comments.

        1. Sometimes breaking things is just as satisfying as building them. It’s the ying and yang that completes the cycle of life.

        2. Sometimes breaking things is just as satisfying as building them. It is the ying and yang that completes the cycle of life.

      1. “wasting time with snarky inane comments”

        That’s the purpose of the comments section: individuals without achievement denigrating those who have.

      2. Yes, music is basically manipulation of sounds, but when the sound has no harmonic content, that is called noise. And since noise has no harmonic content, it cannot be called music as harmony is one of the three important aspects of music, tonal or atonal.

        1. “And since noise has no harmonic content, it cannot be called music as harmony is one of the three important aspects of music, tonal or atonal.”

          Classic music of the 20th Century is about reinventing music as sound organized over time.

          This isn’t classical music – but that idea was embraced across genres – classical, jazz, pop, etc.

        2. Noise music has been around since the beginning of the 20-th century. You should educate yourself a little, buddy. Make some google search about Luigi Russolo and Arseny Avraamov to start.

        3. “no harmonic content, it cannot be called music ”

          your comment seems awfully out of touch, even for a Synthtopia reader.

        4. music is organized sounds, nothing less, nothing more. now please piss off or I’ll dig up Pierre Schaeffer and he’ll come knock some sense back into you.

          also maybe like brush up on your science a little–sounds perceived as “noise” are quite literally defined by their *overabundance* of harmonic content, often to the point that there is no perceivable fundamental. this tendency means that “noise music” tends not to rely on pitched harmony, but uses timbral juxtaposition as a sort of spectral harmony.

          when it comes to noise music just say you don’t get it and you don’t want to get it.

    2. Xiu Xiu have worked consistently on the fringes of the “music industry” for 20 years. You think this is some easy, laid-back lifestyle?

  1. Xiu Xiu is a fantastic band. Easy to dismiss some work as just “noise”, but there are some amazing/dense/beautiful works in their catalogue.

    One of my all time fav’s.

  2. This is the musical equivalent of watching victoria’s secret commercials because you don’t know about porn because you don’t know actual noise music

  3. Hideous sounds…? At the risk of sounding like Comic Book Guy: “Meh, not so much”.

    In regard primarily to the first (no talking) video, I’d say my main disappointments here involve one of two points.

    First, most of the harsh noise performances I’ve really enjoyed just hit a cut for quite a short time — say, 30 seconds to a minute — then moved on to the next “song”. This keeps things moving and interesting. The top video here starts with a 5-minute-long jam. Er, what’s the point?

    Second, for all the gear they’re showing off, I don’t hear them really doing much that’s very interesting. I’ve heard much of this before from a kid with a Bastl Kastle or a circuit-bent Casio and a couple of cheap Boss stomps in a Truly Beautiful Disaster’s feedback loop. And if this were just that, then I’d be fine; does what it says on the tin, after all. However, there are some big expectations set by Perfect Circuit’s introductory hype, while the content doesn’t live up to “the most disgusting sounds” (as advertised here). It’s just kind of boring.

    Now to be fair, the second, edited video *is* actually much more entertaining, with more interesting textures than what was presented in the top video. So maybe this isn’t entirely Xiu Xiu’s fault. Maybe it’s merely down to whoever directed/edited the “no talking” video and simply chose the most dull sections of their performance.

  4. Nothing but nothing is more hidious than the sound of a fart or a burp.
    The sounds created in these 2 vids are just nothing more than annoying.

    Maybe a person can go to a cave or tunnel… a burp or fart will sound even more grotesque.
    These people can do the same but they will emberrassing themselfs.

    Anyway Angela and Jamie…you can do this still when nobody else is arround.

    1. Fart or burp belongs to the classic model of hideous sounds. Modern science tells us that the sound of a living thing dying is to be considered the most hideous sound now. Work being done in the Middle East in the last 20 years has pretty much rendered the old model legacy. Hell, there have even been breakthroughs with regard to this since March of 2020. The sound of an abandoned NYC commerce district makes the humble fart or the noble burp sound like birdsong.

  5. I understand what they’re trying to make here, actually I dig anti-music stuff, but the more I wrap my head around it the more I think that the more hideous disgusting sounds come from the human body. I remember quite well that the sound that traumatized me the most was that of a person getting hit by a car.
    I can imagine a plethora of sounds from screaming, to crying, to getting hit by something that would be way more stressful to people than this.
    With that said I also think artists should always push the boundaries through experimentation. Nice work.

  6. It makes a racket, and no mistake. The sounds could be useable in a film soundtrack or something similar. Pedals are a good way to get new sounds out synths, people have been doing that since the 60s. Maybe not quite so many in one go though?

  7. Inspirational and fun video! I always appreciate when working musicians take some time out of their schedule to share their process.

