A blogzine about modular synthesizers, music experiments and life without presets
Berlin-based Jasper Walden is one of those modular synth musicians who enjoys and develops the art of playing for an online audience. He started just 10 months ago – with a relatively compact system, playing the above piece titled Descent – and has hence uploaded 8 more videos. He tells us a bit more about Descent and why he got into modulars:
This one was my first modular video. I didn’t initially plan on doing a video. The approach was to have 2 melody-lines that work good together, because I usually was only able to have a drone and a melody on top – not two melodies working hand-in-hand.
Inspired to get a modular, very likely because how it looks and then it makes these lovely unexpected sounds, which I couldn’t create with anything else. Plus it’s great to have everything in one place : sequencer, effects, wavefolders, etc. and at hand. No browsing, no routing. All modular and all hands on. But I haven’t realised that before I had a bunch of modules. The type of music I recently make on my modular synth is inspired a lot by Alessandro Cortini, especially his live performance ‘Trash Audio at the Apothecary’.
Jasper Walden, who studies physical engineering at the Technical University of Berlin, used to play piano and drums, but as of lately he’s focusing more on the modular synth and extending his knowledge of music theory. His approach to music comes from counterpoint and movie scores. He tells us that he hasn’t used the modular to play live yet.
[…] I would perform with my modular – I have never done so tho. Problem is, when performing with a modular synth, it is hard to keep it interesting for an audience for more than 20minutes without silence in between.
For techno that’d probably work – but with this melody-merging-type of music I’d either have to re-patch or need a massive modular synth. Which I totally need! 🙂
Berlin-based Jasper Walden is one of those modular synth musicians who enjoys and develops the art of playing for an online audience. He started just 10 months ago – with a relatively compact system, playing the above piece titled Descent – and has hence uploaded 8 more videos. He tells us a bit more about Descent and why he got into [...]
It doesn’t take long to understand when a performer is trying too hard to fit in a certain place and his music simply follows a proven script. That is not the case of today’s Chosen Waves selection. One of the things I appreciate about guys like James Holden is they clearly play whatever they like rather than concentrating on making something that fits into a genre. Techno, shades of West Coast weirdness, echoes of geometrically composed soundscapes that border on raga through african rhythms with a zest of Canterbury rock: James managed to elbow his way to worldwide recognition through DJing, producing and the sonic arsenal of his Border Community label, founded in 2003. In 2014 he curated Sonic City Live, in Belgium, where, among the other things, he performed what you’re looking at today.
With Tom Page on drums and Etienne Jaumet on sax, we get a fascinating perspective on playing modular synths live, combining them with computers and performing alongside other musicians. James Holden is using a Max for Live patch he created to automatically shape the timing of the performance by having it follow the drummer’s groove. And you can definitely hear it. Why should a human being stick to a quantised grid?
It doesn’t take long to understand when a performer is trying too hard to fit in a certain place and his music simply follows a proven script. That is not the case of today’s Chosen Waves selection. One of the things I appreciate about guys like James Holden is they clearly play whatever they like rather than concentrating on [...]
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.
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 [...]