Performing Modular Live


What are you using for building the “block-based representation” in the graphic that accompanied your June 26th post?


i’d say Inkscape (or a similar vectorial drawing software) ? (as the shape of the blocks look very much like what i end up with when notating songs with it)


nice live performance from Scanner with 6u system


I’ve been working on slowing things down. I don’t perform live regularly, but I record improvisations almost exclusively. I tend to want to change things too much. I’ve been consciously trying to slow down, listen more, make slower adjustments, let things evolve a bit more gradually. It’s hard to do.

Wondering if anyone has any advice?


I find it easier to slow down when in ensemble. When there are others to react to I have that much more motivation to listen. I suppose the same can be said of solo performance when there are generative elements involved.


You may well do so already but listen to “slow” music.
Sorry if that sounds really obvious. Take inspiration from the pace of say Eliane Radigue or the microtonal shifts of Phill Niblock. Both produce music that spans long time frames and evolves/shifts slowly over time.

On a more practical note one thing I do is physically walk away from my modular so it’s out of reach. Then I can’t tweak things. I’ll sit down and read/listen to what is happening for a few minutes then come back and tweak something slightly. Then go away again! Ok - this is more of a music room thing for me but could add a performance element in a live context I suppose!

Also, try to have all your modulations under some sort of VCA/attenuator control. Keep these down and do gradual (manual) increases so that the changes aren’t too dramatic at any one point.


I’ve been performing (largely improvised) with modular for a couple years now.
I usually have prepared a patch 1-2 days before - with longer prep time and I either begin to second guess, or it gets weirdly “stale”, at least from an improvisational point of view. These patches are also usually similar to ones I’ve made before. Not specifically recalled, but, I’m comfortable with them, and what each element in the system is doing. And I found this to be key - being comfortable with the patch, and understanding what each element is going to do. The second most key thing is to not be thrown my mistakes or surprises. Someone earlier said it beautifully, it’s only a mistake if you don’t repeat it. Repeat the mistake with intention and see where that takes you.

There have been occasions where I’m intending to replicate an already recorded piece (one of my own) in which case I’ll try and recreate what I did and make a mental map of how I moved through the piece the first time. Generally all my recorded work is improvised, just as I would perform, so it’s not like I’m trying to go through some crazy live acrobatics to create something only possible in the studio. And even then, my recreations are pretty loose. I want each live performance to be something unique/special.

As to advice for how to slow down @cmcavoy - I still struggle with that. Generally, being comfortable with the patch and what you want to do helps. Taking a deep breath to refocus your thoughts and what you’re moving towards next can help give you some beats as well. Overall though, one thing that has worked for me in the past is to try and remind myself that, if I feel like something has been playing too long, the audience probably just locked into it, so keep going. I try and watch the audience too - are people focused… swaying, dancing, etc… then don’t change things yet, or too fast. Sometimes you just need to find that one person who’s having the strongest reactions to what you’re doing and play for them. A timer can help too, if only to give you a frame of reference that only 2min have passed when it felt like 10.


just wanted to say welcome to the forum. I’ve always dug your youtube videos (especially the wildly helpful “phonogene 101”) - I’ve often shared them with friends who are looking for help on a module.


Thanks, happy to be here and glad you liked them! One day I will find the time to start cranking them out regularly again.


Something along these lines, I’ve been taking notes as I listen. Not consistently, and not throughly, but a bit here and there. It’s been helpful, makes me listen a bit more attentively. I think what I need is a framework to fit into. “This piece should have three parts, each part should have three layers.” That sort of thing. I think I need to build a framework like that for myself, work inside a very specific structure, then tweak it over time.


You should be able to do that. Set an LFO to control start position, set LFO to random wave, then make a scene that controls the depth of the LFO modulation and then fade to that scene with the crossfader. You could also make the same scene increase the modulation of a 2nd LFO to the speed of the first LFO so that things become more wild as the fader progresses.


