There hasn’t been any time for composing “real” tracks lately. I only had time to doddle on this Eurorack modular system on the dinner table. And drinking coffee. But let me tell you a little (not all!) of what’s going on on this patch:
A triangle wave is modulated by a variable shape through linear FM. A digital phase distortion is gently being folded before going to the mixer. A sub also appears there.
A couple of cycling CV curves are generated in a semi-random fashion and feed into a quantizer set to C harmonic minor scale. This is routed as 1 V/octave to the oscillators.
The filter is self-oscillating and tracks the same pitch.
The tempo is set to 90 BPM and triggers straight eights on the quantizer and envelope.
Now this is only a snapshot of a patch in progress. All those patches will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
There’s this theory of the ear that it hears different frequencies at different levels. The Fletcher-Munson curves, commonly known as equal-loudness contours, indicate the ear’s average sensitivity to different frequencies at various amplitude levels.
Even if the tonal balance of the sound remains the same, at low volume, mid range frequencies sound more prominent. While at high listening volumes, the lows and highs sound more prominent, and the mid range seems to back off.
In short, this explains why quieter music seems to sound less rich and full than louder music. Generally it’s better for the music to sound good as the volume increases.
As a consequence of this, you should edit, mix and work on your music on a high enough volume (not ridiculously loud), so that you can make sure your music doesn’t sound terrible when it’s listened to at a higher level. Because as a music producer you would want your music to sound best when the listener is paying full attention. But use caution, don’t damage your ears bla bla bla.
It’s like building a character in a role-playing video game. You distribute endurance, strength, dexterity and such to make the avatar/modular reflect your play style. Some builds will render an East Coast synth voice, while others are suited for a more experimental kind of noise.
My first iteration of modules was based on dedicated, no frills core functionalities, such as Doepfer’s essential modules. It was good to start with the basics. By doing this I was able to test different routings, patch them in how I wanted and learn the signal path.
I did want to build a complete system, made entirely from one manufacturer’s modules. Because part of the beauty with modular is putting together an own rack made of different modules from different places and with different approaches.
From the beginning I decided for a quite small system, a limited case of 6U, 84 HP. But one or a few function per module demands more space, so after a while I began to replace some with functionally dense modules, in other words, I levelled up. Still I didn’t want to go to far; I don’t want a computer-like module that solves everything – I reckon that would be contra-modular.
For the time being, I run sequencer/clock outside of the system. Maybe it’s a little bit cheating, but this way I save space in the case. Anyway, I’m using my Analog Keys, and with it I can drive two separate sequences, process the modular signals through the synth’s filters, envelopes, effects and so on, and trigger my TR-606. And using all four voices of the synth itself at the same time. The Rosie output module has send and return for external effects, so I’ve my BigSky plugged in there. All in all, it’s quite a powerful and portable little setup.
As for the case, I just cut up a cardboard box and gaffered it together to fit the Happy Ending Kit rails. It’s very slim, very light, maybe not so stylish though.
And the housing is really a project. It’s like a doll house that is defragmented, partly from an interior design thinking. Well, I want it to look nice and neat. Then again, most time is spent researching which modules go in and out, based on functionality and compability with the ecosystem.
Nevermind the patch in the picture, I just needed something so sound and didn’t want to clutter the image too much. The photo is from the kitchen table.
I didn’t want to dive into the ocean of modular synthesis. For may years I resisted. I thought the practice was all about experimenting and jamming – all about the live session in itself. And for me, the things that come first in all of this, are songwriting, composition, arrangement, structure, mixing, and postproduction such as mastering.
And while I enjoy sound design very much, and regard it as an important part in the making of music, I thought Eurorack modular systems primarily made noises that was hard to integrate into more conventional tracks. And then it’s not possible to save presets.
But now I’m thinking: why not have both? I can still do my old routines, and at the same time care for a little ecosystem with an ephemeral nature on the side. I could set limits.
So I’m building a basic synth voice, something in that direction. The modular rack is made of dedicated modules (more or less) and has many modulation possibilities. It kind of goes like this: VCO > MIX > VCF > VCA > ENV > LFO.
