The Power of Modular Synthesis

This video, via moogfoundation, captures a presentation by Amos Gaynes, New Product Specialist at Moog Music, on the power of modular synthesis.

Gaynes makes the case that now is ‘the best time in human history to be into analog modular synthesis.”

Gaynes is introduced by synthesist Erik Norlander, and gives his talk in front of Norlander’s 22-oscillator Moog synth, known as the Wall Of Doom.

19 thoughts on “The Power of Modular Synthesis

  1. The best time to get into modular synthesis was when moog was actually making real modular synthesizers. Seriously, when will we get some? Moogerfoogers just look like crap…

    1. Back then you and I would not have been able to afford a modular synth – just big universities and a few musicians. And there were only a fraction of the modules that you can get today.

  2. Still wish we had new Moog modular sets though… Perhaps I am missing the point, but I think that modular synthesis separate from neo-modular synthesis (phones+computers+instruments) is different in some quirky ways. I for instance can only find (in my experience) inspiration in a piece of hardware, while others are the complete opposite. Perhaps others like me would like a new modular series by itself?

    1. Have you looked at I was kind of surprised at how well-priced their modular systems are. They do portable units built into flight cases too. From what I’ve heard they sound pretty close to the “Moogy” sound, especially with their replica ladder filter.
      Obviously their modulars are still fairly expensive, but they don’t come up much more so than any other analog (non-modular) synth.

      1. Good point – but I think what I’d like from Moog is really what they have in their Moogerfooger line just in a modular format plus the traditional VCO. Don’t get me wrong, you can get very close with what’s currently available – I used to have a very large system and it was fantastic. But it seems like Moog is about 90% of the way there to having a modular system available, so I wish they’d just go the rest of the way. Personally, I’m not at all a fan of the rack-mounted MoogerFooger type setup. (I also don’t really get their focus on guitar stuff these days – i.e. the preference for the stompbox format and actually making guitars. Maybe they’ve figured out that that’s where the richer opportunity is, or maybe that’s just what they’re into, but I wish they’d put their efforts into making inventive modules and a polysynth.)

        1. There’s a reason some form factors are classic. It would be cool to see a Moog modular again.

          You could make the argument that the modulation options in of the minimoog with the cv expander or the Voyager XL provide as much power as a basic modular. But I still like the idea of a big modular!

  3. I have never used modular….I don’t know a whole lot about them…the burnig question I have is,
    is it possible to save a preset you made, and bring it up at any time you like ? It is my understanding that you must connect modules together with patch cables…o.k…so you cnnect modules with patch cables and then what ? you have a sound. So a month from now, how o I get the exact same results if I’d like ?

    I figured that the options are, leave the cable and knobs where you left them, or, get out a paper and pencil and document every knob setting, every cable location. Seems a bit impractical to me.

    Not hating on each his own I say, and if someone gets off on them…more power to them, but it just seems likedoing things the hard way. [Shrug]

    Somebody help me understand.

    1. This is why we nowadays have ‘modularity’ on the soft-synth side as well.

      Disclaimer: I am no hardware person.

      Having that out of the way I think you’re looking at this awesomeness with ‘now’ in mind. Maybe even soft synths, I dunno.

      Software vs. hardware; I’m not going there. Not because I don’t want to, because I honestly can’t (see disclaimer).

      But keep in mind that modularity isn’t so much about ease of use perse, its about extensiveness. Laying out standards (which are quite rare with anything slightly technical) for everyone to use and enjoy. So $hardware_designer1 can easily develop $cool_effect which will easily be usable with $neat_synth which was produced by $hardware_designer2.

      Yes; nowadays I make a software patch (Combinator in Reason for example which honestly has its share of cable patching too) and I can save and recall it “like that”.

      Back in these days there /was/ no such thing as Reason. Or Ableton Live. Or Max (/MSP/Jitter). (my 3 favs).

      Get the idea yet ? 😉

      1. Part of what Amos is talking about in that video is digital recall of settings. Note you can already do this with Bulcha modulars, but obviously you’d have to snap a picture of the patch cable connections. A lot of the fun is actuallyloading up presets with new patch connections.

        And preset recall can be good for live gigs and so forth, but precisely because we have computers makes the “impracticality” of modulars a non-issue if you treat them as a playable instrument. What I mean is, you can play, tweak and patch , record the audio into your DAW and move on. Modulars rightly got replaced in the days of recording to tape and expensive hard disk recorders, but now we are free to exploit the fun hands on physical nature of hardware.

        Not everyone is a kinesthetic learner/experiencer and if you aren’t you’ll just have to accept that we get something important out of it, just as I accept that if you don’t feel you are missing anything you aren’t! 🙂

        Also, I use software and hardware and I personally think too many presets can be a distraction. For me the sound of the modular is the least important part and I often control soft synths with it!

        PS there is a hack to use real CV with reason, check it out! 🙂 I think reason’s a great program and it’s very cool to control with a touch screen and a giant monitor in portrait mode!!

        Basically, if modulars don’t look fun to you don’t worry about em.

    2. Modulars are abstract audio toys !
      When you patch cable them they are a joke to use, and yes no memories so for musicians that can be comical. They might look hip , they might be hip to claim to own, but as regards practical use they are bollocks. I have used modulars, and have taught music tech,synthesis,midi etc.
      The discussion around modulars is like a serious cul de sac for anoraks.
      The moog name and its credibility is wearing thin now, there machines are absurdly priced, when the likes of Dave Smith etc are putting out great analogues at great prices.
      And yes Amos looks a cunt and he is possibly giving that twat who used to wear capes in the 70s a run for his money Rick Wakeman.
      I love seeing conventional carearist people looking all gothic and outlandish, or covered in tattoos, it is a way of saying hey I am not conventional, when it really shows the opposite .
      Bob Moog you should have done what the guy from the beastie boys did .Your legacy is going down the pan!!!

    3. Part of owning a modular is the ability to use the modules in any way you want, and understanding how each module works. Once you get that, it’s not very hard to dial in a patch you want. Sure you might not get exact settings, but that’s not always what I want. Usually when I’m using an analog synth with presets, I usually end up tweaking my own presets because the sound might not be optimal (ie different amplifiers/speakers, bigger or smaller room, etc). Just my two cents

  4. Well I simply love having a ton of presets…The more the better !! It gives me a very broad
    canvas to work with…there are projects I started and saved, just fooling around and experiementing…just using random sounds…sometimes I get bored with it, and tuck it away in a folder. Later, on a boring day, I’ll snoop around at all the little incomplete projects and
    load em up to ‘refresh’ the project…I’ll scroll through the thousands and thousands of presets
    and stumble on one sound that just fits perfectly….and before I know it…I have an entire track completed.

    Maybe this is why I just don’t ‘ GET’ modulars…it seems to me that I would spend too much time
    obsessing over achieving a particular sound…than actually composing.

    1. If you know how to use a synthesizer it will often take you less time to get a desired sound by just creating it (be it with a modular, semimodular or fixed architecture synth) from scratch than to scroll through thounsands of presets. And if just want to compose I can just as well use a guitar or a piano, both of which are entirely free of distracting choice in terms of sound unlike preset synthesizers. But as far as I am concerned the sound is an integral part of the composition when it comes to electronic music.

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