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


#28

ah thanks mods for the appropriate topic move


#29

to address what is now the OP

•that’s just like, an opinion, man

MI modules are designed and built to a very high standard and as such, function as intended nearly all of the time. some users or observers made a lot of noise about particular features or design choices and were loud about it.

if you can, go to a shop and try out modules you are interested in and ask questions. ask questions here, whatever. I use a lot of MI and am generally super pleased. I think Clouds could be refined (it is being refined) but I’ve never found it impossible or awful. Rings is super easy to get started on and repays more creative approaches to it’s application than just “v/oct in v/oct - move on.”

like any musical instrument or creative endeavor, you will only get out what you put in. if you just spend yr $, turn it on and “this module sucks,” that’s on you.

that said: what are you looking for in a module? how do you work/would you like to work with this kind of instrument? but also - why Rings and Clouds?


#30

To one of the questions in the OP re: philosophy:

We’re in a bit of an in between period as far as being able to discern Olivier’s design philosophy, as he has yet to release all of the new modules in his revised product line. I suspect by the end of the year we will have two more utility modules and one to two beefier major actors, and that will be an excellent time to take a look at his whole “instrument” and discern how he sees modular synthesis working within the Mutable world.

That said, Plaits, Marbles and Stages are Really Good Hints, and point to things that previous respondents have already said.

Full disclosure: I own Peaks, Clouds, Warps and Ears. I will selling the first two and replacing them with their successors.


#31

I still think Peaks is a strong (if limited) module and i can’t let it go entirely:

•the burst generator (admittedly not easy to menu around to) is incredible.

•i have found plenty of utility for envelopes that i can trigger manually and Stages can’t do that.

•don’t have urgent need for them but the drums sound great and I don’t feel like giving up everything else i have Plaits up to for a kick/snare adventure


#32

as for Clouds, the interface is imperfect and as is clear from Plaits/Marbles/Stages, that’s a major interest in these modules. Clouds has been super key for me transitioning from Max and Reaktor, simply love to fill a buffer you know, and it’s still pretty key in my instrument, never really felt like i could lose it.


#33

I got into Eurorack through Mutable Instruments (my first module was Elements, bought from @shellfritsch!) because I absolutely loved the design. And because I have a bit of collector’s syndrome, I have almost all of the MI modules ever made (including an Anushri with modern style panel that I should probably sell because I never use it).

I do think it made my life quite hard - the older MI modules tended to be quite deep and complex (especially when you’re trying to recreate something you saw someone do and you realize they have an alternate firmware installed or are using Easter eggs features… that feels quite daunting). I’d have probably have been better served by starting with straightforward, one knob per function, classical synthesis kind of modules. But now a few years later, after a bit of suffering, having watched a lot of YouTube videos, and acquired a lot of other modules, it turned out alright.

And I can definitely see the design evolution. MI modules are still fairly nuanced and complex compared to, say, Pittsburgh Modular’s stuff - but they feel much more coherent and streamlined. Plaits and Marbles have been a joy to work with - can’t wait to get my Stages, and to see what the Clouds successor will be like.

As far as sound goes, Rings, Elements, and Tides are some of my favorite sound sources ever, so nothing to complain about there. But that’s very personal.


#34

just to pop my collar, I built an original Shruti-1 that’s definitely seen better days but similarly can’t let it go. do i even have MIDI cables for it?

I see the procession from the MI DIY tabletops. to Braids n Clouds b Peaks pretty clearly, and also how the new modules illustrate a deeper understanding of “how to design for eurorack”


#35

I’ve gone to a shop and played around with Rings, and the two people who were working there were both pretty down on the company in general. I didn’t have the time to do much experimenting, so it was just about 20 minutes of knob twiddling and trying out the basic functions. I really liked what I heard.

Clouds I know less about, just that I like some artists who use it. At this point I’m not sure if I would wait for a new version or get something like a Morphogene or similar. At this point, I would hesitate to even say how I work or even would like to work since I am still getting a handle on things, just that I had a background in brass instruments, then took a long hiatus from music, and I’m very interested in generative music.


