Executing the modular album



some new thoughts as i’ve been reflecting and really focused this week on creating a more productive workflow for album making:

the importance of having everything wired up and ready and the creative space de cluttered and organized- this is a big one that i think a lot of people are already aware of, and i have always been as well, but basically it’s easy to be lazy!! things get in a not so nice and professional seeming way and that, at least for me, is a big hinderance on my productivity and really effects the kind of “session” i have when i sit down to record. so i’ve been more diligent about cleaning up after i’m finished vs before i start and making sure that i won’t be discouraged the next time i want to start recording because all my gear is unplugged and there’s stuff all over my desk/chair.

stay close to your inspiration- with instrumental music, i am finding it more and more critical to get into an album making mentality with some concept. even something as vague as like “natural sounding” or “dark” i think is an infinitely better starting point than just making a new patch every day and throwing them all together in an album. cohesiveness is key! if i put 10 songs i wrote on guitar over the last 5 years onto an album it would not be cohesive at all. making modular music is pure joy for me, and i hadn’t really though of it in this way before, but it is helpful to from time to time and not get lost in the black hole of sketches. if you’re like me and change your mind often about what is inspiring you and what kind of vibe you’re trying to get, i have been finding it so helpful and relaxing to just stay with one and see it through. i have been doing that this week and i already have about 30 minutes of recordings for the project that i am working on.

polish, light master, and bounce- when my band and i are recording we always joke that the song sounds so much better after you bounce to itunes and listen from there vs in the daw. this is the kind of psychological terror that every musician is probably familiar with. for some reason i hadn’t really realized this in the same way with modular music before starting this thread, but there is a HUGE difference between recording stereo into your computer and doing nothing to the track because you think “well it’s a synth why would i EQ it and change stuff” vs making those finishing touches, adding light compression, reverb, saturation, whatever. i’ve been doing more post processing than i ever imagined, but when i listen to my bounces in itunes, they are feeling like real pieces that i would listen to on an album that i like. not only does it make your work sound more fully realized, it makes you feel more grounded in a way that i think is critical for the continuation and completion of a larger work.

thanks everyone so much who has contributed to this thread. it has really helped me and i hope a lot of others to get motivated to be more mindful and organized in my creative process, which, album or not, is a really positive feeling!


That is probably one of the key things indeed! Having a concept and sticking to it.

Thanks a lot for the nice sum up, this is definitely really helpful to me as well and again, thanks for starting this thread!


This has been a great thread that I was sad to see trail off after mid-June, so here’s a bump.

At 54 years old and with zero prior musical training I embarked a little more than a year ago into the world of modular synthesis.

I have relatively no method of how this composition I hope to one day create will ultimately become a cohesive something. While I was an infant exploring my first stabs into vocalization and as a toddler started forming words, it would be years before I could convey complex ideas and decades before I published my first book. The process of expression happens on its own terms and while the window of life is closing in ever faster on me, I’ll let the creative evolution of my musical voice mature as it does without much in the way of me making demands for expertise or genius prior to it possibly coming about in some happy accident. This doesn’t mean that I don’t try hard to learn, it only implies that I have the patience to see it become what it can.

While there are some arching trajectories of sound landscapes coursing through my inner ear, how I wrestle this modular beast into delivering what I think I might want, appears elusive. Occasionally I am tickled by what ends up being bounced and saved as a sentence or paragraph that encapsulated something from the day that felt magic as it joined my long term memory organized within a hard drive.

I feel no burden to find technique or demands to produce any quantifiable amount of sound or aesthetic that would allow me to feel productive, just the ebb and flow of learning and being inspired by so many of the artists who make solid contributions to forums such as this gives me inspiration to simply explore this infinity of the complex and sublime.

The larger lesson I glean from these conversations is that too many people struggle with ideas such as midi or no midi, stereo or multi-track, track or sketch, DAW or recording device…this is air and water and we are taking in the rarefied luxury of opportunity to explore our creative selves with tools that extend into realms of potential that defy our ability to fully comprehend their magnitude. So I choose to swim in all bodies of water, to breath deep from the seashore to the mountain top. I have always found beauty from the ocean to the desert, the forest, cave, river, and trail…why limit myself? Would you want to experience love the same way only allowing yourself to touch a hand or gaze into the left eye? We are multidimensional beings with a multitude of sensory organs and a wide range of emotions to interpret our surroundings. How can we deploy the breadth of musical tools in ways that best exemplify our natures?

Maybe this is only the silly musings of an old guy because if I reflect on my years as a teenager in Los Angeles during the 70’s…it was mostly anger that allowed me to flail about in the cacophonous screams of punk rock and rebellion.


THANK YOU for bringing this to my attention. holy crap.


