This article uses an analytical tool called dist-space to examine the structural role of guitar distortion in hard rock and heavy metal. Dist-space facilitates categorizing, comparing, and graphing the changes in a composition’s distortion structure, which demonstrate distortion’s capacity to generate motivic and formal structures. An application of Robert Morris’s generalization of contour theory, dist-space couples sequential time to a sequentially ordered dimension of discrete distortion regions whose foundation is the distortion function F(A)=D and spectral analysis. While the process of categorizing, comparing, and graphing distortion sounds is partially subjective, the distortion function F(A)=D underlying dist-space’s sequentially ordered dimension of distortion regions provides an objective foundation for measuring, identifying, and comparing distortion sounds that informs subjective judgments leading to greater intersubjective agreement between theorists, analysts, and performers. Although the primary analytical focus of the dist-space tool is guitar distortion, it has a wider range of applications. For example, it can provide analytical insights into the distortion sounds recording engineers produce from microphones, tape machines, and digital or analog signal processing, which have become an integral process of producing tracks in a studio. In fact, this study demonstrates that the guitar distortion heard on recordings is often a product of both guitar amplification and recording studio techniques.

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