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Modular Synthesizers for beginner
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Pierre1
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1st July 2011
Old 1st July 2011
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Modular Synthesizers for beginner

Hey everyone.
First, I'd like to thank anyone who is reading this and posting their feedback. All help is greatly appreciated.

So I've decided that I really want to learn how to make electronic music. I have FL studio but I've decided to buy a book on synthesizers and start my journey by making a rack of modular synths. I really want to know the ins and outs instead of relying on a computer program.

I've read up a bit on the different types of modular synths but I just don't know where to start. I like songs like Awooga by Calvin harris or anything by Sidney Samson, Afrojack, Deadmau5, Feed me etc..
Are there specific synths that can help me achieve these types of sounds? And if so which company should I stick to?

Thanks again
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Modular synths are a hefty investment to make if you don't know much anything about them when you begin.

I'd suggest getting to know the workings of such beast first and try out the sound design using one for a period of time before committing financially to something, which could cost you 20k$+ only to find out that it is not your "thing" after all.

A hardware modular synth takes devotion in time invested and money spent. More than you could possibly imagine at this point.

I suggest trying the software versions first, and trying to limit yourself with them to the same kind of limitations you would be facing with the real deal. Make some cool sounds and really focus on whether this kind of workflow would actually be your thing. It may well be just the thing you think you are missing, or it may not.

Either way, you will know for certain what it is you will be facing with an actual HW modular. Without spending big bucks to find out.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JoaT View Post
A hardware modular synth takes devotion in time invested and money spent. More than you could possibly imagine at this point.
I just want to add that I've been programming modular analog synthesizers since ~1975 and the amount of time and money you can spend is still more than I could possibly imagine!
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Modulars are fun.

+1 on the recommendation for the Synthesizers.com entry-level system. You really want to get the complete 22-space unit if you want to start, unless you are strapped for cash. Otherwise, the bit-by-bit purchase plan will drive you nuts until you get enough stuff to start playing. You'll start with a nice 3-osc system with quite a few mangling bits, and it makes some wonderful sounds. I'd recommend a MIDI interface, since it'll let you use a cheap controller and your computer interface right from the start. You'll have PLENTY to keep you occupied for awhile.

That said...

You are jumping straight into a pool of gearhead heroin.

It's the HARD stuff. There's no turning back. If you are prone to addiction to gear, RUN. Holy crap, RUN! There are more cool widgets and gee-gaws out there than you can imagine. And you will ALWAYS be able to rationalize ONE more...just ONE more...
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Modular Synthesizers for beginner

The main thing is to understand the function of the modules and think through what you're trying to achieve. I used to sell (and therefore have to train people on) ARP 2600s and the early Roland modular synths back in the '70s.

The most frustrating thing was when folks would yank out a patch cable and stick it somewhere else, rendering the synth silent. I'd ask what they did that for, and they would answer "I wanted to hear what it sounded like". I'd respond "Well what does it sound like now?". Then I'd ask what they expected it to sound like. If they gave me a logical response showing they had expected a certain effect by patching certain modules together, then I'd help them go through it helping them find where they'd broken the signal, control, or trigger path. But all to often they would just stick patch cords in random jacks and complain the stupid thing doesn't work anymore. These are the folks who need to go to Disneyland instead of Yosemite, so they can be protected from their own sense of entitlement. Sorry, your brain must be this tall to work this device.

Modulars can be a blast. When you have this idea of I wonder if I can drive this with that and make it do this, and you go and patch it up and it makes the sound you expected, what a feeling. You are in total control of what you get. And it's all there right in front of you. No wading through menus trying to figure out how to trick it into a routing you want to try.
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without busting out the megabucks, a nice way to get into the possibilities would be to pick up an old Nord modular or micro-modular.

There is software to build patches( sofware talks to the modular over MIDI), and effectively you are building patches like you would on a modular system (with patch cords even).

Full on modular systems are awesome, but require a high level of commitment

Regards

Jon
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oopfoo View Post

You are jumping straight into a pool of gearhead heroin.

It's the HARD stuff. There's no turning back. If you are prone to addiction to gear, RUN. Holy crap, RUN! There are more cool widgets and gee-gaws out there than you can imagine. And you will ALWAYS be able to rationalize ONE more...just ONE more...
THIS.... +100

Serious bank-account-emptying potential.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aeolian View Post
The main thing is to understand the function of the modules and think through what you're trying to achieve. I used to sell (and therefore have to train people on) ARP 2600s and the early Roland modular synths back in the '70s.

