Page 1 of 4

Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 10:46 am
by KBD_TRACKER
I was looking at this video:



The people in it talked about the uniqueness of the generated sound as "my own sound", the fact that no external (ie pre-determined) influence existed since the user started from scratch, etc..

In fact it seems that in this type of sound programming there is a deep tropism for the patch lability (due to the absence of memory), the perceived highly personal nature of the created sound, and the refusal of programming convenience/amenities ("just pressing a button").

I find all this very interesting in part because I must confess that so far personally I have not heard a sound from a modular that I did not "roughly" hear before, from more conventional synth sources.

But more important, I was wondering about a few things about this modular trend (some maybe extravagant, but imo not pointless) :
1. doesn't this represents de facto a rejection of, or conceptual departure from the whole sampler culture ?

2. is this in line with such an attitude as: using synth presets is not only "passive" but "lame" and reflects also a lack of creativity ?

3. is this not somewhat in line (stretching it a bit :mrgreen: ) with the "DJs are certainly no musicians" attitude ?

4. does it ultimately imply (stretching it a bit :mrgreen: ) that building your own custom piano right from the frame and metal assembly is creatively "better" and more liberating than buying one already made ?

5. does a modular user "necessarily" understand better synthesis or is more creative or more dedicated than a Prophet 12, or Voyager, or Andromeda user ?

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 11:22 am
by ppg_wavecomputer
Having a modular synth is one thing -- not to make it sound as if you were a tone-deaf psycho is another.

Stephen

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 11:32 am
by pflosi
Pretty loaded questions, as you obviously know... Let's see. (Didn't watch the video as I'm at work right now.)
KBD_TRACKER wrote:1. doesn't this represents de facto a rejection of, or conceptual departure from the whole sampler culture ?
No. I wouldn't see samplers vs. synths as two excluding opposites, but rather two different types of synthesis. Lots of samplers have filters, too, for example. And there are sampler modules in modular land. You can record your own samples instead of just taking that disco beat from some vinyl and looping it indefinitely. And so on... :geek:
KBD_TRACKER wrote:2. is this in line with such an attitude as: using synth presets is not only "passive" but "lame" and reflects also a lack of creativity ?
Slightly IMO. If you depend on presets, modulars are definitely not for you. No need to use derogatory terms for presets, though. :| They can be very helpful. Again, why choose when you can have both?
KBD_TRACKER wrote:3. is this not somewhat in line (stretching it a bit :mrgreen: ) with the "DJ are certainly no musicians" attitude ?
Way stretching it here. A person's general attidues and approaches matters more for that than whether modulars are used in his/her music or not. You can find idiots everywhere if you look hard enough :mrgreen:
KBD_TRACKER wrote:4. does it ultimately imply (stretching it a bit :mrgreen: ) that building your own custom piano right from the frame and metal assembly is creatively "better" and more liberating than buying one already made ?
Only for the DIY-only enthusiasts :lol: :ugeek: On a serious note, it'd be more comparable to having a "piano kit" that you only screw together yourself. But it's a stupid comparison as it does not make much (musical) sense to choose different makes (according to your own needs and wishes) for the different parts of a piano (pedal, enclosure, etc.) - while choosing (and consequentially routing) only the specific functions ("modules") you want is the big advantage of modular.
KBD_TRACKER wrote:5. does a modular user "necessarily" understand better synthesis or is more creative or more dedicated than a Prophet 12, or Voyager, or Andromeda user ?
I'll ignoring the loaded terms ("more creative", "more dedicated") as well as the "necessity". Does a modular user understand synthesis better than someone working with hardwired synths? Totally depends. I really can go either way. If you actually know how your hardwired synths works internally (i.e., how you'd route it in a modular environment, including all the hidden utility functions), you know a lot. On the other hand, there's plenty of people getting into Eurorack currently that have no idea about synthesis whatsoever. So again, it's not so much a question of what tools you use, but rather how much you (want to) learn about signal flow and audio design in synthesis. I guess it's again a matter of personal preference whether modular or hardwired suits you better to actually learn these things.

Cheers :drinks:

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 2:04 pm
by Hybrid88
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.

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 2:29 pm
by tomorrowstops
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.

Obviously the Eurorack craze is a culture unto itself, but I truly have yet to hear anything interesting come out of it. And I LOVE atonal/avant-garde music. Granted, I'd mostly rather hear an orchestra perform it. But I do love me a good Subotnick record, too.

I will say though, that learning how to patch a modular, even for basic sounds, was an eye opening experience. I truly gained a new level of understanding how hardwired synths operate and it reinforced all of my book-based synthesis knowledge. Very cool!

