This is something I’ve been thinking about after curating my plugin collection more tightly. I don’t really go after vintage emulations for “the sound” and generally dislike skeuomorphism, but a lot of vintage emulation plugins shine in simplicity. Brainworx bx_townhouse is by far my favourite compressor at the moment, and I rarely touch anything else but ratio and attack. ACME Opticom XLA-3 is another favourite, and it’s even simpler in design. I do most of basic EQ and dynamics stuff on a console emulation plugin, which is already loaded on every track on my default template, and try to avoid stacking plugins on single tracks. Rather using sends and buses feels to also help with keeping “my sound” and making separate songs fit better together.
For me is the balance of complexity in the setup. Since modular weighs into one direction strongly, to complement it I need simplified workflows. Even if the instrument is doing complex stuff, the tuning process should be quick and fun. Otherwise It halts my creative process and I start spending time playing with machines instead of expressing myself through them (I enjoy both, the later being the goal for creation).
Recently the addition of a class compliant audio interface + an iPad has encouraged me to record multitrack from my modular a lot. And I found that immediacy helps me to sample and work on DAW as well, thing I was always avoiding but kept my pieces unpolished.
My favorite setups consist of 1 sequencer/sampler and 1 synth.
Easy to flick them on and get going, easy to stay focused, and dead simple midi/audio routing. Jam on something, build up a couple patterns, try out some transitions, (play over it live), record the master out and call it a track.
(Mostly this manifests as OPZ + Prologue since it’s bi-timbral)
I can relate with many of your comments. Too many to reply or quote in a meaningful matter.
Currently I’m in the process of writing (and recording) my first solo record ever. In the past I enjoyed collaborating with other musicians, playing in bands or projects. Bands can inspire and motivation can spread between members. Shared goals like upcoming gigs or going to a studio for recordings could be very helpful. Sure, you still need to “agree” on some kind of process or workflow as a band, and this is where good communication skills and / or robust friendship helps a lot.
Now that I’m 32 this happens less and less frequently, probably because this phase in life comes with certain constraints. Most people I know need to go to work and provide for a family (even though some don’t seem to like either…). Compared to teenage or student years time is very limited.
Personally I suck at writing drum parts which makes songwriting very hard for me. I dig complex rhythms and the best songs of the bands I played in had great drums. If I could jam with any other musician, I would always choose a great drummer or percussionist.
The last 3 or 4 years have been brutal for me. None of the music projects I started went anywhere. Because of this I thought about stopping playing instruments many times, even though this “hobby” has been source of countless hours of joy in the 20 something years. Many of my best moments in life somehow came about because I made music with other people.
For maybe a year or two I tried to be “productive” by changing my workflow. Playing to EZ Drummer tracks was super uninspiring to me, especially because most MIDI packs just don’t sound anything like the drums on my favorite tracks. Working with the drummer in Logic was pretty much the same experience. I LOVE drums and percussion like in these videos, but they are way over my head (and nothing beats the ability to improvise):
A few weeks ago I finally tried the OP-1 and it seems to be a game changer for me. I never really understood sequencing, but the OP-1 made it easy to understand and with the finger sequencer I can build drum tracks instrument by instrument (mainly bass drum, snare and hi-hats). Of course I could program drums in a DAW MIDI roll, but I prefer working with the OP-1 because it feels way less like a bureaucratic task. The interface is playful, the quirky graphics and sounds make all the difference to me. Sure, there are many limitations and it surely is not the most efficient workflow. Having lesser options is very good for me right now because I need to focus on recording 11 or 12 okayish demos in order to produce 9 great songs for this album. Having only 4 tracks (and overdubbing on these) makes it way easier to actually focus on writing a good song by recording maybe 1x main instrument, 1x bass guitar or synth, 1x sound design track and 1x drum group. I also like how fast I can just hum a melody on one of the tracks as a reminder for later (maybe to convert it to MIDI). Of course I can beatbox or drum on objects to guide my drum sequence programming as well. The recording quality is okay and I don’t mind re-recording trashy tracks in a studio at all.