#36

you got some bad salesman.

for example, i don’t really dig the Make Noise “aesthetic” but picked up a Maths bc it seemed very useful and instructive for general instrument practice and learning. i got a Wogglebug 2014 and didn’t really vibe with it, sold it after a year, don’t miss it. is it a Bad Module, from a Bad Company? no that’s silly. for the instrument i want to use, it was not appropriate.

there are a lot of paths “in” to whatever your instrument becomes, and a lot of resources online for that. your questions are your best ally.

as a brass player I think Rings would have an interesting voice to offer you if you think of a surface or body to excite with other sound sources. i’m sure you’ve seen a dozen videos of the nice plucky and bell tones it can make when using the internal exciter. go deeper.

if you think clouds would be fun or meaningful, pick one up.

if you want to get into generative music AND really stick it to those salesman, grab Marbles and Stages and maybe Plaits and fill out the rest with whatever strikes your fancy.

if you think i’m a total shill for MI and must be unnecessarily biased go buy other things you think are cool and blast off that way instead!


#37

I really don’t see the issue people have with MI’s user interfaces in general. Yes, Peaks can be a pain in “expert” mode. Yes, I’ve gone back to manuals for rings and clouds now and then, and with sheep to remember which input does what in PLL mode, but yeah, read the manual! Besides peaks, everything is clear as to what knob does what if you just look at the panel.

They’re not like the disting with 80+ algorithms and inputs that do wildly different things for each.

No, these things don’t have preset/patch recall like standalone synths, but not many things in euro do… and those modules tend to have even more menu diving/ hidden/hard to access functions.


#38

Is there a definitive guide online that lists all the firmwares, Easter eggs and such?


#39

MI alt mode compiled:

https://forum.mutable-instruments.net/t/easter-eggs-hidden-modes-in-mutable-instruments-modules/4948

Parasite alt firmware (Clouds, Frames, Tides, Warps) :

https://mqtthiqs.github.io/parasites/index.html

Tim Churches alt firmware (Braids, Peaks):

https://timchurches.github.io/Mutated-Mutables/
https://forum.mutable-instruments.net/t/dead-mans-catch-modified-firmware-for-peaks/7248
https://forum.mutable-instruments.net/t/finally-finished-bees-in-the-trees-version-4-1-modified-firmware-for-braids-now-available/6621

Kammerl alt firmware (Clouds):

http://www.kammerl.de/audio/clouds/

Erbse (Euclid Random Branched SEquences) alt firmware (Branches):

https://github.com/Widy75/Eurorack-Builds/tree/master/erbse
https://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=2776986#2776986

Braids Renaissance (Braids)

https://burns.ca/eurorack.html


#40

Worth mentioning here, that Mylar Melodies will be chatting with Olivier in the next episode of his “Why We Bleep” podcast (https://www.whywebleep.com/).


#41

awesome, thanks for that


#42

I’'ve always tried to stay away from GAS and keep wiggling to find out what I need next. For a couple of weeks ago that feeling turned out to be a Peaks, even though Stages was about to be released and everyone was guessing it had to be Peaks successor I must say I’m really happy with Peaks. Don’t know why it’s been taking me Three years to get one… Might even get a second one later on.
I think this could be one of the modules and the discussion that came (on Muff’s) with it being discontinued that @Kel was referring to. Olivier stated that this is the most stupid module he has built in one of the threads. To someone like me that a selling pitch.

I’ve had both Braids and Clouds in the past and didn’t like them that much because of all the modes (even though I miss the meta mode in Braids and might get a Plaits down the line. Hopefully second hand when that happens). Peaks is more straight forward to me even though it has some menu diving going on. Twin, dual and the expert mode are a genious idea in my book. So is Olivier.


#43

Cool. Looking forward to this one


#44

One of the beautiful things about this little boutique synth wave we’ve had in the last ten plus years is that it’s a reminder that there is a use and audience for almost any type of module with any aesthetic with any underpinning design philosophy. Figure out what works for you, go with it, and adjust accordingly as your approach evolves.

The problem might be that more people may be diving in deeper, while at the same time having less and less foundational knowledge and it’s making things a bit strange/different. There are a lot of layers to that. The modular thing has reached kind of a new level of feeling like a fad over the last couple of years which is great for manufacturers in the short-term and great for long-term users as a flooded market will likely lead to lower prices and abundant options.


