Performing Modular Live


I agree that it’s very much a matter of individual tastes.

The first modular performance I saw was by Suit & Tie Guy. His live rig was a wall of 5U and a pretty good collection of vintage synths with a bit of modern Moog and Roland. There was no issue of it not being expressive enough. He was tending it like a gardener, adding parts with loopers, soloing with it and so on for a couple of hours or more and it was engrossing.

By volume his live rig was probably triple what my studio has, and I’m making a plan to downsize. I wouldn’t want to play with all of that stuff, but I also wouldn’t want to go out there with just a 104HP skiff either.


Of course to each their own, I find that building/arranging a system for a specific performance/musical idea is valuable to my creative process since it gets me to focus early on and think conceptually rather than patching endlessly.

Maybe I get distracted easily haha, I often fall into an endless timbral exploration with my larger case. If you can handle a synth that big on stage, more power to ya, I don’t think I’m capable of this, maybe i’m just not there yet.


Yep, that threshold is different for everyone. I’m also playing guitar and effects pedals on stage too. So I have to worry about that setup, tuning the guitar, tuning VCO’s, making sure all the pedals are working. Then if I bring a guitar amp, I have to set my tone, etc. Them since I’m playing with drummers mostly I have to make sure they can hear me, or else they will fall out of sync. For me, 6U of 104HP is more than enough synth to worry about with all that craziness going on.

On a side note, I bought some of those really thin patch cables called Noodles I think. They are much nicer than the stiff patch cables I had and much easier to dig into the patch so far.



Old thread: Performing Modular Live

And, not to toot my own horn too much, but lots of modular live sets over on my bandcamp. Might be interesting/useful to check out :slight_smile: :

idk about hp (depends how you play), but not changing the modules too often is important - that way you develop muscle memory. There’s a reason why Lehn has only played the synthi for years, for example.


while we are tooting horns, i’ve got five live sets, all modular (with a smaller faithful friends), and you can compare my set with Karl’s when played together in 2017.

over the roughly two years documented in my posted sets my 6u goes through only a couple changes, the “biggest” being the jump from nov ‘17 to aug ‘18. even then the primary sound sources and general setup is “basically” the same.

I approach my synth like and instrument, I practice playing. I play! when i have a gig i get a little more focused on getting a tight 20-30 minute thing together, but i’m not performing a composition or exploring a system, which are very basically the other touchstones id identity for “playing modular live” - not that they are distinct or opposed, just points on a chart i made up. i guess you could do all or none too - i think “just show up and watch it go!” is maybe a dodgy proposition.

in performance i always try and start from somewhere comfortable.

i’ve played a couple sets in the last two years where i’m using a 3u build, this is to accommodate other performers and literally give me less to do. in those scenarios i want to be able to respond and engage with more flexibility.

lastly i do not think performing electronic music live is “easy”!


In three weeks from now I’m playing live for the first time with a modular setup (one of this years goals. Or it might be 2018…). One side of me is scared, the other one really excited.
The setup I first thought of using was my eurorack setup together with an acoustic guitar (going through MI Ears and a mic straight to the mixer/PA system. As I always do at home). But earlier this evening, yes it’s late in Sweden, I went up to the attic and found my old glitchy Guyatone amp and sort of fixed it to not sound as crappy. While doing that I saw that it has a line output on the back. I plugged my electric guitar to it, took the line out and plugged it into Ears and voilà: magic!
So onto my problem: the volume was a bit low so I have to pump it kinda loud to make it work and by doing that my family hates me…
So I’m thinking of getting a pre-amp to solve this issue, googled and found this:

Am I right by thinking that this might be the solution to solve my problem? Or will this thing not do any magic for me at all?


Ears should be able to ampify a guitar signal without a preamp. Can you give more details of what the problem is?


Yes, it’s not the guitar signal that’s the problem - it’s the amplifier. I haven’t used this output earlier and it seems like it has a very low signal. I’m cranking Ears’ knob all the way cw to the bottom but it doesn’t do it for me. But when I turn the volume up on the amp it works like a charm. My problem is that I want to use it like this in a more subtle volume as well, so that’s why I suspect a pre-amp might be a solution.


Hmmm, I still don’t quite understand the signal chain. The way this reads:

guitar --> mutable ears – > guyatone amp --> mixer?

Guitar will be bumped up to a very high level using ears. Coming out of a eurorack system into a guitar amp is going to present some impedance and level mismatch issues. What role is your amp playing if you’re trying to go into a mixer?


Oh, I understand why you don’t getting this. I’ve must’ve made a confusing ramble.
The chain is: guitar -> amp then line out -> Ears -> Rings -> everything else i the modular setup -> mixer -> speakers

I added some stuff there, but I get why this was confusing. Sorry


Is it important to you to hear your guitar through the amp while playing as well as the processed sound out of the PA? Also, do you want the PA engineer to mic up your amp as well as take a feed from your modular and mix them together? I’m just wondering what the amp is doing for you in this setup.

