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Modular? Eurorack?? Please explain...
Old 25th March 2018
  #1
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jiffybox's Avatar
Modular? Eurorack?? Please explain...

Long story short, I've returned to my first love of music after a decade's absence and needless to say the learning curve of the past 6 months has been extremely eye opening, a bit exhausting, and a whole lot of fun.

I've gone from getting lost in Sweetwater/YouTube holes to familiarize myself with new gear and tech that has cropped up over the past decade (um, it's infinite and awe-inspiring, where was this tech 20 years ago?!) to obsessing over, ordering, and learning FM synths. In between I've picked up everything from Spitfire libraries to Maschine to Volcas to Roli Blocks to a Gretsch with a row of EHX and TC pedals. It's all making sense and coming together for the most part, but I'm perplexed, intrigued and maybe somewhat daunted by Eurorack and modular, which seem to be gaining in popularity. I'd love someone to explain it to me like I'm five, but I'll give myself a bit more credit than that.

So, what is Eurorack? Is it the same as modular? What's with all these patch cords?! What's the advantage or disadvantage over hard/soft synths or VIs? Who should I look to for tuts, news, and such? Basically I'm completely in the dark and feel like it's the one area where I'm still 10 years behind. Any help or insight would be greatly appreciated (although I suspect my wallet would not agree).
Cheers!
Geoff
Old 25th March 2018
  #3
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Thanks, Richard. Checking those out now.
Old 26th March 2018
  #4
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Eurorack is just a modular format. Size and cables..

It's also a description of a newly-discovered physical force, much like gravity, that allows for money to flow freely from your wallet.
Old 26th March 2018
  #5
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Ha, that's part of my trepidation to learn more about modular. I have a tendency to jump off the deep end when music tech clicks with me, so I'm wary, but there's a mystique (wholly created in my head) around Eurorack that draws me in and perplexes me in equal measure.
Old 26th March 2018
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jiffybox View Post
So, what is Eurorack? Is it the same as modular? What's with all these patch cords?!
Yes! If you are familiar with Moog and Buchla modular synths, Eurorack is generally the same thing in that modules connect individually to the power source of a case, can be rearranged in the case, and their audio and control voltage input and outputs are interconnected to each other using patch cords.

Eurorack modules are basically 3U (rack Units) tall and come in width increments of 0.2" referred to as "HP". 2 to 14 HP modules are very common while the largest can be up to 84 HP! (by comparison Moog modules are 5U tall and come in width increments of 2.125")

In the mid 1990's the Eurorack format was started by Doepfer in Germany and Analog Systems in the UK but sort of exploded in popularity over the last 10 years.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jiffybox View Post
What's the advantage or disadvantage over hard/soft synths or VIs?
This is a big debatable topic that I wont try to tackle . . . . partly because I need to go make some food!

Quote:
Originally Posted by jiffybox View Post
Who should I look to for tuts, news, and such?
You've come to a great place to start! Just read through this forum, ask questions and follow the links you find etc and you'll learn all you need to know. Additional sources though are:

The Muff Wiggler Forum: more modular info and discussions then you can shake a cat at!
<moderator edit - only direct links to a specific subject please? thanks!>

Modular Grid: a great way to see most of what is available and plan your system(s)
Plan your modular synthesizer rack on ModularGrid

Some good eurorack demo folks on YouTube:
YouTube
YouTube
YouTube
YouTube

Self promotion disclaimer: please watch some stuff on my YouTube channel also! Not all of my content is demos and not always eurorack but, I like it when people watch my stuff, thanks!
https://www.youtube.com/user/JohnLRice

Last edited by Reptil; 26th March 2018 at 02:58 AM.. Reason: -
Old 26th March 2018
  #7
There's a sort of renaissance of analogue gear going on.
Eurorack has been around since the mid nineties (only Doepfer, Analogue Solutions, Analogue Systems at first), but it's blown up, you can build your own synth/sampler/sequencer/drummachine from a huge variety of modules.
Or build an instrument that is a combination of all those things. Using an online planner can help. Modulargrid.net emerged as the most popular one.

It looks daunting when you step in, but with a bit of knowledge how a fixed architecture synth or sampler is designed, you can plan this in a eurorack format. That's a good exercise to do: go to ModularGrid, and try recreate a monosynth with modules.
But IMO, don't stop there, only use that to step up to design your own. IME it's easier if you stick to a plan "what do I want" instead of taking inspiration from existing modules only. But you'll notice, the more you find out, what is available, that your plans may change.
Stick to ONE case only, at first, two rows of 19" is more than enough to keep you busy for a long time. When that is filled up, then, if you want a new module, think of selling one that performs (roughly) the same function. That's your safety net, sort of.

