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A blogzine about modular synthesizers, music experiments and life without presets


Rosenboom and Buchla: Collaboration in Performance (photo courtesy of David Rosenbaum)

Rosenboom and Buchla: Collaboration in Performance (photo courtesy of David Rosenbaum)

If you’re into modulars, you may have heard several times words like east coast and west coast. I guess you also read a lot of things about Don Buchla and Bob Moog, their approach to synthesis and their contribution to music making as we now see it. Let’s focus about a slightly less discussed feature instead: the enclosures they came with. The creations of Bob Moog were encased in tall, deep upright cases; sometimes, upper rows may have been tilted forward to improve usability but the only thing that was supposed to lay flat was the keyboard. Don Buchla’s machines, on the other side (no pun intended), weren’t designed with chromatic keyboards in mind: sequencers and touch controls took the place of Moog’s keyboard and were housed in shallow tabletop cases.

This isn’t meant to be a history lesson: it’s all about the legacy of these modular giants and their influence on Eurorack synths and their sweet cases, boxes, racks, boats or skiffs.

Nowadays, you can get a decent modular without the need to sell your Fabergé eggs collection. At the moment, there are more than 150 companies in the Eurorack market producing a total number of modules easily passing the four digits. So many modules to choose from and then…you’re stuck again shopping for the right case: you can get small 3U, 84HP enclosures or monster cases that will hardly fit in your car unless it’s a Hummer. At first, choices were scarce but, in the last few years, the spectrum got wider and wider.
Today I’m starting with a selection of cases but consider it the first part of a series…

The Classic

Doepfer A-100 P6 

Doepfer System 1 in portable 6U case A-100P6 - (picture courtesy of Doepfer Musikelektronik)

Doepfer System 1 in portable 6U case A-100P6 – (picture courtesy of Doepfer Musikelektronik)

Introduced in 1997 at the Frankfurt Music Messe as the portable versions of the A-100 base frame and slightly modified through time, the P6 can be considered a classic in its own right. It’s 84hp wide and 6U tall, has got a built-in PSU and, in case you didn’t notice the handle on top, it’s portable.

This case is as tough as it looks. The flight-case-style construction gives strength to the whole structure and that thick rim around the edge looks like a warranty against terrible things waiting to happen: just imagine the guy who’s playing with you thinks it’s 1969, on Woodstock’s stage with billions of eyes waiting for him to set his guitar’s on fire and…well, he flips your case over. It’s not the first thing you notice when you’re looking at Doepfer’s portable case but, since the modules sit slightly recessed in the case, the knobs won’t even touch the ground. Yes, you may want to do some careful “module-Tetris”, bearing in mind that feature-packed modules with lots of knobs on the sides, may sit too close to the rim and feel hard to reach. Do you want to know another advantage of such design choice? You can close the case when patched: knob wiggling is just a couple of latches away! Just check your modules aren’t deeper than 10 cm (3,90 inches) and remember that, given the presence of a chubby Toroidal transformer, the lower right side has an approximate usable depth of 7 cm (2,75 inches). The two 84 HP rows are easily powered by a sturdy PSU giving 1200 mA on both +12V and -12v.
If you’re way under this power requirement, you could consider its bigger brother, the A-100 P9, where number 9 stands for, you guessed it, 9U. So, you get one more row of modules in a rather compact package but be sure you do your maths right and factor in at least 20% of headroom and stay below 1A.
The latest revision on sale now sports a mains outlet on the rear panel whereas the 1st revision used an 8HP panel on the front; you lose the chance to use it horizontally but gain 8 HP. Its rubber feets make it easy to stack and at the same time quickly close and transport like a simple briefcase. Oh, did I mention it’s got a handle?

The Stylish Classic

WeedyWhizz 6U

WeedyWhizz 6U 104 HP (picture courtesy of WheedyWhizz)

WeedyWhizz 6U 104 HP (picture courtesy of WheedyWhizz)

Steffen Ahmad is an IT guy with outstanding woodworking skills. He started making cases  as a hobby, sold some on Muffwiggler, then, when somebody thought he gave up, he popped up with a nice selection of Buchla, Serge and Eurorack cases.
WeedyWhizz Euro cases can be built to custom sizes and finish and the website shows an interesting selection of genuinely inspired enclosures with a bit of Buchla boat and early system 300/700 wood sides. In a certain way, they start with the same approach as the 4ms modular rows or Tip Top’s Station 252 but, while the aforementioned cases are aluminum, WeedyWhizz cases are entirely made out of wood with the exception of the hardware – and you know this makes everything sound more analog.
The one that gets my attention today is the little 6U. You get a total 208 HP in a case that feels at home both in a studio and a living. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable touring with it and bringing it on stage given its beautiful finish and the lack of a proper lid but, please, prove me wrong. Bus boards aren’t included in the build but Steffen has clearly put a lot of effort into making it as easy as possible: you can get a TipTopAudio Studio Bus and slot it in. Everything’s pre-wired and almost ready to go. It will accommodate modules up to 64mm deep and, if you go for the recommended bus boards, you’ll get plenty of power, with 2,6A on +12V, 1,6A on -12V and 600mA of 5V power (Braids, Monome…anyone?)
I bet you could easily convince the maker to paint it the same color of your favourite My little pony character but, you guessed it, I like this case a lot and would certainly go with this Oak and black combo that makes it hard to stop staring at it and start churning out some bleeps and bloops.

The Tiny Gem

Sound Machines FMJ3

3 FMJ3 Cases ready to be patched up (picture courtesy of Davide Mancini - Soundmachines

3 FMJ3 Cases ready to be patched up (picture courtesy of Davide Mancini – Sound Machines)

Sound Machines, as you can find out on their website, is “the brainchild of a part electronic developer part musician and a company named SPES, active since 15 years in Italy and Europe in the market of research and development of electronic platforms for appliances, industrial automation, home automation and fitness equipment.”
Their recent plunge into Euro market has brought several interesting modules like the LS1 and LP1 touch controllers and the BI1, the first commercially available brainwave to synthesizer interface. All of their modules deserve a better treatment so I’ll stop right here and promise to continue on a dedicated article.
The FMJ3 is their first modular case. It’s an 84 HP, 3U brushed stainless steel enclosure finished with a nice clear coating that keeps it from getting so dirty it changes color. What sets this tiny silver box apart from everything else is the interesting addition of an integrated VESA 100 mounting hardware. There are so many VESA mounting options on the market that you might even find it hard to make a choice. You could follow Soundmachines’ lead you find pictured here, make it into a modular Octopus Synth or, who knows, maybe your significant other would agree to rip the TV off the wall and revel in your modular’s light show.
On the power side, you get 800 mA on both +12V and -12V, with a 1A 5v build option. Just grab a suitable DC adapter and, there you go, you get a sweet little case that can be used as a tabletop standalone synth, used as a skiff in front of other cases or float above everything else.

The Mysterious Case of the Expanding Modular. Eurorack Case Guide – Part 1

Rosenboom and Buchla: Collaboration in Performance (photo courtesy of David Rosenbaum)
If you’re into modulars, you may have heard several times words like east coast and west [...]

MarcoMarco

Big Fish, Little Fish

By now you are bound to have heard all the hype created around Roland reentering the world of modulars with their presentation of a supposedly Eurorack-type line of modules in the upcoming Messe 2015. Regardless if you spontaneously aligned yourself in the yay or the nay crowd, the pressing question that should trouble modular users and [...]

KonstantineKonstantine

“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