Modular Synthesis Aesthetics - A Short Survey

Anything modular synth related that is not format specific.

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Post by ranix » Sun Dec 23, 2018 8:20 pm

I sit on the floor in front of the modular often to patch modules close to the floor, it's not ideal but it gets me that extra cabinet and this is earthquake country so I'll take it. I just elevate the modular on a keyboard stand or similar so the bottom row of jacks isn't too close to the floor.

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Post by oberdada » Mon Dec 24, 2018 9:00 am

I had hoped for a moment that 'aesthetics' would be about the music, because I forgot that in the world of modular synths, aesthetics seems to always refer to their visual appearance.

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Post by Rex Coil 7 » Mon Dec 24, 2018 11:34 am

ranix wrote:I sit on the floor in front of the modular often to patch modules close to the floor, it's not ideal but it gets me that extra cabinet and this is earthquake country so I'll take it. I just elevate the modular on a keyboard stand or similar so the bottom row of jacks isn't too close to the floor.
Actually I think it's pretty hip. Klaus Schulze (who once was in the Tangerine Dream lineup) used to do the whole ~sit on the floor while using a System 55~ trip just like you! Lemme poke ya in the ribs a little with that .... we'll just call it "the San Francisco style" .... or perhaps "the California style".

:poke: :poke: :poke:

Here's Klaus sittin' on the floor workin' hims synths, one of the best videos of him out there ... there may be better versions (better audio quality, and so on) of this particular performance, but this performance of his is one of my favorites....

[video][/video]

(below) This is an allegedly "better" version ..... with "improved audio and video" (whatever "improved" might mean ... the word "improved" being a 100% subjective term in this case). It is definitely shorter, with nearly four minutes lopped off of the beginning.

[video][/video]

oberdada wrote:I had hoped for a moment that 'aesthetics' would be about the music, because I forgot that in the world of modular synths, aesthetics seems to always refer to their visual appearance.
Well, unfortunately the word "aesthetics" is no longer used to describe the nature of what is art/what is beauty ... it's become a fancy way of describing how something looks. In today's fuddup politically correct social moral, words that used to have deep meaning have taken on new, far more shallow meanings.

So use of the word "aesthetics" isn't restricted to the modular synth world. It's pretty much all of the western social club .... the very same folks that don't know which version of the word there/their/they're to use ... or cannot work out whether the word "then" or "than" is properly used in a given sentence.

Yea, their grammar sucks ... but they sure now how to toss around "aesthetics" in a conversation! That's what a modern day college education buys ya!

Foolery aside .... the thing is, language is fluid, and this loose use of the word "aesthetics" is just a part of that fluidity. And us stuffy sumbitches just need to suck it up and deal, yo!

:despair:


:lol:
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Post by Shledge » Mon Dec 24, 2018 11:43 am

I don't mind having a mix of colours and styles, just once the modules don't go out of their way to be illegible or obfuscated by wanky hipster tropes like WACKY text/layouts or vague labels.

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Post by deftinwulf » Mon Dec 24, 2018 1:11 pm

Shledge wrote:I don't mind having a mix of colours and styles, just once the modules don't go out of their way to be illegible or obfuscated by wanky hipster tropes like WACKY text/layouts or vague labels.
I have to agree with this. Maybe it makes me a stick in the mud, but I'm purely interested in modular synthesis as a tool to music production. My favorite aesthetic in that regard is WMD/SSF's. Aluminum panels, clean typeface, no insane graphics, no words in dead languages, no jibberish module or function names, etc.

I understand a lot of people like those things and that's cool with me, to each their own. But I want my system not to be buried under layers of obfuscation/abstraction as to what each module or input/output/knob/button does and is. I generally won't buy any modules that don't conform to my preferred aesthetic, no matter how powerful they might be under the hood. With the exception of waveform shapes (of which a visual representation can be nice to have at a glance), I don't want any symbology on the panels and just want things described in plain English.

All that said, I acknowledge that no one should care what I think about any of this. Just my $0.02.

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Post by Stereotactixxx » Tue Dec 25, 2018 3:34 pm

I have to agree with what some others have said, that the important thing is not a specific color or knob style, but coherence without confusing conformity. My modular is an instrument, not a collection of modules. Preferably, all modules should look like they were manufactured by a single company. Of course, no multi manufacturer format really fulfills all these criteria, but MU gets awfully close when rejecting some more off offerings. It also have the advantages of good ergonomics, good looks and clear labeling.

