Thursday, November 11, 2010

I BOUGHT SOME BANANAS TODAY or How I Learned to Love Modular Synthesis

After toying with the various forms sound synthesis can take,  I've settled upon a manner of working that truly satisfies my desire to create sound events that depend less on technique and more on the foibles of chance and electricity.  Of course I'm talking about the joys and frustrations of using modular synthesizers,  in this case my Serge system.  

The word "modular" has led me to pricey purchases like an Analogue Solutions Vostok,  that although fairly simple,  immediately proved rather confusing.  Once feeling a small bit of accomplishment on that small modular,  I tried my hand at a vintage modular,  the EML-200,  still a favorite.  And after dealing with the pin matrix of the Vostok,  the logical step was to find a nice EMS Synthi AKS,  whose pin matrix patching is,  in my opinion,  far superior to the Vostok's (whose patching I prefer with eighth inch cables).  I've also toyed with semi-modular synths like the mighty Korg MS-20 and the idiosyncratic EML-101.

Which brings me back to my Serge combo,  starting with the Creature,  the Seq A,  the TKB (a wild capacitance "keyboard"),  the Dual Oscillator,  and the Wave Processor.  This is my first somewhat complex modular system,  which while compact in size,  packs quite a punch,  both in terms of synthesis/modulation potential,  but also in terms of confusion/failure. If one is to truly come to terms with  modular synthesis,  one must accept those latter liabilities as well.  The truly brave wade through endless input/output jacks,  blinking lights,  rows of knobs,  and tangles of cables (those multi-colored bananas) in order to first find headaches,  then hopefully,  sonic nirvana.  

As a visual artist,  the idea of the "happy accident" has always seemed like an oasis of potential discovery,  something I also cherish in the world of modular synthesis.  The simple turn of a knob will often succeed in the loss of an aural moment,  while opening up equally interesting ones,  or merely chaos, sometimes seen as a denial of viable form.  You be the judge of that one.

I guess the "perfect patch" is a fleeting moment sometimes stored in one's memory or patchsheet,  and just as often belonging only to that moment.  With discipline and knowledge of the machinery at hand as essential ingredients,  a truly frightening, but rewarding modular synthesis journey will begin.  In other words,  this is not for the faint at heart,  but for individuals willing to push hard at mental presets,  while maintaining a sense of sonic wonder.  I love it!

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