I don’t want to use multifunctional toolboxes, such as Expert Sleepers Disting or advanced generators as Make Noise Maths to begin with. I don’t want a computer to do everything – that would defeat the purpose of a modular system (although a couple of combined utility functions are alright, like Mutable Instruments Kinks or Intellijel Triatt ). I’m not putting a self-contained, semi-modular synth – like a Moog Mother-32 or an Arturia MiniBrute 2 – as a starting point, because I want building blocks; different exchangeable modules. (I’m, however, using an Elektron Analog Keys to control everything and then some.) For the modular system will grow, evolve organically, and stuff will be supplemented or replaced.
From the get-go, the the modular is mainly Doepfer, but it will be customized with other equivalent modules or upgrades. I’d like to say I’m expanding slowly to get a chance to thoroughly understand the modules and how they interact with each other, but to tell you the truth, this configuration has really exploded. But I guess, and hope, it will cool down. It takes time and perhaps it’s the process per se that is the point.
Another agenda is to acquire used modules on the secondhand market, as far as possible. I want to be able to try out and then sell, if it doesn’t fit without losing too much money. This approach has been working great with the exception of a friend of mine whom is building a uBraids for me.
P.S. Ableton Live 10 is officially released today.
The normal thing to treat a dry vocal is to put reverb and delay on it. But that could make the vocal a bit muddy.
To keep it in-your-face and conserve the clarity of the vocal, while still having an effect to make it sound bigger, try ducking the volume of the delays whenever the dry vocal is active. To do so, side-chain the delay bus to the lead vocal track.
For example, use a delay device on a return bus and put a quarter note delay with low feedback, and send it to the vocal track with a little less volume. On the same bus, put a compressor and select the vocal track as the side-chain source. Set it up as you like, perhaps bring down the wet-parameter some.
To do so, three copies of the sound are needed. Or, as this post will show, you could split the frequency into three bands (high, mid and low). By doing this, it is possible to apply different signal processing on each band.
Now I usually try to write about music production on a more abstract level, and not about a specific DAW or instrument, but this time I going to illustrate with Ableton Live on Mac. The theory is the same though, you just need to figure out how it works in your particular environment.
So I’m using the stock effect Multiband Dynamics to split frequency. The device has noticeable affect and coloration on the signal, even when the intensity amount if set to zero, but it should be transparent enough for now.
Drop a Multiband Dynamics in the Device View.
Set the Amount control to 0.0 % to neutralize compression or gain adjustments to the signal.
Group the Multiband Dynamics in an Audio Effect Rack (select the device and press CMD + G).
Show the Chain List of the rack.
Dictate the crossover points on High and Low (the Mid consists of what is left in between, so remember to also change the crossover points in the mid chain if you make adjustments on the others), e.g. set the bottom of the frequency range of the high band to 1.00 kHz.
Duplicate the selected chain two times.
Rename all of the chains High, Mid and Low, from top to bottom.
Solo each band respectively on the Split Freq, i.e. solo Low on the low chain.
Now process each band individually. Use a Utility device on the low chain and set Width to 0.0 % to direct the low frequencies to mono. Also, on this band, set up a side-chain compression triggered by the kick drum. Try a stereo widening effect and some reverb on the mid chain. And perhaps a little saturation to add some crunch on the high chain, I dunno, it’s up to you.
The first volca I got was the bass, and it was the last of the modules I sold. I’ve had three volcas – bass, keys and sample – and I’ve owned two of them for over two years.
While they had their own ecosystem they never quite fit in my particular, DAW-driven, workflow.
The three detunable VCOs of the bass, and the ring modulation of the keys, are great features, but in practice, when I wanted a bass or a lead sound for a track, I sometimes tried using a volca first, but then ended up designing those sounds on other synths. Like always. While the volcas sound fine for the money, they are not on par with my other synths, well that’s just me.
Anyway, I recently acquired the discontinued monotribe, and oh man, that timbre is golden!
Its sound might be clicky, noisy and dirty, but I do prefer this tone over the analog volcas’. To my ears, the filter is so much better on the monotribe, and the LFO is wild and really dope.
I still have to test run it in context of a full track though.
I didn’t expect much of the drumpart, but it’s cool enough it turns out.
So yeah, try to get a monotribe if you haven’t already. I got mine to 70 USD, meaning it’s the next cheapest gear I’ve got.