Modular Music Notation

The ‘Experimental Notation’ thread has got me wondering. Those of you that make music using a modular synth, how do you write your music down? Just patch notes and general instructions or have you come up with a system that works better for you and your work flow?


Currently just simple patch notes if necessary. Nothing pretty to look at. But honestly it’s mostly improvisation + intuitive patching memory.

That said I too have been thinking of attempting some notation practice. I think it would be more of a “generative” gesture, though, and not necessarily a way to document things.

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i usually dont

but if a patch “needs” to be remembered, i take a picture or record it


Before unpatching I record audio of the patch. Then I consciously retrace what parts of the patch works. Unpatch and start over. Over time I have a mental recall of a bunch of building blocks of patches that I like reusing.
But I don’t expect exact recall of sound ever on a modular, I’m always looking for new patches.
For live shows maybe some notes/photos but mostly just practice practice practice.
I have seen some modular notepads with diagram blocks and connections and some who use a front panel layout and then draw the wires.


I am definitely interested in this subject :smile:

The two avenues you guys described apply to me at the moment:

  1. Trying to learn/internalize strategies, or building blocks rather than complete patches, and

  2. Recording audio of just extended improvisation that then can be carved down into something self-contained.

I find that I lean towards 1. more frequently, as I tend to think of modular as an “in the moment” instrument. But, when it comes to performing live, I am trying to figure out a way to “notate” certain aspects of the piece. A general momentum of particular segments, or textures, or levels of intensity etc. So, rather open-ended ideas that would need to be interpreted on the spot.


I also have attempted to “write down” patches that were developed for particular performances. I posted this image on the old forum, but it probably belongs here:


you have just posted my new desktop wallpaper.


awesome picture @laborcamp


(i’m looking at your drawing with a cellphone) and this beautiful hypomnema looks like mitochondria


This made me think of Christina Vantzou and this video where she describes how her music is performed live using a combination of her own notation, a giant digital clock and flashcards to call certain musicians back to their individual motifs at certain points throughout the piece.


I think this was posted before somewhere around here:
Eliane Radigue has a very interesting approach to notating modular patches. It’s basically a grid of all inputs and outputs, kind of like a patchmatrix on the vcs 3.
I guess the big problem with notating modular music is notating temporal qualities/changes


love love love radigue

she is part of why I do this at all
(I know this off topic but I have a huge appreciation for her contribution to music history + her processes/ideas about sound)


@laborcamp those are the notes I was thinking of. Looks like air traffic control. Clear for landing at runway CV1.

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Two years ago I constructed a 9 hour performance around the ideas of immaterial labor. The project called “Permanent Labor” included a station for the audience to participate in a communal singing/reciation of passages/words culled from Lazzarato’s text. The dynamic for this part of the project was inspired partly by the call and response public speakiing format of the Occupy Movement, and partly by Shape Note singing practice. To give this open-ended engagement some structure I prepared these “Voice Books” consisting of the text lines paired with an abstract visual scores suggesting musical interpretations. No specific information was given as to how these need to be interpreted. In the end, sometimes they became a guide for pitch, other times intensity.

While not strictly a notation for modular synthesizer, this was definitely notation for modular performance. And it illustrates (to certain extent) the kind of “open” character of the abstract visual system only alluding to musical dimension of the event itself. I should also add that there was a live percussion for the entire duration of the event providing a rhythmical “bed” for the ad-hoc choruses that developed over night.


Eliane Radigue is great, as is her way of notating patches, but I suppose ARP2500 lends itself to that type of representation due to the patch matrix design.


Looks like my life.

(20 characters hates one-liners.)

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I recall seeing a good interview with bill

where among other things he talks about a shorthand for live video performance…
like a graphic notation for video synthesis…

I think this is it:

most relevant from 7:35 on…

-though the whole thing is well worth watching.

further elaboration
from 40:00

I think one of the things I like about modulars is their impermanent nature and I’ve never really felt the need to notate my patches. But, I play live very rarely and the “studio” based noises I make are usually improvised and/or processed in some way. They’re not something I’m aiming to repeat necessarily.

What I do remember is patching details. That’s what I call them anyway. Patching details are transferable and can be used in other patches than the one I may have discovered them in. Things like - if I put an audio rate source into a certain CV input on this module it makes it go “screeweeeblrrrrrrg.”


Somebody made a markup language (and parser) for patch notes! Now all we need is a robot arm to do the patching for us and we’d have presets in modulars! :upside_down_face:

	- Metropolis (Pitch) p> Braids (1v/oct)
	- Metropolis (Gate) g> Function (Trigger)
	- Braids (Out) -> Optomix (Ch1 Signal)
	- Function (+ Out) >> Optomix (Ch1 CV)
	- Function (- Out) >> Braids (Timbre CV)
	- Optomix (Out 1) -> AUDIO INTERFACE (input)
	* Metropolis:
	| BPM = 124
	| Swing = 0
	| Root = F
	| Scale = Minor
	| Mode = F. Forward
	| Stages = 16
	* Braids:
	| Mode = Fold
	| Timbre = 30%
	| Timbre CV = -20%
	| Color = 0%

	* Function: Rise = 50% | Fall = 50% | Curve = 30%
	* Optomix: Damp = 0% | Control = 100%

This is really well done, bravo!