Beyond The Basics, Of Basic Monome Modular Questions

Dear all,

I am new to the discovery of modular synthesis, and so intrigued. I have a few hardware
synths and make electronic music, I would love to become obsessed and
dabble in creating my own modular set-up using the Monome modules. But
when I think I know what is required, or when I reckon that I’ve got my
head around what you need to start with, I realise I’m on completely the
wrong track.

Reading through this site I can see there’s a lot of modular fanatics, so I hope my questions don’t cause
offence… as I have no idea… what/how/where it all works.

So…absolute basics… I love the sounds of the Earthsea and Meadowphysics.
These modules fit in to ‘EuroRack’ format? So if I had a EuroRack Case I
would connect these up, making sure the power is suitable etc and they
would work with my ‘other modules’.

Question is, what do you actually need? What’s a good starting place for getting in to
modular systems? From what I can see none of the Monome modules are a
‘starting place?’ rather they are affecting inputs from generators and
other modules that create the tones? I know it’s all personal and anything works with anything…
But where do you start to get the sounds I can hear in the videos?

Eg on the Earthsea videos… the little unit pictured above is ‘what you get’ but in the
video I can see all the other Monome modules, and more? Are these all in
a Euro Rack? What’s ‘starting it all off’?

Would I be better starting with something like a Doepfer A-100bs2-P6 and then
expanding by adding Monome modules in to a bigger Euro Rack Case? I
would love to know exactly all the equipment/modules used in these
videos advertising the Monom modules to go from nothing, to getting the
sound it achieves.

Also, how does the Grid come into this? I don’t see a laptop in the videos? But it works with a laptop?
Or does it talk to the modules? I’ve read ‘a monome grid is plugged into the
front panel of the module, serving as a complete interface.’ So no
laptops? The grid controls each module, depending on which one it’s
plugged in to?

If anyone has the time to explain I’d love
to listen, any basic information, maybe I’m not even in the right sort
of forum for exploring the basics of modular?



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nope, you came to the right place and don’t feel bad asking questions…we all do

here are my hastily compiled answers

the grid can work without a laptop if you have at least one of the monome sequencer modules (meadowphysics, earthsea, or white whale)

if youre not sure what you want to make before diving in, and you can only buy one, i recommend white whale since it is the most versatile

so what basics do you need to replicate one of the monome videos?

a powered case
a sequencer
an oscillator
a grid

  • patch cables

depending on your budget and musical taste you might want to add one more module

a filter

as you use these together you’ll start to figure out what you want next to add variety and complexity

(more oscillators, another sequencer, utilities, modulation, fx etc)


Thank you so much,

This is exactly what I was hoping to hear, and I appreciate all the links.

So the above is a good place to start? Is there anything else worth knowing before diving in?


vca and envelope generator would be wise but it all depends on what you plan to make with this gear
you can go in a lot of directions

i’ll add a few more links to the post above which may help…

Sure, and I will eventually look into that. But if the first list you sent is a good basic starter I’ll build up from that.

So the Make Noise skiff case could hold 3 units? The White Wale & the Oscillator to start & 1 spare

Then I could add filter, VCA, envelope generators as you mentioned, Earthsea etc…

An envelope generator end a VCA are absolutely needed for a basic synth voice.

Do you have any recommendations? To start with? Cheers


am i wrong in remembering that mangrove has a kind of vca built in?

A good starting point would be the architecture of your standard subtractive monosynth: oscillator -> envelope/filter -> envelope/vca. After that it can get infinitely complex, but that’s the basic idea for a “voice”.

Another good starting point would be the muffwiggler forum, which has a few stickied introductory threads on basic synth architecture. Like A few evenings on muffwiggler will get you sorted. Next thing you know, you have a wall of modules and three cats and your girlfriend has left you.

It can all get very complicated and confusing because there are so many modules out there now, but if you get your head around the basic concepts of how a sound is generated and modulated, the rest follows.

Let me just say that for a beginner, Doepfer is pretty unbeatable. Other stuff may be cooler and more exciting, but Doepfer gives you the basic building blocks and you won’t go wrong if you start out with that. And it’s cheap.

That’s for the sound generation side of things. The monome modules basically give you the sequencers and CV to actually use and control the sounds.

(If this is all already clear to you, then apologies, but your initial post made it seem you’re a bit at sea.)


“Eurorack” is the format of the modules - it’s used to mean “modular synth modules that are 3U high, with 3.5mm mono jack connections, and using a Doepfer-style power connector”, basically. (It’s not, technically, a standard, but that description is correct for most of the bajillion modules available these days).

In the video at the top of this page, the grid is plugged straight into the Earthsea to control it; the Earthsea is spitting out CV (“control voltage”) and triggers to a variety of other Eurorack modules. From staring at the leads a bit, I think it’s something like this

  • a noise source is being triggered
  • a CV channel from Earthsea is controlling the pitch of an oscillator (and the oscillator is going into a wavefolder)
  • another CV channel seems to be controlling the level of noise - by manipulating a VCA
  • and the third looks like it’s manipulating the wavefolder - changing the timbre of the sound from time to time
  • the triggers are triggering an AD envelope, which looks like it’s triggering the built-in VCA on a filter - that’s what makes the sound have a short decay, rather than just going on forever

What starts it off, though, is voltages coming out of the Earthsea - control voltages for things like ‘pitch’ or other variables, and triggers to tell the envelope to fire. The rest of what you can see to the right of Earthsea is all about sound generation, processing, and manipulation. In this case, it’s a pretty traditional analog monosynth - only the wavefolder might be a bit unusual compared to what you might find on something like an SH-101.

Both: the Grid can work with a computer, but it can also plug directly into the Earthsea/White Whale/Meadowphysics modules.