The most frustrating thing was when folks would yank out a patch cable and stick it somewhere else, rendering the synth silent. I'd ask what they did that for, and they would answer "I wanted to hear what it sounded like". I'd respond "Well what does it sound like now?". Then I'd ask what they expected it to sound like. If they gave me a logical response showing they had expected a certain effect by patching certain modules together, then I'd help them go through it helping them find where they'd broken the signal, control, or trigger path. But all to often they would just stick patch cords in random jacks and complain the stupid thing doesn't work anymore. These are the folks who need to go to Disneyland instead of Yosemite, so they can be protected from their own sense of entitlement. Sorry, your brain must be this tall to work this device.

Modulars can be a blast. When you have this idea of I wonder if I can drive this with that and make it do this, and you go and patch it up and it makes the sound you expected, what a feeling. You are in total control of what you get. And it's all there right in front of you. No wading through menus trying to figure out how to trick it into a routing you want to try.
Ok, so chances are that I will be clueless at first. The book I'm currently reading is about how soundwaves are shaped and how you can achieve certain sounds. Can you recommend any books on modular synths and do you think I should learn about the mathematics involved in making music.
Thanks again, really appreciate it
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One of the first things I ever read on this topic was the original manual for the Arp 2500. It is really a great textbook on understanding what the heck is going on inside a voltage-controlled synth. It is readable on the web, here is a link to a site with .pdf files of the entire thing. (it's the three links at the top of the page)

ARP 2500 SCHEMATICS & DOCUMENTATION
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Modular Synthesizers for beginner

It's not really that complex. You have oscillators that generate the basic sounds. You initiate them and control the relative pitch with a voltage that comes from something. The keyboard or some other module that outputs voltages in a way you want. You modify them with filters and voltage controlled amplifiers which you also control with voltages from modules like envelope generators or low frequency oscillators.

It's a building block thing. Each aspect of the sound comes from something. If you take a basic patch out of the manual and work out the signal and control flow, you can work out what each module is contributing.

Now let's say that instead of a steady state sound, you want the timbre to warble. You take the output of an LFO module and patch it into the filter module the sound is going through. Plugging it into the sound oscillator would cause the pitch to warble. The rate and depth depending on the settings of the controls. Once you work out how the sound is built, you can quickly hear some other sound (either from something else or an idea in your head) and assemble it from the building blocks in front of you.

It's not really that hard if you think through what you are trying to assemble. It's when folks play around twisting knobs and changing patches to see what they do without a plan, that they get into trouble.
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2nd July 2011
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A good way to mess around with the theory before you start buying the real stuff is to get NI's Reaktor or Cycling 74's Max MSP. Not the same as a real modular synth but a good (and cheeper) way to get your feet wet.
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I found Devarahi's book, The Complete Guide to Synthesizers helpful. It was the standard text in the first semester electronic music class I took back in about 1984. Written in 1982, so analog, subtractive synthesis was the main focus.

Cheers,

Otto
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I think what you'll want to get depends on what your goal is.

Trying to get enough of a modular to be able to do complete musical performances in real time without a computer can take a TON of modular gear. (I try and most of what I've been doing is still fairly mediocre )

On the other hand, if you are fine with recording multiple tracks to a DAW (computer) or tape machine, you can do a lot with just a small madular.

A small modular can still cost quite a bit though!

For about $2000
Document sans titre

YouTube - ‪MOS-LAB SYSTEM 8A‬‏


For about $2500
Synthesizers.com* ---* Portable-22 Synthesizer System


For about $4400
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4th July 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pierre1 View Post
Can you recommend any books on modular synths and do you think I should learn about the mathematics involved in making music.
I don't think math is needed to program synths effectively, but it certainly helps to know what all the pieces do and how they work. This video may help:

How to Program Analog Synthesizers

--Ethan
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Originally Posted by Ethan Winer View Post
I don't think math is needed to program synths effectively, but it certainly helps to know what all the pieces do and how they work. This video may help:

How to Program Analog Synthesizers

--Ethan
Really great tutorial, Eathan!
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5th July 2011
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Originally Posted by Aeolian View Post
These are the folks who need to go to Disneyland instead of Yosemite, so they can be protected from their own sense of entitlement. Sorry, your brain must be this tall to work this device.

I just laughed so hard I think I gave myself a hernia.
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6th July 2011
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Really great tutorial, Eathan!
Thanks John.

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