I’ve been fascinated by modular synthesizers since I was a teenager and saw pictures of Moog, Macbeth and Synthesizers.com systems. Huge electronic instruments that are patched with cables to create unusual new sounds; looks fun! A few drawbacks though:
- horribly large
- horribly expensive
- most of the sound examples I could hear from e.g. ELP records were not actually that hard to match with a modern digital synthesizer?
A little later I realised that some of the crazy electronic sequences on my favourite Nine Inch Nails records were not practical to produce by sampling many short sounds from conventional electronic instruments; they were curated machine-generated monstrosities. Ghosts I-IV came out and was rather more open about the creative process, consisting of simpler musical sketches and decorated with pictures of studio equipment. This kind of electronic musicianship is more driven by the “West Coast” world of Buchla and Serge instruments, favouring rich and inharmonic timbres driven by exotic controllers, sequencers and modulators. Compared to the Moog systems, the Buchla stuff is a lot more compact but still ruinously expensive. The approach is illustrated well by this wonderful performance:
So, fast-forward a few years and some things have changed:
- The dominant format is now “Eurorack”, which is significantly more compact; modules are 3U tall compared to 4U (e.g. Buchla) and 5U (e.g. Moog) and many modules are just 10mm wide. There’s a very competitive market, making things a bit more affordable.
- There’s a very competitive market of ideas as well: some designers prioritising features/inch, some prioritising ergonomics, some favouring clean industrial design and modern components, some using bizarre symbols and reclaimed soviet parts. There are people creating exact clones of classic synth subsections (so you can e.g. combine the oscillator of a minimoog with the filter of a Juno) and then there’s this Aussie genius who’s put out 15 chaos generators.
- There are DIY options. Actually there has been a modular DIY scene all along, but it wasn’t very visible outside electronic music circles.
So, after ten years of interest I had a bit of disposable income and bought a few modules. And built some DIY kits. Then graduated to buying circuit boards and front panels, sourcing other parts. Then started making my own front panels. It was inevitable the day would come…
I started designing my own modules.