Performing Modular Live

I got this from my local library, but I don’t recall there being a DVD in that version. I’m intrigued! May have to pick up a copy since it was a good book.

this whole position seems conservative and gatekeeper-y : that there is something “higher” about traditional instruments and traditional practice, innately more difficult and requiring some kind of True Skill - you imply that an electronic performer can be lazy “miss a beat” and it won’t be noticed. what context are you thinking of? jazz? classical recital? electronics have found their way into those venues but I doubt most of us are practicing in that context (happy to be corrected of course). again, I remind you of the context of my statement you quoted > someone was asking for perspective on live performance, specifically with modular synths but i implicitly expanded to include a more generic “electronics.” the attitude you are presenting sneers at that original inquiry for being that of a beginner.

i’ve only been performing live with synthesizers and electronics “since the 90s” so forgive what i might rely on as experience and perspective, but since the 00s when i would argue i was “more mature” as a musician and performer i’ve found myself working against the idea from many, decorated and certainly skilled musicians, much less those true gatekeepers, The Tenured Faculty, that synthesizers/electronics/computer musicians can and should “make any sound they want!” or “you can just set that up and it does all the work!”. these attitudes ignore the importance of a creative practice which, agree to disagree but i find more important in what is a newer and developing field of creative music than simply Having Chops.

many people here are still learning not just a new instrument, but a new practice and new ways of thinking about the creation and performance of musical material. let’s not box them in because there is another history relevant to this context, that is nonetheless not this context. classical and traditional music or performance practice is not an authority.


This is an interesting conversation which is feeling like it’s at risk of becoming a touch snarky, not that I’m complaining.

I see some well-ponderable points all around. I look forward to continuing to read this, as I have experienced many of these thought-states in my own practice…

Lovely to be in this community with still civil yet spirited “debate” on topics of dearly held importance to many…


Here’s one from the last gig I played


It was not my intent to sound snarky. I apologize if any of my posts sounded condescending in any way to anyone. I will try to clarify my position in case it was not as apparent as I originally thought it was.

I do not find that your use of ad hominem arguments is justified. I did not imply anything other than what I stated, let alone insinuate that someone is lazy for performing with electronic instruments; on the contrary, I dared suggest that maybe we should consider “missing more beats” than we do. Similarly, there was no intended suggestion of “innate” superiority or inferiority in instrumentation. And I refuse to accept the notion that my post was an inflammatory sneer towards a fellow forum member.

Please allow me to restate, or at least defend, my original position in a last attempt to clarify.

I tried to point out one of the, in my opinion, usually underplayed and underdiscussed positive aspects of performing with a modular system that we can and sometimes ought to use to our advantage. Contrary to the dim light under which you portray my posts, I do not support a jaded polemic. The fact that a modular possesses the ability to play itself without a manual dependency from the performer is meant to spirit a positive insight from a soon-to-be-performer, as a performance with a modular can be “easier” than one might have considered and thus nothing to be dissuaded from. I stand by my opinion that a modular performance has some very positive advantages that can be harnessed to the benefit of both first time performers or veterans. These are ideas I firmly believe bring merit to a discussion. There is no default rightness or wrongness in them; they are available advantages, in the exact same way that an acoustic instrument has its own advantages and downsides by comparison (familiarity of timbre could be considered as such, expressiveness is another that readily comes to mind VS a body of work to stand against, etc).

If I’m not mistaken I left judgement of hierarchies to whoever cares for such things. My use of the term “easier” was specified towards one particular aspect which I do be believe is uncontestedly true: a modular can optionally continue playing, and thus offer a respite, a point of departure, a moment of clarity. I assume here that the reasoning behind why a point of departure can be beneficial to a performer is self evident. Correct me if that is not the case; I tend to believe that being able to hear oneself play provides helpful insight.

Contrary to your point, I do believe that the comparison to acoustic performance is warranted as it’s a paradigm most of us are very familiar with. Maybe you don’t agree that traditional performance practices apply. I somewhat beg to differ, especially if the end goal of a comparison is to have a point of reference to facilitate a conversation. I think that since both contexts require one to perform in front of an audience, in one form or another, that in itself is a strong enough common denominator that justifies, at least some degree of, comparison. Frankly, I also tend to disagree that people get “boxed in” from such a comparison, even more so in a forum discussion on the subject.

You seem to read a polemic in my posts which I did not intend. Maybe some background story will put your heart at ease? I turned an oscillator knob before I ever stroke a note or figured out a chord. I originally come from a performance background of noise, and whatever “formal” education I acquired, came from my need to establish a common ground and mostly a common language, with other musicians. This took place a long time ago. If you’re looking for a straw-man that would argue for or against one form of instrumentation, you’ve looked to the wrong person. I dismissed comments such as the ones you faced before, during, and after my time inside conservatories, as I was old enough or way too crystallized to care what other musicians thought of the instruments I gravitate towards. I had already made up my mind about certain aspects of music, so to speak, and I was in there with a very specific goal; debating merits of instrumentation was not it, at least not to the extent that would place a chip on my shoulder. So, I do see your point, but please refrain from reading my posts under such a light - or at least keep in mind that it I have no intent to support a claim that I never tried to make. If there ever was a sneer in my face it would probably be towards someone who would spend their breath trying to dismiss a modular, a bassoon, or a violin, as being inferior to another, based on some arbitrary claim.

This and any other points I raised as being advantages of modular, I stand by them (to the extent of civility, of course): an open frame of reference, the aspect of instantaneous discovery (which by comparison to free improv could be argued that is so much easier to achieve),etc. These are all aspects which are worthy of discussion and, I humbly suggest, should be addressed, as they could give food for thought to all of us. At least they linger in my head after all these years using buttons, knobs, sliders and cables.

Thank you for your time reading this long post and for your opposing thoughts.


Some performers prefer to form their context more heavily based on acoustic music performance/traditions and others do not. Doesn’t make one better than the other and the approaches do not have to be discreetly separated.

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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.

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)


One additional thing which is just lovely with modular, is that you can choose your own control method. There’s various control options available and you are far from limited! On the contrary, you can tie so many parameters to just one control source.

Here’s a fresh performance, exploring expression capabilities of the modular in terms of dynamics, pacing, texture etc. Starts at 50minutes.

(cross posted from the Hardware Physical Modeling thread):