Making stand alone modular instruments


interesting setup. very cool choice of modules — sparks a lot of ideas just by looking at it.
is it one of your ‘spares-made-fun’ cases?
care to elaborate?


Thanks! In this case my initial concept was to build a little field recording rig around the koma field kit, with morphagene just along as a means of lightly noodling with the recorded sounds. But as I went along I was falling more and more in love with morphagene as an instrument in itself, so I chose to take out the field kit and make morphagene the central focal point instead, and fill in the rest with whatever seemed like the best complements to that. Maths, wogglebug, o_C, and ls1 gave me a nice variety of modulation options, and of course morphagene + clouds is a classic combo. That just left sound sources and utilities. I love the fm radio as a means of surprising myself and discovering new sound textures, and the bluetooth module is just a helpful convenience so I can easily play sounds off my iphone into the rig without carrying around a dongle and a stereo splitter. The other design idea I had in my mind was to aim for some visual consistency, so I was drawn towards other make noise modules, as well as the similarly jagged fonts of the flipanda and Balint’s front panels.


I may build this as a travel instrument. Rings noise mixed with Dunst dust, even enveloping Dunst, feels so organic. This really seems perfect to me. Anyone care to suggest a tweak or two? Tempting to stretch it, just a little…


If it seems perfect for you then go for it! Rings and Dunst seem like a nice combo :slight_smile:

Incidentally there’s a live MengQi video where he uses a small setup like this. I think it’s built around voltage memory, rings and ears.


TSNM might be worth considering over the voltage memory if you want that expression? Otherwise, looks awesome. :metal:


Great suggestion, thanks!


Apologies for the very late reply on this. Things move pretty quickly here (as well as in the modular universe), so consider this the nonlinear narrative portion of the thread. This is a thread I’ve thought a lot about and thanks to all who contributed.

@papernoise, you brought up a number of really great points, and there are a few I’m using as a jumping off point.

In terms of playable vs an attended self-playing instrument, I think it comes down to control. How many levels of control does the designer of the instrument want? For me personally, certain modules inability to control everything consistently with precise repeatability (according to spell check, that’s a word) is part of the reason why I love it.

As a drummer and percussionist, I’m always thinking of my instrument as a collection of sounds, so yes, a collection of multiple voices can still be called an instrument. From a classical percussion ensemble to an improvising noise band, I’ll consider the role I anticipate playing (rhythmic, melodic, soloist, embellishment, noises, etc) and bring a collection of elements that suit those needs the best. Sometimes things line up perfect and other times I need to turn my floor tom into a melodic underpinning for a sparse ambient drone. Different voices from my instrument.

Modular is mostly an open system and even a collection of things can represent an identity (or maybe an instrument with a split personality). By design, modules from various makers/designers are capable of being used together. It’s really what the musician or performer brings to it (ie what is patched where) that helps describe the identity of the instrument.

Even if you have a system made up of a single manufacturer, you are interacting with a vast array of ideas from many different people.

Modular brings to the forefront the element of powerful control over sound. Your view of control (How much? By whom? In what contexts?) influences the modules you include, which ones you prefer, and the way they are incorporated.


here’s a question: what’s “a whole instrument?”

It’s a phrase I’ve seen a bunch and probably used myself here, but I realized—I’m not really sure I know what we mean when we say it.


Fascinating question…

I never doubt that my guitar is a whole instrument… but I rarely play it without pedals and an amp… so is the effective “instrument” the total system?


Well, note that the thread title is “stand alone”, which is maybe clearer than “whole”? In any case, to me it’s something that you can use (and especially perform with) without needing else, which still encompasses a pretty large variety.


It produces sounds and is not broken :slight_smile:

To me it means a box I can take away from my setup and use on its own and be satisfied with. I think there’s inevitably a lot of overlap with the lunchbox and 104hp threads since you wouldn’t be posting a setup on there that didn’t do much on its own.

There’s also a lot of room for what you don’t need. It needs note shaping and sequencing… unless you’re making a drone box. It needs mixing… unless it’s a single voice. It needs modulation unless you’re prioritizing manual control. It needs a sound sources unless you have two modulation sources that can take turns being audio rate.

I recently broke my setup apart into skiffs. It’s still in progress, and I have some selling and reconfiguration to do (most of my Mutable is going for now, for example). I like this because a) I can move rows around as my mood suits and b) I can take them to other places around the house. I haven’t gone full ‘modular on a cliff overlooking the ocean with attendant crystals and houseplants’ nomad, so skiffs suit me for now and are a lot more manageable and affordable compared to full cases.


I would say:
-it makes sounds
-aspects of the sound can be controlled by physical actions
-it does enough to engage a players concentration
-all its parts are joined, you could draw a circle around it
-you have leaned to play it
-it has surprised you and frustrated you

of course all of these are quite easily contestable and quite imperfect.


Contestable and imperfect sounds exactly like a real instrument!!!


Are you using MN skiffs? It’s really cool how you stack them like that forming this curve shape.

I also organize my system in different skiffs but just have them lying around. Deffinetely should think more about ergonomics.


Yeah, they’re all MN skiffs. I’m using 3D Waves printed dual tier stands:

As the stands come from them, they are decent and affordable. I found they are improved immensely by adding rubber padding to all surfaces that touch a skiff or the table. I used the kind of stuff you’d put in your kitchen drawers:

I just cut strips the right width and used double sided tape to stick it on. This both prevents the skiffs from slipping sideways and makes them more snug in the stands, which helps them be a lot more stable when patching and unpatching.


Here’s my little story on how I dealt with finding a suitable format to work with.

I have a Doepfer monster case in my attic studio, that I used to bring to every gig. At some point I grew tired of all the unplugging and plugging involved in disconnecting and reconnecting it to my studio setup. So I bought an Intellijel 7u performance case + transport bag and selected my favorite modules to fill it. This setup is portable, versatile and fun. Best thing is that it sits not in my studio but in my living room. This easy access blurs the lines between ‘studio time’ and ‘family time’. Which works out great for me and my wife and kid seem oke with this too. :slight_smile: I sometimes use it with an extension cord long enough to be able to sit with it in my garden. Change of scenery has a great effect on my creativity. I use the awesome 4MS Wav Recorder module to record audio within my 7u case setup. So I can process those recordings later in Cubase/Ableton/PT. I also have reserved a spot on my desk where the Intellijel case can sit if I want to use it in the studio.


Produces sounds and is broken works for me too :slight_smile:


Great. I sometimes think about powering them with portable batteries as I find the power cable on the side kind of clumsy.

Thanks for the tip and the stands info! Maybe someday I’ll need them ~


Could you elaborate on that? I’m trying to put a small marbles-centered rack and looking for insight.


@xenus_dad said it perfectly. Here’s my recently put together live case. Up thread I presented a 4u 104hp case based around teletype and er301. I love it but found that it was often tied up in the middle of a composition or live set planning and I couldn’t just jam without writing a scene and building a 301 patch, both of which I find to be a buzz kill. So I plan on using this for collaboration, live playing and noodling