Ring Modulators – what?

One of the most esoteric and underestimated FX is certainly the Ring modulatior effect.

It’s basically  a signal-processing effect in electronics, related to amplitude modulation or frequency mixing, performed by multiplying two signals, where one is typically a sine-wave or another simple waveform. The sum and differences of those two frequencies is the ring modulation. These frequencies will typically be non-harmonic, so the ring modulator can create some very dissonant sounds. For this reason, ring modulation is not a widely used effect.

It is referred to as “ring” modulation because the analog circuit of diodes originally used to implement this technique took the shape of a ring.

Ring modulators are mostly used in synthesizers and a ring modulator module was a common feature on early modular Moog synthesizers. The ring modulator went out of fashion with the advent of all-in-one synthesizers and sampled-based synthesizers, but has returned as a feature in digital modelling and software synthesizers.

It was a very commonly used effect in early electronic music, when analog oscillators were only capable of generating waveforms with a predictable series of overtones. One of the best-known applications of the ring modulator was its use by Brian Hodgson of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to produce the distinctive voice of the Daleks in the television series Doctor Who.

But some guitarists are also known for using this type of effect.

A ring modulator effect is added to the guitar solo in the song “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath.

And Lee Ranaldo, of Sonic Youth, also uses a Moog Ring Modulator pedal, the Moog MF-102 Moogerfooger,  in his FX chain.

Today, one of the best and most affordable Ring Modulator units is the Electro-Harmonix Frequency Analyzer pedal (below)

 
 It’s a fantastic pedal and great fun to play with, whether you’re a guitarist or play the keyboard. Of course, you WILL have to fiddle a lot with it,and it’s not the kind of effect that should be used in every song…but for the creative musician, this pedal offer limitless possibilities, that can definitely add a very special and edgy sound to your music.
Amongst its users, we can name Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Pepers. You can hear some very interesting samples on the Electro-Harmonix Frequency Analyzer Page.
Maybe, a Ring Modulator pedal is not something you’ll take to every gig, but any musician who’s into creative sounds and interesting FX, should definitely consider a Ring Modulator as one of their secret weapons in the studio! Though usually considered the best Ring Modulator, the Moog MF-102 is perhaps not the best option for most guitarists, given its so expensive, making the EHX Frequency Analyzer a better option.
Early electronic composers, particularly Stockhausen, heavily used ring-modulator effects. Stockhausen’s realization scores for Kontakte (1958–60) and Telemusik (1966) call for it and, indeed, whole compositions are based around it, such as Mikrophonie II (1965, where the sounds of choral voices are modulated with a Hammond organ), Mantra (1970, where the sounds from two pianos are routed through ring modulators), and Licht-Bilder from Sonntag aus Licht (2002), which ring-modulates flute and trumpet.
Harmony-Central has an interesting article with sound samples. View Here
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~ by dolphinblog on January 24, 2008.

One Response to “Ring Modulators – what?”

  1. also. i’m planning to get a ring mod later this year. possibly a moog, but, is there a verdict on the ZVex Ringtone Modulator?

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