Emperor X Finds New Uses for the Audio-Technica System 10 Wireless Stompbox

photo by DJWC Photography

“Oh, Chad would love this,” said Roger as he rummaged through the cramped Allston practice space of Pretty & Nice. He found a duffel bag full of wires and pedals and dongles and pulled out a brand new Audio Technica System 10 Wireless Guitar Unit (ATW-1501), still smelling new and off-gassing factory plastic vapor.

Performer Magazine asked us to review this wireless guitar pedal. They gave us three of them, and we were thinking maybe you-”

“YES,” I said, grabbing the stompbox-sized unit and cramming it into my backpack before they could change their minds.

They warned me, though, that it’s kind of hard to get used to. The setup’s not the problem, it couldn’t be simpler; plug the power supply in, turn on the transmitter, plug the attached 1/4″ cable into a guitar, and you’re live. It’s the freedom that’s disconcerting at first. Being untethered to a pedal board or a DI box opens up options you don’t have when threatened with cable tangle or an embarrassing mid-set trip. We’ve all learned to be careful with our valuable gear automatically, which is fine, but you know what? Music isn’t careful, at least it shouldn’t be, and any device that allows us to be more reckless is a good thing for the art.

Well, at least I think so. I’m not sure about my audience. The first night I used it was in a hostile beer-centric bar, the kind of show every avant-garde singer/songwriter has nightmares about. The lights were low, the walls covered in dart boards and Miami Dolphins paraphernalia and smoke-stained semi-porn, the audience was talkative and disinterested, and the sound guy was blaring Misogynist Redneck Emo Hits of the Early ’00s between bands. I gave him the stompbox to plug directly into his board, turned on the transmitter and plugged it into the tiny, versatile Teenage Engineering OP-1 synth/mixer, hooked a pair of headphones around my face, and ran them plus the synth and sample audio through an effects patch.

Then dude turned the Creed off and I became a mobile sound system, agitating the audience into participating. When you get bull-charged by a professor-on-Ritalin-looking nutjob screaming into a pair of headphones and dropping heavy 4/4 kicks and 8-bit samples from a small glowing white board, physically severed but through the stage magic of gigahertz-range transmitters unsettlingly linked to the cacophony blasting out of the oversized PA, what do you do? You dance. Or you punch the guy out, but luckily this wasn’t that kind of bar.

If it were, it’d still be fine; I’d just send Pretty & Nice and Audio-Technica my hospital bill, because they put the wireless stage tech of the System 10 Stompbox in the wrong hands, and someone needs to take responsibility for that questionable decision.


Chad Matheny blogs about touring for his music project Emperor X at emperorx.tumblr.com.

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