As a follow up to one of our recent articles about the Musikmesse 2015 (see Musikmesse2015 – the Modular and the World Outside) here’s our interview with Václav Peloušek from Bastl Instruments.
Horizontalpitch: My first contact with your work on modulars was through my brother (who studied at the “Angewandte”, the University of Arts, in Vienna, just like you) and he saw your diploma work, which obviously was the origin of some of your wonderful new modules. Can you tell me something more about where the idea came from?
Václav Peloušek: I graduated from Art & Science department at die Angewandte. When i started to work on my diploma, that was the time when i started to build my own modular, so that matched perfectly.
My diploma work was about interfacing the events in the real world by means of patching and reconfiguring the reality by a modular interface, that is likely to produce happy accidents. In other words you could sense an event in the real world (such as light of a fire) and convert that information into CV. Then you could take that CV and control a fan to produce wind of varying strength to blow into the fire. Depending on the position of the fan and light sensor you could support the fire in burning or otherwise. Maybe having an attenuverter on the light CV could give you a nice control of the fire. This simple narrative has just few elements in it and involves only two modules. I think you can now imagine the complex narratives and realities you can produce with such interfaces.
HP: You also offer a complete system, which I would say, is a bold move. What brought you to this decision?
VP: When we introduced our first 10 modules, we put them into a rack and made a video. It was actually not meant as a complete system, but our customers confused it to be a complete system and there was quite a demand for it. This assured us that it was a good idea and with the following modules we had a selection that already created a nice and complete synthesis system. With most of the modules we designed, we kept the idea of making a complete system in mind and each of the “basic” modules underwent some innovative design twists. I always dreamed of creating my own “music making an environment” from scratch, but I still feel like I am at the beginning.
HP: Let’s talk about your new sensor module. Tell me something more about it.
VP: It can convert any type of voltage or resistance-based sensor to CV and GATE signals. Sensors like piezo, inductors or microphones create some voltage that needs amplification. There are also many different types of sensors from the Arduino family that simply output voltage. Then there are resistance-based sensors such as photoresistors, plants, human body or antistatic foam. All of these can be calibrated and the interesting range of their sensing can be amplified to output the desired CV signal and you can set the threshold for the GATE signals. This is what the module itself does. But what you can actually do with these sensors, what you use them for and how, that is still to be explored and described further. I covered some interesting use cases in my diploma thesis.
HP: Since I’m also writing an article about the use of keyboards and modulars, what do you think about controlling the modular with a classic keyboard?
VP: I’ve played the piano for 8 years as a kid and I am personally a keyboard-oriented person. I also studied briefly at the classical music academy. I love musical thinking in terms of harmonies and melodies. I also love to think about various tuning systems. In my music I often play with the idea of reharmonisation and transposition. I think that especially harmony is something that is not present in the modular world so much, since most of what is on the market (of course with some recent, brilliant exceptions like the 4MS resonator) is focused on the monosynth idea. I am already working on some modules that will improve some of these shortcomings in the modular world.
HP: What do you think about the current “control” possibilities in the eurorack world?
VP: It is certainly fascinating to watch what sorts of new control interface modules will come and what kinds of possibilities they give. As I said, I am a keyboard-oriented person and I love buttons and keys. I understand the legacy of touchpad-type interfaces in the modular world, but having the experience with iPhone music apps I would conservatively stay with buttons in my designs. Any musical expression interface that requires eye contact doesn’t feel so good to me. I was really excited about the Verbos Touchplate when I saw it, but when i tried it, I was surprised how hard it is for me to play only on the surface. I am just used to haptically find the button or key and then press it when it’s time. Since there are many great classical midi controllers and there is plenty of ways to convert MIDI to CV, I think we are covered for the traditional musical interfaces. What I would like to focus more on would be some foot controllers and other ways to influence music other than by hand. Now there is several ways to connect many different sensors, but this is just the beginning. A clever use of the sensors is another whole chapter. I am really excited how people will use this growing potential.
HP: Is reinventing the way musicians interact with the modular something on your agenda?
VP: Yes absolutely. If you look at our Knit Rider trigger sequencer you will find that it is a really fast and musical interface for programming rhythms. I think that there is still room for clever use of buttons and how they interact. For instance the way how you enter musical data into the modular. Sequencing melodies by turning knobs is great only for certain types of music.
Cover Photo: the Bastl Instruments booth at Musikmesse 2015. Václav Peloušek is the one on the left. Photo curtesy of Bastl Instruments.