Performing Modular Live

I read a polemic in your posts because you took a single sentence, strongly grounded in the subjectivity of my entire post, and gave lengthy arguments as to why I was off-base while completely ignoring the content and context of my original post. The entire purpose of my initial reply was to refocus your points to the statements I made. I understand that these things go sideways.

Here is the entire post, if you care to re-read:

If you care to re-engage this discussion based on the above post, great.

Otherwise I am going to disengage. I apologize if you found anything in my writing to be an ad hominem attack.

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Mission accomplished! My little plan worked. So pleased right now…


So, 20 days later and that show took place yesterday evening. It went really well and I hope to have the chance and do it again anytime soon.

This, plus an acoustic guitar laying on the floor, was the setup I used for the evening (the other guy in the background is Mattias Gustafsson, aka Altar of Flies. Please check him out. He’s amazing):


This is quite interesting from a techno / EDM point of view how Blush Response plays live.
He explains his setup from 22mins onwards. There’s an emphasis on portability and simplicity and not trying to make it perfect because it never will be perfect.


After some years spent just looking and listening to how a modular patch evolves, I’m feeling the need of something more performable to play while the patch evolves.
Tocante phashi? beautiful and playable, but seems a bit too timbre-limited
Stereo field? maybe too noisy
Any idea? :brain:

It depends on you I think. I’m a keyboard player originally so I tend towards those. I’ve had good results with seaboard/FH-1/eurorack too.

I’ve seen fantastic stuff with the Ciat-Lombarde instruments

Touch controllers a la Buchla are also interesting

Could “play” a sequencer like Chris Franke of TD did back in the day

I’m contemplating reviving my flute playing as well: at some point may buy another flute and some guitar pedals…

YouTube is probably your friend here - trawl matrixsynth for performance videos and ideas

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there’s a video where vladislav delay is “playing” a mixer. unfortunately I can’t find it right now.

there’s some talk about in the minimal mixer thread

Friday night I’m performing with my modular system. Its a collaboration with a friend who will be playing guitar (with a looper). I’m excited because its my first time bringing out my modular without a midi controller. All internal generative sequencing for this one!
Usually I’ll set up a few sequenced and/or generative ideas and play one voice in my system by hand via keystep, but I’m excited to see how expressive I can get without that element for once.


I just discovered the Tetrapad, which is very simple yet powerful for performance. Used it for one performance so far, and found I become much more immersed in playing. I do also find modular by its nature very playable, and try to stick to one-knob-per-function, to preserve this playability. I may in the future add another controller to compliment the tetrapad.

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So one thing I’ve been wondering: I recently got BIA, which I really enjoy, but I find the levels at various settings vary wildly. I assume some sort of compressor/limiter might help tame it, but I was wondering what options I might have to keeping it in check if I want to tweak the voice live. Any thoughts?

I just thought I’d tell everyone how much I appreciate them sharing their insights. I ended up joining this forum just because of this ONE thread.

I’ve gone the semi-modular route myself. I’m also into standard MIDI sequencing/playing via synths (I have a good number of vintage synths - not necessarily valuable ones - with a few newer models. I also like the volca product line… Semi-modular synths may make it easier in some ways (since some stuff is normalized) and more difficult in others (limited routings). Much of the stuff you have been talking about remains applicable.

Key takeaways so far for me -

  • Allow longer evolution times
  • Think redundancy on modules with different patches or sequencer set-ups; I’ll probably twist that around to perhaps have two different semi-modulars play on the same sequence (though I may vary the sequence during play) with very unique sounds and alternate between them - playing with some variations on the sequence.
  • Practice and get comfortable in what you play; practice thinking was easy on the vintage stuff, particularly playing with a band, hadn’t given as much thought of it on these beasts.
  • Play the mixer - this is a huge shift mentally for me; for solostuff I usually control my mixer via MIDI. In the band I am in, I get everything set-up and balanced and when I need to control volumes aI do it at the instrument. My occasional adjustments are between songs to adjust effects stronger or weaker. This will be very different for me.