  8. This is the music you make when you’re trying to get rid of a roommate or break a lease. Its like Yoko Ono playing synths instead of singing. If you have a dog, they’ll go nuts and bite you. People probably shouldn’t seek to sound like Yanni, but swinging all the way over to ball-bearings-in-a-garbage-disposal-au-jous doesn’t seem right, either. Oh dear.:P

  9. i prefer noise music to have an actual “musical” context… (amon tobin comes to mind)…. otherwise its just “noise” which you can hear anywhere, anytime, if you simply listen – or deliberately irritating nonsense which i dont give a shit about except to get rid of it

  10. “True randomness doesn’t mean anything. For us to have meaning we need structure, predictability.
    We are drawn to things that are neither perfectly ordered, contain no information, nor are they perfectly disordered, containing maximum information.
    Somewhere in the middle, we can recognize complex patterns and that is where we derive meaning, in music, poetry and ideas”

  11. pissed off the ponytails, pissed off the neckbeards. one can only hope to be so successful in music as Xiu Xiu.

  12. Harsh noise artist vs. actual musician I’ve had this discussion before..
    It came back… notice they use the term artist and not musician.
    Good points all…I think Yoko was going to a reaction too….as performance art.
    Its easy to push boundaries to no audience or the internet vs with a paying audience if you put economics in the picture. How saleable is it? as one test for popularity…art and music both sell for the same reason…sure art & music should be controversial…in the early synth days there were terrible sounding EM albums, experimental music when you couldn’t hear or sample the record first (the cover art helped sell)..that I regret purchasing….and a lot of it due to the novelty of the synth at the time.
    For any sound not heard before and while you can say everything deserves to be heard for inquiring minds…
    Barry Manilow played 24×7 was used as a “legal” form of torture too…ears and the space between do have a limit where at some point things are damaging. I would hypothesize that the plant growing to Tangerine Dream would grow much better in comparison if that experiment was done with it….and if plants show stunted growth in the testing…it can’t be that good for your ears and in turn you soul for extended periods of however long it can be tolerated.
    I would question for how long at what volume that could be tolerated as 1 test with a random sample of people as a marketing survey alone…As a crazy injection break in actual music it could possibly work…..but then again the longer it goes on it kind of works against itself to me….music and art are for the soul, the mind and culture and with harsh noises…not sure where it fits except synth culture for techniques on this site….but prove me wrong with a sold out show….I make harsh noise all the time with my modular just trying to tune things and experimenting….never thought to record it and call it art or music lol.

  13. The sound of someone farting, while sawing through an oak branch, the TV blasting static, and the neighbourhood kids playing with ray guns, while a helicopter hovers overhead, would sound remarkably similar. An idea for Aphex Twin’s next video?

  14. I had no idea how out of touch so many synthtopia readersd are. Actually, what am I saying? Of course I did. Xiu Xiu is a great band that has been around for a while. Elements of this session sound like it could be cut up and layered into tracks. Also, people need to get out more. Jeez.

  15. Xiu Xiu sells out shows no doubt…but even Xiu Xiu breaks up the show with less hideous sound for the pacing and dynamics…which I would call music in between harsher noise art for some of his pieces…he is a noise artist and musician…but is anyone doing the harshest of hideous sound like the video going 3 hours straight continuously out there as harsh continuous noise show and bit-crushing it as a performance?
    Who is the harshest of the hideous sound genre? I’ve got a modular and I’m really angry at harmony…..
    There is a point at which you can enjoy the sounds of the city and go with the flow…or enjoy the sounds of the factory floor…but subconsciously there is an effect on the head if done long and continuously enough that triggers something in the brain to the point of masochistic acceptance or repulsion…and the effect of withdrawing from it is a dramatic relaxing tension release….so if your creating tension and mood with a piece of art or music how damaging can you get or do you want to create? If music is mood/emotion…What is the harsh noise emotion?
    I’m questioning what is noise exactly now when the range of it it getting broadened with art/music….maybe white noise is a misnomer now that should be called white natural sound… not that people will put on Xiu Xiu to fall asleep to…or will they?
    For Synth heads… warm analogness vs industrial dco digital aliasing? I love distortion and industrial too but what is the upper limit of harshness below ringing ears and hearing loss? I’m already the one with the earplugs at the metal show so maybe I’m biased…I’m waiting for it all to be sampled and slowed down for the harsh hideous vapor wave like space elevator music of the future with more pleasing harmonics…harshwave anyone?

  16. Bit dated? Sounds like the noise jams I made with a friend who now lives ironically, in Japan, in the late 90’s using nothing but FX pedals and Y-connectors. No need for a ‘modular’. Otomo Yoshihde, Merzbow and Masonna were the masters.

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