Journey into Modular Synthesis - Part 3: Sequencers

Modules - Sequencers

Ok, so here is things will get a little crazy. As I mentioned before Modulargrid.net has a nice portion of the website where you can build your synth. Better still, you can see what other people are building.

So here is what I have laid out so far. 

Crazy right? There is almost $3,000 worth of modules laid out in that rack matching what the Mantis can hold. So what exactly do I have going on here? Let's break it down and I'll explain what I know so far about how this can work. Keep in mind that these may be acquired over months if not years. 

The first two items that I really should probably get is a sequencer. One or both of them may end up changing as I continue research on sequencing techniques and what I may want to get out of a sequencer. I am currently trying to find out more information about CV/Gate sequencers, which are small little sequencers that can be manipulated with other cv/gate data. 

Stillson Hammer Mark II

So the first module is the Stillson Hammer Mark II. Two things are immediately attractive with this sequencer. 

It features up to four tracks of sequencing with CV/Gate. That right there allows me to get the multiple tracks I need to get a groove sort of setup. The analog sliders also make for quick sequencing capabilities. 

Ilntellijel Metropolis

The second sequencer is the IIntellijel Metropolis. At first glance you might think that these things basically look the same and they are in fact very similar. 

The Metropolis only has one track which it can sequence, but it utilizes a unique feature with the 8-stage switches on it. It is hard to describe and best if just shown in the video below where you can see how unique it is. 


Sequencer Alternatives

So both of those sequencers are very cool, but they are also very expensive, around $600 each. As you can see from the rack posted at the top, they also take up a ton of space. There are all sorts of cool alternatives out there. Unfortunately I am at a loss on exactly how to use them. Here is a quick list of the ones that have caught my eye so far though. 

TipTop Audio Z8000 

This is another super popular sequencer. It is a bit cheaper, but works on a grid matrix.

Malekko Heavy Industry Voltage Block

Very cool because this one can be easily "stacked" with the Varigate 8+. 

The list goes on with problematic sequencers, euclidean sequencers and cartesian sequencers. I'm sure there are even more.




Journey into Modular Synthesis - Part 2: Cases

So the process into researching a modular synth is now ongoing. The apparent cost of this endeavor is striking, so this will not be something that will be completed in a short run. 

Research is the name of the game going forward. What modules do I want and how do they fit together.

One amazing resource online is a website called modulargrid.net. It appears to be THE place to go when researching modules and it has a truly fantastic community around it. Not only can you view modules from the hundreds of manufacturers, but you can also build your setup and get information on price. 

Before you get into modules though you need to first get a case and power supply. 

The Case

The first hurdle in this process is going to be the case for the modules. Cases as it turns our are expensive. These units from Doepfer and Pittsburgh Modular cost $700 or more. Some are custom built, while others are manufactured. There are some truly great ones out there that are really robust and will fold up for travel. For my purposes though I won't be traveling with the unit so I am going to opt for something a bit more basic. 

The best "bank for the buck" I could find  seems to be the TipTop Audio Mantis. It is two rails of 104HP and can be had online for about $340 with a power supply. Not too bad.

The other top contender for me seems to be a 7U case from Intellijel. During my research I have found that there are various 1U modules that are also available from various manufacturers. Some of these act as mixers or other CV routing options. Not all cases have the 1U space available though. It's unfortunately just another layer of complexity to add to this process. 

The Intellijel 7U case has this option. Here there are two rows of 84HP plus 84HP of 1Up modules. Price is almost twice that of the TipTop Audio Mantis, but it also is a hard travel ready case. They also have a very reasonable joiner to link two cases together, which seems interesting for a future investment on a case. 

So, these two options seem to be the directions so far. I have been doing my research on Modulargrid.net into modules. I'll have another post shortly to explore that. For now, I need to eventually make a decision on a case before dong anything else. 


Journey into Modular Synthesis - Part 1: Why Modular Synthesis?

I'm always on the lookout for trying to expand my musical creation capabilities with my synths setup. If you recall, a few years ago I was exploring a change in my groove box setup. I researched a lot of ways to try and mix up my sound. In the end I ended up getting a Waldorf Blofeld and a Tech 21 Flyrig 5

Fast forward a couple of years and I am now once again looking for something different for music creation. This time around though I am not going to try and change my core musical setup. Instead I am going to try and create a new "workstation" of sorts. Now, I have been exploring some various options over the past year ranging from the Korg Volca series, to the Teenage Engineering PO boxes, to even a workstation keyboard like the Roland FA series

I put most of those thoughts off to the side as I tried to finish my album last fall, (buy it btw) and I am once again back looking for something new. 

I have looked at modular synths in the past, but they have always frightened me off. The shear cost alone is intimidating and the completely opened ended nature of the market, with hundreds of modules, by dozens of different manufacturers is confusing. Coming from a "traditional" synthesis world I have a better grasp than most on what VCO's are and how envelopes and LFO's work. But modular synths, are something radical.