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Post by cornutt » Tue Dec 25, 2018 7:22 pm

I have a mixed MU/MOTM system, so obviously I'm not that hard over on everything having a uniform look. Right now, everything I have is black, but if some white Modcan-B modules came my way, I'd install them without a second thought. I do need graphics that are readable and have good contrast, because getting old is heck.
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Post by Rex Coil 7 » Wed Dec 26, 2018 6:28 am

Shledge wrote:I don't mind having a mix of colours and styles, just once the modules don't go out of their way to be illegible or obfuscated by wanky hipster tropes like WACKY text/layouts or vague labels.
That's not a swat at Make Noise .... nope, not even a little bit. :lol:
deftinwulf wrote:
Shledge wrote:I don't mind having a mix of colours and styles, just once the modules don't go out of their way to be illegible or obfuscated by wanky hipster tropes like WACKY text/layouts or vague labels.
I have to agree with this. Maybe it makes me a stick in the mud, but I'm purely interested in modular synthesis as a tool to music production. My favorite aesthetic in that regard is WMD/SSF's. Aluminum panels, clean typeface, no insane graphics, no words in dead languages, no jibberish module or function names, etc.

I understand a lot of people like those things and that's cool with me, to each their own. But I want my system not to be buried under layers of obfuscation/abstraction as to what each module or input/output/knob/button does and is. I generally won't buy any modules that don't conform to my preferred aesthetic, no matter how powerful they might be under the hood. With the exception of waveform shapes (of which a visual representation can be nice to have at a glance), I don't want any symbology on the panels and just want things described in plain English.

All that said, I acknowledge that no one should care what I think about any of this. Just my $0.02.
For a 2-post gnoob that is a very eloquent set of notions. Gots to agree, as well.
Stereotactixxx wrote:I have to agree with what some others have said, that the important thing is not a specific color or knob style, but coherence without confusing conformity. My modular is an instrument, not a collection of modules. Preferably, all modules should look like they were manufactured by a single company. Of course, no multi manufacturer format really fulfills all these criteria, but MU gets awfully close when rejecting some more off offerings. It also have the advantages of good ergonomics, good looks and clear labeling.
Again, fully agreed. I mean ... have you seen my panels?!!?
cornutt wrote:I have a mixed MU/MOTM system, so obviously I'm not that hard over on everything having a uniform look. Right now, everything I have is black, but if some white Modcan-B modules came my way, I'd install them without a second thought. I do need graphics that are readable and have good contrast, because getting old is heck.
And once more .... must agree. And once more ... have you seen my panels?!!?

I went back-n-forth (plus here-n-there ... too-and-fro ... hither-and-thither ... up-n-down ... left-n-right) over which backgrounds vs which color lettering to use. After a lot of "testing in the lab" (ahem) I decided on black lettering over silver panel. The best 2nd choice is the USAF orange lettering on matte black background. For all of the proper reasons, it works! For all of the same reasons ... cuz old ass sucks! Contrast (actually, ~high contrast~) is helpful. But if it's the wrong combination of background vs graphics/lettering then the contrast just seems to stack shit on top of shit.

Same goes for what names to give various functions. I stuck with super obvious, very legible labels. "XFM" = Exponential Frequency Modulation. I limit the number of characters to no more than THREE. It makes the labels become more like ~shapes~ that are easily associated with functions ... rather than ~words~ that must be read. After all, letters are nothing more than shapes. Keeping the ~shapes~ simple and expressive makes the panel highly functional as a tool in and of itself.

So for me, it's silver panel/black lettering ... or ... the USAF matte black panel/orange lettering. either of those combinations works super well in any type of lighting conditions. The only time the silver panel/black lettering works against itself is if there happens to be a bright light reflecting off of the silver panel. That's when the matte black/orange combination wins out .... and really wins the hell out! The USAF knew what is at stake when designing modern cockpit instrument panels and information panels inside of multi-bazillion dollar military aircraft. Even the choppers are fitted with that same combination. It works in most situations one may imagine a pilot might be subjected too.

It also works on a brightly/dimly lit stage (or studio). :tu:

Primarily, it's been adopted because of it's superior way that it allows the pilot to go from looking at the instruments to looking out the window (and back) with the least amount of "refocus time". It also works best for those sixteen hour long flights where the navigator is looking at nothing but "them stinkin' lights!" for pretty much the entire flight.

