The process of making a modular album

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atte
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The process of making a modular album

Post by atte » Tue Mar 01, 2016 6:19 am

I spend february making an album almost entirely with my eurorack. I'd like to share a bit about the process here. Feel free to ask any questions (or totally disregard this post if you find it utterly boring) :hihi:

I knew upfront that I was going to do stuff with song-like structures, although a bit more abstract than "real songs". I also decided that I didn't want to spend time wishing I had this or that module or trouble shoot the setup. Basically just try to use what I have and get the best out of it. Also I wanted to make it as pure modular as possible, getting the warm, random, glitchy thing that was the reason I got into modular in the first place. But I decided that if I had an idea that was out of reach within the modular, I wouldn't restrict myself if the idea could be realized in the DAW (renoise). So tried to keep a pretty pragmatic, loose, and positive attitude along the way.

Almost everything is sequenced with the BSP. Most tracks started out as a one or two section groove with only the BSP and my modular (no drum machine). This would have the main elements going, drums, bass, some additional noises, some melody-ish thing. I especially love the random features in the BSP. After working that out, I recorded each part (mostly 1-4 bar loops, sometimes just single hits of some modular noise) as samples my DAW (renoise), typically 6-10 tracks, with the BSP synced to renoise. I recorded lots of variations on each part, having the BSP do its random stuff, and maybe wiggling a few knobs along the way. These "alternatives" were stacked and are selected randomly from renoise to preserve as much randomness as possible.

Then I did some arranging in renoise, laying out the basic structure of the track (they are quite song-like in structure, hence the album title), stuff like intro, a, b, solo, build, interlude, outro. Then I added more layers, little details, additional melodies either syncing the BSP to renoise or by sequencing from renoise, using the BSP as a midi-to-CV interface.

The chopped up beats on a few tracks are breakbeats mangled in renoise (which is great for this) and the piano is me playing my acoustic piano, recorded into renoise "live". Besides that almost everything else is coming from the modular.

Some modules especially shined in the process:

Synthrotek APC: When I get bored with the plainness of the sound, the APC is always up for a nice surprise. Syncing it to a oscillator through CV2 makes it play in tune. It has this thing where you can make it play a 4th (or other intervals) below what you're syncing it to, the bass on the first track "APC walk" is the APC doing this, skipping around intervals in a nice, random way.

Penrose/MA CVP combo. Sending random voltages from either the nanorand or the A148 through the penrose obviously gives you random melodies. But the CVP makes it possible to control the range and shape the melodies. Often a drum trigger with some randomness from the BSP is driving the rhythm of the melodies. On the track "resets" I played a jazz-ish solo with the combo. No input to the CVP, but just changing the voltages going to the penrose with the offset knob. The trig input of the penrose was getting a steady clock of 16th notes to keep everything in time, and the in/out of the key is done by modifying the scale on the penrose in realtime. So much fun.

Wasp filter. Although is a pretty recognizable sound, I just love how you can make the wasp growl when you find that sweet spot on the frequency.

Ladik rom-players. These are loaded with custom sounds. It's great to have them select randomly between samples, and I love the aliasing and the fact that you can have them cut the sound of with the length of the trigger (which is also randomizeable on the BSP)

Grains: I wrote an alternative firmware that does CV-able clock multiplier/divider. I was soo close to getting the A160-5 in january, but the grains kind-of covered some of the same territory.

In general it has been a really pleasant month of music making. The usual doubting the quality of my musical ideas naturally crept in. I threw away almost 10 songs along the way that I didn't feel were going anywhere good.

I also leaned a lot about what modules I need next, to cover more sonic territory.

The next step up for me would be to be able to multi-track record a more or less finished tracks in one go. This is partly a question of buying moar modules, but mainly a personal challenge, since I'm used to going back and forth with a lot of decision both regarding the compositions, the arrangements and the mixing.

In case you want to check it out, the album is here:


The "official" muffwiggler album anouncement is here:
viewtopic.php?t=156811

peripatitis

Post by peripatitis » Tue Mar 01, 2016 6:43 am

I am not sure there is such a thing as a modular synth album,
even if you are getting your motif's , structures, etc directly from the modular one could easily claim that you made an album itb using renoise as a daw and getting your material from a modular synth...

Btw this is my biggest gripe with modular synthesis (having a small to medium system myself), i always hated sampling, always prefer synthesis, but i seem to be doing it daily since i started composing with the modular :)

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Post by AAG » Tue Mar 01, 2016 7:12 am

Thanks for sharing (both the process and the result)!
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Post by theruins » Tue Mar 01, 2016 7:27 am

listening to the album now, very cool sounds (still at track 1 atm). thank you very much for this post, i've been planning to use a very similar process (just with bitwig for daw and e2&rene for sequencing).
glad to hear it worked out so well for you!

