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Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

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Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby Eddy Deegan » Mon Jun 01, 2020 3:00 am

This is a long and somewhat self-indulgent post but I've been working away at this for what seems like ages and finally I've gotten somewhere so I'm sharing experience and lessons learned along the way :tongue:

After getting a Moog Mother-32 when they first hit these shores I loved it, but felt it could do with company. As a result I decided to get into modular in a small way as I felt a VCO or two would really complement it. My intention was to get a few basic modules, combine them with the Mother-32 and noodle a bit with a view to coming up with some simple sequences that I could use in my larger works.

I knew nothing about Eurorack and googled quite a lot. The lack of coherent and definitive information with regards to power supplies, cases and all that sort of thing proved daunting, but I'd seen a lot of people did have them on youtube, wanted same, and so perservered.

I ended up buying a few components in the form of some rails and screws, as well as a TipTop power supply. I was going to make my own case as I felt they were overpriced.

I mentioned my plans-in-progress to a good friend of mine who promptly gave me, free gratis, about £1500-worth of Doepfer modules as well as a few other bits and pieces including a Disting Mk 4 and a Music Thing Modular spring reverb.

Note: although this gift was extraordinarily generous, it's a 2 way street - my friend and I have often exchanged, or simply donated to each other, various bits of equipment, some quite high end, and this was an extension of that, albeit an unusually generous one.

So now I had a box of modules, some vague idea of power supplies, some rails and mounting screws but no case. Also, I realised that the power supply I had was not good enough to power all the modules. I needed more clarity.

I could have gone out and bought random stuff, but I wanted a plan, some form of coherent strategy to allow me to use all this stuff in a sensible way without being stupid about it. So, until such time as I had time and space to build my own case I carefully boxed everything up.

Months passed. I had other things going on, the studio was a tip and creatively speaking life got in the way on a number of fronts. During this time I also acquired a Behringer Model D and Pro-1, both of which are Eurorackable.

Then, Martin Walker (for it was he!) mentioned that he'd seen someone on Facebook in my area selling some decent modules. Martin knew I don't do Facebook, so kindly thought to advise me of the chap in question and I'm jolly glad he did. A little thought goes a long way :-)

After the connection was made, I bought a couple of nice modules from the fellow and at a fair price. These were slightly more advanced modules than the basic Doepfer stuff I was originally given and cost quite a lot for something I couldn't use yet, but I was determined I wanted to modular and was willing to back that up with sensible investment.

These were added to the box and now all I needed to do was find time, space and dig out the tools (the latter is long domestic story; I have a lot of tools but they were mostly packed in in hard-to-find places in the house until recently, though that's now sorted out thank goodness).

I bought a Moog 104HP case thinking that would save some time, then when it arrived I realised that most of the Doepfer modules are too deep for it. Cue thoughts along the lines of "Bugger. Sigh. Why does Eurorrack have to be so hard?".

More months passed.

A week or two back I finished re-jigging the studio, clearing out the house, getting my shizzle together and so forth. All was good but I realised I wasn't going to get around to building a case anytime soon. However, nor could I live with the modules all boxed up and I wasn't going to sell them so I had a quick look around and to my delight discovered the Arturia Rackbrute.

It arrived the other day. What an amazing thing. Power supply built in, lovely case, bags of depth, lots of power sockets in there. This is the way cases should be. I have no affiliation but I'm a darn happy customer!

Spent a day messing about trying different orderings of modules etc, decided to just go with it (thank you Arpangel/Tony for reminding me that it's more about doing and less about thinking!) and populated it with the modules, as well as populating the Moog case with some additional pieces including the Mother-32.

Spent about half a day wiring everything in, and double checking that the ribbon cables etc. were the right way around internally on the modules.

Today, I spent much of the time soldering up a bunch of new patch leads. The market for patch leads is replete with ripoffs so I got 50 or so mini jacks from Canford Audio along with 20m of cable and I'm making up my own - half way done now!

Image

And the current modular is now up and running in its first incarnation:

Image

Now I fully get that this is something of a tortuous journey to arrive at a decent starting point for a modular system, but it really is quite a lot more involved than just buying a new synth and it was all completely new to me.

I'll be installing the Model D and Pro-1 in a second Rackbrute, purely because with the pair of Rackbrutes on the same hinge I can fold them into a 'briefcase' configuration (without having to unpatch them) and store them securely and safely on the floor in the studio instead of having them on the desk permanently. Any extra space I'll fill with utility modules. I've already got a Squarp Hermod on order as I love their Pyramid sequencer and the Hermod looks perfect for my needs when it comes to multiple channels of CSV/Gate stuff.

