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Modular Music

Music made with modulars. Because that’s what we got the thing for in the first place, didn’t we?

We’ve launched this blog only two months ago, so we’re basically in what you could call “beta” phase. Things are subject to testing and revision. As part of these revisions we decided to change Some Exciting Examples Modular Music into this new series called Chosen Waves. We didn’t just change the name, we also tweaked the concept a bit: we’ll usually feature only one track/video at a time and in exchange for that we’ll hopefully post more often. Sometimes we might add a little interview.

So let’s get this started with this recording of a live performance of the French project amnésie. Here’s what he says about himself on his soundcloud page:

amnésie is the solo project of Wilfried Thierry.
It began back in 2001 with lecollectif17ans a noisy and iconoclast crew. At that time he released some tracks on various compilations (Skam, Idwet) and won an Autechre remix contest.
He then joined Ego Twister Records and released his first EP, Redken Style.
After that he released many tracks and remixes on various compilations, mixing weird electro and ironic vocals.
Now he’s back to what he loves most : mixing noise influences with electro, digging into synthesis using his modular synth.

This one is been sitting in my bookmarks for a long time and I keep getting back at it again and again. As you can see from the photo he performed this live with a lot of modular gear. The recording spans over 45 minutes and is a dense, brooding mix of distorted basses, noisy sounds and electro/techno beats. It’s one of those immersive and hypnotic sound voyages, best enjoyed in the dark, late at night. I suggest you listen to it in one go. Without spoilering too much, the best part comes at the very end, but how you get there might strongly influence its effectiveness, so don’t rush it.

If you liked the above track, amnésie recently released an 2-track album on the French label Ego Twister records

We couldn’t help but get in touch with Wilfried Thierry and ask him a couple of questions about his music and his approach to live modular performances.

Horizontalpitch: I know from personal experience that performing live with a modular synth can be a tricky thing to do. How do you approach this?

Wilfried Thierry: Yes it’s tricky, but I prefer things that are not 100% perfect but really done live. I’ve played electronic music for years and the modular is the first instrument that gave me a total freedom and control over everything.
I’ve had a duo with Yan [from Ego Twister Records, Ed.], called FUTUR and I experimented with him the use of modular on stage. We played improvised music, and as we were two, it was simpler for me to start this way. You can find on youtube a video in Le temps machine [Youtube link, Ed.].
The sound is also very important to me. I’ve been using analog synths on stage for more than 10 years. I don’t want to cheat the audience with fake analog sounds coming from a computer.
I feel more like a live guy than a studio one and want to use instruments that inspire me.

HP: The complicated thing might seem the inability to store settings or patches, which you can just recall during a live performance. Do you start with a patch and then work on that or do you have more “configurations” prepared and then just switch between those?

WT: Well that’s not a problem for me. My patch is mostly prepared and I can switch between different parts of the patch when I need different elements. But I also patch live when necessary. I rehearse a lot so that everything is under control, I know my instrument by heart, that doesn’t seem more complicated to me than when I play guitar.

HP: What else do you use in combination with the modular? Or is it just the modular?

WT: When playing with amnésie, I use my modular and a DSI Mopho X4 for chords. That’s all. I’ve built my modular as an advanced “groovebox”. I just sometimes regret I don’t have a third hand !!

HP: Final question, what’s your favourite module?

WT: My favourite module is the one that led me to eurorack : Make Noise René. It’s the first one I bought and I still love it as day one. Using it live is really great. For amnésie I have programmed two scales that I play in many different ways, I don’t know any other tools as versatile (except a very old MiDi sequencer I used when reedited by Cycling 74 : M).


So that’s it for today’s Chosen Waves, we might talk a little bit more with Wilfried Thierry about his music and modular synths in the future.

In the meantime, if you have tracks or videos you’d like to share with us, leave a comment below or send us an email using the link on top of the page!

Chosen Waves 001 – amnésie

We’ve launched this blog only two months ago, so we’re basically in what you could call “beta” phase. Things are subject to testing and revision. As part of these revisions we decided to change Some Exciting Examples Modular Music into this new series called Chosen Waves. We didn’t just change [...]

HannesHannes

[ecko_quote source=”Nick Cain (columnist chart, outer limits, Wire 371, Jan 2015)”]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.[/ecko_quote]

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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.

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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.

[ecko_youtube]3CxUqzytLX4[/ecko_youtube]

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.

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[ecko_vimeo]94514517[/ecko_vimeo]

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.

[ecko_vimeo]119810764[/ecko_vimeo]

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

[ecko_vimeo]18244639[/ecko_vimeo] 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 [...]

HannesHannes