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Post by msegarra » Tue Mar 01, 2016 7:33 am

wow some really good stuff in that album, if i may.. what modules are you using for rythem? i really like the speed of the rolls and stuff

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Post by mdoudoroff » Tue Mar 01, 2016 7:35 am

Thanks for sharing!
I am not sure there is such a thing as a modular synth album, even if you are getting your motif's, structures, etc directly from the modular one could easily claim that you made an album itb using renoise as a daw and getting your material from a modular synth...
I’d counter-argue that any collection of music in which modular process plays a significant/influential role fits into a spectrum of “modular synth albums”. I would absolutely include virtual synths in that mix.

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Post by mcpepe » Tue Mar 01, 2016 7:49 am

Listening right now. The 2nd track is very nice!

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Post by phosfiend » Tue Mar 01, 2016 7:57 am

This is rad. I've been spooling up to try and do something similar, recording little bits here and there when time allows.

While the 'sample now, chop up later' thing might feel for you like more itb - it might be more productive overall as it puts less pressure on the patch to be an entire track? And jeez, you've got a whole album to show for it, whereas I have a bunch of monster patches that get built up and up only to eventually get dissolved (which now I'm in the habit of recording more regularly).

Anyway, killer stuff.
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Post by atte » Tue Mar 01, 2016 8:11 am

peripatitis wrote:one could easily claim that you made an album itb using renoise as a daw and getting your material from a modular synth...
I don't feel defensive, but here are a few thoughts

1) I'm not sure I'll ever be able to make something I would qualify as finished music without recording it multi-track and mixing in out side of the modular. I know I'm gonna be listening for that snare that's just too loud or that mud in the bass track, wishing I could go in and change it. I don't see myself buying an analog multitrack recorder, since it's too expensive and give me to options I'm used to.

2) I know some people here hate it when they are forced to turn on a computer, and I honestly 100% respect that, and kinda see their point. However I don't hate my computer, it's just so predictable. A of what makes this album "modular" to me, is embracing the happy accidents and the randomness that my computer just doesn't throw back at me.

Hope that makes sense :hihi:

peripatitis

Post by peripatitis » Tue Mar 01, 2016 8:46 am

atte wrote:
peripatitis wrote:one could easily claim that you made an album itb using renoise as a daw and getting your material from a modular synth...
I don't feel defensive, but here are a few thoughts

1) I'm not sure I'll ever be able to make something I would qualify as finished music without recording it multi-track and mixing in out side of the modular. I know I'm gonna be listening for that snare that's just too loud or that mud in the bass track, wishing I could go in and change it. I don't see myself buying an analog multitrack recorder, since it's too expensive and give me to options I'm used to.

2) I know some people here hate it when they are forced to turn on a computer, and I honestly 100% respect that, and kinda see their point. However I don't hate my computer, it's just so predictable. A of what makes this album "modular" to me, is embracing the happy accidents and the randomness that my computer just doesn't throw back at me.

Hope that makes sense :hihi:
Perfect sense and i am not a purist in any way :) and mdoudoroff has me covered when talking about the modular process....

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Post by esko997 » Tue Mar 01, 2016 9:23 am

High quality post, really awesome stuff, thanks for sharing and talking about your creative process. The album sounds great. I think others have touched on it, but what really brought it together for me (in regards to your album) was the great rhythm arrangements.
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Post by PolarIceCaves » Tue Mar 01, 2016 9:45 am

Very cool sounding album. I love it!
I think I saw your name in the list of Ladik roms.

I would love to know more about your clock software for grains also.

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Post by WaveRider » Tue Mar 01, 2016 10:05 am

atte wrote: 1) I'm not sure I'll ever be able to make something I would qualify as finished music without recording it multi-track and mixing in out side of the modular.

you can record multitrack direct from your modular....

I think you produced your album the right way, that is, if you want interesting music (to your tastes) and do not have a giant modular, it is the way to go... AND it opens up tons of creative possibilities.

...but, listening to it, I get the computer music feel rather than a modular synth feel. Personally I enjoy sparse modular melodic sequences that do not interest anyone..... :guinness: ...and who wants to do that kind of music anyway

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Post by somatikon » Tue Mar 01, 2016 10:19 am

You leave the best for last in imho......track 9, stop counting is stunning and stands as great piece of music modular or not.

The thread title caught my attention as this is my desire to make a modular album and I have given much thought to it. I will say that I do compose entire pieces of music as one patch in my modular and record it straight into the computer as a stereo two track.

Thought about going to 2 track tape but still I would have to go back into the computer for editing. Suppose one could send the tape out to be mastered so it would be at that point the music would go digital.

I am still putting together my system to get it to where I have multiple events occurring with lots of modulation to create long evolving ambient pieces.

Thanks for sharing.

