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Modular Profile: Mylar Melodies

Getting Better At Making Music By William Stokes
Published June 2022

Mylar Melodies.Mylar Melodies.

Mylar Melodies is creating synth videos and a podcast called 'Why We Bleep'. At least, so goes the header on his Patreon page, which offers a smorgasbord of modular synthesizer goodness from the no‑nonsense producer, podcaster and YouTuber. Mylar Melodies has in recent years ascended to become one of the Internet’s premier educators in all things modular, from live improvisation videos to enlightening insights about the principles of synthesis. His podcast has seen an array of venerable guests (not least last month’s Modular Profile guest, Scanner) and represents Mylar Melodies’ self‑professed “eternal struggle to get better at making music. To better understand the mysterious, unique and amazing people behind the equipment and music that we love.”

On his entry into modular

When I turned 18, my grandparents gave me a chunk of money they had been saving for me to buy my first car with. They saved for years. And I took the car fund and spent it all on a Cwejman S1 semi‑modular analogue synth, which, though it can make car noises, is absolutely not a type of car. Thing is, when you have a Cwejman S1 you no longer need to travel so much. And later on, a burgeoning career involving synthesizers helped me buy a car anyway. So in case you were in any doubt: buy synthesizers.

On his go‑to modules

Mutable Instruments Plaits, Make Noise MATHS, Intellijel Metropolis, Make Noise FX, Roland‑style filters, Doepfer utilities, several Music Thing Turing Machines and some quantisers... I’d also say utilities are often afterthoughts, and yet logic modules, mixers, attenuverters, multiples, switched multiples, Sample & Holds and sequential switches can unlock potential in a system in a way that buying piles of ‘cool’ all‑in‑one modules do not, necessarily. I’d suggest taking Surgeon’s advice and buy a looping pedal perhaps before buying any modules — a looper turns one voice into an orchestra. But never forget that VCV Rack software exists, and is free.

On the culture of modular

It’s both a hobby and a profession, a niche industry that’s bigger than ever, a pleasure and a pain. It’s pure inspiration, and a massive distraction. It’s equal parts satisfying and frustrating. It’s expensive and unnecessary, and it’s irreplaceable and it’s one of a kind. It’s filled with interesting, creative and supportive people. It’s is as useful as you allow it to be.

Modular is building dream instruments that would be too niche for larger commercial manufacturers to create. Getting there can be hard. Having fun doing so is the point. Nearly all studio gear is a luxury.

On his 'Why We Bleep' podcast

I spend a lot of time talking about inanimate boxes and panels, so it’s a way of focusing more on the human stories behind the gear we love (but don’t worry, we talk a lot about gear too).

On being an online educator

It’s weird to discover that thousands of people tune in to your idle thoughts, not least musicians whose music you know and respect. It’s easy to feel like a fraud when you’re self‑taught. I try to clearly explain lessons I am learning, and what’s good about gear, out loud. I just hope people are inspired even if their goals are different to mine. Starting things is easy, but seeing them through is hard work. So find the joy in your creative pursuits, follow it unflinchingly; and all other doubts be damned.

What Is Sample & Hold?

Sample & Hold is one of the most basic circuits in synthesis, and possibly one of the most underused. Many online demonstrations of what Sample & Hold actually is tend to involve a combination of white noise and a clock to achieve stepped random voltage — which is accurate, but not altogether a faithful representation of just how much is possible with this simple concept.

A Sample & Hold circuit, similar to a VCA, has one input, one CV input and one output. It expects gate signals at its CV input: when that gate is high it will ‘grab’ — that is, sample — whatever voltage value it is receiving at the input, and hold it for the duration of that gate. If, for example, we put a slow, triangle-wave LFO into our Sample & Hold’s input and a clock into the CV input, we’ll achieve an ascending and descending stepped voltage according to the rate of that clock and the length of its gates, ‘grabbing’ successive moments of the LFO as it ascends and descends. We could slow our Sample & Hold right down so that we achieve just one or two stepped values per LFO cycle — or we could begin to speed it up to achieve more and more steps per LFO cycle. What we are in fact changing here is the sample rate. And by reducing a signal’s sample rate, we can achieve something like a bit-crusher. If we feed audio into the Sample & Hold’s signal input and the output to our mixer, we’ll be able to hear the effect as a distortion-like sound.

Let’s take this idea further: we could modulate the rate of our clock up and down so it goes from sparse gates all the way up to an audio-rate wave and back again. This would reduce and increase the sample rate on the incoming signal so it moves from sparser to more crushed and back again. This can be a great way to bring additional colour to drum sounds; try using a syncopated gate signal or triggering flourishes of gates into your Sample & Hold at certain points in the pattern. The potential applications for this simple circuit are legion, but try this simple technique to open the door to a world of glitchy Sample & Hold goodness! William Stokes