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.

Why Modular Synthesis? 

Why am I choosing to go the route of a modular synth over something else, something less expensive? Well, in part it is because the world of modular synthesis is completely foreign to me. Not only are there the hundreds of modules that you can choose from, but there are two different ideologies for modular synthesis; East Coast and West Coast. I'll get more into that a little bit latter, but let me first show you what "put me over the edge" this past week. 

Two Youtube videos are what have convinced me to make the plunge and start this crazy path. Linked below, the first one is from an artist called Rheyne on Youtube. He does some great improv stuff in his studio. He recently picked up a few Moog Mother-32 modules and a 0-Coast module. 

The production value on his videos are always top notch and he creates the sort of sound that I love. He also currently has the sort of setup that I want to strive for. I don't want to just create a synth with a modular setup. I would like to create a "groove box" sort of environment. Something where I can have 3-4 tracks of audio going to create and sequence a full song. 

The second video that blew my mind was a live performance by an artist called Colin Benders. He has on his channel a full hour long live performance with a modular synthesis setup. 

Now, what is so amazing with this setup (besides the wires and $20,000 worth of gear) is that modular synths typically don't save the patches you are working on. They don't have memory, so all the connections he has for the synth sounds have to be re-patched together. It is a lot of work, but the sound shows that it pays off. Listen to that set. 

Next Steps

So what are the next steps for this journey? Well, first off I am going to blog about this process. I want to share with everyone my entire experience from researching the different types of modules, to the costs involved with modular synthesis and what sort of revelations I may have along the way. This is not going to be an quick or cheap endeavor, but it is something that a lot of electronic musicians out there could benefit from. Modular synthesis is a world unto itself, even from the rest of the electronic music family. In many ways it is a fraternity of users who are not bound together by the music they make, but by the tools they use. I can;t name another community out there that is bound so tightly by an instrument or creation process. 

My next blog post will delve into the different concepts of modular synthesis, namely "East Coast vs West Coast", the rise of the Eurorack module and some online resources that may help people getting started. 

So with that in mind, let's give this a go.