I always knew Eurorack would be fun but my main objective was to use it as a source of inspiration. As a pianist I'm quite mentally locked into certain traits and I'm always looking to break out of them where it might be useful and what better mechanism for doing so than a modular system?!

So, at the end of this long waffle... I can say that I've finally got a system up and running, it's in the process of being extended, that I'm extremely happy with some of the experiments I've done using it, it sounds amazing, and think it will be a heck of a resource going forwards as part of my more conventional synth setup.

That said I do wish the whole process had been easier and that I'd known at the start what I know now! So much prior knowledge seems to be assumed by so many sites.

Modular... yeah I love it, but at the same time it's a bit of a hairy adventure if you've not done it before. Also, it will test your knowledge of the theory of synthesis, and in a very good way. I've learned a few things and I've not even really started yet.

My soldering skills have noticeably improved along the way however :D
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby resistorman » Mon Jun 01, 2020 3:33 am

Quite the story! There's nothing like the sheer power and purity of a good modular rig. That said, my own journey into eurorack is strictly an efx/ looping/ mangling affair, which is its own world. Carry on!
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby Eddy Deegan » Mon Jun 01, 2020 3:44 am

Cheers! I don't know if it's visible on the pics but the Music Thing Modular spring reverb also supports conventional send/return ports on the underside which my friend exposed on a custom module alongside it along with hardware controls to route to/from them. I'll be hooking those up to my trusty and much loved Alesis Midiverb 4 :thumbup:
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby zenguitar » Mon Jun 01, 2020 3:57 am

Lovely post Eddy :)

Modular is such a rabbit hole to fall down, truly in the Alice in Wonderland sense. There are so many options that make it truly mind-bending.

Modular really can be ANYTHING you want; you can build a classic mono synth from individual modules, but you can buy individual modules that have the essentials of a classic mono synth. You can have any form of synthesis, any filter, any VCA, any LFO, and an infinite number of modules to manipulate the CVs that tie them all together. Countless sequencers and arpeggiators that can integrate with each other in mind bending combinations.

Then there are ways to integrate Arduino's, Raspberry Pi' s and other development platforms.

Modular is a genuine paradox. There's no simple entry point. You just have to bite the bullet and pick a starting point, and then be prepared to start exploring; and that's where you have to learn to adapt and to look hard at your intentions. Do you allow modular to mould you, or do you mould your modular to your will.

Andy :beamup:
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby Folderol » Mon Jun 01, 2020 7:37 am

Interested in how you went about this. I fully 'get' your confusion at first. There have been several occasions (not all music related) where I've found myself thrown in the deep end, and it takes time for the pieces to fall into place.
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby Arpangel » Mon Jun 01, 2020 8:12 am

Glad it’s working out for you Eddy, modular systems are very much like human beings, they’re all different, and sometimes drive you crazy! :)
I got a Rackbrute too, a 3U, which is an intentional self imposed restriction, it’s about a third full, I'm not rushing to fill it up, no point, I play around on Modular Grid "distilling down" systems, this is a good idea, as after a few days I have a light-bulb moment and a module gets changed, I’ll wait until that doesn’t happen, and only then, start to buy the rest my modules.
The Rackbrute is nice I must admit, I’m not using its stand, it fits nicely on its back on my desk, thanks to those handy rubber strips. A few have complained about the power going in the front, but for me that’s great, I wouldn’t be able to use it as I am if it was on the back!
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby Martin Walker » Tue Jun 02, 2020 2:27 am

Wow - that's a lot of effort Eddy, but what a lot you've learned along the way!

The depth of some modules relative to case dimensions does seem to be a common pitfall, as does excessive current drain on particular power rails with certain modules, while the quality (or not) of Eurorack power supplies can be an endless source of frustration for some musicians.

Looking forward to hearing some of the fruits of your endeavors in due course 8-)


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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby Arpangel » Tue Jun 02, 2020 3:08 pm

One thing you might want to think about Eddy, which I'm working my way through right now, when I had my large modular, it duplicated a lot of things that my keyboard/semi-modular synths can do. I also used to judge a sound based on how long it took me to achieve "it must be good, because I spent so much time making it" but if I looked at it in reality, I could have got it, or something similar in five minutes on my Moog or some other semi-preset synth. That made me change my mind about modular, and I gave up on that basis.
Now, I’m making my small modular in a way that it is a unique thing, which makes sounds that I can’t get on anything else I own, after all, whats the point otherwise?
If it’s capable of taking me to new places and the sounds are really interesting I don’t mind spending sone time with it, otherwise, I’ll just give it up again.
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby Eddy Deegan » Tue Jun 02, 2020 3:13 pm

