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What is the new modular spirit?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Modular Synth General Discussion Goto page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7  Next [all]
Author What is the new modular spirit?
Pelsea
I am what you might call a noob, old stock. I’ve been patching for uncountable years (please, don’t count them) but mostly with first and second generation machines that are really simple at heart. I’m coming off a five year break from even doing that.

So I’m looking around the marketplace to put together a modest eurorack. I see plenty of the modules I’m familiar with, the constituents of basic beep along with things I associate with stomp boxes that I’ve often connected to a Moog or Emu. And there are subtle things I’ve found on Buchlas and Serge (which I seldom played, but often fixed.) There are even things I only dreamed about in the past, such as modules that are versions of Csound or TX81. But there are two classes of product that puzzle me— not that I don’t grasp what they do, but I wonder why they are modules at all.

One type is the “everything on one panel”. OK, I understand the thinking here— all of these things are necessary, so let’s put a vco, vca, filter, adsr and almost forgot, an LFO on one panel to save some overhead and give the customer instant gratification. My first instrument was a 2600, built with the same ideals— everything nicely laid out so a beginner would not struggle to make first sound. (Actually, the trick was to get one to shut up.) But the path from that to most “voices” is that from a Testarossa to a Smart car. Both have four wheels and two seats, but... My experience with such modules is you need another adsr for the filter and a vca to gate the lfo and another envelope for that and at least two more filters for variety, so you wind up using it as an overpriced basic oscillator. The reason I want a modular system rather than a Minimoog is because it’s, well, modular. To those with voice modules, how useful are they really?

The other type of module I find puzzling is apparently intended to puzzle me. I see ads for modules with free form abstract graphics and names like “Wacko Fizzball” (apologies to any actual fizzball makers out there.) What the ads don’t say is what the module does. What they do instead is offer to provide that essential spice to your sound, and imply they are the only thing needed to get you your next Grammy. I don’t mind interesting graphics, as long as I can read the labels under stage lighting, but I want a tool, not some mystical herpitological fluid. Sound clips imply these things are heavy duty processors with a characteristic sound. So if I buy a fizzball, will I automatically sound like every other fizzballest out there? Isn’t it better to patch my own fizzball, so that tomorrow I can change it to a fizzbell? Please tell me how any of these items have worked out for you. (Don’t name names unless it’s a positive review.)

What I learned from my teachers is that the point of modular synthesis is you get to design the instrument that will play your music. That you needn’t be limited by choices other people make for you. Sure, there are limitations due to physics and finances, but I would be much more limited if I put my money and time into a piano or bassoon. Is that still the underlying spirit?
lisa
Surely those “everything on one panel” modules was around five years ago? Like the Doepfer A-111-5? And do you really think that A-111-5 is a better name for a module than Wacko Fizzball? With the latter at least you know that it’s a fizzball. wink
captjrab
The all in one semi modular stuff can be pretty useful not only for a beginer but as a little quickie portable set up. I started with a Pittsburgh Modular Cell 48 which has an all in one modulle called the Synthblock. All the functions (eg, filter, vco, lfo) can be patched independently as well as behind the pannel so that was pretty useful as I was assembling my modular.
I am with you about the Fizzalator. I try and keep the elements in my system kind of basic witha few exceptions and want to make my own sounds from the ground up. I think that is generally the spirit of modular, tho there are many ways of getting there. Many people here have either a much more sofisticateded understanding of what they want or are seduced by the Fizz. All in all, regardless of the more complex stuff vs more basic one function per modules, the end result is hopefully some interesting music.
cptnal
You're absolutely right with your analysis multi-function modules, Pelsea. On the one hand they're space-efficient, but on the other you lose the flexibility of having those functions split out between modules. Which one is right for the individual wiggler would depend on their priorities, but the fact that there's a choice is the liberating thing.

Don't know what a Fizzball is, but I wouldn't give anyone my if they don't tell me what their module does. It's common courtesy. seriously, i just don't get it
Keltie
I started with a Moog mother 32, as a few others have. Providing you have the patch points, this class of semi modular works well for beginners for the reasons you stated. An all in one starter system that will integrate if the bug bites. And if it doesn’t, well it’s still a very capable monosynth, albeit an expensive one, that’s more flexible, by design, than a fixed architecture. There’s quite a lot of self patching you can do with a mother and no other modules. So I think that’s fair enough, and there is a place for such devices.

I’m more dubious about the fizzball. To me, there are a few variants. The quirkily named, cleverly designed and nicely presented module that does fairly regular stuff, I have no issue with. The naming is just marketing, and perhaps an expression of the makers personality, and I see no harm in it; it’s even quite attractive. I have a number of such modules from a certain French designer, myself. I’m not a fan of cartoon graphics on front panels, as some makers do, but whatever.