Thank you for writing this. It mirrors much of my personal experience!


Ran across an example of notation of synth parameters in the wild. He starts talking about the piece in question at 4:54. No idea why he calls this synth part of a big band piece “dubstep” but that’s probably the least important detail here. The approach works and it is simple enough to understand and reproduce, but I feel it would become unwieldy if we attempted to notate everything happening in a typical modular patch in the same way. It just isn’t very compact. It’s also a bit too specific, doesn’t leave a lot of room for chance or interpretation.


I compose and play everything in the modular box, including sequencing. I make a patch, i rehearse it, as if i was playing live, then record it live, in one take, to a mono, sometimes stereo track - no overdubs, no multitracking, usually to Ableton. So its very much live, performance based music. If i screw up, i delete the whole track and do it again until i get it right. I generally don’t make patch notes, once its recorded, its done. I pull every cable and start from scratch on another track. I’ll do this maybe 5 or 6 times a day. I generally would never keep a patch overnight. If its not done that day then its not good enough. Usually after a week, i’ll go back and listen to all these “tracks” with fresh ears. The majority i don’t like. Maybe @10% i like and i’ll call usable - then i will master the ones i like. The finished tracks sound raw, but alive. You can hear small mistakes but it has the energy that i find missing from most well produced slick, multitracked music of today. I’ve always been a fan of Steve Albini as a recording engineer and i guess some of that stuff had worn off. I would record everything direct to tape if i could but its too expensive. I put up little snippets of stuff i’m working on daily on instagram and the more complete unmastered tracks to vimeo.


This is a really great thread. Lots of useful insights. Thanks! Here is my process:

My last album was completely made with a modular system. (I bought Ansible & Grid shortly after the release, so they are not part of the record)

Most tracks consist of two patches, that each have about 6-10 voices. When I’m happy with a patch and its sequences, I record all of those voices individually into Ableton for about 10 minutes so I have enough material to edit. After one patch is recorded, I make a variation of it and record again.

Syncing is very important in that workflow obviously. For that I use my old and trusted Innerclock SyncGen. It sends midi and DIN Sync and latter can be fed into Pamela’s New Workout which then clocks everything else.

I’m just starting to record multiple outputs at the same time. It has it pros obviously but since I use a lot of pedals, the fx routing becomes different and I have to do re-recordings once a track is arranged to e.g. add delay. When I recorded every sound after another, I would just record with delay right away.

Anyways, I try to have as many individual tracks as possible to be able to make a proper mix and change the arrangement when I want to.

Oh, while recording different sounds, I never ever press stop. I keep everything running until all voices are in the box.


I work very similarly, and share your Albini influence. I just don’t do it 6 times a day :slight_smile:

I also record multi track, usually 8 but it’s been more. This allows me to mix and master like I would a live band.


Haha yes i’m usually on the modular at least 4 or 5 hours a day when i’m home, but i can be away from home for upto 2 months so i play catchup when home :slight_smile:

I don’t multitrack because i want to keep the live feel and also i will be forever tweaking and changing and losing the feel of the original. I would never finish a track that way.


This is very much how I work as well, well… without the prodigious output. I can only do it once or twice every few months, usually at the same time I make a video. I just spent a night recording, rerecording one of my latest pieces, because ableton kept sputtering and adding unwanted fizzpops. It is good in a way, it forces you to learn how to play something live with out the support of conventional composition


Skipping over a lot of discussion on actual execution that I’m sure we will pick back up at some point to share that I have finished and announced my first album made pretty much entirely with a eurorack modular synthesizer.

Water Memory is out on December 21st. Here’s a track from it (may be familiar to those who listened to the S+P episode I did with Dan)…

In the end what ultimately made me put my nose to the grindstone and finish this thing was the realization that I will continue to accumulate hours of recordings with no where to place them unless I set a hard deadline. I love themes, so for me it was easy to edit something down if I just stuck to what my concept was. Things fall into place and you realize it’s really not all that scary to release something. Just do it on your terms, do it when and how it makes you happy, and know that there will always be more albums to create in the future.

So excited to share :slight_smile: Thanks everyone so much for the endless support! :heart:


UGH, I love the new end bits. Pre-ordered, cannot wait.


yayayaya! this is wonderful :slight_smile: i can’t wait to hear the rest.

+1,000,000 on this sentiment. gotta trust and move forward!


I was really, really looking forward to this after the S+P episode.


trying to hide my excitement and failing

I’ve been looking forward to this since s+p. Can’t wait.


What did you use for the brass-y lead that comes in at 1:25?


My money is on Mangrove

… and that was a truly beautiful tune, will be picking up the album when the time comes


That was my guess as well.


And congrats for being in the Moogfest 2018 lineup! :slight_smile: