One of the plusses about a euro-rack modular synth is that it’s almost endlessly reconfigurable. That’s also one of the minuses, because reconfiguring can all too easily eat a hole through the bottom of your wallet.

In trying to solve an ergonomic problem, I’ve managed to shine a spotlight on an entirely different problem — namely, this instrument is less than a month old, and already I’m thinking I’ve bought about three modules that I don’t want.

The ergonomic problem had to do with how the modules were arranged in the cases that I’ve bought. Or rather, how the cases themselves were arranged. I found that I was spending too much time with my arms raised, reaching up to patch modules that were as high as my head. This is a guaranteed way to suffer neck and shoulder pain, and the possibility that the vertebrae may not be happy about it is not to be ignored. So I needed to spread the cases (there are four of them) out more horizontally rather than quite so vertically.

In order to do that, I had to rethink which modules went where. This required more than an hour of unscrewing modules from the mounting rails, unplugging and re-plugging power cables (very carefully, so as not to bend the pins), and then screwing the panels back in. In order to get the most useful modules within easy reach, I put half a dozen that seemed less useful in the case off to the left. And then I started to think, “Why do I even have these six modules?” Well, five, really. I know why I have the MIDI interface.

Unloading nearly new modules could easily become an adventure (or a nightmare) in EBay and PayPal territory. Before I launch into that process, maybe I should figure out how useful or useless these marginal modules actually are. Useful to me, I mean; I’m sure they would be useful for somebody.

The Doepfer A-144 only has one trick: It’s a voltage source for quad crossfading. So I set up a quad crossfade patch, and … well, yeah, I might want to do that sometime. So okay, the A-144 stays.

The Make Noise Wogglebug has several tricks up its sleeve, but it’s sort of a mystery module. By intention, I think. It produces stepped and smooth randomized voltages, and also irregular clock bursts. After a little more patching, I can see that, yeah, I might find a use for it occasionally.

That leaves three modules that I’m still unsure about: The Make Noise Echophon, the Abstract Data Reactive Shaper, and the Harvestman Malgorithm. The Echophon is a delay line and pitch shifter, but I already have another delay (the Audio Damage Dub Jr.), and the Echophon’s pitch shifting is frankly not going to win any prizes in the DSP Of The Year contest.

The Malgorithm and Reactive Shaper are both ways of messing with a signal to make it more complex, active, and (if you’ll forgive the term) expressive. But now that I have the Intellijel uFold, the Reactive Shaper is a bit redundant. I also bought a Make Noise DPO, which has its own built-in waveshaping. The Malgorithm is really good at nasty sounds, but I’m not sure I care that much about nasty. Anyway, if I need nasty, I have a Jupiter Storm triple oscillator and a WMD Hadron Collider, the latter being a filter that can squash and mangle the tone in rude ways..

I’m not sure what (if anything) I need to add to my system in order to increase its sonic prowess. The one thing I’m contemplating is an Expert Sleepers ES-3. This clever device has a jack for an ADAT lightpipe cable (which means I would also have to buy a lightpipe-enabled audio interface for my computer). Through the lightpipe, the computer can send signals to the modular that will be translated into either audio or control voltages, as needed. This will allow me to do all sorts of tricks. For starters, I can generate multi-segment envelopes in Csound and send them to the modular. The euro-modular world is richly supplied with transient generators, but I have yet to spot anything in the way of a multi-segment envelope. Maybe Cwejman has one, but their stuff is expensive.

Among tonight’s positive discoveries: The Trigger Riot is perfectly happy to process and divide down an external clock that’s running at an irregular rate.  This opens up all sorts of possibilities, such as a tempo that’s usually steady, except that once in a while it speeds up or slows down briefly.

And that’s how it is today in the land of the blinky LEDs.

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One thought on “Modular Mojo: The Diary

  1. Regarding the extra unused modules….maybe the manufacturer could take them back as a credit towards more “generic” things like an extra oscillator or LFO? After all, you never have enough of those…

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