Personally, I’m with cptnal on another class of module, quirkily named, wilfully obscure modules that do new and interesting things that are deliberately opaque, and where the heavily stylised marketing does nothing to illuminate or explain. It’s no biggie really, and there are lots of people willing to take the plunge and work it out for themselves, but I’m not one of them. Which is fine. Modular strikes me as a super broad church in this respect, ironically, as this world is a niche within a niche within a niche.

The new modular spirit then, to me, is a wide open vista, sonically, musically, and logistically. Use what you want, how you want, to do whatever you want. Pay your money. Take your choice, buckle up. Like? Buy, or build. Don’t?, then don’t. Old school, function per module or physically realised soft synth, it’s all good.
Stereotactixxx
With regards to your first concern, I think you sum it up pretty well.

With regards to your second concern, are you sure eurorack is the right format for you? The eurorack market is so crowded with manufacturers that some of them resort to Wacky Fizzball type of graphics to stand out from the crowd. Granted, that doesn't mean that there aren't manufacturers with more practical panel graphics too, and plenty of them too.

In the end, with eurorack, I think you will be able to find the modules you want and to ignore the ones you don't want or that doesn't make sense to you. Although I don't play live, I also imagine euro being quite easy to carry to and from a live set. Playing live is however probably easier with 5U due to more ergonomic spacing. At least that's my experience from studio work.
wechard
On the second point, what surprised me about that sort of module when I got into eurorack wasn’t so much the graphics as it was the way those modules appeal to a subset of users who aggressively don’t want to know how things work. Some usere feel strongly that if they have a strong theoretical understanding of the principles involved, that will prevent them from having happy accidents, being inspired, having an emotional connection, etc. So some modules are deliberately marketed as being obscure or inpenetrably chaotic in order to appeal to that sensibility. I don’t want to say there’s anything wrong with that, because everyone finds their own way in creative activities. But it did surprise me in an area like synthesis, which used to be generally seen as a deliberate balance between intellect and artistry.
cptnal
Interesting observation, wechard.

I can't say I've noticed people avoiding learning the principles as such (but then I wasn't looking - I will now), but I do get a sense some wigglers aren't aware there are principles because they've come into the scene using this kind of module. And perhaps when they rub up against first-principle wigglers, that reductionism is anathema, and perhaps threatening - hence the aggression you sense - to their way of wiggling... hmmm.....
starthief
I know the Wogglebug isn't anything new, but seems to have that kind of feeling -- a bunch of weird stuff behind a weird-looking panel and all the knobs have weird names.

The first thing I did when I got mine was hook it up to a scope and feed it various signals until I figured out what the hell was going on. That made me appreciate it more and understand better how I can use it. From what I've seen online, a lot of people don't have that mindset.

Wacko Fizzball is easier to remember than Doepfer's numbers, which pretty much require keeping notes or checking Google.
gonkulator
starthief wrote:


The first thing I did when I got mine was hook it up to a scope and feed it various signals until I figured out what the hell was going on. That made me appreciate it more and understand better how I can use it. From what I've seen online, a lot of people don't have that mindset.



Same here, and it makes me think that more demos should have a scope showing, especially the more confusing workings.
Randy
I have for the most part stopped buying modules with, uh, creative names. Just confuses me more and there are other modules out there that do almost everything a creatively-named module does. Same goes for creative graphics. Not a fan of the MakeNoise graphics but they do have some great modules.

I'm not a fan of the all-in-one systems, like the O-Coast. Great idea but the reason I want a modular is to construct my own instrument. It's possible to start small, I'm doing a little rack now with some leftovers. This is to go along with the larger rack but will easily stand on its own.

http://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/643088

Randy
Mirolab
The market will take care it. Wacko Fizzballs might be selling like hotcakes today, but they'll be 1/2 price on ebay in 2 years, and 1/4 price in 5 years. But then...... in 25 years, if you can find a nice working Fizzball, it will go for 4 times the original price!!

I've steered clear of the goofy designs and jumped into MU. I'm older now, and if it's not clearly labeled, I'm not going to remember what something does!
sduck
But but but... I won a grammy with this Wacko Fizzball!!!



I'm also as old school as you are, the difference is that I've kept my snoot in the scene for the last 20 years or so. But this module, and a few like it, are the very definition of inscrutable. You really need to study the manual, or peruse the various videos to get any idea of what it does. I own one, partly because of that very inscrutability - it never does what I think it's going to do, and never does what I want it to do (at least so far).

Apologies for dragging Noise Engineering into this - they design some super nice modules, and I want to get a few more of them eventually. But their naming conventions and panel design, while it's a format I really like, is quite likely intentionally confusing to the casual bystander.
GrantB
The point of whacko fizzball is you've already got the basics covered and want to do more. Now, some of them do something new, and some are just new clothes. Thankfully we have muffs to help figure it out.
luchog
sduck wrote:
But their naming conventions and panel design, while it's a format I really like, is quite likely intentionally confusing to the casual bystander.