Overly bright or super high contrast graphics on an aircraft panel can produce that "flash bulb effect" on your eyes. If the graphics on the instruments were COBALT BLUE or PLASMA GREEN (or some other loud ass color) then as soon as you look away from the panel there's a residual "blue light bulb" flashing in front of your vision for a few moments, perhaps longer. The orange seems to reduce this problem by quite a bit. So sayeth the United States Air Force in all of their mighty wisdom.

This is a rather mundane example, I can't locate the uber-cool shot of a modern transport aircraft I had stored on my hard drive.

Image
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Post by CZ Rider » Wed Dec 26, 2018 3:02 pm

You might be on to something Rex. Here is my Synclavier 2 with lighted switch buttons from the B-52 bomber. Both for durability and viewing ease. Shiny red candy like buttons. :lol:
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Post by synthpriest » Wed Dec 26, 2018 3:17 pm

OMG the marvelous NED in the flesh. :woah:

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Post by Rex Coil 7 » Wed Dec 26, 2018 4:14 pm

CZ Rider wrote:You might be on to something Rex. Here is my Synclavier 2 with lighted switch buttons from the B-52 bomber. Both for durability and viewing ease. Shiny red candy like buttons. :lol:
Image
Hey, I remember that picture! In fact, we're still waiting on Sweetwater to get those parts in from Standtastic to put together the same kind of "hangin' off the side" shelves you have going on there.

(Boy, do I ever have a story about a B52 to tell! .... I spent a lot of time with the "Big Ugly Fuckers" ... aka "BUFs" ... maybe some other time)

Re; panel lighting .... I reckon if anyone would know about how to make the most out of visible information displays, it's either the USAF or the US Navy. Both branches have human beings in control of multi-gazillion dollar machines that are capable of destroying a whole lotta shit! The only interface between those machines and the humans operating them are the visible information displays. Lighted instruments. Human eyebones have to stare at the stuff for hours and hours on end. Most times in subdued lighting environments. Study upon study have been done regarding what works and what fails. They measure the humans' effeciency, and the humans' fatigue levels. We can't have fatigued nuclear bomber aircrew or nuclear armed sub crews gettin goofy because their eyebones is tired!

Chopper pilots are ceaselessly changing their focus from flight instruments to what's outside of the windows. Visual fatigue is a crucial element in a chopper, especially during low light missions.

Meh .. :despair:

It's just a concept. One of those weird ass things I'm always thinking about.

:hmm: :roll: :lol:
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Post by whitewulfe » Wed Dec 26, 2018 8:03 pm

For me, the uniform look does help make it come across as one solid instrument, and it also just looks better when not in use to me. Well, if you ignore cable spaghetti anyways - sometimes that doesn't look pretty no matter what you do.

That's what got me to initially choose MU as my main format... Up until tight finances and a lack of room to expand into really changed a lot of that thought process. I'm still not much of a fan of "argleblargh / all the colours" type layouts that Eurorack can be known for, doubly so since there are still a lot of manufacturers who want to cram as much as possible into the smallest space they can, there are plenty of companies out there making gear that's powerful, but also large enough to be usable without chopsticks, or worrying too much about a single knob twist changing three parameters...

Eerily enough, at least to me, while I used to make a lot of comments about Make Noise and how their systems seemed to be one of the worst offenders of such, I find their Black and Gold Shared System (Plus) to look rather appealing, and easier to follow just what on earth the modules do... And I don't think it's just because I prefer the faceplates to be black... To me, they genuinely seem easier to read.

Not to the same level as stuff like Erica Synths though, where they seem to pretty much check off all the boxes of what I want in a modular for usability, and looks, and even that same kind of thing that calls to me with an MU setup... But it takes up a LOT less space. I strongly suspect though that with how Erica Synths does the whole "knobs on top, jacks on bottom" for most of their modules is also a contributing factor.

Erica Synths (and the Make Noise Black&Gold Shared System Plus) are definitely ones that would get me to seriously consider getting into Eurorack...

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Post by Rex Coil 7 » Wed Dec 26, 2018 9:04 pm

whitewulfe wrote: ...Erica Synths (and the Make Noise Black&Gold Shared System Plus) are definitely ones that would get me to seriously consider getting into Eurorack...
Black and gold y'say? The subliminal Freudian messaging going on with the colors in your avatar are bangin' the Obvious Gong with a sledge hammer!

Nah ... you don't like that color scheme at all ... do ya! :poke: :lolsign:
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Post by whitewulfe » Wed Dec 26, 2018 9:45 pm

Rex Coil 7 wrote:Black and gold y'say? The subliminal Freudian messaging going on with the colors in your avatar are bangin' the Obvious Gong with a sledge hammer!

