This past weekend I was in the greater Detroit area, first attending and presenting at a conference on the electric guitar in popular culture at BGSU, Ohio, then playing a little avant-garde gig at Trinosophes in Detroit proper. I actually became aware of that awesome venue on the suggestion of Curt Malouin, the man behind Red Panda effects. After being gracious enough to come to my show, Curt offered to spend the best part of a Sunday morning showing me around their workshop and allowing me to do some in-depth demos of their current lineup. The Red Panda shop is housed in the Green Garage, formerly a showroom for a smaller car manufacturer in the early twentieth century, now an Eco-friendly co-working space that a bunch of small and medium-sized Detroit business call home. Annexed to the main open-floorplan space are three separate workshops, the largest of which is currently occupied by the Red Panda Lab. The shop is neatly organized, and I spied a sizable number of Particles and Contexts waiting for testing. Both of the company's regular demo pedalboards were on the road (thanks SXSW), so we were stuck with trying one pedal at a time due to a lack of pedal supplies. This element turned out to be anything but an actual limitation, as each individual pedal was already deep enough to make my head spinit was definitely more manageable to approach demoing "in series," so to speak. I started with the Context, which is a reverb pedal offering a variety of modes (room, hall, cathedral, gets, plate, and delay), as well as extended tonal settings, while maintaining an intuitive interface. I'm a self-admitted reverb snob, being accustomed to the natural reverberation of actual halls, and favoring the more effect-like usage of reverb of the lives of Bill Frisell. Reverb for me needs to be tuned just right, sitting behind the dry sound while also giving the impression of both components belonging to the same soundscape. The Plate and Cathedral settings on the Context were my favorites, and produced sweet, intoxicating backdrops to encourage and enliven my spasmodic, amorphous noodling. The only drawback of this pedal is its strict mono in/out operation, but I have to admit it sounds so good it made my stereo resolve waver. Moving on to the Particle--a pedal I have scrutinized on countless reviews and demos onlineI was positively blown away. This is not a pedal for the faint of heart, nor one for the hardcore traditionalist, but for the slightly loopier, crazier, less mainstream noisemakers out there (I know you're out there...) it really becomes an instrument of its own. The various modes provide different uses for the same general concept of real-time granular sound processing, which in turn yields an incredible variety of sounds (and a staggering number of ways to produce different sounds). Despite this complexity, I stumbled on settings I could definitely use (most of them more than once!) in every mode. The envelope-following freeze threshold was my favorite feature, as it allowed for evolving micro-loops to shadow my fretboard meanderings in inspiring and inspired ways. The Bitcrusher is a re-hash of Red Panda's first offering, the Tonecore module by the same name, offering extended control options as well as improved processing. The pedal can operate in straightforward crushing mode, generating a bewildering range of sputtering, glitchy, NES-like, or altogether bit-destroyed sounds, with user control granted to both bit depth and sample rate for added flexibility. An additional mode modulates the sample rate (I think) with an internal LFO, offering a more complex and nuanced set of options--I was easily able to concoct a sort of robotic accompaniment, with faint pitches arpeggiating behind the dry signal. On to the latest Red Panda creation, the Raster--shown as a prototype at NAMM, and now sporting slick, yet-not-quite-definitive graphics (I was told the finished version will feature a creamier, off-white background). Simply speaking the Raster is a digital delay (though with some filtering in the feedback loop) paired with a shifting algorithm. The shifter can be placed before or after the delay (in the former instance the delay can also be reversed), before or inside the feedback loop (providing singular or regenerative shifts), and finally it can be set to diatonic or continuous pitch shifting, as well as a more extreme phase shifting mode. Sounds complicated? The Raster might have actually proved to be the simplest pedal to dial, once more generating a wide range of predictable and unpredictable sounds. Some of the regenerative ones were especially well-behaved, lapsing into self-oscillation without threatening to blow anything up, and sometimes blurring the lines between delay, reverb, and phaser. Robots and lasers, sure, but also dark caverns, empty spaces, and the deepest confines of my subconscious mind. I had a lot of fun visiting with Curt and becoming more acquainted with his work; he's a true sonic explorer, yet he maintains both feet firmly on the ground by offering products that can reward a wide range of players. From what I saw and heard, Red Panda is on to something, and I'm especially curious to see where they will be taking us next.