Using a mixer as an instrument

Over the years I’ve noticed people mentioning in forums that they use their mixer as an instrument.

I could be thinking into it too much…. like bigger than what people actually mean by instrument…. but I love experimenting & using gear in different ways & this really peaked my interest.

I know certain mixers can color the sound nice when clipping. I’ve heard that you can plug the outs to the ins & use the feedback loop as a sound source. But this is the extent of my knowledge besides using mixers for what they’re intended for.

How are you guys using your mixer?

If you use your mixer as an instrument what do you mean by that?

Would love to hear some mixer tips & tricks :blush:

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Hi @Sharris
I use mine indeed as an instrument.
Cutting/boosting frequencies and carving/sculpting the sound (semi parametric swept bell EQ with a wide Q and frequency range that covers nearly 7 octaves). It allows me to have my mixer actually serving me as an extra piece of musical source.
Option to drive any channel into clipping gives a lot of extra colouring. By varying the maximum signal level the channel input pre-amplifier can pass (headroom) before it is driven into clipping (distortion).

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the people your reading on those forums are talking about “feedback loops”.

everyone into that doesn’t give away secrets to how “they” achieve results.
just make sure its Analog mixer, fully digital ones will die when in extremes.
practice on a used one.

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Lots of possibilities really. I’ve played around with a few.

There’s the ‘no-input’ approach which is maybe what sketchdashaman is referring to. It’s essentially just routing an output (usually an aux or secondary) of the mixer into an input (usually not xlr but 1/4). Analog is necessary and powered is best. This produces a feedback loop of the (usually) inaudible inherent electrical signal of the powered mixer. Twiddling the frequency knobs will begin to alter the sound and hitting mute buttons or volume cuts can produce rhythms (though you gotta do it manually). It is highly unpredictable and generally extremely atonal. Each mixer, even between the same brand and model, will have its own character and sound as well. It can produce damaging frequencies to speakers and ears, so using a limiter or compressor is recommended and headphones are NEVER to be used. Prolonged usage can also mess with the mixer, so its not really advisable to use a pricey one or something you plan on using for multiple uses. I have a Behringer that I’ve been using for years that can’t really function for anything else but this type of play at this point. You can run several mixers into each other and get some interesting internal modulations of the signals as well. But again, this is all highly unpredictable. You turn a mid knob, a high pitched squeal comes out. You turn the treble, you’re in throbbing deep bass or the sound just cuts out entirely.

Most folks who do this for a while start using effects to control and modulate the signals for a more ‘compositional’ approach. RIng modulators, reverb (particularly spring), delays, loopers, and filters are great for this.

Some folks use the mixer of old cassette recorders, both playing a cassette as a sort of sampler/instrument as well as feeding external signals through the cassette mixer. Some older machines because of age and neglect or maybe were always crap can alter and carve up sounds in peculiar ways. At some extreme levels and gain it can also sort of self resonate or sound like a heavily drenched kinda drone effect. A lot depends on the machine and source signal of course.

And yes, there’s just using mixers as they were intended but because of the machine itself (old, cheap, built in effects, unique circuitry or routing options, whatever) the sound produced is something nice, unique, odd, etc.

Digital mixers and automation is also something to consider. You can set up random parameter shifts, quick shifts in frequencies, frequency drop outs, gain staging, etc. Like sketchdashaman said, these are not particularly good at feedback though. You can get clipping, which on a drum track could be cool or maybe a kinda choppy effect on a lead but it could be tricky.

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especially 0:00-2:33:

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Yep, two things come to mind: no-input (feedback) mixer, and dub mixing techniques. The latter are famous for using the mixer as a musical tool, beyond set-and-forget EQ’ing and mix levels. One could say DJ mixing is a slimmed down version of that: limited numbers of channels manipulated live with EQ, fx sends, etc.

Oh and then there is input overdrive methods. The classic gabber hardcore kick sound is based on that. Feeds the output of one hard driven channel into the input of the next, hard driven again. Some Mackie mixers are famous for achieving that sound.

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I consider WMD’s Performance Mixer my most useful module. If I didn’t have a modular rack, I’d at least get a small modular pod to use that mixer and 4MS’s Wav Recorder.

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I personally think it means, that one could select the source playing, and doing transitions, which are interesting to listen.

Effectivly creating something new, out of different source selected. Running 2x Drum Machine and Xfade in between, so create a third rythm, that one didnt plan before.

I think these mutations, are the creative part, a good DJ knows which combination works, or knows how to make it work.

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I use two mixers.
One is a DJ mixer with great cut eqs for performance and the other is a digital o1v with my instruments connected.
They both feed each other and the decks mixer splitts its signal for two kaoss pad heavy fx sends - so I can really splitt and perform signals as they feed round ,sometimes multiple times.
The o1v has phase reverse so I can remove dry/shared elements of paired signals resulting in just the difference. This gets freaky and fun. I use the built in dynamics to steady things.
It’s a trip hitting two mixers together and combining the above mentioned dub tricks with DJ mixing the mixers truely become the centrepiece.

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any sonic examples you care to share of this process?

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Are you suggesting that you use it in a non- traditional manner? If so, I’d appreciate any additional explanation of how you use it.

@RitualAudio: On the WMD Performance Mixer, each channel’s level and pan can be modulated with CV. I particularly like to use an envelope follower with my Soma Pipe to produce CV that controls which mix of which channels of processed Pipe reach the outputs. In that setup, my whole rack functions as a wacked-out multieffects for live solo Pipe.

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Got it, thank you!

Kyoka uses a Mixer as a feedback loop

I have been to whole-day workshop of her and as far as I can remember she sends clips from Ableton to several channels of her mixer.
She can then use AUX-sends to send these clips back to her Laptop where she uses Traktor effects. These effected tracks are routed back to the mixer (with a little delay, which is actually intended).
In this way she can play with the feedback and effects to create these noisy grainy structures.

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I’ll see what I can do to upload something over the next week.

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Much obliged

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The feedback loop thing was kinda popular in the turntablism scene in the early 00´s. My old Vestax PMC05 MKII still sounds the best compared to the other DJ mixers I tried this with.

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one basic setup with my old mackie 1202:
connect a delay and a reverb unit to channel strips.
send signal (or not) to the fx units with aux 1 and 2.
(cross/self) feed back those fx signals with auxes on those fx channels.

playing with levels and parameters give interesting results already.

you can add an analog filter and a sequencer after the reverb (like korg sq-1 and moog mf 101 for example)

this makes the mackie part of a solid modular setup.

also a favourite of mine:
feedbacking a spring reverb (spring is more controllable than digital in feedback world) and add a (cv controlled) bandpass filter to get musical notes out of the feedback loop.

just two examples, but thats the main reason i still use that mackie.

it also doesn´t make sense to sell it, it´s pretty much worth nothing.
i just use it as (part of) an instrument.

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Mackie 1202 is cool, I want to buy a VLZ4, I sold a VLZ 1 ages ago