Also note that there's complicated and more vanilla modules. The vanilla ones (such as Doepfer, Pittsburgh or Ladik) are more powerful in a combination, as raw building blocks. These are cheaper, and if you have a lot of those, you have an infinite number of possible combinations. The drawback is, that those take up more space, and you'll need more power connectors. (But you can build your own case from MDF and a choice of powersupplies and distribution options) I would recommend to get a readymade case at first, with a powersupply, of good quality.
The complicated ones are more flexible, often, because these can be used for a number of different functions. Or combine a number of functions in one module. The latest trend is very capable modules with DSP built in, a little screen, and multiple functions. But these can be combined with an analogue filter or envelope generator, you don't have to think of it as a seperate thing.

Just start slow, with a handful of basic modules, and that case, and learn to work with that first. Or get a Doepfer or other starter system, that you can expand on, or change according to your wishes. That's how I started: when more and different modules became available, around 2008, I exchanged some Doepfer for others. A lot of people are getting into the game with a Moog Mother 32, and there's even a Behringer semi-modular system on the horizon. These are inbetween a fixed architecture synth and a pure modular, but can be used in both a regular synth setup (as self contained) and a larger modular, because the functions of it can be adressed (using Control Voltage signals) seperately.

IMO it's most fun if you design from skratch instead of copying the most popular setups. Let your imagination run wild and then try condense that idea in a practical application, regardless of what other people do. Variety is good. But there are of course some modules that are popular for a good reason.

Then, there's other modulars. (notably Buchla 200e, Serge, and 5u (dotCom, MOTM, others) These have a different character (sound but also workflow) from Eurorack, often. It is something to consider, if you want to focus on a specific instrument. But most people choose eurorack and that's where most innovation is, at the moment. It's still growing, and developing.

If you have some ideas, post them here to sollicit opinions?
Old 26th March 2018
  #8
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Thanks, John. Those links are awesome and you gave me specs that absolutely gave me a new understanding of Eurorack. I appreciate you putting off food for a few minutes to help out

And thank you, Reptil, that's so much good info and it gives me an even better understanding.

So I'm getting the feeling that Eurorack is, and I'm probably generalizing here, a highly customizable synth system. Sorta like building blocks from here and there to make something tailored to your specs and sound? I stumbled across a demo video of a Clouds Eurorack module and it was fascinating. I've been looking at so many synths that would give me a very dreamy lush ambient rig but really haven't found something that speaks to me. Sounds like with perhaps a Eurorack set up, I could really target a specific sound or workflow. I think?

Anyway, great resources from both of you and I'm really excited to hop over to that online planner/modular grid site. Much appreciated! I'm even more intrigued now.
Old 26th March 2018
  #9
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Also, great work on your YouTube channel, John! I'm a new subscriber. Loving the drone playlist
Old 26th March 2018
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jiffybox View Post
Also, great work on your YouTube channel, John! I'm a new subscriber. Loving the drone playlist
You are welcome on the info and thanks so much for checking out my stuff!

Here's a good Gearslutz thread that lists some of the more beautiful/melodic examples of modular music, since you mentioned being interested in dreamy type music. It's not only eurorack and not all dreamy but a lot of it is:
Crushing the stereotypes...
Old 26th March 2018
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by jiffybox View Post
So I'm getting the feeling that Eurorack is, and I'm probably generalizing here, a highly customizable synth system. Sorta like building blocks from here and there to make something tailored to your specs and sound?
Yes.
And audio and CV is interchangable. And it is near real time. When you patch you connect the modules in ever changing new configurations. Since CV is analogue even a slight change in settings can give you new sounds. That is a positive, but also a drawback, you can't store a sound in memory and recall it exactly. Well, theoretically you could, but in practice, just record everything, when you're writing songs.
Another drawback is, that it's so much fun to experiment, that the goal of making a complete song, a piece of music is easily forgotten. But check out the thread about the favorite artists, there's some beautiful music in there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jiffybox View Post
with perhaps a Eurorack set up, I could really target a specific sound or workflow. I think?
Yes, absolutely. But in practice, not many people do. it's a good exercise, to learn, I bought a book back then, with patch examples, and used that as a starting point.
You'll come up with your own sound and workflow, your own tricks, if you put some effort in it.

Everyone is different and that should reflect in the choice of the modular. Otherwise just buy a fixed architecture synth or a flexible VI like a Virus (which has an extensive patchbay built in) That said... a Moog Mother 32, Studio Electronics Tonestar, Behringer model D, or an Intellijel Atlantis is a great starting point.

