Performing Modular Live


I’m wondering how folks are approaching this element – I know modular notation has come up before (Modular Music Notation), but it seems appropriate in this thread as a tool for/toward live performance.

I’ve been using OneNote on my iPad with a GIMP line drawing template of my small system; cabling is outlined, but also performative notes so I have my bearings. I’m at the very beginning of this journey, but this has been a fun way to also understand the ins and outs of what I’ve patched when I’m away from my modular. Would love to see what others have found helpful/useful.


Just popping in to say that Colin Benders is a great resource - he has many live videos, and you can watch him patch up. He does some of the most musical, changing, evolving stuff on modular - sure it’s easy to do drones with all sorts of LFO modulation stuff to keep it “fresh” but it’s really hard to do what Colin does where it’s fast techno-style stuff that needs more than just a few parameters tweaked over time. Not bashing drone stuff, but I think if anyone does drone, you’d learn a lot more watching Colin Benders than another drone performer.


i think straight text is the fastest and most readable format - ie. this out to this in, this knob set to this value.

but i never do that. drawing is more fun :slight_smile: i draw digitally and use blocks that include only the pertinent module info instead of actual module panels. one layer is cv path, one layer is audio path, another layer is notes.


I’m super curious about what this looks like if you don’t mind sharing?


yeah i was going to post but it’s at home. i’ll dig it up this evening.


Here’s one of the 31 pages that help me patching my 200e. Took a screenshot of my system via modulargrid, then drew an outline-only version of the screenshot in a presentation app (Keynote), then I draw in the patchcords:

As the audio connections are simple point-to-point connection, I use a simple table with the columns “Source”, “Destination” and “Color”, as audio cables are color coded according to their length.


We usually take notes in text form, and do some photos. Or even just take photos. It’s more something for the moment, not really intended to be archived in any way.
Another thing we do, that helps a lot with picking up on a live project that has been left aside for a bit, is to do some sort of block-scores. There not really scores, but rather a block-based representation of the various sections in the track, with some indication on things that are important to be remembered. Most of what we used to do live was either improvised or partially improvised, so these are mostly intended as guidelines to give us a frame of some sort.


My notes look like this:


Truthfully, I’ve only played a handful of live sets on the modular. I do, however, come from an improvisation background using guitar and pedals, and a decade ago in New York I had two weekly fully-improvised gigs, one quartet and one duo, that lasted for a few years. I developed an approach back then and I think I borrow some of that approach now with the modular. The difference is that I have much less familiarity with the modular as an instrument as I had with guitar and the mostly static selection of pedals I used to use.

Lately, I’ve been changing up the modular every few days, just searching for that alchemical gold. This results in barely having a saddle on the thing when it comes to performance time. I’m also new to 12U having only played a single show with that much hp. I have a show here in Austin in a couple days and I just today settled on my case configuration. I’ll be playing a 30-minute set and as of now, I don’t have anything planned. Tomorrow, though, I might end up with a vague map—at least for the beginning and end. That map will probably just be choosing a couple/few tonal centers and general vibe. But the thing is, having a map doesn’t mean that I need to use it. It’s just comforting at this point of unfamiliarity with the instrument to have some sort of overall compositional form to fall back on in case I try to juggle too many scarves/balls/knives.

Most importantly, though, is that I prioritize doing what feels best in the moment. My goal is to find the zone. You know, to discover that place that opens everything up where what you’re creating surprises and delights yourself. That’s when the music is truly relevant to the present moment. And for that reason, I don’t try to play any existing structures. It feels too much like sight reading, which I was never really good at.

A useful tool I’ve started experimenting with is to remind myself of the handful of configurations that I’ve been digging lately. Just with a clever name and if needed, a couple directions (Any re-patching, René scale preset, O_C Quantermain scale selections, Pam’s clocks or preset, dark/bright on filters, whatever is most important). That way, if in the moment I realize that I need a change and I’m not already confidently making a change in some desired direction, I can choose from the list. It’s kind of like flash cards for practicing. Whether or not I’ll use the tool in performance is yet to be seen. I don’t really want to, though. I’m hoping to have it all up in the noggin.

I love the timer idea. I’ve always just used the stock iOS timer, but man @marcus_fischer that app is great. I will definitely use it.

I’ve also started using an external mixer with two FX sends, delay and verb. It’s great to have faders to ride and having a little bit of EQ on each channel is also great. Most importantly, it’s freed up space in the case for more core modules not having to mix and apply as many effects in the case to get the sound I’m going for.

So, yeah, that’s what I can share now. Maybe after Wednesday, I’ll have more to add.


The few times I actually took patch notes it looked like this too. But even with a relatively small system like the 7U I have, this quickly becomes a bit too much unless you restrict this to the core/skeleton of the patch…


Does he ever make videos using small systems?


I don’t think he does small systems :slight_smile:

but there’s some core techniques that can be indeed used for most types of music, which I’d sum up like this:

  • module redundancy, so you can have multiple patches that you can alternate between
  • have a solid base patch and build on that
  • have some parts of the patch that radically changes the sound/rhythm and patch it in a way so you can “fade” that in and out dynamically

I think Benders does a great job getting a lot out of a simple structure, but he seems to need a lot of modules to do it.
What I find really impressive are people who do the same think with a 6u 104hp system… but I don’t have a link at hand


On a similar theme, i’ve been enjoying a lot of the #3modulechallenge videos that are popping up pn youtube.


I literally write down every cable connection if I absolutely need to repeat a patch, which, when I have a series of shows lined up, I usually do.


btw, for those interested I’ve started to archive the best set recordings that I have. Will be adding to this everyday until I run out.

Don’t think I mentioned it in my previous post, but documenting my sets has been a huge help learning how to play live. Listening back gives you an entirely different perspective, especially on pacing.


Mine are like this, with added O’Clock positions for knobs. Also I’ve started taking pictures of every page of Kria patterns that I like, so I can recreate them when I need them. It is rare for me to like something for more than a day, so I’ve only ever documented like…2 or 3 patches in the nearly 3 years I’ve been into eurorack.

The only thing I’d add for playing live is that I recently did a live thing, and had my grid go out in between setting up the patch/leaving it running and when it was my turn to play out. Having a 404sx as part of my gear really helped, I ran my bridging track on the 404 (earlier than anticipated) and then slowly mixed over to it, so that I could reset my case/grid. Recently picked up an Octatrack again, so that should be a bit easier in the future. I have a pretty optimistic way of looking at systems, plan for the worst.


If you’re comfortable with it, I’d love to see your patch notes for the performances. Or maybe just some notes on the voices you defined for each performance? It’s a lot to ask, so no worries if it’s not possible!


Oh gosh, my record keeping and note taking has been inconsistent and sloppy enough that I couldn’t possibly post the actual notes for each one. But I’ll try and write a blurb about each when I have the time/energy. :slight_smile:


Regardless, thanks for posting the recordings, that’s very generous of you.


I started prepping a skiff & patch a week and a half ago for a show next Friday. It went through a couple of revisions in the first days until I got to a place where I was comfortable and started to refine the performance angles of the patch. Now, a week after I got it to where I wanted it for the show, I continue to revise it, add elements, take things away…I need this performance to get here before I edit / refine myself into oblivion :wink: