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Modular Profile: Modular Princess

Engineer, Producer & Creator Arushi Jain By William Stokes
Published September 2023

Molten Motion Meter

Modular synthesist, singer, creative technologist, engineer, composer, producer, radio host, coder; the list of Arushi Jain’s, aka Modular Princess’, abilities goes on. Based between New York and New Delhi, Jain has toured the world over with a critically acclaimed brand of electronic composition, infused with the influence of Hindustani classical music. Jain is also a talented instrument designer in her own right, not least demonstrated by ektara, a tool enabling her to sequence her synthesizer by singing a melody.

On her entry into modular

I was introduced to sound synthesis at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University, where I was an undergraduate studying Computer Science. The community I found there was very experimental and progressive, and some of my close friends had modular equipment which I was always incredibly intrigued by. I was too shy to ask about it though, and so it wasn’t until 2017 when I was back in Delhi, India when I was first able to spend some time with one. It was love at first sight, and a month later I was back in San Francisco and had acquired my first case; a beautiful custom wood Bastl that is still my favourite case to date.

On her go‑to modules

Right now, my staples are [Mannequins] Mangrove, [Make Noise] Maths, [Make Noise] Morphogene, [Expert Sleepers] Disting EX, [Mannequins] 3 Sisters, [ALM/Busy Circuits] Pamela’s Pro Workout... and a whole lot of Expert Sleepers! But to be honest, this changes depending upon the album I’m writing. For sequencing, I use a combination of my computer, keys, [Frap Tools] USTA, and my voice.

On combining Indian classical music with modular synthesis

I’m not an Indian classical musician, I’m a modular synthesist. I have a deep interest in Hindustani classical music — the traditional music of North India — and in fact it’s the only musical language I speak. I studied this music primarily as a vocalist while I grew up in Delhi, and I will continue to take classes forever. I’m still a beginner; this music is so vast there is so much to learn, and to be quite frank with you, it is like holding up a mirror: the more I learn about Indian classical, the more I learn about myself.

I am interested in experimenting with the sonic identity that Indian classical has had for centuries, and stretch it until it creates an entirely new form. I am not interested in replicating Indian classical music on the synthesizer. There are new planets to be discovered, and I prefer to remain free to walk wherever I please.

On building ektara

My synth is my bandmate, and I wanted it to have the ability to respond to me, copy me, mimic me, riff off me. This was the core inspiration behind ektara. It enables me to sing a melody into a microphone and directly sequence my synthesizer. Using a pitch‑detection algorithm in offline mode, my voice is converted into MIDI notes and pitch‑bend data to enable microtonality in synthesizers. Using Ableton and an Expert Sleepers FH2 MIDI‑to‑CV converter, I can sequence my modular synth with CV using any DC‑coupled interface. I’m sure there are tools today that you can buy on the market to do exactly this, but I personally really enjoyed building software and like to make tools for myself, to improve the quality of my life, and art.

On the culture of modular

I think the modular synth world is so unique, and affords the synthesist room for so much personal expression. I love the fact that you build your own case, which makes everyone’s sound a unique match to their individual flavour. I find a lot of similarities between me and other synthesists. People who like to hack on machines are often quite entrepreneurial and have a logical forward brain. I also find that people are generally quite nice, and excited to problem solve with you.

People say the modular community is too much about the gear and the technology, and not about the music and art. This might be true, but it doesn’t bother me. Any instrumentalist who is an expert at what they do intimately knows the architecture of the instrument that they are playing, not just how to play it. I think it’s important to be curious about gear if you’re working with modular synthesizers, because if you’re not, then how will you learn?