I’ve been finding a lot of joy with where I’ve gotten my eurorack setup. A number of things have been clicking in my brain as of late: 1) recognizing collage and assembly of external/found materials is more fun for me than composing with raw wave forms or sequencing notes, 2) manual gates, switches, and envelope followers feel more dynamic, immediate, and playable to me than trying to patch up generative or looping CV sources, 3) treating this thing as a “toy” and not serious music making equipment; the eurorack system is just what I wish I had when I was 8-13 instead of messing around with cheap boomboxes and EQs.
I’ve been loving taking incoming signals from the CD-J (or that portable FM/AM radio, looping guitar, etc), chopping it in the eurorack, and routing it through various effects, loopers, etc. It’s made me realize I think I’d be very into doing the same thing with video. SO… entering a new rabbit hole that will likely bring me joy but maybe not make me more “productive”.
The power of this combination dawned upon me yesterday night. For quite some time I’ve been in “analysis paralysis”/“choice overload” when arriving at the studio. Too many decisions to process has resulted in me doing nothing. So yesterday night I set the rule “if I can’t create, I can learn” and started learning/exploring the sequencer of my Minilogue XD. I didn’t bother with a daw/interface. I just went straight to my SP-404sx. Bam! Instant fun, focus and discoveries. Very easy workflow. Program a pattern on the XD. Automate motion lanes, set SP to auto-record – twist knobs. Rinse, repeat. No chopping needed.
I’ll choose this thread to step out of the shadows, because it speaks so strongly to where I find myself musically. What a great forum.
After earning my living as a musician for almost all of my adult life, the past five years has been a period of adjustment. I now earn my crust outside of music, so my previous job can become a hobby. And a passion. I rediscovered the fun to be had with music technology through the iPad in 2012, and have far too many apps now. I’ve learned a lot from those apps, but eventually found I preferred hardware. This led to a few years flailing around buying and selling gear. If someone pays me to record something (which still happens occasionally) I use Logic X, but I don’t really enjoy it.
During the ipad years, I got the most joy out of sticking to one or two apps. The original Nanostudio was revelation. So was Samplr.
With hardware, the most fun I’ve had has been with the OP-Z, partly because I can sketch out something simple very quickly, and use the step and spark components, plus performance controls to make it come alive. It’s the second time I’ve owned one, and I have enough knowledge this time around to use it properly. Plus the simple reverb/delay sends plus subtle overall compression means even the less than stunning synth engines still sound great. And I’ve barely touched the sampler or midi yet.
Now I have an eye on semi-modular and Eurorack, because I’m increasingly fascinated with the idea of a dialogue with music, rather than an imposition of my will on an instrument. I discovered a youtube channel which blew me away - Cinematic Laboratory - amongst many others (notably mylarmelodies) and I fell in love with the Make Noise Shared System, although I only understand about 1% of what’s going on.
Now that I know electronic instruments exist capable of evolving, surprising, delighting, and almost certainly frustrating the player/composer, I’m incredibly keen to have a go at tweaking those knobs and patching those cables. It’s a shame there’s no community (or even a shop) nearby for modular gear (I’m on the border of Suffolk and Norfolk, UK).
Whereas joy can be found in almost any setup, I notice the modular players seem full of excitement and love for the instruments they put together, and the patches they create on them. Despite the huge learning curve I’d face, that’s the workflow I’m currently drawn to. I can even integrate the OP-Z.
I (literally) have dreams where I’m immersed in music. That sounds like modular to me. But I don’t have a massive budget, so someone talk me out of it.
Ignore my half-hearted protests. I’m here to be enabled.
Thank you - yes, the 0-coast made my semi-modular shortlist, along with the Moog Grandmother. Sounds wondrous!
@a773 No chance of me starting with one, unless it’s a gift
I have far more modest plans, but even those change from week to week, even day to day. A simple starter system at some point, if the semi-modular whets my appetite. Who am I kidding? It’s already whetted.
I’ll bite - what would you start with? Assuming a sub - £1000 budget.
If you want to compose with a limited modular setup nothing beats JF and Teletype. Most flexible sequencer around and a beautiful six-voice poly synth. I maintain that your entire musical career could be based on these two tools.