#45

Random observations:

  • When I started, the typical situation was one or two Mutable Instruments modules in a rack that contained mostly Doepfer or (analog) Intellijel or MakeNoise stuff. This applied to my rack too. It made sense to be the exception – at least it did not hurt much. Now that we have all-digital systems (including all-Mutable Instruments systems), there is more pressure for me to avoid creating modules with layers and layers of settings and options.

  • Scaffolding: some modules had a “hidden” internal VCA or envelope because I hadn’t released VCAs or envelopes. Now that it’s possible to create an entire system from Mutable Instruments modules and that we have a large palette of plumbing modules (from me or as 1U tiles), it’s not as important to have built-ins. When there are built-ins, they are clearly exposed (for example Plaits’ LPG input(s)), or they exploit hidden knowledge and shortcuts (Marbles’ X section’s clairvoyance).

  • Scaffolding again: now that all the elements are there, it is easier to optimize certain interactions between modules. For example, making sure that Plaits’ raw material is interesting for Rings or Ripples.

  • During 2012-2014, the template was a MIDI-controlled hybrid subtractive synth voice. The template is now an instrument that takes the same space as an oboe or violin case, with a weirdly organic/acoustic vibe, capable of generative/self-playing music.

  • In my opinion, Peaks and Clouds deserve their reputation for being too complicated. Peaks because the knobs can do wildly different things that I can’t remember myself, Clouds because some of the useful things you would want the module to do right now is in alternate modes or two presses on the BLEND function selection button away. Braids’ menu is mostly set and forget - to me the real issue with Braids was the fragmentation of the sound space into too many island, and also that I could do much better in terms of size, cost, audio quality and mA.

  • I know some people write shit about Rings, but there’s no way I’m going to discontinue that one. My favorite module ever! It’s as deep as the work (and input material) you put into it, and it’s still the template for things I’m doing now. Mostly knobs, a couple of buttons with 2 or 3 modes that do not completely remap what the knobs do.

  • The “invention” I’m the proudest of is inputs with jack detection, defaulting to internal signals or modulations (aka “software normalization”).

  • Outputs providing different views, or intermediate results, or by-products of what the module does… is a good strategy.

  • As a person, I am now more comfortable with saying no and doing a feature freeze.

  • As a person, I no longer feel that it’s necessary to demonstrate technical skills, and I am happy with deliberately simple solutions when they are the most relevant thing to do.

  • As a person, I am now more comfortable with laziness. The shorter and simpler the code, the more likely the musician will build in their head their own replica of what the module does.

  • As a matter of governing my life, I’m tired of secrets and hiding. Done with the easter eggs.


#47

Nothing has changed, I like them both, but at the moment it seems that more people are worrying that Rings is going to be discontinued.


#48

It’s unfortunate that the salespeople at any electronic instrument shop would be down on Mutable Instruments in a general sense. MI pushes out innovative, industry-leading designs, and their open source practice has made them been indirectly responsible for the success of many newer vendors in the space.

I own several MI modules and have used more, and I generally find the UX to be well thought out and immediate. Clouds is definitely a blemish with regard to this IMO, as it has an awkward workflow and requires some amount of memorization and cribbing, even if one hasn’t loaded an alt firmware on to it. I didn’t love Braids because it didn’t morph (I replaced mine with an E350 and am now excited about Plaits), but a lot of people are quite happy with it as their workhorse oscillator. Note that both of the modules that I’ve just complained about have been discontinued.

At least part of the negative attitude is essentially a backlash against the consequences of popularity. Rings is intended to function primarily as a resonator but also has what are effectively six great preset voices. It’s extremely deep and can yield spectacular results but a lot of people rarely input audio into it or modulate it. Clouds is also almost always immediately recognizable when it isn’t being modulated. They are both very popular starter modules, so youtube is littered with videos from new users who all sound a bit the same, leading to the “I patched Rings into Clouds, now what?” joke. This isn’t Mutable’s fault and it isn’t a fair representation of the capabilities of the modules.