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


well, my feeling is surely there must be a better use for all the open-source knowledge contained in Plaits than making it as small as possible! it really is the least interesting alteration imaginable, I think.

obviously it has its uses, and this topic gets beaten to death every few weeks, but that’s me unpacking the eyeroll I had :slightly_smiling_face:


I don’t commonly see this forum shitting on creators. Miniaturized MI designs is the one exception, so I’m going to be thorny about it.

I reject the notion that an uninteresting or obvious modification of the source material somehow negates those possible better uses that you imagine. Bits of MI code get reused quite commonly in other projects. And most of the designers who shrink MI designs have other original designs in their portfolio.


I’m a bit late to the game here. Have you seen this?

Yeah i’ve also heard people talk about Rings sameness or being a one trick module. Having had one for about 6 months I am constantly blown away by what it can do, lots of surprises. I feed a lot of different types of material into it, and also audio rate modulation into it’s CV inputs-strum-V/Oct can produce some very interesting and exciting sounds. I pair it with a Batumi and find that very performable and creative. It defiantly has a sound, but most oscillator architectures/DSP methods do.


I hadn’t seen that. Cheers!

Yeah, I’m surprised at what I’m getting with VCVRack. Spending some time with some chaotically patched LFOs and a sequential switch and it’s chucking out some really fruity sounds. With a bit of attenuation of the LFOs I can definitely find something usable.


I guess it’s that making the hardware smaller is seen as more of a technical exercise than a creative work – though creativity is obviously involved. The point of making smaller modules is utilitarian rather than artistic, so that’s the basis on which it is judged.

The drive to fit more stuff in less space is also probably seen by some as a kind of gluttony, especially since it’s sacrificing the elegance of the original modules to get there. I know a lot of people hate 2hp modules not because they’re hard to use if you cram a lot of them together, but for the principle of the thing.

Antumbra’s panel aesthetics in general are among the more tasteful redesigns. But I would not want to use his Atom – it’s crowded, there’s little sense of logical grouping of related controls; there are extra lines and circles that add to the visual confusion while forcing abbreviation of labels, etc. Considered on its own, Knit isn’t as problematic (but I’d still have arranged the jacks a bit more like the original module). I do wonder whether it would still be clear among a row of similarly designed modules though.

I generally feel like a lot more thought and care and experience go into the original designs than the remakes. There have been a few cases where I think it was done well. uBraids, with its clever substitution of an OLED display and relatively clean layout. uO_C, which to me is more logically arranged than the original version. Plancks 2 seems quite usable for such a drastic reduction in size (though I’d have preferred a little wider just to keep All and Mix in the rows with the individual ins/outs).


Also found this in my bookmarks:

@desolationjones: I agree with you, there should be no bashing or hate against people who miniaturize MI modules. There can be discussion about it though as long as it is respectful.
This said, if @caelmore feels that a 6hp Plaits in unplayable and messy, it’s their right to feel that way.
The whole discussion gets a bit repetitive though, and I think everybody has made up their mind about this topic anyway. So we can also just move on and talk about more important things.

My personal view on the matter is that one can totally make mini versions of MI module. It goes against my understanding of usability, playability and good user experience, but if people are happy with sacrificing that in favour of having more modules in less space, I’m not the one to judge.

Since the title of this topic is “Mutable Instruments modules: design, usability, theory, philosophy, etc”, I have to point out that making mini versions that rely completely on knob-less trimmer pots, goes completely against the MI philosophy. But of course the open source license does not say anybody has to stick to the MI philosphy, which takes me back to what I said earlier i.e. that it is totally ok if people make a mini-version out of a MI module as long as they don’t put the MI logo on it or make it look like we had anything to do with it, which is totally not the case here.
And with this I think I’ve said all there is to say about this topic from my side.

I was actually getting to this point as well or at least to a related one. I think this is actually a much more interesting discussion, though of course it’s also dangerous to generalize too much here.
For people who take their modulars a lot around on the road, it does make a lot of sense to keep size down (for obvious reasons). Plus there might be many other reasons to strive for smaller modules.
My point, related to yours, is that there is also a risk to avoid choosing and committing, in favour of hoarding. The bigger the module, the more you are forced to make hard decisions in some way, and making decisions and committing to them is a core aspect of making music.


that escalated quickly :smiley: why the aggression? hate is such a strong word … and i honestly cannot see it in caelmore’s post. found it rather informative …


Thanks @papernoise and @Starthief, those are good perspectives on an admittedly-played-out conversation.

