Looking for an earthy tone? ERD packs real dirt into distortion module

The ERD001 module is restricted to a production run of just 40 units

For some players, faulty cables, abused amplifiers and neglected instruments can be a source of surprisingly gratifying sonic output rather than a performance or recording nightmare. But if it's true grit you're after, only actual topsoil will do. Such is the thinking behind the ERD modular Eurorack series distortion unit from Martin Howse, which has a box a real dirt at its core. Buyers of the strictly limited module are even being offered discounts for providing the creator with earth from locations linked to the macabre.

The Earth Return Distortion module features a box of earth collected from a forest floor in the unit's circuit, which, according to the ERD's designer, allows "control and audio signals to be distorted and amplified as they pass through the earth block."

Described as operating like an earth-conditioned voltage-controlled amplifier and distortion unit, the ERD module features an instrument input jack, an output jack to take the signal to a powered amplifier and a knob in the middle for volume and distortion level control. Howse says that the box of dirt wired up to the circuit will pick up stray electromagnetic signals, which then influence (or condition) the tone. But if the supplied dirt simply doesn't cut it, he's included two connections for switching to a local pile of earth outside the module.

Without actually seeing and hearing the ERD in operation, we can't vouch for any of this actually working as advertised, but an unedited recording of a sine from an RS-95e oscillator passed through the module certainly appears to be caked in a welcome dose of mud.

The ERD001 module is restricted to a production run of 40 and is available now for €165 (about US$185), but Howse does mention offering a discount to those who send him samples of earth from eerie locations (such as "vampire earth from Transylvania or Whitby").

There's one other equally limited module in the Series currently available, with more on the way next year. The ERD/SIR is described as a fully fledged digital/analog viral computation unit that "can be used as a stochastic, chaotic pattern and waveform generator" and comes with a €145 (US$160) price tag. Next year's ERD/y random voltage generator will have a radioactive source, while the ERD/WORM is pegged to be a speech synth and vocoder.

Source: Martin Howse

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