So if a certain number of eurorack modules are intentionally inscrutable (and it's clear in some cases that they are), can one say that the "spirit of eurorack" in those case is "exclusionary hipster elitism?" If you have to ask what it does, and how it does it, then you're not considered cool enough to own one? It certainly seems that way with so many of the "style over substance" modules on the market nowadays; and as inscrutable as Noise Engineering's designs can lean towards, they're not as bad as some others. *cough*Folktek*cough*

As messy as their interface is, at least they provide a reasonably informative manual, and the panels have an easily readable font, unlike, say, Make Noise or Error Instruments. I'll take the Loquelic over, say, Maths, or Telharmonic.
Dave Peck
I am fine with creative module names, but the manufacturers should, at the very least, also include simple descriptive text on their web sites and in their literature accompanying these names.

For example, instead of their web site just calling them the 'Satanic Gastropod' and the 'Chihuahua Holocaust' modules, their web site should refer to them as the "Satanic Gastropod random CV source" and the "Chihuahua Holocaust stepped pattern generator", so potential customers who DO have a good understanding of sythesis techniques know what the thing is. And the extra info isn't going to bother potential customers who do NOT understand this stuff.

If they want my money, they should not expect me to play a guessing game about what they are trying to sell. This is fun!
panx olazabal
Keltie wrote:
I have a number of such modules from a certain French designer, myself.


What/who could it be? being near france myself i'd like to know if someone is making interesting stuff around.. thanks

in order not to be totally off topic, i guess some kind of playability is supposed to occur in an opaque setting? as it has been said it's a weird turn from the synthesis tradition as a work of intelligence... but it is an understandable use of electronic instruments made to behave like highly surprising musical companions. i think i have no illusion on what folktek mescaline is, but if it happens to be somehow useful and enjoyable, why not?
leftbracket
I never understood people not being able to understand unconventional panels, nomenclature, or descriptions, and at times it seems like a lack of creativity in style reflects one in substance. I've never encountered a truly uninformative manual, either. To me, there's a place in the world for every design philosophy from pure WYSIWYG to the abstract.
Randy
I'm kinda liking the idea of discrete modules. I would really like to know that my modules are not talking about what goes on in the studio.

Randy
lisa
leftbracket wrote:
I've never encountered a truly uninformative manual, either.

Check out Whimsical Raps. hihi

However, Whimsical has posten some very informative videos.
gonkulator
Pelsea wrote:


... that the point of modular synthesis is you get to design the instrument that will play your music. That you needn’t be limited by choices other people make for you. Sure, there are limitations due to physics and finances, but I would be much more limited if I put my money and time into a piano or bassoon. Is that still the underlying spirit?


That is why I got into modular. There are advantages to sticking with one manufacturer, as their modules tend to send and receive the same CV range. The other thing is there has been such an explosion of growth over the past few years that it allows much more variety, from discrete function modules to complete voices. So I would say in general that the spirit of modular has stratified.
Rob_C
At least you Eurorack guys have a Wacko Fizzball module. As usual it doesn't come in Frac format. And support for mystical herpitological fluid in Frac is minimal at best, and you still have to make your own panel.
babysealclub
I'd like to order two fizzballs, and 1 5U panel.
Euro Trash Bazooka
panx olazabal wrote:
Keltie wrote:
I have a number of such modules from a certain French designer, myself.


What/who could it be? being near france myself i'd like to know if someone is making interesting stuff around.. thanks


I think s-he means Mutable Instruments, which is French. You can add Touellskouarn to the list, although their modules have much more simple functions than MI's.
starthief
leftbracket wrote:
I never understood people not being able to understand unconventional panels, nomenclature, or descriptions, and at times it seems like a lack of creativity in style reflects one in substance.


Agreed.

A lot of these supposedly obscure designs (like Noise Engineering) are doing things that one would be hard pressed to replicate with simpler, older designs. There's a lot less "we renamed the filter cutoff Fizzball" and more "Fizzball changes one of the four terms in the equation the selected algorithm uses to generate a wavetable and really, just turn the damn knob and use your ears and it will make intuitive sense immediately and not confuse anyone who actually uses it."

Anyway. I don't think there's a single "spirit of modular", as this sort of discussion reveals. Perhaps the "spirit of Eurorack" though is diversity (other formats seem a bit less so.)

Simplicity, complexity using mulitple building blocks, complexity within each module. Analog, digital-controlled analog, analog-controlled digital, little computers in a rack. Human playbility, quasi-organic self-interacting generative systems, extensions of DAWs. Live performers and studio hermits. The "spirit of modular" is all of that.
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