Glad you didn’t ask what you should start with but what I would start with
I’m pretty much on the same page as @crunchydrums: a small case + teletype + just friends. When you know what you’re missing you could add a module at a time, I would enjoy monsoon, a flexible voice (a-111-6 or product or neutron or barp2600), a mixing dc-coupled vca and a small external mixer. With i2c2midi teletype can sequence non-euro polys, I recently got a blofeld, it’s not euro, but the amount of textures you get + the sequencing of notes and cc from the teletype is amazing!
I’m basically terrible at suggesting, mainly because it’s such a personal thing and in time you’ll know much better than me.
I think a mistake I made when starting out in euro is that I first sought modules that would allow me to precisely control things. When I actually got started making stuff, I found that the most fun to be had was in creating something pretty wild and then figuring out what was needed to tame it or bend it to a musical purpose that the sounds inspired. So, yeah, sequencers and clocks and adsr envelopes and of course vcas and stuff are great, but the thing that euro can do that most other music gear isn’t intended to do is to really surprise you and lead you toward a direction that you couldn’t have planned or programmed intentionally (at least at first). If that sounds fun, I would say euro is for you.
for me it has to be a decent audio interface. my first was a rock-solid M-Audio Delta (PCI), and right now an RME firewire one which has proven to be extremely flexible and well-engineered. I’m using almost all of its i/o, it has solved a whole lot of problems from glitching to routing to monitoring/metering, leaving me with free headspace to use on creative sound- and music-making.
Thats a good point. My UFX II has solved a ton of problems for me as well. I’ve been searching for a mixer that would allow for all the routings I needed and still interact well with my DAW, but couldn’t find anything. The standalone mode of the UFX II does pretty much everything I was looking for (only downside is no hands on control, but all my gear has volume controls, so I can manage that). Its really nice to be able to just switch things on and have everything just work immediately, then later turn on the computer for recording and being able to multitrack and tweak all the details.
To add another opinion to the Teletype talk, I have one and would not recommend starting with it unless you have programming experience or are legitimately interested in programming. Not in an “it would be cool to be into programming” way, but in an “I see the potential of programming to realize my ideas and am willing to spend time learning to be able to create bespoke sequencers and tools” way.
Teletype is incredible, and the most powerful and flexible Eurorack module ever. With that open-ended nature comes a.) a learning curve (which is surprisingly gentle, but still much longer than almost any other module) and b.) a lack of direction. With most sequencer modules, you can press some knobs and turn some buttons and make notes happen pretty easily, guided by the design of the module. Teletype’s UI offers almost none of this. Unless you have a grid and use someone else’s script, you will have to understand it before you can use it. For many, it seems that part of the joy of electronic instruments (particularly esoteric ones like modular) comes from being able to use it before you understand it.
Teletype was one of my first modules. It was almost never used for the first year, as I gravitated towards using more “normal” modules that just used knobs and buttons. It wasn’t until I had started to gain a more complete and detailed understanding of my other modules’ specifics that I began to see potential uses for Teletype. Before that, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do with Teletype (although it was sometimes very useful as an expensive buffmult). Now that I understand the limits of my other modules and see where my ideas surpass them, I am very grateful to have Teletype and to have a good foundational knowledge of its syntax.
A Teletype is also just overkill for what many want to do with modular. You certainly don’t need a Teletype to create beautiful modular ambient, or techno, or sound art. In the right hands it would complement any of those styles with aplomb, but most would probably enjoy themselves more and make more pleasing music with a more immediate and intuitive sequencer.
So, should you get a Teletype? I dunno. My first “module” was a Behringer Neutron, it was and still is very fun to play with and cemented for me that I wanted to get into modular, but if I were getting my child a “first semimodular” I’d get them a Mother-32 because I think it sounds better, looks nicer(yes, I believe this is genuinely important), and has a built-in sequencer. If you start with straight modules, you have to get at least 2 to have something at all useful and interesting as a synthesizer. If you have a semimodular, any module you get will be able to complement it and be of use, which makes the experience of building a rack much less frustrating and much more joyful.