What’s Old Is Made New

Many years ago, I owned a Serge Modular synthesizer. It was an amazing beast, and I wish I still had it. Purely for nostalgia and sex appeal; I doubt it would still be in working order, and even if it was, I doubt I’d ever turn it on.

It was great fun to play with, though, because it was totally patchable. To make sounds, you connected physical modules with patch cords. One of the modules was a full-featured step sequencer. I spent many happy hours setting up odd patterns on the sequencer that would then play by themselves, producing trancelike variations that never quite repeated.

Being, this week, in a slightly demented mood, I decided to recreate the Serge step sequencer in Csound. Csound is less tactile, to be sure, but it’s also infinitely cheaper (assuming you own a computer) and ultimately a lot more powerful.

After a couple of days of tinkering, I have a musical sketch that isn’t too bad. (The mp3 doesn’t sound nearly as crisp as Csound’s native audio output, which is amazingly clean. But it’s not too bad.) If you’re a Csound programmer and want to know how I did this, here’s the code.

All of the intervals in this sketch are mathematically pure — that is, it’s an example of Just Intonation. Tuning on the Serge was always haphazard at best. And of course it didn’t have a reverb or a delay line. No, on the whole I don’t regret that technology has moved on.

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