The grid controls and acts as a display for whichever Monome module it’s plugged into, yep. You need a grid to control the Monome modules. All the other modules are controlled by the voltages coming into their jack sockets.

Is this helpful, or is it more confusing?

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I’m doing really good on the cat front, already have four. Long way to go before I get to a wall of modules though. I hope to remain married, so I’m taking it slow.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I really love the music in the Earthsea demo. It made an impression on me that likely was the trigger that finally caused me to buy a grid last year (after many years of contemplating it).

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check out doepfer eurorack modular … very good stuff indeed, and decently prices if you are entering into modular. It will give you a good starting point to learn some of the basics.

this is incredibly helpful, thank you

Thanks for all the advice, much appreciated. I’ll start with Doepfer. On a lower budget is the mini a good place to build from, the Monome modules can be added from here onwards? A MIDI keyboard can also work with the Doepfer stuff too? I’m aware I’m now talking about Doepfer not Monome… but that’s the end plan. Just need somewhere to start.

Thanks again for being so helpful!

yes, there is the a-190-4, which is an midi> cv module

Take a look at Mutable Intruments Yarns,I think might be more useful to you long term than the Doepfer module (though of course, it’s a fair bit more expensive). Worth checking out at any rate.

Also, another option to cut down the initial cost is to make your own case. You could build a simple case out of cardboard and power via the 4ms Row Power modules, and upgrade to something more robust later.

I love the functionality of my yarns. wouldn’t recommend it to a beginner though… no fun to find settings.

doepfer stuff is cheap and discrete, but also a bit boring mostly IMHO (there are lots of golden ones though, like the wasp filter)

if you have enough table space I recommend a make noise skiff and some sorf of osc+env+filter+vca combo as mentioned above (and midi to cv converter if you wish). then you most likely have enough space left to add a monome module or two in the future.

buying second hand is a very good idea, as the value you can sell it again often stays the same or drops just very slightly (use plastic washers to avoid rack rash if possible). there are facebook trade groups or check marketplace on modulargrid. (I wish I had know when I started)

The Monome modules can be added to that, although note that the case is already full with what it comes with (I think) - so you’re already into needing a bigger case if you want to add things.

You definitely don’t need to go overboard, but having a little space for future acquisition is a smart idea.

That Doepfer has a midi to CV converter module, so yes, you could use a MIDI-CV with it. There are lots of MIDI-CV options, though.

The usual question around building a modular is: what do you want it to do? Are you interested in building a more configurable monosynth? Do you want it to be a stand-alone instrument? What sort of sounds are you interested in? What sort of processes might you be interested in?

Enumerating what’s in the Doepfer:

  • 2 VCOs
  • an exponential VCA
  • an ADSR
  • a ring modulator
  • a noise / random CV source
  • a dual LFO
  • a mixer
  • a filter
  • a mult

That’s a good list of the kind of archetypes you want - some sound sources, some sound shapers (filter/ringmod), some random, and then tools to modulate it with - but you might not necessarily want two analogue VCOs, or you might want a different sort of filter, or you might not care for ADSRs and just want some ADs. And I’d definitely add simple attenuation to the list of things you might want

Which again, probably all sounds complex, but if you don’t necessarily have a brief, your brief often turns into MOAR MODULES!!1 and frequently, “a simple deconstructed monosynth” isn’t always the start point people want.

I know you’re interested in the Monome modules, but they’re primarily compositional or control tools - they generate voltages and triggers - and you’re going to have to choose to have some sound-making devices, too. The Doepfer rig gives you one set of sound-making devices, and it’s definitely a reasonable choice, but I guess the one thing you’ve not mentioned so far is the sort of sounds you’re interested in.

Another place to perhaps consider starting is the Pittsburgh Synthesizer Box or a maybe even Moog Mother-32: both are single-voice Eurorack monosynths, that are semi-modular (they have CV controls for most elements, but they’re also normalled internally). With the Synthesizer Box, you can use it as a single voice, or use its components in another synth - feed something into its LPG, or use its LFO elsewhere. It’s not a module you’d keep, but it’s everything in one place to start. It all depends how confident you are with synthesis. (You could add a random source to it, some attenuation, and a MIDI interface and you’d have an interesting little starting set up to make noise with and explore patching). The Moog actually has a built-in MIDI-CV interface.

So you know, there’s an answer for everything, but it’s definitely worth thinking about the sort of tools you want to hand.

Pittsburgh also has the SV-1 now, so they’ve got two options for an integrated subtractive voice.

And, since there’s always something on the horizon (good reason to keep your money in your wallet as long as possible) here’s details about Erica Synths new line of 3HP “Pico” modules.

Given that the case and studio space are often two of the most expensive aspects of building a setup, I’m attracted to compact modules like this.

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If you are going “become obsessed and dabble in” Eurorack, you will most likely spend a LOT of cash, as you are probably aware! As suggested, starting small and adding modules is the way to go.

Going with the make noise skiff is a great case option because you can later add a 2 row case if you want and your skiff will still make sense to have in front of it.

Go to the best site ever created : Modular Grid
And create a 104hp setup (that’s the size of the makenoise powered case) and start to plan your modular setup (one of the most fun parts of going modular is planning it!).

Here is a basic setup I made there. This is what I would start with if I was starting now:

You get:
2 sequencers : WW and MP
Voice 1 : mangrove
Filter : 3sisters
Voice 2 : Dixie
Noise (for basic kick/snare/hat): Noise Square
Envelopes/Lfos : Quadra
VCA : tangle quartet
utility : invy
fancy LFO : function
mixer : mixmode

That’s the smallest starter, that is imho, still fun and complete enough that you won’t feel like you’re boxed in, and also has modules you will want to keep as you decide what your taste is and expand around it. Again IMHO, its as future proof as you can get, before you know where you want to go.

Have fun!