Making stand alone modular instruments


I think about this a lot, I put a lot of effort into making my main system cohesive/“complete”. a few examples come to mind which I think can work for almost any case:

  • functional grouping (similar modules close together, e.g. oscillators, filters, dedicated modulators)
  • signal flow (arranging modules so there is a tendency to patch left-to-right)
  • affinity grouping (modules which work well together close together)
  • grouping by manufacturer
  • grouping by color (panel, knobs, etc)
  • as an alternative to grouping by color, the opposite: alternating colors to achieve visual balance
  • grouping by west-coast/east-coast-yness
  • symmetry (reflection, translation, rotation) in terms of function, color, etc.
  • alternating wide and narrow modules
  • arrangement by patch points, e.g. Cwejman modules tend to have all the patch points on the bottom so they do best on the top row, vs Mother-32 or E370 have all their patch points on the far right, so they do better on the far left of a case

some personal principles I also consider, though they might not work for everyone:

  • choosing carefully what belongs on the edge vs in the middle. e.g. personally I prefer modules without screens, but I find screens less annoying if they are pushed off to the edge of the case. I prefer having I/O modules on the edges (pretty universal), as well as things like the Ears, so I can thumb the contact mic without cables or anything getting in my way (less universal for some reason). OTOH I love having my Expert Sleepers modules dead center since they are typically the master modulators of my system, and might be modulating other things anywhere in the case.
  • no ugly modules; life’s too short. not to say I’m aiming for the prettiest rack possible, but I don’t want anything in there which I personally find so ugly as to be uninspiring, no matter how popular or useful or even great-sounding it might be

Plus of course it has to have the right mix of module types for your musical goals. Tbh that’s way too many constraints for a normal brain to think about, so the approach I think works is just to be aware of all the many ways of thinking about it, and then to just pick a select few which you care about and ignore the rest. And be aware you can’t meet them all at once, so just do the best you can to balance between them. Anyway here’s my main system. It’s kind of a blend of the ideas I mentioned.


Some fun stand-alone system ideas I’ve recently assembled on ModularGrid:

I’ve been dreaming about this rig lately, which I’m dubbing the “Black & Blue Shared System,” comprised of a 7U Steel CV Bus case full of Make Noise modules, with a 3U powered skiff packed with a Monome Walk and various Make Noise modules for plenty of human control.

And I’ve spent most of my workday texting @Dan_Derks different versions of this bonkers i2c-packed system I’m calling “PLURALisms.” Two sets of Walks, two Ansibles for Grid and Arc control, Teletype and ER-301 as the two brains, and an entire 120hp row of multiples of Mannequins modules. I couldn’t decide what to put next to the ER-301, so I left it open for whatever Monome’s “New Thing” happens to be. Threw in a bunch of @bpcmusic’s TELEX expanders, with the TXb in place for communicating with the 16n faderbank.


My system is mostly Make Noise and Mutable Instruments modules, and I’ve been planning on splitting it into two separate standalone systems. I already have most of a shared system, and the new and upcoming MI modules seems like they will fill the holes I have on that side.


I’m after some advice about developing my setup further. I’ve played a few shows and done a bit of recording with this setup:

I’ve been enjoying it, but I’ve come to a couple of conclusions:

  • I really like Bastl modules. They really work for me
  • Cinnamon is ace. I’d love another one for some FM silliness and extra feedback loop processing
  • Tromso is very useful so far. I love the sound just as a VCO, especially when contrasting the Kermit, so maybe would get a second
  • Batumi and Wogglebug are leaving me a bit cold
  • I’m not making the most of the Disting. Mostly using it for the waveshaper mode but it’s very in the background. I don’t have any interest in many of the features (esp. sampler modes). I like limitations/restrictions with my equipment and this goes against that somewhat

So, I’m thinking about switching things around a bit. @beforeitwascool’s excellent minimal rig, and my experiences with the CV Trinity have got me more interested in Teletype. I like the idea of saving a few states, as you can with CV Trinity, so the whole rig has a handful of ‘master presets’ to use as the foundation for patches. This is my first sketch of that idea:

This has an extra Tromso and an extra Cinnamon. What I’ve been using the Wogglebug for I could do easily with one output of CV Trinity. But! I am still intrigued by Just Friends, so…:

This loses the extra Tromso, and also the Noise Square. I’d really like a noise source in there somewhere, so not sure how to fix that short of ditching the Quattro Figaro, which would be a shame since I find it really useful.

Any thoughts? As mentioned a few times I’m making glitch/drone/noise music with this. I’m also not sure if JF/Teletype/CV Trinity have so much overlapping functionality that there’s too much redundancy in there, but in my head it seems like a fun setup for creating layers of complex modulations and feedback loops.

In a perfect world I’d be able to get this down to 84hp or 60hp in a single row, but the Grau case is what I have for now. Open to ideas on how to get this as small (i.e. simple) as possible.

Example of work with current rig:


Wait, my setup is a total ripoff of @scanner_darkly minimal rig! :sweat_smile::sweat_smile: Don’t thank me!


Hey Phil. Teletype and JF is my favourite pairing in euro, super deep and as beautiful or as fucked up as you like. Check out just type and the just type studies, definitely worth the hp!


Now that Mutable Stages was finally made official, I can post an image of the instrument that I used to make the demos. For the demos, the ER-301 was there only to add delay to one Plaits and act as the tap recorder. With that limitation out of the way, this is a killer instrument:


That looks like a lot of fun! What case is that?