If the sound directly out of your amp is an important part of your sound then you may well find you need it to be a lot louder when playing at the venue than when practising at home, so bear that in mind!

I suspect a better solution for you, assuming you do want the sound out of your amp to be part of the overall mix, would be to mic up your guitar amp and feed the microphone signal into Ears. Then the PA engineer can add a second mic to your amp for the clean sound if necessary. Alternatively, if you don’t need the direct amp sound you could plug the acoustic straight into Ears. Finally, a middle ground you might try (if you like what your amp is doing to your guitar sound but don’t need the speaker) is to look for a headphone out and use this either instead of the line out or just plug a dummy cable into it to mute the speaker while keeping your line our active.

Good luck with the gig! Playing module live is super fun!


It is easier in the sense that a patch can continue playing while you can take a step back and think; and listen. That’s not possible with an acoustic instrument. From my experience most performers are anxious to do and fail to listen. That’s also a thing when improvising. I would dare say it takes time to be able to experience your performance as a listener, but I might be wrong. I know I failed to do that in my latest modular performances in Powwow, but I never had such a problem when participating in free improv.

I also believe that the mindset of how you approach your rack is important. Is it a band? Are you a composer or a conductor? Is it an instrument? How many voices does it have? Definitely worth considering.

I have three distinct systems that I approach very differently. One is based around one specific patch which I can repatch at will. I’ve thought about this system so much I remember the patch by heart - that’s why I created the second system, just to get out of this concreteness for a bit. I needed a break! :sweat_smile:

This discussion is great. I’ll post more details in the future, it’s a subject which is very close to my heart.

Where and when are you playing? I assume it’s in the middle of the country but if it’s South I’d really like to be there!


Yes, it’s exactly this that I’m looking for. I’ve been plugging the guitar directly through Ears before, but this Line out from my Guyatone was a surprise for me that I’m planning on using to expand my sound. I’m thinking that the engineer will mic it up and I could use another mic going into Ears, of course, but this could be a little bit more convenient if I can make it work properly and that’s why I’m thinking a Pre-amp might be a solution. We’ll see how it goes…

It’s here in Linköping, in an art gallery called Passagen. The almighty Altar of Flies is going to play as well so it’s totally worth it even if I suck :wink:.
If this turns out to be a joyful moment for me I’ll play live more often and in different places. We’ll see!

Forgot: 28 feb


this is reductive and far from the point i was trying to make, which was not a comparison with anything but one’s own practice with their instrument. anyone playing an acoustic instrument can take a step back and think and listen just as well. maybe a violinist thinks its easy, maybe a flautist thinks its hard, maybe someone new to modular doesn’t know what they think yet.


Fair point. And yet what I indicated was that most electronic instruments, such as the modular, have the advantage of being able to play themselves. Granted, frustrations are abound in all kinds of performances, but regardless if one feels at ease with their instrument of choice or not, the truism that the modular performer can take a moment’s reflection without missing a beat remains an advantage not to be taken lightly, either from novice or advanced user.

Of course this depends on the patch, but it’s there if you want to use it. The optional respite can make all the difference between acoustic and electronic performance.

Additional succor of modular performance would be the lack of historical precedents, the positive feedback loop of being surprised by the modular (works both ways of course!), and others. These shouldn’t be dismissed as tripe; these are all factors worth considering when discussing the instrument.


what do you mean, lack of historical precedent? To me it sometimes it feels like every thread is going Buchla Buchla Buchla Moog Ciani Subotnick Carlos


Well, by comparison, there have been very few modular performers. No? Compare the ones you mentioned (not all of whom, to my knowledge, did modular performances, did they?) to the performance history of jazz, rock, metal, western canon, etc. We’re, somewhat, treading fairly new ground here.

A good indication of this is the lack of literature.

Even more so if you base your comparison on the basis of modular being an instrument (not discussing keyboards here, I’m talking modular as the interface itself), we still fall short. Guitar, flutes, etc, etc, they all have their canon’s and their extended techniques.

In case my point was not clear, I consider this a good thing! It’s a positive attribute of modular performance which makes things easier for the performer.


Suzanne did (and is doing) modular performances. She talks about her early ones in the documentary ‘A Life In Waves’. There is also an album called Buchla Concerts 1975.

Here is a good book about the San Francisco Tape Music Center, which Morton Subotnick was part of. It also goes into details about the concerts they did.

I agree that it’s relatively new ground, especially compared to other styles of music and instruments. What’s amazing to me is how deep the history of synthesis is going back to things like the teleharmonium and theremin.


I think this type of preparation is also really useful to boost confidence. Knowing that there is something you can fall back on helps a great deal - even if it might not be needed in the end :slight_smile:


Has anyone got this? What is on the DVD?