Questions about the modular fascination

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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by Rick N Boogie » Fri Dec 11, 2015 1:39 am

Well put Mr Frenzy. As a guy who enjoys the process of creating a sound moreso than playing keys, I could easily get caught up in the modular madness. I guess, just a lack of cash is stopping me.
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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by Hybrid88 » Fri Dec 11, 2015 3:49 am

True to a point but I think sound design has come a heck of a long way past that these days, I mean the modules are getting fancier and doing more unusual things but lets not forget they're still based around a 1960's technology standard and are in a sense limited by that paradigm.

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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by piRoN » Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:26 am

I find it quite strange how often people talk about the "added difficulty" of patching on modulars. I actually use my modular more often than any other synth simply because I find it faster to patch on. Setting up a traditional synth patch is virtually an exercise in muscle memory, and from there I have the versatility to either use it like a normal monosynth or reroute things as I need to tweak the sound. For me the modular workflow just feels much more natural and less obtrusive than trying to squeeze my needs through the quirks and vagaries of someone else's UI and architecture design.

Mostly I flip between the modular and Pure Data, which is essentially the same concept in computerland. I mean, I love my traditional key/rack/module synths, but for me they're never anywhere near as effortless to work on as modular workflow tools.

I think the point is maybe not so much whether you're more interested in the sound design aspect, but whether your needs, workflow, and way of thinking are adequately served by the traditional synth approach. For a lot of people, that answer is probably "yes", and a modular isn't necessary for them. For myself, I usually find a significant misalignment between my objectives and those of the synth designers, and the modular approach minimises that misalignment.
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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by piRoN » Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:52 am

Hybrid88 wrote:True to a point but I think sound design has come a heck of a long way past that these days, I mean the modules are getting fancier and doing more unusual things but lets not forget they're still based around a 1960's technology standard and are in a sense limited by that paradigm.
I think it's far more limiting having hardware that's permanently tethered to the technology standard of an 18th-century keyboard instrument. Most synths are still based around the paradigm of MIDI - you have notes of the western chromatic scale that start at X, end at Y, have Z velocity, oh and here's some poorly implemented control channels to try and squeeze anything that isn't that into. Personally, that bears approximately zero resemblance to how I think about music or sound, even though my own music is mostly very traditional in terms of melody and rhythm etc.

I use a lot of piano in my music, it's one of my favourite instruments. But a synth is not a piano, why on earth would I want to approach it like one?
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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by Hybrid88 » Fri Dec 11, 2015 7:21 am

^ From what I've read that's exactly the feeling Don Buchla had when designing his synths, hence why in all but a few exceptions he didn't have traditional keyboards on his synths, moving more towards a touch plate design where each "key" could be tuned to anything. In a lot of ways that makes sense, but I think the whole reason music is appealing psychologically is because of golden ratios etc, once you start screwing up the intervals it becomes a whole lot less natural. I for one can't stand things that aren't tuned perfectly, even a little bit of "outness" gets on my nerves. But that's a whole other discussion ;)

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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by piRoN » Fri Dec 11, 2015 7:51 am

Hybrid88 wrote:^ From what I've read that's exactly the feeling Don Buchla had when designing his synths, hence why in all but a few exceptions he didn't have traditional keyboards on his synths, moving more towards a touch plate design where each "key" could be tuned to anything. In a lot of ways that makes sense, but I think the whole reason music is appealing psychologically is because of golden ratios etc, once you start screwing up the intervals it becomes a whole lot less natural.
Here's the thing though - you're immediately assuming the purpose of the input on an instrument is to "select pitches", like it is on a piano. Those sort of controllers (the Serge TKB is another excellent example) are incredibly open ended - they don't have to control the pitch of an oscillator, they're literally just a preset voltage source. A lot of them have multiple channels like a sequencer, so you can set parameter "scenes" up beforehand and then select them on the fly in performance. It's an incredibly powerful system, and one you could quite happily use in conjunction with normal 1V/octave keyboard control if you so wanted.

And that's something that hasn't really been touched on much in this thread yet. Modular synths are not just sound sources - they can be complete composition and performance environments in and of themselves. For me, most of the really interesting modules don't deal with sound at all - it's stuff like logic units and modulation processors that are really exciting - you can do all sorts of procedural composition techniques and blend them with all different sorts of human input methods, well before you even get to a sound source like an oscillator.
Hybrid88 wrote:I for one can't stand things that aren't tuned perfectly, even a little bit of "outness" gets on my nerves. But that's a whole other discussion ;)
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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by Hybrid88 » Fri Dec 11, 2015 8:49 am

Yeah fair enough, I do know you can trigger other stuff from a keyboard/touchplate. But then it essentially becomes like a trigger button/controller.

