Major Timbral Shifts

I’ve had a lot of the same modules for a long time now and I’m finding I’ve been stuck as far as my tonal sound design goes. My melody, bass and pad sounds all end up sounding too similar. I have a fairly large case and I’m an experienced user. Any tips for getting unstuck and discovering new interesting timbres with the same old gear? This is the current state of my rack:

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I get a lot of mileage out of doubling parts. Even something like very basic waveform underneath a more complex timbre can change the character of a part.

I’ll sometimes set up a patch where Rings is in inharmonic string mode and then have Plaits underneath in the same mode randomly playing unison, octaves, or 5ths above.

Use Rings as a resonator. Envelope the input and/or output externally.

Violates your ‘existing gear’ restriction, but a dedicated noise source might be useful. I know Plaits has this more than covered, but tend to be using it for something else.

Do you mess much with audio rate modulation?
How about using the envelope follower output on Morphagene to modulate stuff?

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Looks like a lot of fun stuff there.

A couple of thoughts:

– Mimeophon can be really interesting as a sound source, in zone 0 with max Repeats (or near max, and modulate Repeats a bit like it’s a VCA).

– I am a broken record about this, but I really feel that Rings is at its best when you use the input… so of course, Mimeophon acting like an oscillator, into Rings acting like an effect, is awesome. :smiley: I also like the trick of running a DC offset into Rings’ frequency input to drop the frequency below normal audio rates, so it sounds like a lo-fi delay/reverb. I’ve got a patch doing that right now, with one of the Rings outputs going back into Flip on Mimeophon to keep it moving, an LFO into Color, and Marbles feeding Mimeophon’s pitch. It’s quite spooky.

– Maybe the two Three Sisters self-oscillating, and mult the Mid outputs to each others’ Span for some FM…?

More generally though, when you sit down at the modular, what do you start with? When you mention “melody, bass and pad sounds” are you setting out with specific goals to create those categories of sounds, or exploring and discovering things like “hey, that’d be a great bass…!” Do you associate modules with specific categories of sounds? If so, try turning those associations on their heads, or even trying not to think in terms of melody, bass, pads etc. and just follow whatever comes out of the synth. (Probably easier said than done until it’s a habit…)

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A different approach: try emulating/recreating/copying tracks from artists you love. Just as an exercise, the purpose here being getting into new territory…

My old teacher used to say “the closer you get to your idols, the closer your get to yourself, and don’t worry you’ll sound like them, in the end you can’t escape yourself”.

EDIT: another thought: try to be analytic about it. If you tend to have long bass notes, go plucky, if your bass is always warm and round, go harsh, if you gravitate towards slow go fast, if you love reverb go dry, if you tend to have slow evolving landscapes, go for structured pieces with parts and a melody. Choose a few ‘parameters’ to change for each new piece you make…

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Let me take a step back on this question. What do you feel unsatisfied with, with your results; Moreover what (artistically and musically) do you have in mind that you cannot realise with the system. I ask this as modular system music creation is a synthesis of system design, patch design & performance skill. To achieve different outcomes you need to change one of those elements, but first of all you need to know what the outcome you want is.

What this is driving at is, if you explore the system to find a patch you like, you’ll find that you follow similar synthesis structures and strategies. Even if you start differently, it’s easy to end up with patches converging on your “typical patch” which yields your “typical sound”. Such a structure exists as you’ve come to find that, within your system layout, certain elements are best geared toward certain roles. Such a patching structure is typically optimized to get “the best” out of each element. Ever time you deviate from that structure you can feel like you lose something: you lose a voice, you lose some movement etc. You can therefore end up never feeling like certain trade offs are worthwhile, things like: why would I waste an oscillator as a modulation source? Why would I use an LFO as a drone when it can’t track pitch? Etc

Such preconceptions about signal flow and function can railroad you into similar patches. Specifically, to achieve something different you need to deliberately avoid your typical choices. Experimentation isn’t really sufficient for this as it’s never really random; I feel like the real need is to expand your “patching vocabulary”. I have a few thoughts on how to avoid repetitious patterns and grow vocabulary. Note: when I say make a patch I really mean make a patch and perform it as a piece of music.

  1. Select two modules and try and make a patch using just that pair.
  2. Repeat the process with two different modules.
  3. Keep repeating the process without repeating any modules until you have nothing left.

Another few thought I have are:

  • Randomly select 4 modules and use them to make a patch.
  • Randomly select modules until you have 42HP worth and use them to make a patch.
  • Use your whole system but your only sound sources are your modulators and your only modulators are your sound sources.
  • Decide what your favourite, and most featureful modules (maybe your top 20%) and try and make a patch without any of them.

The goal here is to discover new ways to use elements of your system that are compelling enough that you don’t mind losing a voice or some degree of control. Certain modules (especially very featureful ones) can have a quite distinct voice of their own meaning a degree of “sameness” can be harder to avoid. If you can identify such modules you can then focus some of your patching ingenuity and sound design skill on making that sound different. That, combined with new found module uses and interactions can turn the sound upside down.

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The oblique strategy would be to stop writing music that is bass melody and pad.

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My techniques:

  • Do not buy anything new
  • Feedback in unexpected places - Particularly audio as modulation source for itself (put a VCA in the loop if you want control / dynamics)
  • use modules for wrong things: quantiser as bitcrusher, filter as oscillator, sequencer as waveshaper, envelope/slope as filter
  • external sounds - (that’s why I made Radio Music, lots of different ways to do it)
  • unlikely sequencing - if you have a way to sequence control voltages - send them to unlikely places - resonance ins, sync inputs, whatever inputs you don’t use much, then sequence those cvs and see what happens. Do the same with offsets, if you have any - patch one to a few places and see what happens when you turn it.
  • Patch really fast with unusual restrictions in place

Overall - patch with ear, not brain.

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The part of the OP that stuck to me the most is “I’m an experienced user”. Why?

Stop being one and start being inexperienced again. Just use the same system. A lot of the suggested methods will help steer you into doing that, or to paraphrase @TomWhitwell saying above, my moto for when I feel uninspired always is:

Patch with curiosity.

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Turn the modules upside down

Rearranging my rack usually does it for me. Trying to find optimal routing by arrangement

  • Patch with the power off
  • Start at a different point in the patch or reverse
  • Only use xxx (filters, VCA, modulators)
  • 3 module challenge
  • Do things the wrong way

Tune some field recordings to an osc?