Bastl Rumburak. It’s a fantastic case and it comes with a carry strap. My only complaint about it is that you need longer screws than normal cases. I rashed-up my modules by forcing them in with my existing screws.


cool, thanks for this and the audio link! i have the feeling that i can do more with less than what i currently have, so lots to think about with JF and/or teletype.


Enjoyed reading about the process of refining your rig - I’m curious what you didn’t like about Batumi and Woggle? Batumi has been a mainstay in my rig for a while with the expert firmware/random modulations.

Been thinking about a wogglebug v2 for a since it has a button to ‘perform’ with. You could try using the woggle s+h to get a bit crushing effect btw - not sure if that would be handy in your rig. I used to have a v1 and felt that I didn’t really give it enough attention.

Based on your music - I think the Teletype + Just Friends could add a lot of interesting options, especially as a sound source, however you may find that you’ll get buried in learning not only TT but also JF. Something that I think would play nice with your setup is an Intelljel Planar or Ieaskul F. Mobenthey modules too.


Ha, yes, could start a thread on ‘more with less’. In some way or another this feeling constantly haunts me.


Hard to say, really. I’m using the CV Trinity mostly for LFOs, and that gives me more of the kind of thing I want with the XOR dial, and quick switching of LFO shapes (esp. flopping saw, looping random). That makes Batumi feel a bit redundant in such a small case, I suppose.

The Wogglebug is something I haven’t explored so much yet, but I think I approached it as a sort of ‘win’ module, as in, it would solve a bunch of problems and give me some handy self generating foundations for patches. That hasn’t been the case so far, so maybe I need to spend more time with it.

My concern with investing in TT/JF is what you say. I have a lot to learn with what I have at the moment (particularly Tromsø and CV Trinity), but then at the same time the challenge of building those, plus TT/JF is appealing.

I’m rethinking the whole thing, basically. I was set on Kermit being the backbone of digital residue mulchy goodness until this week. I’m second guessing that whole idea, for some reason.

The more I think about it, the more I would love to get this all down to a 3U case around 72hp! Or maybe this 84hp idea. Sort of two instruments in one case: Mannequins/Bastl…

EDIT - I should add that part of my plan is to have a SoftPop running through the modular too.


I think it’s worth a heads up that, while I’m personally very happy spending my little spare time learning TT and JF, it is a lot of time for me, especially as I forget things very easily and have to re-refer to docs. Saying that I’m hopefully with this little set-up for the long haul, and like I said I’m really enjoying the process so far.
On a side note; I keep waiting for that ah-ha ‘is that what I’ve been missing with wogglebug’ moment of revelation, years pass and it never comes. I really like it but never feel like I’m using it to its fullest. Are you using the audio outs? I never find a use I like for them.


For sure. It seems like for me it would be somewhat like learning Max: hard and a big time investment, but hopefully rewarding.

And not found anything amazing with Wogglebug yet either! I haven’t touched the audio outs yet, but the rest of it isn’t really inspiring me. The Woggle output is nowhere near as fun as I was hoping.


My v1 wogglebug experience taught me that the thing is kind of hard to tame. Sometimes it would lock up slightly depending on the combination of settings.

Regarding the audio outs, I haven’t found a whole lot of info on their intended use - that seems to be the mysterious part of the module, where people get stumped. If I got another wogglebug, I would experiment with the influence and ring mod options, then I would use an attenuated audio out to modulate something.

You could also pick up something like a uScale and drive it with the stepped random, but placing a slew and attenuator between the woggle and uScale. You’d then get a quantized melody + harmony, with quite a bit of hands-on control to mess with the expressiveness. Of course, when you start thinking about this, you could model much of this using Teletype too. I guess it comes down to how much hands-on you want vs scripting/planning.

The thing I currently struggle with is deciding how much left brain/right brain I want to do when using my modular. Maybe I’m in the minority, but when I start using more and more i2c/behind the panel functions, I feel like I’m getting further away from why I got into modular in the first place. I’m probably going to be using my Just Friends purely as an audio/modulation source, sans the Just Type features for a while.

@philmaguire - that last modular grid pic looks great - you’d have a lot to work with for a very long time. The only thing I would wonder about is how you would ‘drive’ Teletype with triggers. Of course, you can do quite a bit using the f keys on the keyboard and also the M script. Or Teletype could algorthimically create triggers/retrigger itself too.



I’ve never felt that a rack is ‘complete’ as much as with this one. So much to explore. So deep that it’s starting to make a lot of other gear feel redundant for me.


I have found myself drawn to the serge idea of panels lately. I am building or finishing 2-3 panels that have a distinct purpose. They can be all joined together and used as a whole or broken apart and used as a stand alone.
So far I have a Frequency Central inspired East coast two voice panel vco/vcf/env/vca. A four tacker looper panel built around a qu-bit wave and qu-bit mixology clock and trigger provided by a temps_utile. Still need some effects for this one. I am planning an ornament and crimes based panel with rings and maybe elements. Anyway this is where my brain has been recently.


I’ve planned out almost exactly this rack. I need teletype and the case and I’m away. And what you have written is exactly what I had hoped. Thanks! I am going to go and do some ordering (and selling)


MY first module will be Rings so I’m planning a skiff around that, for use as a playable instrument to be used live in songs alongside guitar, drum machine and keyboard.

It’ll basically just be Rings, a load of modulation and clock functions and an external sequencer (actually a volca keys with a midimplant so it has cv/gate outs)

I play solo folksy stuff but with lots of electronic elements so the idea is to have a skiff that’s playable with a keyboard and sequenceable, and I like volca keyboards for their unpredictability! I’ll also probably expand the skiff later on to do more etherial textures in my music with clouds and some modules to process guitar too.