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Post by subdo » Tue Mar 01, 2016 11:02 am

I really liked it. Good job on not "wishing I had this or that module or trouble shoot the setup". That is an easy trap to fall into when you're trying to actually record music. Right now I have a sequence/patch that I really want to record but it really needs one more EG, which I ordered and am now waiting on... not recording music.

Also, great chops on the piano.

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Post by modernage » Tue Mar 01, 2016 11:08 am

somatikon wrote:You leave the best for last in imho......track 9, stop counting is stunning and stands as great piece of music modular or not.
I totally agree. The rest of the album was really good, but this song is amazing. I had the album playing in the background, while I was doing some other things, and once this song came on I knew right away that this must be the song you were talking about. I could see this track being used in a movie.

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Post by cosmikwolf » Tue Mar 01, 2016 11:11 am

sweet. this sounds great :D

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Post by cosmikwolf » Tue Mar 01, 2016 11:43 am

Your song Swoop sounds like a CirclonT6A off Syro, its got the same vibe. Love it! :cloud:

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Post by dumbledog » Tue Mar 01, 2016 12:24 pm

I'm just about to drop my RPM challenge album in the mail (not noon yet here). Not all Eurorack but plenty of it, along with some other stuff. I'll do a write-up myself later.

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Post by trove » Tue Mar 01, 2016 12:53 pm

nice tunes! :yay:

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Post by taintedsun » Tue Mar 01, 2016 12:57 pm

Fine jams here! Going to give the whole album a listen this morning. :tu:
atte wrote: I don't see myself buying an analog multitrack recorder, since it's too expensive and give me to options I'm used to.
You've just got to get on that cassette 4-track bandwagon. :party:
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Post by moloque » Tue Mar 01, 2016 2:04 pm

Thanks for sharing! Good sounding groove in there!

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Post by geecen » Tue Mar 01, 2016 2:07 pm

peripatitis wrote:I am not sure there is such a thing as a modular synth album,
even if you are getting your motif's , structures, etc directly from the modular one could easily claim that you made an album itb using renoise as a daw and getting your material from a modular synth...

Btw this is my biggest gripe with modular synthesis (having a small to medium system myself), i always hated sampling, always prefer synthesis, but i seem to be doing it daily since i started composing with the modular :)
Dude when they record a rock band they do one instrument at a time and then chop it up to find the best bits. Doing anything else would constitute a live album as far as I'm concerned! :bananaguitar:

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Post by Zube » Tue Mar 01, 2016 2:38 pm

First I gotta say, great work and track 9 is dope.
atte wrote:
1) I'm not sure I'll ever be able to make something I would qualify as finished music without recording it multi-track and mixing in out side of the modular. I know I'm gonna be listening for that snare that's just too loud or that mud in the bass track, wishing I could go in and change it.
Welcome to making records! Even without the modular involved you'll always find something nit-picky wrong in everything you do. This is a sign you both care about what you're doing, and wish to improve, two things every musician should do but in reality few do it. But sometimes though doing something live to 2-track is really freeing. I've been writing a few songs that started 100% as live to 2-track, then once it hit the DAW I started adding overdubs and now they've changed completely, for the better. A few others started in the DAW all worked out and now I can play them live to 2-track and it feels a lot less structured and much more free and interesting. I find a mix of both frees you up.
atte wrote: 2) I know some people here hate it when they are forced to turn on a computer, and I honestly 100% respect that, and kinda see their point. However I don't hate my computer, it's just so predictable. A of what makes this album "modular" to me, is embracing the happy accidents and the randomness that my computer just doesn't throw back at me.
I learned on cassette 4-track and tape, so I've always kind of thought of my DAW as a big tape recorder. Just because there's a grid and plug-ins and quantizing, doesn't mean you have to use it.

And if you want to work out "song structure" as you did in the DAW, you can alway grab a pen, a piece of paper, and work out the "structure" of the song ahead of time, then "play" it live...

For me I find records that I start out thinking: "This one is going to be all live no overdubs" or "This one will only have analog or real instruments" or other similar dogmas, quickly become boring to myself AND the audience listening. Or, they become less restrictive, and then more creative and interesting.

We've all heard of those 1-take, 1-microphone, all-live, etc. records that are AMAZING. For every one of those that is amazing, there are 1000+ with the same exact dogma but zero inspiration or interesting sounds. I'd rather hear a good song with a computer involved, than a mediocre song without.

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Post by shredsickgnar » Tue Mar 01, 2016 3:27 pm

Great sounds! I really enjoyed the whole album. It's some of the best stuff I've heard on here! I think "Swoop" was my favorite. It is very inspiring to hear, as I want to do something similar once I get a more complete setup. I'm hoping to do maybe a 4 song EP.
Last edited by shredsickgnar on Tue Mar 01, 2016 4:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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