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Hannes
Author

Hannes

Graphic designer, illustrator and modular synth enthusiast. Founder of Papernoise, a small design studio located in northern Italy, specialised in graphic design for the world of music.

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In our sonic microcosmos we have the modular and the world around it, with only a very narrow path connecting the two. It all starts in our mind, we imagine a sound, or at least we imagine an action that will result in one. We interact with the instrument by turning the knobs, pressing some buttons, sliding our fingers over capacitive touch surfaces. Through our gestures the outside world enters the modular and becomes electric tension and digital data. These then exit the circuits as vibrations, speakers make the air move. The sound has been released into the world.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ll sometimes feel that this narrow path, connecting the modular to the outside world, could be made a bit wider, or the paths could be more numerous. Musikmesse 2015 brought us some modules that might be doing just that. Let’s see them in detail.

New Ways to Control your Instrument

soundmachines already have a wide selection of control modules in their portfolio, from the very basic (but also very useful) LS1lightstrip, to the more exotic BL1brainterface EEG sensor module. At this year’s Musikmesse they presented two new modules: a heartbeat sensor and an alcohol tester module. While it has to be seen if the latter will be more of a gag, than a really usable device, the first one opens up some interesting possibilities.

The soundmachines booth at Messe2015, photo curtesy of Davide Mancini – soundmachines

The soundmachines booth at Messe2015, photo curtesy of Davide Mancini – soundmachines

In 2014 I was involved in a project called sen | xor, which focussed on the use of biometric sensors to control modular synths and other electronic instruments. For that project we developed both a brain-to-modular and a heartbeat-to-modular interface. Both sensors were applied to the listener and the resulting data was used to control the music and the visuals. The heartbeat was used to generate a clock signal, which we used to sync the modulars to. This resulted in a very human rhythm, which would change over time and create interesting feedback effects (since an increase in speed would in turn affect the heart rate of the listener). While this might be a bit too specific for “everyday use” it’s still a very interesting addition to the limited landscape of currently available control modules.

To get a taste of what their new modules do I’ll refer you to the excellent Messe coverage by Tuesday Night Machines.

A very promising newcomer on the eurorack market this year has been Bastl Instruments, based in Brno, Check Republic. Apart from cranking out 17 (yes seventeen!) new modules in what feels like a very short time, they also have some really interesting ones! For example they have an upcoming any-type-of-analogue-sensor-to-CV-or-GATE module which opens up a huge array of possibilities. From using standard light dependent resistors to modulate parameters, to converting water drips into random gates. These modules are quite obviously the development of Václav Peloušek’s diploma work, which we had seen last year. In case you missed it, let me post that video again!

The Motorised Modular

Bastl has a lot more in store for you though! What really caught our attention (apparently everybody’s attention from what I see online) are the new motor modules. You get one module for every type of motor on the market, be it solenoid, DC or servo. Again, the possibilities are vast and extremely exciting. From using your system to play an acoustic drum set, to creating that mouse organ you’ve been dreaming of. Again Tuesday Night Machines has a nice video about these modules.

Btw. if you’ve been hiding on the dark side of the moon lately, check out their channel for a complete Messe modular coverage.

We’ll soon be back with two interviews: one with Davide Mancini from soundmachines and another one with the guys from Bastl!

Musikmesse2015 – the Modular and the World Outside

In our sonic microcosmos we have the modular and the world around it, with only a very narrow path connecting the two. It all starts in our mind, we imagine a sound, or at least we imagine an action that will result in one. We interact with the instrument by turning the knobs, pressing some buttons, sliding our fingers over capacitive [...]

HannesHannes

“2014 saw the usual slew of albums from artists dabbling with modular synthesizers and vintage electronics, lacking the gumption to realise the potential of their equipment.”
— Nick Cain (columnist chart, outer limits, Wire 371, Jan 2015)

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!

Techno-phile Cablesalads

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!

Some Exciting Modular Music, a Series

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 [...]

HannesHannes

The Big Eurorack PSU List, Update 3.0

If you’re looking to buy a PSU for your DIY case, or searching for a replacement, I might have some info for you! UPDATE 1 (July 2015): the list has been updated with the Mean Well P50A13D-R1B, a more skiff- and beginner-friendly counterpart to the popular RT-65B that comes as an external power brick with 5-pin DIN connector. [...]

HannesHannes