My set-up is still evolving - for a controller I have a Keystep. I’ll probably incorporate a Minilogue also though as a synth.I’ve been thinking of getting a Sound Machines Arches for a non-keyboard style controller at some point.

I’ve got a Kaoss Pad 2, and that will probably be the chief effect I will ‘play’. I’m currently backing the Plankton Electronics Spice on Kickstarter: and it seems very tweakable. I see both a Dreadbox Komorebi and a Dreadbox Hypnosis in my future as well.

From a sequencer standpoint, I went with a Twisted Electrons Crazy8 (mostly since it also bridges to MIDI), a Korg SQ-1, and a Future Retro Orb. The other two that really interest me are the Analogue Solutions Mega City and the one that is supposed to eventually come out from Pittsburgh Modular…

The semi-modulars I have are a Plankton Electronics Ants!, an eoWave Quadrantid Swarm, a Rare Waves Grendel Grenadier, a Rare Waves Hydronium, a Bastl SoftPop, a Dreadbox Erebus v3, and a Pittsburgh Modular Microvolt 3900. I’ve already done a few strange things like feed the SoftPop into the Swarm as one of its waves. That was truly weird… I’ve got my eye on the Arturia Microfreak as well. I wonder if the Gecho Loopsynth might be a cool way to transition between textures/‘songs’, fade through the LoopSynth as beats change.

I’ll probably bring across a couple of other synths I normally use with the band just to see how they fit in: my Moog Liberation and Yamaha Reface CP. I may even throw some sax in since that is my main instrument.

I’ve been trying to figure out a style… I like New Wave (and Retro Wave), Downtempo and Deep House, Trance, and Chill/Ambient styles to listen to… I want to play something I enjoy.

So this thread has been deeply enlightening - thanks!
(and if I ever get started I’ll be aka The Physics Lab since my undergrad was in Physics)


Inspired by @_VM’s question over in the general synthesis topic I wanted to chime in here with a logistical/technical thing: gain staging.

When performing live on modular among the first challenges I had was getting the gain staging “right.” So my tip is this:

  1. Determine if you want clean or distorted sound quality (the rest of these tips will assume you want clean sound quality because I usually add distortion in other ways).
  2. Set your modular outputs as hot as you can, so that the entire system is running as loud as it can without distorting.
  3. Be careful, do not use headphones, you can blow stuff up including your ears. Run the signal into a mixer. At the mixer, set the gain and/or volume fader very very low–add a pad if you have one–then raise it very very slowly to taste.

An alternate/addition to step 3 is to use an output stage in the modular. This will turn things down for you most of the time. However, if there is noise in your system related to grounding or other issues that noise may find itself in your output stage module and thereby negate the benefit of the Eurorack system design.

The general idea behind the above steps is that Eurorack is a “noisy” standard–all those unbalanced patch cables, all those different powered thingies all connected by skinny little traces. In designing the spec they made a (good in my opinion) choice to keep it all unbalanced (saving us lots of money in cables etc) but run it very very loud, so that we turn it down after the sound gets out of our box; noise floor effectively disappearing.

Obviously our mileage varies and some modules are noisy (my Erbe-Verb whines sooo often that every few months I swear it off and then I relent because god-machine-angelic-halo reverb is hard to give up). But generally speaking if I run the Eurorack audio sources as hot as possible and turn down in the thing that follows the Eurorack synth (in my case a Mackie mixer) then most/all of the noise is no longer audible.

I use a mixer as my next stage from the Eurorack because I never know what the house sound system will be like and my Mackie 802 can feed out XLR, TRS, or TS pairs to the Front of House. For recording or once I know what a venue’s sound system is like I often just use my TAI-4 module to XLR/line level.

