Polyphony In Eurorack Modular Synthesis

Polyphony in modular synthesis used to mean multitracking multiple independent monophonic synth lines. Musicians like Wendy Carlos used modulars to create individual synthesized voices, which were layered to create polyphonic textures.

But in recent years, new modules and the increasing affordability of modules have made it possible to easily create chords within your system, bringing new performance and compositional options to modular synthesists.

In the latest Perfect Circuit video, ‘Patch Pals’ Wes and Jacob take a look at module options like the Supercritical Synthesizers Demon Core oscillator, which gives you 16 MIDI-controllable voices and the 4ms Ensemble Oscillator, which lets you create chords. They also talk about effects modules that allow you to create polyphonic textures, like loopers and delays.

While the demos are all done with a Eurorack system, many of the ideas can be applied equally to Moog format systems.

23 thoughts on “Polyphony In Eurorack Modular Synthesis

  1. Polyphony, or paraphony?

    Paraphony is relatively easy, and always has been. But outside of multitracking, true polyphony is impractical at best. Creating multiple identical voices on a modular synth is a bit of a chore and quite expensive vs. just buying a polysynth, and modules which accept MIDI and output multiple voices of audio don’t really count. That’s just a polyphonic synthesizer in a module.

    Polyphony in the form of independent voices with different sounds, of course, is also something modular is great for, but that’s not usually what people mean when they say “polyphony”.

    1. “modules which accept MIDI and output multiple voices of audio don’t really count. That’s just a polyphonic synthesizer in a module.”

      It sounds like you’re missing the point of modular.

      What makes polyphonic modules interesting is that they give you the ability to control synthesis parameters with control voltages.

      So the idea is NOT to put a polyphonic synthesizer in a module, it’s to let you integrate polyphonic synthesis with modular synthesis.

      1. Nothing special about cv. The whole point of the modular was a) flexibility of the signal and control chain as well as the merging of these two b) analogue sound c) visual appeal and alternative interface. These “polyphonic” modules that don’t allow for control of the individual voices are basically black boxes, closed systems with less control than their itb alternatives. You can just as easy send a pad sound to you modular to process.

    2. doepfer made a series of polyphonic modules so you could have 4 voices with only 4 or 5 modules and they are not the only one, i remember some from vermona, mutable…
      I guess perfect circuit ignore them cause they don’t sell them

        1. you are right and most of this quad modules are even in their stock, beats me…
          they probably know about them, maybe they don’t want to open them? i’m out of guesses,
          isn’t this the most reasonable modules to cover regarding poly in modular?

          1. “Reasonable” is subjective.

            It’s probably safe to assume that in making this video they weren’t trying to determine what the most “reasonable modules” might be in discussing poly in modular, but instead had their own ideas and goals that led them to choose how to cover the topic and what modules to use in their presentation.

            1. talking about polyphonic in modular without talking about polyphonic modules? vcf’s, vca’s ,lfo’s, env’s? really??
              seems they are more about polyphony “with” eurorack instead of polyphony “in” eurorack

      1. Doepfer module are not hip enough and cost a lot less, altough to be honest that supercritical 16 analogue voice is interesting.

  2. In my case, I dont have alot of space in my flat. So my complete studio is actually rimmed into an ikea pax. Eurorack is a great way to save space for me. And from this view i would really welcome more modules with a midi port.

  3. You can get the kind of functionality in the first half of the vid by just taking your favourite polyphonic synth and patching it into your modular. And it is fun! I don’t know if I would shell out for specific eurorack modules for it, though, but maybe I just haven’t reached that point.

  4. What’s the saying? “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

    Sometimes it feels like people go out of their way to make things ridiculously complicated. I have a modular rack that lets me patch together multiple different oscillators and filters in complex and strange ways that wouldn’t be practical (or sane) in a standard desktop or keyboard synth. The sounds it makes are typically monophonic or paraphonic, and often used as textures/step sequences or as a signal source for a sampler.

    If I want a polyphonic patch, I’ll reach for my Sequential or Waldorf polysynths; they have digital memory and are far more cost and size effective than the wall of modules that would be required to approximate the same thing in a spaghetti tangle of cables.

  5. Face it this is a store trying to sell you gear. Plain and simple. Perfect Circuit is here to make profit not education.

    But comparing this to Wendy Carlos is so WRONG! The old days was tape machines no midi! The layering was done via 8 track machine one voice at a time and lots of playing and bouncing.

    Here is an interview to watch
    Bob Moog & Wendy Carlos Interview

    1. “Face it this is a store trying to sell you gear. Plain and simple. Perfect Circuit is here to make profit not education.”

      The video is great – they’re definitely not trying to hard sell you on anything.

      Perfect Circuit does a great job of offering fun educational videos that really helps you understand the gear they carry. From my perspective, this is required for a store to get my business these days – I don’t have access to any of these modules anywhere near where I live.

      1. Well there is an different between a demonstration and education, if Perfect Circuit would put in the video “for this demonstration only” thats cool and that gives the viewer that is you an idea of what you could do to with the set up but the compairanise Perfect Circuit did is wrong. All they have to do is make idea videos which is a good thing not come off as education.

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