Modular synths for pads and leads

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Peterson Goodwyn
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Modular synths for pads and leads

Post by Peterson Goodwyn » Sun May 30, 2010 4:32 am

Building a modular synth setup has seemed like a really fun idea to me for a while, especially with the affordability of DIY modules from PAiA and Blacet. But after browsing through some demonstrations on youtube, it seems like people are mostly using their rigs to make cool blippy noises and outer space sounds. Can a modular rack be an effective tool for crafting fairly conventional pads and lead sounds?

Thanks.

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Post by kslight » Sun May 30, 2010 6:04 am

As long as you are okay with them being monophonic, yes.

Most people that want to make conventional synth sounds probably find a modular overkill for that.

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Post by Marc Alan Goodman » Sun May 30, 2010 9:33 am

Yeah, it's a whole lot of juice and manuverability to just make simple pads and leads. However a modular can be more than capable of it. I believe there are polyphonic midi to cv converters out there as well. But you're talking about racking up a ton of cost for something you could probably do just as well with a standalone synth.

Modulars are cool as hell. I bet Joel will jump in here in a second. He went nuts with a modular setup about 3 years ago. It makes great blips, but I've also heard it make some amazing bass and lead sounds, not to mention being extremely useful for manipulating other sounds.

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Post by joel hamilton » Sun May 30, 2010 7:42 pm

It doesnt have to be monophonic, if you have 8 oscillators you have 8 voices. If you have 8 VCA's to go with those 8 VCO's then you have a way to make the 8 VCO's shut up or speak when you actually want them to.
If you have a couple of filters and a mixer and a ton of other waveshaping modules, you can put together a sound that is ALMOST as good as a JUNO 106.
If you have a brain that is broken and you feel like you really want to get crazy and totally mental with figuring out crazy amounts of patching in the middle of a session just to essentially replicate what any 2 voice synt like a yamaha CS-15 will do the SECOND you turn it on, THEN COME JOIN ME ON THE DARK SIDE!!!
:)

I love my modular and I continue to spend too much money on modules that do things to audio. I use it as a synth like 3 times a year, and when I do it is INSANE for bass stuff, but the rest of the time I use it as a mix tool. Like the wrongest delay ever, or the wrongest EQ ever, or whatevr type of crazed FX I decide to invent for that session....

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Post by Peterson Goodwyn » Sun May 30, 2010 8:39 pm

hmmm...

A modular setup in a wooden rack with a bunch of patch cables hanging out definitely fires my imagination more than a Juno or something like that. And I love the play and discovery of plugging this is here, turning that nob there...

But it sounds like my wallet would have to be pretty deep and my brain pretty broken to acquire all the modules needed to emulate something like the Juno or even Minimoog. Is this correct?

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Post by inverseroom » Mon May 31, 2010 4:32 am

You could definitely put together a modular synth roughly equivalent to the minimoog for a reasonable (well, minimoog-level) amount of dough. The real expense comes from crazy new sound-mangling possibilites that you just...can't...resist...

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Post by kslight » Mon May 31, 2010 6:16 am

joel hamilton wrote:It doesnt have to be monophonic, if you have 8 oscillators you have 8 voices. If you have 8 VCA's to go with those 8 VCO's then you have a way to make the 8 VCO's shut up or speak when you actually want them to.
If you have a couple of filters and a mixer and a ton of other waveshaping modules, you can put together a sound that is ALMOST as good as a JUNO 106.
If you have a brain that is broken and you feel like you really want to get crazy and totally mental with figuring out crazy amounts of patching in the middle of a session just to essentially replicate what any 2 voice synt like a yamaha CS-15 will do the SECOND you turn it on, THEN COME JOIN ME ON THE DARK SIDE!!!
:)

I love my modular and I continue to spend too much money on modules that do things to audio. I use it as a synth like 3 times a year, and when I do it is INSANE for bass stuff, but the rest of the time I use it as a mix tool. Like the wrongest delay ever, or the wrongest EQ ever, or whatevr type of crazed FX I
decide to invent for that session....

My point was not that it has to be monophonic but that unless you've got a ridiculous budget and don't care how practical the system is to patch together...it's not the easiest/cheapest way to get good sounding generic synth stuff. Don't take this the wrong way...I love modulars probably more than an average synth person, but I don't fit into the category of having disposable income or infinite amount of space and time to patch together stuff only to recreate basic sounds. For polyphonic modular stuff I like to use my Nord Modular G2. Sure not nearly as inspiring as real time physical patching of sounds...but it does fit in one rack space and of course you can save your patches. It also is cool for processing sounds..

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Post by ThePaloverdeBeetle » Mon May 31, 2010 10:07 am

The ininite complexity of modular synths is always fascinating but the task of doing polyphony is complicated, recreating your patch times the # of voices, or creating a different patch for each voice ? For something like creating a pad you might look up after a half an hour and try to remember what you started to do.
Nevertheless, the options available on a simple polyphonic synth can get boring after awhile. I'd vote for a cheap hybrid synth for creating complex pads like a Matrix 6 or an ESQ1, or cobble together something fun in Reaktor.