For my double bass + modular setup I use my amplifier’s effects send to get into my eurorack (via a Line In tile from Pulp Logic) and a return to the amplifier (via a Line Out tile from Pulp Logic, or sometimes not and just keep the volume at near-0 at return on the amp) and adjust to taste, feeding FoH from the amplifier’s Line Out. Yes this means my signal is mono in these situations. I have a stereo version of it but have never gigged with it.

Hope this is helpful to people trying to figure out this part of performing live. I also hope that people who are smarter than me chime in and give some thoughts on how they handle the gain staging related issues for performing and recording. :slight_smile:


I’m a couple years late but that is a very helpful idea. I have some similar things before but it never looked as good as that. I play my modular with some jazz improv people sometimes and a lot of those jazz guys draw out a score that is just a bunch of squiggly lines and circle or squares of various shapes and sizes and we are supposed to interpret that into music. It’s really fun but it gives us direction for the song.


Also years late here, but these are beautiful. I’d love to study a few of them to get a sense of what’s going on.

Fantastic graphic scores!

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I was just looking for scores I have but I think they are in a box somewhere in my closet so, not sure I’ll be able to find them.

I saw Joe Byrd play years ago. He had a small orchestra and their score was being projected on a screen so we all see it. It was moving and they play along. It was really cool. Some of those graphical scores are really cool looking.

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Maybe tangentially related, but most of the time we’re performing sets with a set time mandated, or at least in mind. Does anyone have a recommendation for a timer to use that lights up so I don’t have to leave my phone on the whole time? :slight_smile:

There’s a thread full of ideas over here:

Read through this thread and could use some inspiration/guidance. The main goal I have here is to try to find a good balance between repeatable and structured “songs” while also being able to still improvise and have moments of chaos and more direct involvement. My main thoughts would be something like and ER-301 with Teletype so I can sample in and then use Grid ops to either sequence or playback the samples I’ve recorded and cross fade between those structured samples sequences and the live synth playing between tracks and things like that. Does that seem like a viable solution? I know there are other sample platforms like the Bitbox but I like the openness of the ER-301 as well as having all that i2c to work with.

I thought about just biting the bullet with an Octatrack and using that along side the rack but there’s something way more appealing to me about having everything done in the rack for the most part. Thoughts?

I performed my first modular performance on Oct. 12th at the Albuquerque Electronique, hosted by Chris Meyer and Jim Coker. Here’s a video of the performance (eeps) and a brief write-up. Thanks for checking it out.

The basic idea was to simulate a brief and welcome rain storm.

The first section began with a field recording of rain on a metal roof. This sample plays throughout on a Disting mk4 and flows in and out throughout the piece.

The next section proved to be unsuccessful. I had the aux out of a Mutable Instruments Plaits clone (with short plinky rain drop sounds) running into a Mannequins W/ “tape” recorder. The plan was to capture a loop and overdub onto it whilst manipulating the speed by hand. When I faded it in there was just a drone. I’m not sure what happened, but most likely the W/ had locked up or something during the hours the system was on before performing.

I quickly moved into the next part, which consisted of introducing the “horns” (the coming of the storm). This was a Lua script called “First” playing on the Monome Crow module, feeding pitch and gate to two Mannequins Mangrove formant oscillators. An envelope from Mannequins Just Friends provided the speed modulations, and a positive voltage output from Mannequins Cold Mac provided the spread of C Major Pentatonic notes. Two other envelopes from Just Friends provided the movement in subharmonic tones for the Mangroves via their Formant CV inputs.

Towards the end of this section I froze Clouds (the Monsoon version) to make the transition to the next part, which included fading out the Mangroves, and introducing in order the Plaits, Telharmonic (in 3 voice mode), and Rings (µRinks version).

All were sequenced by Marbles (the Cara version) using a C Major pentatonic scale. During this section I paired off various combinations of these, and kept Marbles’ Jitter at around 3pm. This kept the piece loose and dynamic, with the idea being to simulate the start of a NM rain storm where it rains and stops and rains again, sometimes big fast drops and sometimes slow small ones. I locked in a five-step Deja Vu on both sides of Marbles to prepare for introducing more order. Reducing the Jitter to around 11am locked everything into a nice groove, i.e. the steady part of the storm.

