Mood, Blooper, and More

A Chat with Chase Bliss Audio

Perfect Circuit · 06/02/20

In a recent livestream chat, we had the opportunity to catch up with Zack and Tyler from Chase Bliss Audio. Check out the video above for conversation about their overall history, design philosophy, and their newest products—but for those who aren't familiar with Chase Bliss...well, what can we say? Chase Bliss (along with companies like Red Panda, Hologram Electronics, and Earthquaker Devices) make some of the most fascinating and original pedal-format audio processors available today.

Joel Korte, formerly a designer at ZVEX Effects, eventually broke off to form Chase Bliss—and since its formation in 2013, the company has produced an array of consistently inspiring devices for nearly every style of music. From their much-loved and hyper-flexible vibrato/chorus Warped Vinyl to the remarkably flexible Condor EQ/filter/multi-effect and the new digital Mood and Blooper, Chase Bliss have enabled an astounding array of creative options for how to interact with sound.

And speaking of interaction, this is a key feature of Chase Bliss's entire design paradigm. Take a look at the back of one of their pedals: you'll find an array of DIP switches exposed on the back of the unit which enable a huge range of "special features," essentially re-routing internal signals to provide you extended control beyond what is possible from the panel controls themselves. By allowing both expression pedal, control voltage (yes, CV), and MIDI (yes MIDI) control over dang near every parameter on their pedals, they invite the user to experiment with finding their own personal means of shaping sound. And the embrace of MIDI and CV makes it clear that these pedals aren't "just for guitar" fact, we've seen a huge number of their pedals make their way into the hands of keyboardists and modular synthesists.

Let's take a closer look at two of their most recent releases, the Mood and Blooper, to get a sense of just what Chase Bliss have been up to as of late.

In the Mood

Mood and Blooper are Chase Bliss's first foray into creating digital effects—and to get them off the ground, they enlisted the help of some outside friends in the world of pedal design. Mood is a collaboration between Old Blood Noise Endeavors, Drolo FX, and Chase Bliss—a multi-effect based around granular synthesis-like concepts of micro looping, live sampling, and sample manipulation. The pedal is divided into two halves, designed by OBNE and Drolo respectively, which work together to form a remarkably deep processor that, in the words of Zack and Tyler, tends to start you into unusual musical directions that tend to focus and take shape over time.

One of the cool things about Mood is that it features a big central "Clock" control. This is a control for the actual clock rate of the DSP processes themselves (kind of like a sample rate control). The clock knob is quantized to harmonically-related clock speeds, so as you move it, you'll hear shifts in your sound that correspond to octaves and fifths. Any sound already seeded into the pedal will appear to shift—leading to some pretty interesting results. Since this is a control for the sample rate, it's easy to delve into sample rate reduction effects: slower clock speeds will lead to a pleasantly lo-fi, noisy sound.

Mood's left side offers three effect selections: Reverb, Delay, and Slip. In Reverb mode, Time controls the reverb length, while Modify smears the reverb. Clock has a significant impact on the sound quality of the reverb as well as the reverb durations—and high clock speeds, you can dial in very short reverb sounds, but at slower speeds, things can take quite a while to decay...which combined with the inherently lower sound quality can lead to beautiful, slowly evolving textures. The Delay mode behaves similarly, with Time controlling delay speed, Modify controlling feedback (into self-oscillation), and Clock providing a similar joined control of sound quality and delay times. Slip mode is similar to delay—but rather than controlling feedback, the Modify control controls something like a "playback speed" control, with reversed sounds to the left, forward-going sounds to the right, and very low pitch shifting in the center.

