Totally modular, dude
June 12, 2013 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Every now and then it's just good for the soul to hear a nice, filtery, fat and squelchy analog modular synthesizer, don'tcha think? Let's drop in on David Baron, then, who's been kind enough to offer us a taste of several of the finest modular machines ever made, in his Tour Of The Universe - Analog Modular Synthesizer Journey.

This is just a taste, of course. I'm hoping that some of you modular synth freaks out there will add some juicy links to this thread. Patch those cords, twiddle those knobs!
posted by flapjax at midnite (21 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I Dream of Wires should be coming out soon.
posted by Mr. Merkin at 6:12 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fantastic stuff, thanks flapjax.

I was in the audience when Keith Fullerton Whitman visited Bristol earlier this year -- a mind-bending quadrophonic experience which you can get a sense of in this video (slyt).

I've been lucky enough to have been in the BugBrand workshop a couple of times too.

I don't have a set up and, yeah, I'm nervous about starting. It could easily be one of those hobbies which turns into an obsession.
posted by mopheeoos at 6:14 AM on June 12, 2013

I am going to Moogfest this year, damn it.
posted by thelonius at 6:20 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid I thought the future would sound like this.
posted by swift at 6:25 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

thelonius, do it. I went last year and it was phenomenal. They moved it to Spring since they broke with their promoter.
posted by HumanComplex at 6:44 AM on June 12, 2013

It's lovely to hear all of those together like that. I was especially taken with the unmistakable sound of the two Rolands. But, that EMU Modular was...sweeeeet.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:55 AM on June 12, 2013

oh god, I think I've just come. Awesome video. Is the EMS Putney what Eno is using in Virginia Plain?
posted by marienbad at 7:12 AM on June 12, 2013

I can't wait to buy a modular synth because I am a gigantic nerd
posted by smackwich at 7:17 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Funny, I'm gearing up for a bleepy zippy droney squelchy gig on Friday, and every time I pack up play out, I want to kiss my seemingly obsolete Nord Micro Modular for being all the things a modular is without a hundred glitchy rusting unreliable patch points and cords that worked a minute ago and now suddenly don't or a general purpose computer that crashes in mid-improv, leaving you alone on stage, listening to the last tones ringing in the reverbs, as you see grim silence rolling your way like a tsunami.

Of course, I'm a lover of things purely digital, and the main thing stopping me from going to a hardware modular is that no one yet makes the modules required to build a 6 operator FM/PM voice with a pile of complex and occasionally repeating envelopes. The digiphobia in the modular world sees rather neatly to that, alas.
posted by sonascope at 7:46 AM on June 12, 2013

Here in Portland we have 4ms building hand made modular synth units (eurorack), designed by a dear friend of mine. They do build your own module workshops at a shop on Alberta called Control Voltage. Modular synthesis is a very expensive hobby, but 4ms does provide free schematics and affordable build your own kits.
posted by idiopath at 7:49 AM on June 12, 2013

As wonderful as these mighty hulks are, I'd like to put in a good word for Audulus. It's a fascinating modular synth for iPad and Mac that is wildly flexible. It is a great way to stick a toe in the modular synthesis ocean without having to sink a treasure chest of gold. For me, it is endlessly stimulating, inspiring and fun.
posted by Jode at 8:07 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cool. When I was in high school in the early 80's I bought an Arp 2600 from the school for $50. No one was interested in old analogs in those days, everyone wanted the hideous Yamaha DX7. The Arp had this great spring reverb in it as well as an analog input so you could run an external sound source through it. I moved to Europe and lost track of where the Arp ended up. Looks like they are going for around $9k on ebay now.
posted by misterpatrick at 9:54 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

When they reissued the Mini Moog as the Moog Voyager a few years ago, they cost about £1400. Expensive, but kinda doable.

Today, they're a whisker off three grand and I'm really gutted I didn't buy one back then.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:01 AM on June 12, 2013

Here's an album made entirely on the Serge. It's very quiet, meditative music and really needs to be listened to on a decent stereo or headphones.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:36 AM on June 12, 2013

Speaking of the sound of the future, I grew up when this was the theme to NPR's All Things Considered, and the combination of smart, even-toned talking and that crazy synthesizer just sounded like we were headed for the year 2000, baby!

If you're set on the hardware approach and want to start small and cheap and build your way up, you can't really beat the package deal for the PAIA 9700S series basic system at under $600. PAIA has been around a long, long time, and is still going despite the loss of their founder John Simonton several years back. It's a system that sounds good, has an extremely flexible architecture for how simple it seems at first glance, and there's a connection you make in building your own instrument that's pretty satisfying.

When you're set to expand, there's always Blacet in the same "frac-rack" form factor, but it just comes down to budget after that, and you can plug into almost anything.

Please, though—please don't just tweak the low end filter cutoff with the Q turned up. That's as tiresome as the twinkly DX7 electric piano sound. If you're going modular, think sideways.
posted by sonascope at 11:39 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've actually seen at least one of everything that was in the video. Some things more than once. The System 700 is my favorite 'cause the layout is a lot like a 2600. (Lots of things normalled internally so it's easier to mess with waveforms without patch cords.)

My first reaction was "I hope there are 921's in that Moog!"
My second reaction was "OMG, clean those jacks! They're dirty!"

And what, no Buchla? Those are kinda tricky to patch, but they sound awesome. :)

IMHO, Minimoog Model D's (restored ones) sound better than Voyagers.

Not a synthesist nor a technician, but I'm married to someone who is. :)
posted by luckynerd at 12:00 PM on June 12, 2013

He left out the king. I've seen, heard and played with them all. Of course, it's subjective, but there is no more pure genius in the world of modular synthesis than this guy.

Buchla 200e (wait for the patch to evolve)

more Buchla 200e

Buchla 200

Buchla Skylab (the small, portable system) with case and external controller rings (really cool patches with real-time external control)

Buchla 200e drone

Buchla 200 modular (drone)
posted by Vibrissae at 12:18 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Speaking of Buchla, if y'all are anywhere near the places where Charles Cohen is performing and interested in seeing a true virtuoso at work, you really ought to go and see what he does with a mildly augmented Music Easel. I played a gig where he played back in the last century and my musical approach was changed by seeing him at work. So much of the modular fetish is about bigness and mass and excess (like the love for the unplayable TONTO or Keith Emerson's massive wall of fake), but replace all that with a simple, flexible system and the intimacy of visceral familiarity earned through decades of touch and play and you get something extraordinary.
posted by sonascope at 12:49 PM on June 12, 2013

The maker of the linked video, David Baron, has this album, recorded entirely on ARP 2500, on Bandcamp: Isolation
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:10 AM on June 13, 2013

So much of the modular fetish is about bigness and mass and excess
Yes, totally. I can think of a few modular owners that pretty much see their modular as a penis extension.

(like the love for the unplayable TONTO or Keith Emerson's massive wall of fake),
Now, now... the TONTO can be played, and Emerson's Moog can be played too. Yes, Emerson has some blank panels in his modular, but it's playable. I saw him do a scaled down version of Tarkus at the Beverly Hills Hotel years back with the modular several years back. (The exact event escapes me. I want to say Kurzweil and the old Bomb Factory studio were involved.)

If I were in the market for a modular, I'd probably get a Doepfer or a Dot Com. Vintage modulars are expensive, especially if you buy one that will end up needing additional work to get it working properly.
posted by luckynerd at 8:07 AM on June 13, 2013

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