Mutable Instruments modules: design, usability, theory, philosophy, etc

#87

I’ve spent more mental energy than I care to admit poking at the pseudo-worship of MI. (Whenever people universally agree about something and also refer to the designer by their first name, there’s something under the surface worth examining.) I think these modules are over-engineered to the point of hubris and (perhaps unintentionally) contribute an ultimately chilling effect on the community’s ability to generate a broad, healthy, sustainable marketplace that arms new users with the information they need to make good decisions and be happy, positively engaged members of the hobby.

But enough of that. I’ll confess I’m really fascinated by Marbles, I can’t think of anything like it. I don’t think it’s over-engineered at all. In fact if it was a Mannequins module that “unfolded stochastic horizons, rhizomes of deterritorialized voltage” I’d be all in. Plaits looks very useful and exceptionally good value for the money, and I have to admit that’s not always the case in eurorack. Giving your users more and better value is so rare these days… Maybe I’m misreading this?

Plaits is in stock at my local. Marbles is a click away. Money is not really a problem. Do I bury the hatchet? Do I join the dark side? Do I pull my MI modules off the local for sale site and learn to love my enemy?

  • Bury the hatchet
  • Fight the good fight

0 voters

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Mutable Instruments Plaits
#88

You have a point, but power dynamics matter.

Olivier isn’t an aloof billionaire shepherding some huge company from some distant position; he designs interesting modules largely alone. He’s not some idol, but his work speaks for itself. He’s also very active in communicating with people; people feel seen. I have found that has an effect on people.

Eurorack is a reasonably small business. Production runs are small. Profit margins are small. He’s just an interesting, passionate dude who makes neat stuff with obvious vision. There are many such people doing great work in this space; he’s been around a while and his work continues to improve. MylarMelodies’s interview with him is worth a listen.

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#89

I think it’s precisely the power dynamic that’s one of the issues here.

  1. We have been conditioned to respond favourably to the persona of the genius engineer and less favourably to other formations of people who engage in the work of building a product. This is starting to become a more noticeable problem in tech and culture at large.
  2. There are a bunch of different ways to say the following, none of them quite capturing what I mean to express, but whenever there’s unanimity about something, another thing is deeply wrong. I have never read a single critical word about Mutable Instruments other than my own. If a space for debate is healthy, you’d hear people saying “I think Plaits is gimmicky and the sounds are cheaply tweaked algorithms from other devices.”
  3. The power dynamic inherent in having an unpaid workforce who can create this hallucination of unanimity and alignment throughout virtually an entire community numbering presumably into the tens of thousands is pretty interesting. It’s not that brands shouldn’t have fans (I’m here because I was looking for tips on Cold Mac after all) but there’s something a bit unsettling about Mutable Instruments.
  4. There’s undisclosed “beta testing” (or, disclosed later I suppose, yet without explaining if modules changed hands on a permanent basis) happening on some prominent YouTube channels.
  5. When people “feel seen”—as you put it—they also know they’re seen and internalize this on a pretty fundamental level. No power dynamics here, nope. None at all. :grinning:

That said, it looks like “bury the hatchet” is winning the war, so Plaits it is. Well played everyone, well played. :sunglasses:

1 Like
#90

I get what you’re saying, but surely the best way to find out whether the hype is warranted is to just get one and see how you feel. No one is forcing you to love Mutable, or everything they/he do/does. I think I have more Mutable modules than any brand other than Mannequins in my case, but Tides was the fastest I’ve ever bought a module and sold it because I just didn’t gel with it from the beginning. Plenty of people on here love it and regularly recommend it, and that’s fine – I know it’s not for me.

I guess I just feel like you’re getting caught up more in the discussion around the modules and a sort of personality cult which I’m not sure exists, and using that as an indicator that something is “wrong”, rather than just seeing what they’re like. For me, I’m not really interested in Plaits because, like some of the criticism of Braids I read many years ago, it feels a bit like a preset machine. I’m not annoyed by other people loving it, though.

As said in the interview @grey linked above, Olivier is mysterious… but he’s also accessible, in that he replies to stuff here/on mw/on the mutable forum, and he strikes a fine balance between the two. I think a lot of it comes down to that. People love mystery.

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#91

If its at your local shop, do they have it racked? Go play with it for a while, if its not your thing, you’ll find out. I was personally super amped on the plonk from all the demo vids I saw, but it really wasn’t my thing when I went and messed around with it for a while, but still a super powerful module that I’m sure fits right into plenty of setups. And there have been modules that go the other way for me too.

I am guilty of deeply praising Olivier, I really respect that he opens his hardware and freely shares the designs and firmware for those of us willing to dive into it. His approach to open sourcing his offerings have definitely sold me and keep me coming back.