Nah ... you don't like that color scheme at all ... do ya! :poke: :lolsign:
The colours in my av are black and orange... I'm actually not really all that much of a fan of the colour gold. Those Make Noise systems just happen to look a lot more unified to my eyes (when compared to their regular modules), and therefore more appealing.

I do give black panels a higher preference though, but that's probably due to the high contrast, easier to read aspects of them. That and black works with black.

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Post by Rex Coil 7 » Thu Dec 27, 2018 8:02 am

whitewulfe wrote:
Rex Coil 7 wrote:Black and gold y'say? The subliminal Freudian messaging going on with the colors in your avatar are bangin' the Obvious Gong with a sledge hammer!

Nah ... you don't like that color scheme at all ... do ya! :poke: :lolsign:
The colours in my av are black and orange... I'm actually not really all that much of a fan of the colour gold. Those Make Noise systems just happen to look a lot more unified to my eyes (when compared to their regular modules), and therefore more appealing.

I do give black panels a higher preference though, but that's probably due to the high contrast, easier to read aspects of them. That and black works with black.
Paraphrasing one of the skits done by comedian "Andrew Dice Clay" ("yer face, yer ass .. what's the difference? .. HO yea!!!!!") .....

Orange, gold .. what's the difference!

It was just a bit of joking around.

And if "we're gonna get all ~real~ about it" there's one hell of a lot more than orange in that avatar. There's everything from gold, yellow, orange, red, white, and so on.

In the same way that clouds are not "white" ... they have many hues of different colors from white to dark grey, with reds, yellows, oranges, blues, and so on.

That is ... as I said ... "if we're gonna get all ~real~ about it".

:tu:
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Post by dooj88 » Tue Jan 01, 2019 11:34 am

my eurorack is the #1 model on instagram, over a billion views and likes and comments from fans who want to take it home and :lick:. look at those blinkenlights woodja!!!?!

we have a fashion show scheduled in 2 days and i think i would just die if there were black and gold modules messing up the silver aesthetic so carefully cultivated. i suppose as the manager i should figure out what 'VCO' means in case someone wants to hear it make some sounds. *ick*

i do really love my blinkenlights though. i love that 'busy future space computer' look.

edit, lol. that's the name of my rack now.

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Post by luchog » Tue Jan 01, 2019 12:23 pm

Shledge wrote:I don't mind having a mix of colours and styles, just once the modules don't go out of their way to be illegible or obfuscated by wanky hipster tropes like WACKY text/layouts or vague labels.
Stereotactixxx wrote:I have to agree with what some others have said, that the important thing is not a specific color or knob style, but coherence without confusing conformity. My modular is an instrument, not a collection of modules. Preferably, all modules should look like they were manufactured by a single company.
I have to confess to appreciating a distinctive style, a bit of flair, a touch of distinctiveness when it comes to designing just about anything, including synthesizer modules. And rather than having everything matching perfectly, keeping the exact same aesthetic, I'm willing, nay eager, to have a chaotic collection of wildly disparate designs.

But...

Aesthetics must take a backseat to ergonomics, legibility, and functionality. Distinctiveness is fine when it complements, or at least fails to interfere with, my ability to understand and utilize the module as part of a larger system. Knob and jack layout, labels, icons, etc. should all serve function first, and style second. Not everything needs to be as no-frills sterile as a Doepfer module, but I need to know at a glance what I'm looking at, and what I can expect it to do, without having to pick up and study a translation guide.

The Make Noise example was brought up, and although they're far from the only or most egregious offender, they're definitely one of the most visible.

The biggest problem is the use of cutsey or abstract pictures instead of clear labels. I have no problem with icons, as long as it's obvious what they mean, like the old Serge paperface design. But labeling knobs and jacks with nothing more than non-waveform squiggles, spaceships, smileyfaces, or crow skulls does nothing to tell me what they do.

It's perfectly possible to be distinctive without being confusing. Metasonix R-series, Rabid Elephant, Omsonic, and Zlob are good examples of a design that stands out, that's eye-catching, but still clear and non-obfuscated.

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Post by mskala » Wed Jan 02, 2019 9:46 pm

I wonder if anybody still remembers what the word "aesthetics" actually means.