I wanted to put out a big thank you to the forum, and especially on this thread, to all the people who have contributed above. I performed for the first time solo with my modular system at an event on the weekend and it went really well. I read and re-read the above, listened to the lines podcasts, particularly to the @analogue01 and @Dan_Derks podcast, and did a lot of thinking on the initial query asked by @cmcavoy. I took a little bit from everyone’s input - I’ll describe the setup below - but I wanted to thank all of you who contribute and share your knowledge, and your own ideas and processes for kindly guiding me to find what worked best for me, and for clearing up the “no wrong way to do it” issue which seems self evident but is always tested when you are first putting yourself out there in front of your peers.
I felt I needed a fairly high level of confidence in where I would take the performance and what the audience would get as this was the first time and my experience in performing in groups is that it very often doesn’t work out how you have planned. Also, I was to play for friends who had otherwise not really had any exposure to modular ambient music, certainly not in a live sense, so I wanted to play safe and not lose anyone along the way. But following this philosophy to the end with a modular synth instrument essentially means that there is no performance risk left and I felt like I would no longer be performing “live”, just bringing in a patched instrument and letting it play (this is another related matter that could enjoy some discussion). So I set up 4 areas of improvisation based on my interpretation of cmcavoy’s 4*4 grid setup, with planned transitions between each so I would also improvise the order. In practice I played an improvisation on Ansible Meadowphysics , transitioned to a live looping jam on the OP 1, repatched a bit while this looped and then improvised with some Batumi random stepped CV and a quantiser. Just Friends in basic mode created a lot of the variation between each patch.
Anyway next step is to do some recordings of improvisations of the patch as described in the above mentioned podcast and hopefully have enough good material for a release next year. I will be returning to the “Executing the modular album” thread on this next phase.
So thanks to you all again, I have been a lurker since early in the year and have a New Year’s resolution to contribute more. So, hi!


This is a wonderful thread. Thanks everyone so far for their contributions.

I suppose I may as well share my own experiences for anybody interested in the kind of music I do. It’s not complicated or very technically-skilled music: nonrepeating textures, gradual structures, space (no excessive density), much quietness - and pleasant (to me) harmonies. I often just explore various ways of meeting most or all of these conditions.

My rack is built for live sample manipulation and creating textures, the two often overlapping. Live set content is roughly 2/3 sample playback and 1/3 live processing on the modular. I wouldn’t care if a good show I attended was only partially ‘live’, so I don’t care as a performer either. I know what I wish to do and what I can and can’t do alone.

I used my laptop with Ableton as a sampler with live FX, but CPU drops and overall bad laptop clunkiness eventually persuaded me to find a computerless way of playing back and mixing multiple samples at once. I’ve been ridiculed for this, but I use a Zoom R24. It’s designed to do a lot of things adequately and, most likely, excels in none of them. I spent a long time trying to decide if it was even worth trying. At last, a beloved cat died suddenly and broke my heart and I gave in to retail therapy. Among all the other stuff, the R24 can be a sample player and a mixer - precisely the two things I wanted for live performance. It’s extremely easy to use for this purpose. I stand by my choice. It’s also small and very light. I run the modular through channels 1/2 and devote the rest to assorted mono and stereo-linked sample triggers. Up to 22 channels at once - plenty!

So this is what I’d bring to a venue, plus an iPod for the Pico in.

Radio music, RF Nomad, Brain custard and external input offer plenty of options from the modular alone. I use the Doepfer sequencing stuff for rhythmic CV. I think Sloths is the most wonderful CV module. You’ll never get the same sounds twice.
I don’t get many gigs (four last year) so there’s time to mix up samples and make sure each show has different material. The hole is where a Clouds was - I’ll fill it with a µClouds and a Warps, for mixing RF Nomad shortwave signals with whatever melodies. Or mixing whatever else.

Thanks for reading.


Leaving this comment as a reminder to myself to read this entire thread in preparation for my first ever live show.


always patch your cables hot

maximum volume


no screens

you’re an instrument

be birds

no shoes

fog machine

no loops

find something on the ground

minimum volume



only wooden screens

emphasize mistakes

eat piano

don’t pass up a place to stop

boredom is real

be asleep or awake

mic wrap

electric shoes

rice cooker

a cat named spork


be a goat

be perfect

never stop

be metal goat

no samples

you’re a loop

no stage

taxis, not praxis

no logos

play time backwards

only screens

success in the arts

in my experience, most live modular rigs have at least one fake module full of drugs


But does the fake module have modulation jacks?


only headphone outputs, no electronics

success in the arts


hey, if someone ridicules you for that, you just ridicule em right back


Seriously, seems like a great mixer. I’ve considered it myself.


It certainly does the job. I also like that it shows clearly all the time how long you’ve been performing. The biggest issue I have with it is that while you can record live performances directly to its SD card, it doesn’t seem possible to record live input on some channels mixed with sample playback on others. It wants you to record everything first and then render master audio from a live mixing session. I think this is nuts, but I suppose what I’m using it for just isn’t its intended purpose. It’s supposed to be a multifunction mini studio solution.