Hello - long time lurker first time poster.
I have a walnut 64 grid I think from 2006 and an arc 2 that I’ve also had forever, but I find myself not using them because I work on a computer all day and don’t want to look at a computer after work.
So it seems like being able to plug into some modular synth hardware and generate sounds might be a great way to get back into them. But I have no experience at all with modular synths so I’m nervous.
So my questions are -
would older monome gear like mine work with this paradigm?
Where do I start - like what is the first module that I could get to start mashing buttons and making sounds? One that would be good for a beginner that I could build on as I figured it out and saved up cash.
Hopefully this isn’t to vague a question. Thanks!
I only used the Teletype among monome’s modules, but they do seem like they make a great little system in conjunction with the grid or the arc. I’m sure other people on the forum can answer your question better than I can, so let me focus on the second one.
What you need to start really depends on what kind of music you want to make, but we can maybe boil it down to:
- you’ll need something to make the initial sound. An oscillator, or another sound source. Now ask yourself, what kind of sound are you after? Are you more into synthesis or sampling? If you’re into synthesis what kind of sound are you after, should it be classic subtractive, wavetables, FM, Buchla-style fm/waveshaping, etc. Probably to begin with it makes sense to get an oscillator that does a fair amount of things, but isn’t too complicated or overloaded with features.
- you’ll need something to play your modular, I think this is where the monome modules come into play. If you’re already familiar with teh grid and arc, then it would make sense to use those to play the modular.
- you might need a filter, but maybe you won’t… maybe a low-pass gate if you’re more into percussive sounds.
- you’ll need modulations to make the modular make sense. Don’t underestimate how much modulation sources you’ll need! Make it a good mix between envelopes, lfos, sequencers and more exotic types.
- also you might need some utlitiles like attenutators, multiples, modules that act on polarity or do logic operations, a clock divider, mixers… again it depends on what sounds you want to make and how big your modular is going to be.
- Most of everything don’t think too much in terms of classic keyboard synth architectures. Don’t try to just replicate a VCO-VCF-VCA-MOD architecture.
The Mannequins modules work really nicely as a little system. If you were to go with a “complex voice” (2x Mangrove, Sisters, Just Friends, Cold Mac), my recommendation would be to grab another more standard VCA or mixer, so you can use Cold Mac for more interesting stuff. Something like Mutable Blinds would be good because you can use it as an offset/attenuverter as well. Obviously, this system would be more for subtractive (and some analogue FM) styles, so if you’re looking for digital/sampling/granular/etc, something else would be better for you.
Personally, I do think that, at least when you’re starting out, sometimes picking just one or two manufacturers can make it a little easier to get your head around the concepts of the modules, how they can work together and what they’re capable of, which is good for brands that people on Muffwiggler find “confusing” or “annoying” (read: interesting), like Mannequins or Make Noise.
I don’t have any experience integrating monome and modular stuff, but Ansible is top of my list when I do and would be a good choice if it works with your older grid/arc. They’re excellent additions because sequencers are often the largest modules, so monome modules can save you a lot of rack space.
Or Shades if you don’t need the CV control and want something more compact.
I only have personal experience from the Teletype. However, I seem to recall two things relevant to your first question: while the modules will work to an extent with a 64 grid, they were designed with the 128 in mind; the modules rely on the vari-bright LEDs to relay information, which you’ll miss out on with an older grid.
One more thing that I could add: many people start from sound sources that cover a lot of ground, like Mutable Instruments Braids, the Synthtech E330 VCO or maybe even Make Noise’s Telharmonic. There’s of course pros and cons to that, but it can be a way to explore different sonic approaches and figure out what you want your modular to be like.
And for the sake of total disclosure you should know that I work for Mutable Instruments.
Wow, thanks everyone!
I really appreciate your thoughtful answers.
There’s a lot to think about. I have so much to learn. I’m excited!
if i was getting into eurorack today, i’d probably buy a 3u rack of Doepfer. it’s affordable and sounds good.
the monome modules are designed to be used with the 128 & arc 4 - with your 64 grid and arc 2 you will be missing half of the interface. there are important settings that can only be accessed via those parts that would be missing.
Deciding to get a modular without being sure why you want one is a good way to spend lots of time and money and actually spend less time making music :).
Why do you think you’d prefer a modular rather than a synth with fixed architecture for example ?
Unfortunately I can’t say much for the Monome modules working with the Grid and Arc (a bit out of my price range for now ), but as a modular synth user I will still contribute. My best advice would be checking out Modular Grid. It is an incredible resource for virtually building your rig and finding the modules you want. Similar to the reason why people love Monome stuff, I think the modular synth environement is great because it’s totally up to you what you choose to do with it. There’s no one way to use it, and every artist’s choice of modules to carry out their vision will vary. Like @papernoise said, try to avoid the usual synth architectures. Going on Modular Grid and finding modules that have the right sounds and functions for you is really helpful, at least it is for me. Definitely you need to make sure you at least have a case, a power supply built in or a power module like the Tiptop Audio uZeus, and maybe an output module. A soundsource to manipulate is also a good place to start. I’d also personally recommend this video by Mylar Melodies. I consider it kind of a bible for modular synth people. Just explore and decide what’s gonna give you the best for your money! Good luck sir.
If you want to see some modules in action, I can totally recommend this channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/DivKidVideo
Lot’s of great stuff in there!