@Starthief: Your point about the perception of technical vs. creative work is close to my heart, probably because I reduce other people’s creative ideas to technically practicable designs for a living. “I want that thing, but smaller/cheaper” is a common theme these days… yet somehow it’s more distasteful in synthesizers than in medical device design :slight_smile:

@papernoise: The loss of your graphics and general MI-ness is probably the toughest pill to swallow when considering a micro module. I honestly feel like they are no longer MI modules, so you’re probably right that this isn’t the correct thread. But sometimes a dude needs a resonator in less than 10 HP…

@prussian_zen I’d recommend reading back through the thread. @caelmore’s contributions have been limited to low-effort dive bomb posts insulting the design of these modules, posted in a manner like there is an expectation that the community will join in the fun. Sorry if my post reads as simply aggressive. I’m not trolling here; I have several micro-MI modules and I have met several of these designers at Knob Con. Great chaps. Plus the DIY community has been very kindly and sharing of their time.


Tinkerers gonna tinker.

Seriously, though, when it’s available in VCV I’ll start experimenting with it. All things are possible through the ES-8.


Definitely a fan of ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.’ on a public forum.


This really hits home :slight_smile: There is a balance between commitment and exploration – one which I was not very good with in my first several months with modular, and one which I am still considering now at a much slower pace.

My first 14 months or so with modular were just the last throes of a long period of experimentation/exploration. Through that I finally found where I wanted to be musically, and that’s when the pace of change to my gear also settled way down.

In theory I like the idea of working with a smaller system than I have, not by shrinking modules but having fewer of them, distilling it to just the core gear to make the music I want to make. In practice, I find there’s very little I want to cut out at this point. Perhaps if I were playing live and had to carry stuff around, I’d be better able to judge which modules are truly the most vital to me.


Totally! And absolutely a good thing. Reminds me of when I had a six string bass and a big multi-fx box, and I would always end up going back to the four string + no fx.


Allllll right, now that it’s gotten to the point of quoting Bambi I do want to complain that saying “least interesting alteration” and “eyeroll” are hardly the same thing as “shitting on” someone’s creation. Honestly, even “unplayable mess” is pretty tame in that regard.

Sorry to ruffle feathers!


Don’t worry about my feathers being ruffled as that doesn’t really happen - I deal with 13 year olds all day - I can retain perspective. I’m just trying to nurture a kinder environment. :slight_smile:

I would prefer to see more detailed, thoughtful, and constructive critiques if we’re going the route of negative reviews. That’s just me though.


quoting to reinforce this as someone who has dealt with much worse attitudes that what’s on display here but also as someone who perceives a lack of good constructive criticism in creative communities today


I got a new 4 string bass in 2012 as I was getting weary of a laptop-centric setup (at the time just for distributing notes and timings to my little synths) and it was a great choice. I wasn’t interested in processing or chops and that’s actually made a pretty interesting transition into the choices I make in eurorack. I do recommend a nice grip of alligator clips tho.


I apologize if my posts came off as anything remotely hateful. I’m usually a fan of the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” approach to forum posting, but that doesn’t excuse anyone from being critical or being critized. This is a discussion about design, usability, etc, in regards to Mutable Instruments’ products, after all.

That being said, I’ve got no issue with DIYers doing what they want with open-source projects. But as both a modular player and a salesperson at a small local synth shop, it’s frustrating to see micro-Mutable modules pop up soon after Olivier posts the files to Github, and to watch as non-DIYers expect fully-built-and-tested DIY micro-modules to be for sale in stores alongside the full-size original version. Instead of rushing to release the smallest version possible for a module that is still commercially available, efforts geared toward expanding functionality and/or creating alternative firmware make more sense to me than sacrificing playability for the sake of saving a few HP. Olivier’s expansion of the Music Thing Mikrophonie into the Mutable Music Things Ears is a perfect example of this, and though I’m often critical of Grayscale’s products, I find their Supercell offering to be a much more interesting prospect than any of the micro-Clouds I’ve seen in my friends’ rigs. I’ve only recently been exploring Mutable’s offerings, and having spent some time trying out both the original modules and the micro-versions of out-of-production ones like Braids and Clouds, I find the full-sized versions much more intuitive, playable and patchable.

For the sake of not running this discussion into the ground, I’ll limit my contributions to this thread to discussion of actual Mutable products and leave the micro-module discussion alone.


Thanks for sharing your perspective. It sounds like you’re well-situated to see the market effects of open source synth design.


This is interesting to me. Do you feel frustration sort of ‘on behalf’ of Olivier or just that the focus is FIRST on compacting the designs? Or a little of both? I don’t know the details of how MI works, but if he releases the files, he seems at peace (on some level?) with opening up Pandora’s box to the possibilities other creative people. Care to expand on this?


I am mixed on the micro-izing of plaits, if I’m using plaits as a key tweakable component in a patch, grabbing the knobs is a must! I could however see wanting say 3 or 4 of them for a percussion section where more of the tweaking happened in sequencer so shaving 50% of the hp might be great in a compact system.

As for cheaper, if you’re not geared up for that level of SMD and practiced at it, good luck getting your first build to go perfect. I’m very impressed with MI’s recent price point v design quality & build.

Props to those who take on the redesigns and make something interesting, especially the o_c scale down!

Thank you @pichenettes for opening your designs! And to @papernoise for giving us clear UI so I can skip going back to the manual for little used modes.