Why I Love... Rearranging My Modular

Robin Vincent
By Robin Vincent

There’s a running gag in modular circles about how someone has just completed their system. It’s often accompanied by a beautiful photograph on Instagram of a modular synthesizer captured and frozen in the time of its consummation. What we know is that in a few days, maybe a week, other modules will start popping up out of drawers and things will change. For some this is a point of frustration and damned uncertainty. For me, I absolutely love it.

I remember the satisfaction of filling that first row and doing so with the exact number of HP. But I was already in the process of acquiring a larger case and so I knew it wasn’t going to last. Even now, with an abundance of enclosures, nothing stays the same for long. I wouldn’t call it a compulsion or an unhappiness with the way I set it up last time: it’s much more intentional than that.

Every time I come to play with my modular, particularly when preparing for a gig, I go through the process of constructing the instrument. My mind scans through and examines the logs of my module collection seeking out moments of recognition and inspiration. I ask myself: What am I trying to do? What do I want to sound like? How can I replicate that thing I saw on Instagram the other day, or that thing I did last week? In that case I’ll need this module, that module, a sprinkling of those utilities, and my currently active case gets enthusiastically unpatched and disassembled.

There’s something in the construction of the modular instrument, something in the putting together of these elements that is enormously satisfying.

While my brain is busy making connections my hands are enjoying rummaging around in the case, passing through cables and handling the modules. There’s something in the construction of the modular instrument, something in the putting together of these elements that is enormously satisfying. It’s like the improvisation of the music‑making is extending to the building of the instrument. I’ve also discovered that it’s not only the changing of modules that sparks inspiration, the reshuffling of modules can do that too. On many occasions I’ve swapped a few modules around and found that it does something marvellous to the way the signals are flowing, and an unimpressive patch suddenly comes alive.

Then there’s the puzzle element of wanting to fill a case without leaving any gaps, while keeping related modules clumped together. I can casually discard perfectly decent oscillators and filters to make way for an alternative that’s 3HP larger or smaller just for the satisfaction of filling a gap or completing a row. Damn those odd number width modules!

The downside is that I have half‑scavenged cases strewn about the place. Modules droop their power ribbons off the edge of shelves and mingle about on surfaces with pools of patch cables. But once everything is in its place, you have the joy of switching it on and beaming as the LEDs bounce, digital things boot, and your speakers boom with anticipation. Hopefully there’s still time to make some music.

Published June 2023

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