Arpangel wrote:One thing you might want to think about Eddy, which I'm working my way through right now, when I had my large modular, it duplicated a lot of things that my keyboard/semi-modular synths can do. I also used to judge a sound based on how long it took me to achieve "it must be good, because I spent so much time making it" but if I looked at it in reality, I could have got it, or something similar in five minutes on my Moog or some other semi-preset synth. That made me change my mind about modular, and I gave up on that basis.
Now, I’m making my small modular in a way that it is a unique thing, which makes sounds that I can’t get on anything else I own, after all, whats the point otherwise?
If it’s capable of taking me new places and the sounds are really interesting I don’t mind spendings one time with it, otherwise, I’ll just give it up again.

Thanks for that thought Tony, wise words indeed. So far I've discovered the modular to be a great platform for coming up with complex timbres with a lot of movement within them.

It seems that the complete freedom provided by patch cables suits me more than the controls usually found in the modulation section of 'normal' synthesizers.

It is a satisfying discovery, and I'm sure will be only one of many!
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby Arpangel » Tue Jun 02, 2020 3:28 pm

Eddy Deegan wrote:Thanks for that thought Tony, wise words indeed. So far I've discovered the modular to be a great platform for coming up with complex timbres with a lot of movement within them.

It seems that the complete freedom provided by patch cables suits me more than the controls usually found in the modulation section of 'normal' synthesizers.

It is a satisfying discovery, and I'm sure will be only one of many!

Yes, that’s good, and I’m only wise after the event, when I listen back to things I’ve done that use my old modular, some of the things were unique, and I miss them, patching, complex modulation using patch cords was very inspiring, so now I’m getting rid of all the dead wood that I thought I needed, and just cutting to the chase.
Blimey, I’ve even bought :shocked: :o a Maths...

:D :D
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby Ben Asaro » Tue Jun 02, 2020 3:53 pm

Conventional wisdom says: before you start building a eurorack/modular system, have a Plan (capital P). I totally get why this advice is given, it probably keeps a lot of people from starting something they will never finish.

I didn't do that, however, and don't regret any of my purchases to date. Even something like Amesia, which I literally only found a use for 2 years after I purchased it ... it all gets thrown into the mix somehow.

As a result, my modular is quite versatile, even though I am usually only using one portion of it at a time: whether it be random notes with quantizing, shift registering polyphony, chiptune-inspired, subtractive East Coast style voices, or additive with an LPG, super compositional with the NerdSeq ... I have the cake, frosting, AND those terrible sugar flowers on top! :D
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby Folderol » Tue Jun 02, 2020 5:59 pm

It seems that the complete freedom provided by patch cables suits me more than the controls usually found in the modulation section of 'normal' synthesizers.
... and two little YoshiPi's quietly sobbed :cry:
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby Eddy Deegan » Tue Jun 02, 2020 6:26 pm

Folderol wrote:
It seems that the complete freedom provided by patch cables suits me more than the controls usually found in the modulation section of 'normal' synthesizers.
... and two little YoshiPi's quietly sobbed :cry:

It's not like that at all Will, I love the little beasties as you know :geek:

I still owe you some feedback on the poly-AT and will get that to you soon; there has been a lot of change going on in the studio to accomodate hardware changes and MIDI routing etc. but that's pretty much done now so I can actually use it again!
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby Folderol » Tue Jun 02, 2020 6:27 pm

Eddy Deegan wrote:
Folderol wrote:
It seems that the complete freedom provided by patch cables suits me more than the controls usually found in the modulation section of 'normal' synthesizers.
... and two little YoshiPi's quietly sobbed :cry:

It's not like that at all Will, I love the little beasties as you know :geek:

I still owe you some feedback on the poly-AT and will get that to you soon; there has been a lot of change going on in the studio to accomodate hardware changes and MIDI routing etc. but that's pretty much done now so I can actually use it again!

Sorry mate, but you left yourself wide open and I couldn't resist :lol:
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Re: Reflecting on how I ended up with a working modular system

Postby The Elf » Tue Jun 02, 2020 6:37 pm

Folderol wrote:
It seems that the complete freedom provided by patch cables suits me more than the controls usually found in the modulation section of 'normal' synthesizers.
... and two little YoshiPi's quietly sobbed :cry:
When I heard you had a blue YPi I will admit I sat up... But I honestly don't think I'd have the time or patience to do it justice. :frown:
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