For me, personally, the fun bit, is when you use modules in a different way than they were intended. Like use a filter (normally used to filter harmonics out of audio) for control voltage.
And there's some freaky modules that encourage that.


Oh yeah you'll see large modulars in videos. But here's a good video about small systems. Worth a watch, it's pretty good info.

@ ImJohn enjoy your dinner
Old 26th March 2018
  #12
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I've noticed quite a few "how to make songs with Eurorack" videos so I guess people have forgotten about the writing process with all the experimentation. I appreciate the Stereotypes link and the modular synth starting point list. I'm curious about the Model D, for sure. The others i'm not familiar with so I'm glad they've landed on my radar now. I've been down a modular hole with all the links so far (lots of good ambient modular playlists were discovered) and I've got that quickening pulse thing happening learning about the seemingly endless options with Eurorack so this is clearly illuminating and inspiring. Thank you!
Old 26th March 2018
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jiffybox View Post
I've noticed quite a few "how to make songs with Eurorack" videos so I guess people have forgotten about the writing process with all the experimentation. I appreciate the Stereotypes link and the modular synth starting point list. I'm curious about the Model D, for sure. The others i'm not familiar with so I'm glad they've landed on my radar now. I've been down a modular hole with all the links so far (lots of good ambient modular playlists were discovered) and I've got that quickening pulse thing happening learning about the seemingly endless options with Eurorack so this is clearly illuminating and inspiring. Thank you!
When it comes to workflow and sound design, semi modular synths are a great entry point / trial run for some. If your already familiar with messing about on subtractive synths it can be a good way to see if working in a more modular way will resonate with you. As you can start from a home base where you are somewhat comfortable and venture out from there.

ms20 being the one that did it for me, but any pre configured system would apply here.

if its the wider sonic palette, experimental and innovative nature of modular is what catches your eye trying out some software is a much cheaper way to see if you will get on with modular before going through the whole process of designing a system. Although it misses on the interactive aspect of physically patching things, turning knobs and pressing buttons, hence the above.

hope that helps.
Old 26th March 2018
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Definitely helps, Ben, thanks. The MS-20 has caught my eye recently, but again I think I've been somewhat intimidated, which is why I think starting with baby steps is a good idea in some ways. Are there anyother software options that might emulate the workflow and techniques of modular that might serve as good practice/introduction and/or gateway drug while I research building a Eurorack?
Old 26th March 2018
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jiffybox View Post
Definitely helps, Ben, thanks. The MS-20 has caught my eye recently, but again I think I've been somewhat intimidated, which is why I think starting with baby steps is a good idea in some ways. Are there anyother software options that might emulate the workflow and techniques of modular that might serve as good practice/introduction and/or gateway drug while I research building a Eurorack?
Reaktor 6 introduced the concept of "blocks" which are basically modules. I highly recommend it. There's a bit of a learning curve but not only can you work in a modular fashion in software but you can integrate it with a physical modular via DC coupled sound cards.

Komplete : Synths : Reaktor 6 | Products
Old 26th March 2018
  #16
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One way to see what you would like is to check out others fro inspiration:

I like theese ones:

YouTube

YouTube

Modular Synth Live Performance 4 on Vimeo
(this guy explaines everything he does in writing wich is nice..)
Old 26th March 2018
  #17
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You might want to experiment with the free VCV Rack app on a computer before buying hardware.

VCV Rack - Open-source virtual modular synthesizer

There are many good videos out there on using Rack.
Old 26th March 2018
  #18
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Great links and info, velocipede, Boytec, and subdo, thank you! Found an MS20 controller that I could use to control some Korg soft synths for cheap so I may try that to get my feet wet, as well, since it has some physical modular simulating going on that may work well with Korg MS-20 soft synth or maybe Modular V3 (which frankly scares me looking at the interface). Further down the hole! I have Reaktor with Komplete and hadn't even thought of that so I'm off to explore it and check out those links. Cheers.
Old 27th March 2018
  #19
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For me? Modular is oil on canvas and not Photoshop art. It's tactile performance of electronic music, and not programming electronic music. It's part jazz, part meditation, and part exploration. I used to want to preserve everything I did on modular with notes, and pictures of the patch, and recording CV into DAW. Now I accept the ephemeral nature and enjoy capturing a few moments to use later, or capturing the unicorn performance in stereo with a video to prove to myself it really happened live.

Basically... it's just fun. Watch.
YouTube
Old 27th March 2018
  #20
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It's part jazz, part meditation, and part exploration.

That's exactly what excites me about experimenting with modular.
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