The above video of Keith Fullerton Whitman is not new, in fact it’s been around for some time and has been featured on some well known blogs. Still it’s a great example of what can be done, musically, with a modular system.
When people talk about modulars it’s usually about technical things. Which module packs more features in less HPs, or offers a wider modulation range. In the best of cases the discussion will be about sound quality and aesthetics and sometimes this will drift into the land of pointless audiophile debates.
Little discussion is about the actual music that is made with modulars. A casual observer could almost think that we don’t really make any music with the gear we obsessively buy (or build), but if one digs deeper a vast landscape of diversified musical approaches can be found. Yes, we really are making music with modulars!
This ongoing series of posts on horizontalpitch.com wants to showcase some of the modular-made music we find online. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive overview of what is going on in the “scene”, nor does it want to be a categorisation of approaches and styles. It’s mainly intended to be a source of inspiration and a possible starting point to talk more about music and less about the tech.
So let’s get started!
There seems to be kind of a modular trend in techno-house oriented music lately. Lots of dj/producers have started to build a eurorack system to complement their laptops and drum machines. The musical value, as the musician’s motivation, can sometimes be debatable, yet this is a huge trend that cannot be ignored and which has produced, over time, some very interesting and enjoyable music.
The current modular trend is also strictly linked to the more general “back to analog” one, that has been going on for the last 20 years. So it comes to no surprise to see retro-electronica bands embracing the modular both in the studio and on stage.
Sounds from Beyond
Fortunately a good share of the music that is made with modulars is hard to press into a defined genre. Sometimes the modular is used to expand on a given set of musical rules and take them into a new direction, others it’s involuntarily, or maybe due to it’s intrinsically chaotic nature, generating new patterns.
Of course the above Keith Fullterton Whitman is a great example for this kind of approach. Here’s some more.
It’s almost become a cliché that the modular is an instrument which creates “new and unheard sounds”. If any of these sounds can still be unheard or new is of course a discussion for itself (and absolutely worth one, so I’ll make a note about it). The old “electronic music avantgarde” has settled down to a genre (or a set of genres) and while some musicians are just repeating the pattern, there are others, who use modular systems to take this tradition to new heights.
(The above track comes from the same columnist chart by Nick Cain on Wire, which I’ve quoted above, some of 2014’s modular music did actually appeal to him).
You Can Call Them Demos, if You Want
Often videos and recordings of modular music are just demos for ones system or for a certain new module. Some of these demos go way beyond being just that, you could say that showcasing the equipment is just an excuse to create some music, and hence they can often be pretty interesting musically.
If you like the last video, make sure to check the description on Vimeo, Richard Devine spared no effort in explaining his patch with great detail! That’s a wonderful source to learn more about modulars and patching.
So this is it for ep.1, stay tuned for more!