I unfroze Clouds toward the end of this part, and faded out Plaits and the Telharmonic to let Rings play, whilst fading back in the Mangrove’s “horns”. These gradually fade out and leave the field recording playing until the rain fades out.



I’m in the finishing stages of 2 records (a duet and a solo album) and after 2 years on modular and little more than a year working on these recordings I’ve noticed some huge failures of my workflow and modular approach, both which have me given me quite the scares while playing live.

I’m an avid Ableton user and the use of a DAW was never a limitless black hole of creation where I couldn’t carve my ideas into immutable pieces. That being said, where I took a wrong turn was in setting up my modular to work within this process.
With Live being my sequencer/processor/recorder I failed to ever assemble a proper way to control the modular in an intuitive of way.
The biggest problem was that without a midi controller I always had to pretty much compose by keyboard and mouse at the computer and then play on the modular, which led to a lot of “over analysing” before playing, meanwhile I was still pushing back the idea of a dedicated modular sequencer due to my love for non-grid recording.

Amidst this back and forth, another hiccup arrived which was my love for creating huge patches that essentially controlled one complex sound leading me to record everything in layers and fuelling the fire of the overthinking workflow.
Adding smalls details or parts that complements the piece is one thing but building music by creating a patch, recording, clean it out and repeat process can be exhausting after some time.

The last major attrition to the process was (and I believe most beginners felt this one way or another) a general lack of experience in the aural characteristics that I actually enjoyed working with and that made sense for my sound output. I love filters for everything, as voices, percussion, equalising, stereo widening, distorting and I only have two filters, 3 sisters still only counts as one. Plus, samples, all day, every day.

As It pertains to the performing aspect of it, the act of using a computer is both extremely rewarding, due to the fact that I can create huge changes from piece to piece, don’t have to stress that much about knob position because presets and allows me to, in certain types of performance, react to the crowd with a lot more versatility, while being quite ungrateful in the sense that without dedicated controller you end up face stuck to it, plus, depending what you’re running (and in my case ALOT since I’m not playing a “holistic patch” on the modular) you need a capable computer to avoid complications. Last show I played was in the afternoon and even in the shade I could fry an egg on my macbook. Ended having to put the computer on top of a metal rack with ice bellow.

Right now, as I got some funds, I’m on the verge of redesign or in some cases, just doubling down on my creative choices and my no1 priority is streamlining the Ableton–>Modular workflow. I thought about going OTB for a while but that wouldn’t solve all the issues and I actually love the Ableton workflow I refined over the years so the plan is quite simple:

  • Get new computer.
  • Get controller, possibly push2, since it seems to work fairly well with live to use as a sequencer.

On the modular side, I’ve been using the ES-8 for a while now and I do enjoy modulating most of my synth from the box saving space for modules that produce sound instead. The problem with this was that without any type of hands on control, I can’t begin to explain how EXCRUCIATING it became to deal with. So on to part 2:

-Get small midi controller full of knobs.
-Get more ES expanders.
-Replace most (not you just friends, not you) modulation sources with modules that I enjoy and produce sounds I can’t create inside the box.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about the ER-301 as a way to have a modular inside a modular and to help with my tendency for huge 1sound patching mentioned before.
I’ve seen the videos and I find it to be extremely straightforward to work with and I don’t mind at all the programming since you can save and use them at will later. My doubt is the redundancy it might happen due to the fact I’m using Ableton.

Apologies for my sudden burst of words to the forum, but I kinda need to expose my thoughts as it makes it cleared then when I’m simply talking to myself.

I would appreciate any and all the advice on those decisions, or just similar stories and dilemmas around bridging your systems with your creative ideas.

Have a good weekend

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