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Post by jv » Mon May 31, 2010 10:33 am

For a classic example of what a modular synth can do, listen to "Switched on Bach" by Wendy Carlos. I believe the entire thing was done using a Moog modular, and polyphonic parts were created using multi-tracking rather than multiple oscillators. Of course, that method takes a lot of time and patience.
As others have pointed out, in this day and age there are more practical ways to to this, but it can be done, and in the process you might come up with something cool and non-generic sounding.

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Post by Marc Alan Goodman » Mon May 31, 2010 12:09 pm

Wasn't Switched On Bach Walter (pre-wendy)?

Yeah, modulars rules but they're expensive for what you're trying to do. Though I'd love to get back in to owning one at some point. I'd borrowed a small setup from Joel for a while and it was awesome.

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Post by weatherbox » Mon May 31, 2010 5:25 pm

There are several self-contained semimodular options that'll allow you some tweaking flexibility without requiring the time and space to make patches as on a full modular, and also allow you to get started with what you need without spending a ton. I want a big modular someday and have been spec'ing systems out for way too long, but getting something more powerful than what I've already got in my semimodular system has to wait 'til I've got some serious disposable money around.
Instruments like the Doepfer Dark Energy, DSI Tetra, & Oberheim SEM can interface with varying controllers, CV/MIDI effects, and each other pretty well. Others like the Korg MS series and some old Yamahas interface in fewer ways due to different CV standards, and some old Roland polys have limited CV control as well. Effects like the Moogers etc drop right into such a system easily.
Studio or live is sort of a big factor. It takes time to repatch things even without being a full modular; if the stage lighting goes bad or the band changes the setlist on the fly, it means scrambling to rework the patches without missing parts. I'm curious to check out the Tetra and Prophet 08 myself for my live rig. Studio, though, I'm right with you wanting the full on crazy.

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Post by joel hamilton » Tue Jun 01, 2010 6:37 am

kslight wrote:
joel hamilton wrote:It doesnt have to be monophonic, if you have 8 oscillators you have 8 voices. If you have 8 VCA's to go with those 8 VCO's then you have a way to make the 8 VCO's shut up or speak when you actually want them to.
If you have a couple of filters and a mixer and a ton of other waveshaping modules, you can put together a sound that is ALMOST as good as a JUNO 106.
If you have a brain that is broken and you feel like you really want to get crazy and totally mental with figuring out crazy amounts of patching in the middle of a session just to essentially replicate what any 2 voice synt like a yamaha CS-15 will do the SECOND you turn it on, THEN COME JOIN ME ON THE DARK SIDE!!!
:)

I love my modular and I continue to spend too much money on modules that do things to audio. I use it as a synth like 3 times a year, and when I do it is INSANE for bass stuff, but the rest of the time I use it as a mix tool. Like the wrongest delay ever, or the wrongest EQ ever, or whatevr type of crazed FX I
decide to invent for that session....

My point was not that it has to be monophonic but that unless you've got a ridiculous budget and don't care how practical the system is to patch together...it's not the easiest/cheapest way to get good sounding generic synth stuff. Don't take this the wrong way...I love modulars probably more than an average synth person, but I don't fit into the category of having disposable income or infinite amount of space and time to patch together stuff only to recreate basic sounds. For polyphonic modular stuff I like to use my Nord Modular G2. Sure not nearly as inspiring as real time physical patching of sounds...but it does fit in one rack space and of course you can save your patches. It also is cool for processing sounds..
I fully heard you. Thats why the very first sentence actually illustrates how ridiculous it is to have polyphony with a modular setup, meaning: why bother.
I have 5 oscillators and a couple of filters that will track 1V/octave at oscillaton, so I will do multipart stuff sometimes with a MIDI/CV module handling some of the duties.... anyway...
it is not the most convenient package or system for making sounds, but you can also get insanely far beyond what a minimoog or a juno can/wants to do, even with tweaking.
The patchable combo thingies are cool, but the fully modular setup is a beast unto itself.
It just depends greatly on what you are hoping to achieve. The question is "pads" and that leads to JUNO-type answers. Amazing synth sounds and audio manipulation that makes an EQ look like a plastic fork? Modular.
Cool pad sounds that are unobtrusive and work in many styles and arrangements? not modular.

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Post by jv » Tue Jun 01, 2010 1:45 pm

Marc Alan Goodman wrote:Wasn't Switched On Bach Walter (pre-wendy)?
Yeah, it was- but if you go to buy a CD of it, it will say "Wendy".

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Post by Wainwright » Sat Jun 05, 2010 10:28 am

((( Sucking in Stereo )))

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Post by The Real MC » Sun Jun 06, 2010 8:54 pm

Modulars are best at monophonic sounds.

If you're doing a polyphonic modular for pads, it is really unmanageable because you have to patch and tweak every module to sound alike.

If you want a polyphonic with modular-style modulations (essential for pads), get an Alesis Andromeda.

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