Look I know you guys are getting defensive because it's something you enjoy and that's great, but by the same token some of us simply don't get the attraction and franky have little desire to. I'm not saying it sucks for everyone just because it doesn't do it for me.

ha you probably wouldn't like my record collection either, but that's the joy of having different people make up this strange planet. :)

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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by piRoN » Fri Dec 11, 2015 9:49 am

Hybrid88 wrote:Yeah fair enough, I do know you can trigger other stuff from a keyboard/touchplate. But then it essentially becomes like a trigger button/controller.
Yes, but going back to the original comparison with traditional standalone synths, what synth units do you know that will give you those 20-odd pads, each freely and individually routable to whatever point in your logic/modulation network you fancy? The only comparison I can think of is a pad controller in conjunction with a digital modular environment like Pd or Max/MSP. I use that same setup a lot and it's great, but still quite different to working with a hardware modular.
Hybrid88 wrote:Look I know you guys are getting defensive
I wouldn't accuse people of getting defensive for having the audacity to debate the topic under discussion. Or have I misinterpreted the purpose of this thread?
Hybrid88 wrote:some of us simply don't get the attraction and franky have little desire to.
... I guess I have.
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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by Hybrid88 » Fri Dec 11, 2015 10:12 am

I don't know wether we need a debate though, maybe the OP was just trying to understand the attraction to modular as a format? I just thought you guys were taking it personally when it wasn't meant to be.

I guess it all depends what you're trying to achieve at the end of the day, that's the reason modular works for some guys and not for others.

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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by ppg_wavecomputer » Fri Dec 11, 2015 10:36 am

I can very well understand the lure of sitting in front of a huge wall of knobs, cables, and flashing lights. That's definitely cool in a Spaceman Spiff kind of way.

In terms of practical use, I'm with many of the other posters... what's the point of having all that bulk when the instrument as such is no more flexible than a Mini Moog with the bonus of having some additional patch points?

That's what prompted me to steer clear of modular stuff. This, and a constant lack of space and money.

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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by Hybrid88 » Fri Dec 11, 2015 11:28 am

ppg_wavecomputer wrote:...That's what prompted me to steer clear of modular stuff. This, and a constant lack of space and money.
From what I see having the modular bug keeps people in that state of having no money or space :lol:

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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by piRoN » Fri Dec 11, 2015 11:59 am

ppg_wavecomputer wrote:no more flexible than a Mini Moog with the bonus of having some additional patch points?
I look forward to your recreation of this patch on your Minimoog.

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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by ppg_wavecomputer » Fri Dec 11, 2015 1:33 pm

piRoN wrote:
ppg_wavecomputer wrote:no more flexible than a Mini Moog with the bonus of having some additional patch points?
I look forward to your recreation of this patch on your Minimoog.

[...]
I have other bits to create similar results with.

When I feel so inclined, that is.
Hybrid88 wrote:Yes, I've come to the conclusion that whilst Modulars open up a whole load of sounds you could never get from a hardwired synth, about 80% of those sounds will be musically useless. I get that some people like atonal stuff and that's fine, but not my bag at all.

In fact I was talking to a guy I met that had a Roland System 700 Lab system and he said something that got me thinking, that the synth was basically like having a Minimoog in the sense that it had three main oscillators and was actually pretty basic. Seems to me that unless it's worth it to you to have that extra access to the more unusual sounds, modular is really not something you want, they're often big and bulky, the spaghetti nightmare is actually counteractive to creativity as it gets in the way of the knobs and you will *always* need just one more patch cord, they cost a fortune and take ages to set up the most basic patch that would take seconds on an average synth. Sure all of these things can be worked around, but really why bother? Think about it, there is a reason hardwired synths have been so successful.
This.
tomorrowstops wrote:I built a dotcom system last year and as incredible as it sounded, there really wasn't that more functional about it than Minimoog. I spent most of my time sketching plans for more modules though. The 'unfinished' feeling is a little overpowering, not to mention the $$ grab in an attempt to reconcile that! It freaked me out enough that I sold it all off.

[...]
And this.

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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by piRoN » Fri Dec 11, 2015 2:06 pm

I'm sure the many people quite happily and effectively using modulars in a working environment doing music, composition, and sound design will be glad to hear they can finally sell those bulky things off now that the game's up.

But seriously, I am genuinely fascinated by the actively anti-modular sentiments here. Where does that stem from? It seems very similar to the sort of stuff we used to hear from softsynth folk back in the Bad Old Days, which makes me think it's some sort of anti-elitism thing.
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Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Post by pflosi » Fri Dec 11, 2015 5:19 pm

meatballfulton wrote:Response to both pflosi and griffin:

What I found out over time with my modulars was that I could create really unusual sounds using unorthodox routings, but that seldom yielded anything I thought was useful. One thing that was woefully lacking in my systems was EGs and VCAs. Two of each is nowhere near enough. Eight of each would start getting really fun :mrgreen:

It seems most people focus on the VCOs and VCFs. My take is routing modules (mixers, splitters, VCAs, switches, etc.) are far more important. Because they are hidden under the hood in hardwired synths I think they are underappreciated in the modular world, just not sexy enough.
Yes, EGs, VCAs, mixers - the utilities often get overlooked. I'm amazed that you rather sold off the whole modular instead of trying to add a few VCAs or whatever you needed. Personally, I have about three VCAs (mostly VC mixers w/ individual outs actually) per row, around 16 in total or so for 15U (and that's only the dedicated ones, there's easily a dozen more internal ones in the different modules). It's essential.
ppg_wavecomputer wrote:I can very well understand the lure of sitting in front of a huge wall of knobs, cables, and flashing lights. That's definitely cool in a Spaceman Spiff kind of way.

In terms of practical use, I'm with many of the other posters... what's the point of having all that bulk when the instrument as such is no more flexible than a Mini Moog with the bonus of having some additional patch points?

That's what prompted me to steer clear of modular stuff. This, and a constant lack of space and money.

Stephen
You sure seem to enjoy it once in a while :mrgreen:

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