I’m not sure what you see as his effect you see closing the broadness of the marketplace… would you care to expand?

edit ah, didn’t see your reply above.

I will agree, and I know that Schreiber strongly agrees with you that there are too many glorified prototypes on the market and not enough finished products. That being said, I don’t see that with MI’s current lineup.

I’m probably going off topic here, but there are plenty of modules in the MI line that don’t do it for me, the complaints about the peaks interface make sense, I usually only use at as a couple tap tempo LFOs and still have to look at a cheat sheet to know what is going on. Tides doesn’t really do it for me with the stock firmware, I’ve never found it to do what I am looking for from an LFO. That said, with the Sheep firmware, I like the sound of the wavetables. I often use the onboard LPF and VCA. The standalone VCAs in the line are probably great or not, I haven’t tried them, I use other modules. I understand the criticism of thinking of some of the MI modules as “preset machines”, but sometimes that is nice. Less so with my modular, but I often find that effects pedals get dialed in to one setting and stay there, if I want a certain sound, run it though X pedal and there it is.

Money and space are a concern for me, so Plaits makes sense. Some times I want a chord drone under something else, I want to be able to modulate many parameters, and I don’t have 4 oscillators to spare. It does that well! Gone is the screen that turned me off from Braids. It does a lot of things, I probably won’t use half of them. The particle noise is something that I had no idea was missing from my setup! That alone is worth it for me at the moment.

All this said, I’ve had the module for less than a week, who knows if it will stick with me or not. Only time will tell.

1 Like
#93

I mean. Don’t buy Plaits because of a poll :slight_smile: THAT’S succumbing to groupthink.

You can have aversions to manufacturers for whatever reason. I personally feel that Make Noise has attitude, their interfaces are willfully obscure at the outset, and they demonstrate contempt for what Tony Rolando would call, voice dripping with disdain, “music”. I resist their modules to some degree because of this, and I do think there’s some groupthink around the adulation of them.

That said, I am coming to appreciate that there is immense thoughtfulness in some of their designs. I have a few MN modules. I may get a few more. But I will never buy a new Make Noise module on sight.

I think there is some truth to what you say here re hero worship and such, but, same could be said about Mannequins, Monome, Make Noise. If they don’t appeal to you, don’t get them! There’s lots of room for you building the rack and modular you want.

I do think that you’ll do better creating the modular world you want by demonstrating enthusiasm for makers/manufacturers/interfaces you do like than suggesting that Mutable Instruments fans are sheeple. Honey, vinegar, all that. Not rebuking you here, I think this is a good discussion! But I’d rather hear about who is doing it right, in your opinion.

FWIW I do have Marbles and Stages and I have a Plaits coming today. I have not really taken to Stages or Marbles; we’ll see about Plaits. I partly went in on these because I know I’ll have no trouble reselling them if I decide that’s what I want. You could view the hype around Mutable as a way for you to try their modules out for free :slight_smile:

2 Likes
Make Noise modules: design, usability, theory, philosophy, etc
#94

I absolutely have read these things; maybe not on this forum. There’s some legitimate criticism of design choices, some reasonable “I didn’t personally like it”, some offhand dismissal, and some “why couldn’t you cram 12 more functions into it?” or “where’s the alternate firmware?” two weeks after release. There are also a lot of people who don’t like “multifunction” modules and automatically write off almost all Mutable stuff without really considering it.

I have 78HP of Mutable gear in my rack, but am not at all shy about telling you:

  • Peaks frustrated the hell out of me. Is that pot the decay for the envelope on channel 2, or the speed of the LFO on channel 1? I don’t know until I tweak it and possibly mess up a good setting. I moved from Peaks to Ornament + Crime so I could use the Piqued app, which was more powerful and easier to use (and then moved from there to analog envelopes).

  • Streams, while it introduced me to LPGs (which I fell in love with), also had dynamics that I just could not tame with the gear I had at the time. It didn’t impress me as a compressor compared to some software I liked. I held onto it for less time than any other module I’ve owned.

  • Frames, while a great concept, I don’t think is very friendly to set up beyond absolute basic use cases. I honestly believe it needs a display to show the timeline curves and to provide a menu for selecting interpolation, making the other modes easier to work with, etc. – I would likely have kept mine if it had that. Instead, I was mostly using it like a giant Shades, without setting up automation.

  • In general, I do find there are designs where a real display would help with navigation and understanding the UI, and Olivier has explicitly chosen not to go that route. (I don’t feel this applies to Plaits, but is a general observation.)

  • I loved Warps for a while, using it as 2/3 of a West Coast complex oscillator, until I tried other wavefolders and realized just how not-smooth it was! But a few months after selling it, I wound up missing it. I recently picked up a used DIY one… and it’s not quite what my nostalgia made it out to be, but I’m likely to hold onto it.