I'm totally comfortable spending less time and money on keyboard based synths. But each unto his own. 8-)

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 3:22 pm
by pflosi
tomorrowstops wrote:Obviously the Eurorack craze is a culture unto itself, but I truly have yet to hear anything interesting come out of it. And I LOVE atonal/avant-garde music.
I'm taking the freedom to remind you of your own words, my friend: :thumbright:
tomorrowstops wrote:I really enjoy pflosi's thread 'Monthly Patching Workout 2015' in the listening lounge.
(Thanks again!)
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.
You seem to be assuming that modular only "opens up a whole load of sounds you could never get" from fixed architexture because it opens up the atonal stuff. That's hardly the case IMO (or, let's say it's not the main reason for me), rather it allows you to add functions as you see fit. The "glorified Minimoog" like that System 700 is a good example, it will make much more different (musical) sounds than a Minimoog. Did you never program a patch on a (fixed) synth and think, "damn it'd be great if I could route osc 1 to the first filter and osc 2 to the second filter only, and then use the output of second filter to FM the first filter, via a VCA that's opened by an LFO that is tracking the keyboard"? That's what it's about, choosing your own routing. Think about it, there is a reason why modular is so successful ;)

Fair enough, they're often big and expensive... Cable spaghetti can be a problem, but I think it's overstated. Yeah, a big patch can take long to set up, but can you really set up a bread n butter sound on a DX7 much faster? In both these cases, if you enjoy that kind of thing, a lot of the fun is in the process of programming itself. I've patched two (relatively simple) voices on my modular (plus my drum machines and all the rest of the cabling) faster at soundchecks than some people (at the same soundcheck) needed to set up their laptop, interface and midi controller.

Oh and luckily I have more than enough patch cables :mrgreen:

Cheers :drinks:

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 3:39 pm
by redchapterjubilee
I've been able to successfully avoid the modular money trap (at least so far, knock on wood) for two major reasons: the first being that it is a bit of an investment $$$-wise and my friends who do modular are forever spending money and time trading modules in and out; the second, and probably most important, is that I'm a player and not a programmer. I use mostly knobby analogs because I can quickly knock up a sound I want without menu diving or preset surfing. I have a feeling if I went modular I'd spend far more time programming than actually playing. For a lot of folks that is the appeal.

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 3:40 pm
by Hybrid88
pflosi I know you can get subtle more musical stuff out of it too, but really what I'm saying is that I don't think for all the negatives that it's worth it to have that added functionality.

There is some cool stuff you can do with modulars for sure, but they are a pain in the a*s to use in my experience. Still I'm willing to give them another go at some point and potentially be proven wrong :thumbleft:

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 4:48 pm
by tomorrowstops
Shoot, pflosi, you got me! But your stuff is so interesting that I'm not even paying attention to what you're using! You usually speak more in terms of synthesis, which is why I get hooked.

But I'm (ahem..WE are) definitely guilty of over generalizing things anyways. Of course theres interesting stuff out there, but like any other music form, sifting through the uninteresting gets tiresome. Especially when that uninteresting stuff is wrongfully elevated to the forefront - i.e the materialistic side.

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 6:09 pm
by meatballfulton
pflosi wrote:Did you never program a patch on a (fixed) synth and think, "damn it'd be great if I could route osc 1 to the first filter and osc 2 to the second filter only, and then use the output of second filter to FM the first filter, via a VCA that's opened by an LFO that is tracking the keyboard"? That's what it's about, choosing your own routing. Think about it, there is a reason why modular is so successful ;)
As devil's advocate I must point out that thanks to digital technology there are plenty of synths out there with advanced routing possibilities...even as far back as the Oberheim Matrix synths of the late 80s. A modular will always be able to route something that the hardwired synth cannot, but there's major tradeoffs in price and convenience to get that 100% routing freedom. As a former modular user, I retreated to hardwired synths with flexible routing options and have been happier with them.

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 6:17 pm
by pflosi
tomorrowstops wrote:Shoot, pflosi, you got me! But your stuff is so interesting that I'm not even paying attention to what you're using! You usually speak more in terms of synthesis, which is why I get hooked.
Well thanks again! :thumbleft: The Modular Patching Workout is also totally not restricted to Eurorack per se, I rather tend to think in terms of interesting techniques for the different patches.

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 6:20 pm
by pflosi
meatballfulton wrote:
pflosi wrote:Did you never program a patch on a (fixed) synth and think, "damn it'd be great if I could route osc 1 to the first filter and osc 2 to the second filter only, and then use the output of second filter to FM the first filter, via a VCA that's opened by an LFO that is tracking the keyboard"? That's what it's about, choosing your own routing. Think about it, there is a reason why modular is so successful ;)
As devil's advocate I must point out that thanks to digital technology there are plenty of synths out there with advanced routing possibilities...even as far back as the Oberheim Matrix synths of the late 80s. A modular will always be able to route something that the hardwired synth cannot, but there's major tradeoffs in price and convenience to get that 100% routing freedom. As a former modular user, I retreated to hardwired synths with flexible routing options and have been happier with them.
That is very true, and of course, everybody should use what fits their workflow. For me, it's mainly the aspect of polyphony that brings a need for complex "hardwired" synths. In addition to modular, of course :thumbright:

However, what can do feedback FM as in my example? Apart from "digital modulars" like the Nord, MAX, etc.?

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 7:35 pm
by griffin avid
I've always seen it as the journey verse the destination. And which is more important or better yet, WHERE you want to spend most of your time.

WHAT the sound(s) is/are verse the HOW you generated/created/found/fostered them.
The WHY is always the same and we inject our prideful reasons based on personal perspectives and preferences.

I like this better because....
becomes THIS IS BETTER because.....

And we start to go in circles.

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2015 10:48 pm
by meatballfulton
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.

Re: Questions about the modular fascination

Posted: Fri Dec 11, 2015 12:19 am
by Stab Frenzy
Modular is for people who are really into sound design, and people who want to use it as a prop. If you've never been patching a synth and wished you could modulate a parameter that wasn't available for modulation, or never wished you had another envelope or lfo then don't worry about modular. Modular isn't really for people who want to play keys, modular is for people who want to sculpt sound.