Particle history - part 3: the next stage

Within a few months of releasing the first batch, we began hearing from artists who were taking the Particle on the road. 

(Read more about the development and building the first batch in parts one and two.)

Anyone who has spent a few minutes exploring the Particle will likely have found that it can quickly conjure some pretty unusual sounds. When you've created something truly unusual, it can be a real gamble as to whether anyone will find it useful. There has long been a variety of delay and modulation effects marketed to guitarists, but when the Particle came along, there was simply nothing else quite like it in the pedal world. Fortunately, we soon found that artists were more than ready for the new possibilities–this pedal that could flex between the most ordinary delay line and the most otherworldly storms of granulated sound was quickly finding a home in the hands of some of the most brilliantly creative people, and we could hardly believe it.

Josh Klinghoffer was one of the earliest adopters–he bought a Particle in December of 2012, and then 3 more a few months later, just before the start of the Red Hot Chili Peppers 2013/2014 tour, and a string of summer shows with Dot Hacker. The pedal was used again on the RHCP Getaway tour in 2016. It was given specific mention in the album’s tablature book, on the songs “Goodbye Angels” and “Encore”.

When Josh performed his first solo set as Pluralone in 2021, he sent us some pictures of his setup, which included two Particles side by side atop his keyboard, connected to his Roland TR-909 drum machine.

Pluralone performing at the Ohana Festival in Dana Point, CA.

In the spring of 2013, Curt received an email from Juan Alderete, who had heard of the Particle and was eager to try it. In those days, Red Panda was still a one-person company, with limited time and resources for marketing or promotion. It was a delightful surprise that Juan took the time to reach out, and seemed to signify that this quirky effect might be gaining traction on its own through word-of-mouth. Soon after Curt sent the pedal to Juan, it appeared in a video on his (then newly conceived) Pedals & Effects channel. It was included among his overall top picks of 2013, and we soon began hearing from other internationally celebrated artists, including Scott Shriner, Adrian Belew, Henry Kaiser, and several others who were newly intrigued.

Juan began using the Particle with fretless bass in two of his personal projects, Big Sir and Halo Orbit. It can be heard most notably in the songs “Trieste” and “The Kindest Hour”. Juan says of the latter, “It makes the solo section take on a whole new dimension. I have never heard anything so crushing and mind bending.”

As time went on, the Particle continued to appear in surprisingly different genres of music. It appeared on Linkin Park’s The Hunting Party, and extensively on Kimbra’s The Golden Echo in 2014. By 2015, it had been used by members of Modest Mouse, Nine Inch Nails, King Crimson, JR JR, and Living Colour, and in the solo work of artists such as Scott Amendola, Sarah Lipstate, and Richard Devine. Robin Finck’s pedalboard, circa 2018.

Alan Sparhawk of Low was another early explorer of the Particle. It was used through the recording of Low’s last few albums, including the most recent HEY WHAT. In a performance of "Into You" from the album Ones and Sixes, the Particle can be heard adding a distinctive, randomized delay texture to Alan's guitar.

Some of Alan's favorite Particle sounds.

Artists who are given to experimentation are often drawn to the Particle for its broad palette of controlled randomization. In a recent exchange, Henry Kaiser admits:

"Oddly enough, I don’t use the preset slots on the Particle - I don’t save any settings! No presets. I guess my improvisor’s policy is that I set it differently for every gig and studio session. I think that is a great thing about the Particle - it is a terrific pedal to discover new things every day and every time I put it to work. The pedal’s user interface is especially well-adapted for this. The way that I used the Particle is to treat it like another musician that is improvising with me. I want the musical partner to surprise me and serve up the unexpected for me to react to. That’s a reason I don’t use the presets, I don’t want to know what’s coming next. It’s about discovery and having the Particle teach this old dog some new tricks, every time we play together. I have two Particles and two Tensors on my board. I set them differently every time I play. And I bend down a lot and adjust them often during playing. The Red Panda pedals take me to places that I have never been - every time that I play. And this has been going on for 12 years now!"

Nels Cline of Wilco, a well known explorer of sound, learned of the pedal from Henry:

"It was my old friend (guitarist, etc.) Henry Kaiser who first alerted me to The Particle. Henry is always super on top of such things and has hipped me to a handful of effects pedals that have had a profound impact on my creativity, so when he is excited about something I pay attention. And though I do not utilize The Particle as much as my wife Yuka C Honda does (she uses it A LOT!), nor as much as my friend and longtime musical comrade Scott Amendola might, I find that there is nothing quite like it in the ever-expanding (perhaps currently bloated?) world of "granular", etc. I'm not sure, but it seems to me that The Particle was at the forefront of the current torrent of pedals doing what had previously been living more in the realms of computers and studio gear. My favorite way to use it is before my looping device. By setting it up with bouncing, burbling octave jumps or any other sound that makes me think of the microscopic world, I can feed those sounds into my looping device and create a shimmering and shifting backdrop in the distance, over which I may play something with a lot of space. Putting it way up front blend-wise is fun, too, but I like it best when used subtly."

Yuka's favorite settings.

"I can honestly say that Particle is my favorite pedal I’ve ever used and I use it most often," says Yuka. "These are wild settings but totally usable all the time." 

Artists continually surprise us with their clever use of the pedal, from the recent work of Queens of the Stone Age to the solo work of Fred Frith.

Often, an artist will find a place for the Particle that really challenges our basic assumptions about where granular effects “belong”. Erik Berry, who plays mandolin with Minnesota’s Trampled By Turtles, keeps his Particle on a stand where he can access it during live performances. He tells us:

“There is a lot of sound and notes within Trampled's music, so a delay pedal is a bit of a busy add-on. But I really like the Particle for its unrelenting digitalness. It's an extremely modern sound. On a tune like Annihilate, the rapid delay and single repeat coupled with the random factor creates a tone with a really unique texture.”

Mark Bowen of IDLES has also found a use for the pedal’s unique textures in his songwriting:

"The most important song for me that I’ve worked on with the Particle is the song “Progress” from our last album Crawler. My goal in life is to make guitar music that doesn’t sound like guitars, I want to be Aphex Twin and Link Wray smashed together and formed into a Jack White shaped mould. The Particle helps me make my dream come true. It takes what is a simple sweet finger picked guitar line and turns it into a cacophonous beautiful myriad of sounds blistering and bubbling in all different directions. It adds real beauty and depth but also, importantly for me, violence. It’s unwieldy but you never need to completely relinquish control. There’s not one but three Particles with different settings on that song. Bliss."

The Particle has become a sound design tool in other forms of media, too, from film scores to game design. Kid Koala says:

"On the Floor Kids video game, I used the Particle for many of the in-game sound effects. The pitch and chop knobs were great to create some of the bursts we needed for the player’s control inputs, scoring bonuses, and power up sweeps. Currently in the studio, I’ve got the Particle hooked up to a customizable music box that’s got an upright bass pickup on it."

Kid Koala's music box.

The list of artists who have pulled incredible sounds out of this pedal is long, and continues to grow. What initially began as an experiment–that of moving granular post-processing ideas into a real-time effect pedal for live use–has evolved into a much bigger story than we could have imagined at the start. Each time we hear of new work that has been shaped in some small way by what the Particle can do, it adds to our hope that our work might continue to inspire musicians to push boundaries and explore new creative possibilities along the way.