  • Tides was my first module and I loved the thing for over a year. But I didn’t much like it as an envelope generator. Sheep, and the wavetable modes in Braids and Plaits, have almost zero appeal for me; I much prefer the E352/E370, or Serum. I did sell my Tides a few months ago when I finally found I just wasn’t using it, in a system full of many other oscillators (including Plaits).

  • I don’t have Clouds. I’ve never really been interested in it. Maybe when the successor comes along I’ll check it out, and I have a plan to make space for it if it grabs my interest.

  • Rings: I love it, but thanks to too many people relying too much on the built-in exciter and getting the same cliched plonky string sounds out of it, I also see why some people don’t. It is a very common complaint, you’re not the only one. Even with that exciter it’s possible to get a wider range of sounds out of it, and using the input you can do so much more. Perhaps including the internal exciter turned out to be a design mistake?

Oliver invited me to be a tester, based on something I said on a forum (and maybe some of my other posts, I don’t know). When the box arrived, it turned out to be, to my surprise, Plaits, Marbles and Stages. I was asked to keep it quiet and not leak anything like Richard Devine had just done. Olivier was clear that hardware testing was the most important factor because one of them was going off to production very soon.

I’m not a YouTube personality (I did release a bunch of the stuff I made in 2017 on YouTube, with still images for the video, and had less than a dozen followers), I didn’t even have any self-released albums under this name at the time Olivier had me test the stuff, and he didn’t ask me to make demos for later release. This was about TESTING.

I had no expectation about whether I’d be asked to return the modules after testing, so I held onto the shipping box until just recently, half-expecting to be asked for them back. :slight_smile: I had previously tested the Synth Tech E352 (and returned the beta unit) and E370 (sending it on to Robert Rich, but then after a few more rounds of testing and a demo period at Control in Brooklyn, it was sent back to me for further testing and Paul told me to keep it).

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#95

No of course not. I just thought it would be kind of fun to post it as a poll. It’s not legally binding. :wink:

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#96

I can think of a half dozen or more first names of instrument designers that are often used without last names but are immediately recognizable within certain contexts on this forum and elsewhere on the internet/real life, and I think it’s because all of those people did/are doing something significant for the community that they are active participants in. I don’t think it signifies anything specific besides just being recognized as actual people who happen to be recognizable due to their work.

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#97

There is as much genius in testing as there is in developing. The two disciplines support and enhance each other, and when they’re really in sync, they give birth to not just better products but more meaningful innovation.

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#98

This poll needs a “Grey areas are where it’s at.” option. (that is intended w/ humor, playfulness, etc)

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#102

Doepfer! :slight_smile:

I agree, to a point. Had a handful of MN modules and sold them all because of their design. As for the point about contempt for ‘music’, I see what you mean, and it’s frustrating that manufacturers (seem to, at least) feel the need to design with this kind of attitude. It’s a puritanism that’s all too present in the fields I find myself working. Maybe that’s not what their game is at all, but you’re not alone in holding that opinion.

I’m one of these people, but I do try to consider if something like Plaits or Elements would be useful (or fun!) for me. My instinct is indeed to go ‘multi-function, ick!’, but I can absolutely see the appeal and use of digital modules. They’re just not my bag in terms of interaction. That, plus I get that ‘but I’m not using X mode enough’ guilt real bad :slight_smile:

That being said, Marbles looks like an outstanding piece of design.

1 Like
#103

I haven’t played around with Elements in awhile, but I don’t think there are any hidden functions on that one.

#104

I think there IS one, but you have to opt into it by downloading firmware?

#105

I’m also fully aware that this is to some degree my own baggage :slight_smile: and Maths really is that great. I just don’t enjoy what I perceive as attitude; I use their modules in spite of that.

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split this topic #106

3 posts were merged into an existing topic: Make Noise modules: design, usability, theory, philosophy, etc

#109

treading on ‘Make Noise modules: design, usability, theory, philosophy, etc’ thread territory. @joshhh started it up! Make Noise modules: design, usability, theory, philosophy, etc

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split this topic #111

3 posts were merged into an existing topic: Make Noise modules: design, usability, theory, philosophy, etc

#114

I do software QA for a living, so this comment gets all the likes from me :grinning:

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#115

There’s a lot of love for Olivier, yes. He gives back to the community (modules like Ornament and Crime wouldn’t exist without him making his work open source) and that’s one reason why people will come out in droves to defend him.

As far as the beta testers go, whether or not they bought the modules, they’re spending time testing them, which is work in itself (fun work we can be jealous of :grin:, but still).

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