The right side, designed in collaboration with Drolo FX, is more about granular synthesis/sample manipulation techniques. It is always either "listening" or playing, indicated by the status of its LED. When "listening," this side is recording incoming sound into an audio buffer whose size is determined by the Clock control (from half a second up to 16 seconds). Like the left side, there are three modes—here called Env, Tape, and Stretch. In Env mode, the recorded buffer plays back in a loop with moving grains—by adjusting the Length parameter, you adjust the grain size (and thereby affect the overall coarseness of the sound). When incoming audio is present, it pauses the loop at the current position and repeats at a rate determined by the Length parameter. Sensitivity to the incoming audio is determined by the Modify control. Note—adjusting the Clock after the loop is recorded will shift the pitch of the recorded audio—great for creating stacked layers with incoming audio. In Tape mode, Length still controls grain size—but Modify controls playback speed (as with Slip mode, from reverse playback through zero into positive playback speeds). In Stretch mode, the granular engine is used to perform time stretching effects, in which Length still adjust grain size and Modify controls the speed at which grains move through the audio buffer—maintaining the original pitch, but allowing the sound to advance slowly through the loop.

A central switch determines internal signal routing between the sides of the pedal—so it's possible to combine the two sides to produce a huge array of effects that combine OBNE's more time-based spatial effects with Drolo's bizarre granular oddities and glitches. Honestly, either side of Mood would have been amazing as its own independent effect—but by combining these two and linking their clock rates, you stumble across an astonishing array of evolving, cascading sonic transformations that feels alive...and certainly feels like more than the sum of its parts. If you're looking for ambient, glitchy, and washy lo-fi exploration, get this pedal.

Blooper, the Bottomless Looper

Blooper and Mood appear similar at first glance—but where Mood excels at glitchy, evolving "micro loops," Blooper is focused on transformations of longer periods of time. What separates Blooper from other loop pedals is that looping itself is just the start of the process, rather than the end product—while you can definitely use it as a straight-ahead looper, its core focus is more about what you do with the loops once they exist—allowing for fading between multiple layers, transforming the sound of your loops with built-in modifiers, and overall shifting into new directions as time goes on. While Tyler and Zack in the video refer to Mood as a device which produces unexpected results which gradually focus, Blooper seems to do the opposite...starting with something definite and gradually drifting into the unknown.

Designed in collaboration with popular YouTuber Knobs, Blooper is a slightly more difficult to explain than Mood—because it truly offers so many options for personal customization. In short, Blooper starts out like any other looper: recording external audio into a buffer and repeating it indefinitely. However, where Blooper differs from most loopers is in its internal capacity for modifying and layering loops. Blooper allows you to tweak the sound of your loops with internal modifiers/effects (from filters to granular processors and audio scramblers), and even allows you to record these effected loops into new layers. From there, you can crossfade between layers for continuous changes in sound quality, can adjust stability for lo-fi, unstable warbles, and can allow for additive transformations that gradually shift your sound further into unrecognizable territory with each repeat. It offers multiple levels of undo/redo, and best of all, new modifier types keep coming...and can be updated by the user via USB. So you can truly turn Blooper into the looper that you want it to be—a highly personal instrument for highly personal soundscapes.

Use it with your guitar, keyboards, modular synth, drum machines...the tagline "bottomless looper" seems apt. If you're looking for a great tool for deep listening, slow evolution, and patient explorations into the sonic unknown, Blooper is for you.

Of course, Chase Bliss is up to more than just these—we also eagerly anticipate the release of their Automatone series, starting with the Automatone Preamp MkII, an overdrive/fuzz/preamp/you-name-it analog processor with preset memory, motorized faders, and full MIDI control. Designed in collaboration with Benson Amps, the Preamp MkII is a powerful tool for all manners of distortion, boost, and tone manipulation.

With an eye clearly toward the future, Chase Bliss has produced a strong and inspiring line of devices that break out of the typical "guitar pedal" paradigm and into a more expansive realm of general-purpose sound design. Great for guitarists, keyboardists, producers, or anyone who loves sound, their pedals are an invitation to take tone shaping into your own hands and to highly personalize its control. If you want to reach into your sound and turn itself into something completely new, keep an eye on Chase Bliss—it well may be that they already have something that could turn your sonic world upside down.