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Post by Rex Coil 7 » Wed Jan 02, 2019 10:41 pm

mskala wrote:I wonder if anybody still remembers what the word "aesthetics" actually means.
Yea, not even a little bit. I already touched on that a few days back.
Rex Coil 7 wrote:
oberdada wrote:I had hoped for a moment that 'aesthetics' would be about the music, because I forgot that in the world of modular synths, aesthetics seems to always refer to their visual appearance.
Well, unfortunately the word "aesthetics" is no longer used to describe the nature of what is art/what is beauty ... it's become a fancy way of describing how something looks. In today's fuddup politically correct social moral, words that used to have deep meaning have taken on new, far more shallow meanings.

So use of the word "aesthetics" isn't restricted to the modular synth world. It's pretty much all of the western social club .... the very same folks that don't know which version of the word there/their/they're to use ... or cannot work out whether the word "then" or "than" is properly used in a given sentence.

Yea, their grammar sucks ... but they sure now how to toss around "aesthetics" in a conversation! That's what a modern day college education buys ya!

:despair:


:lol:
Reminds me of my dumbass step brother (the one that just got married again for the SEVENTH time, and he's only 56yrs old). He does not understand that a person who has had their head cut off has not been "decaffeinated" nor can he pronounce "cinnamon" or "aluminum" ... but he throws the word "evidently" around a lot because it's the only multi-syllabic word he is able to pronounce. It makes him sound smart, y'see.

The lack of understanding what "aesthetics" means goes right along with the rest of the lousy public education and even college education these poor bastards in their teens and twenties have been receiving over the previous two decades.

But that sheepskin hanging on the wall for gender studies or social justice totally makes up for it! Such good little obedient proletarians they'll be. They fit the mold created for them as if it were a tailored glove.

:doh:
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Post by Shledge » Thu Jan 03, 2019 5:21 am

Oh for fuck sake. :roll:

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Post by cretaceousear » Thu Jan 03, 2019 6:48 am

Nothing wrong with using aesthetic as a shorthand for a visual styling.

Buchla, Synthi, Make Noise all have their own clearly recognisable aesthetic. Manipulatiing it so it can be rolled out across different forms is a skill.

As a former graphic designer who's been involved in high level branding across print and actual big things you might see outdoors, creating a styling that both makes a family resemblance clear, and still allows flexibility so things are not too uniform and boring is not a quick and easy job.
So I don't want too much uniformity - I want just the right amount and once it's good I'll say "hmm, digging the aesthetic"...
... without any need to talk about the Bauhaus or El Lissitzky :nana:

@ Rex: hope it doesn't seem like I keep leaping on your posts and commenting negatively - but you're one of the few people making general posts that I feel I can comment on right now!!!
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Post by Patch_CV_Film » Wed Jan 23, 2019 1:08 pm

Results should be interesting!

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Post by magneteyez » Wed Jan 23, 2019 2:39 pm

I like a clean look. That’s why I like Grayscale panels. Wish they’d do panels for all modules available. Also use colour codes knobs for the same function.

I won’t buy modules which are ugly to look at. Call me superficial, but eyecandy goes a long way.

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Post by Shledge » Wed Jan 23, 2019 8:33 pm

cretaceousear wrote:Nothing wrong with using aesthetic as a shorthand for a visual styling.

Buchla, Synthi, Make Noise all have their own clearly recognisable aesthetic. Manipulatiing it so it can be rolled out across different forms is a skill.
I agree, but it takes more than just having a recognised aesthetic. This ranges from anything such as how they determine inputs/outputs to tactility.

For example, Buchla colour codes it's banana jacks to help give visual cues on what type of inputs/outputs they are. EMS synths that use pin matrixes generally tend to have them at the bottom for easiest reach. Knob colours on MI modules are colour coded to indicate their relation to a function or CV input to help make a mental connection between then.

A great aesthetic alone won't make for a great design - look at Mannequin modules as an example. Really lovely, clean panel design... but marred with wanky labelling, leading to either guessing or having a cheat sheet nearby. If it had proper labelling, their modules in fact would be REALLY good, design wise.
As a former graphic designer who's been involved in high level branding across print and actual big things you might see outdoors, creating a styling that both makes a family resemblance clear, and still allows flexibility so things are not too uniform and boring is not a quick and easy job.
So I don't want too much uniformity - I want just the right amount and once it's good I'll say "hmm, digging the aesthetic"...
I do it as part of my job, but I also focus on UX, web design etc. I don't have much experience in product design, but I do know it shares a lot of the same UX principals.

In the design of a module, it's a balance of aesthetics with aspects like UX. Bad labelling, illogical jack/knob placement and deliberate obfuscation untips that balance just as much as bad aesthetics.

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