The interesting thing with modular systems is that things can be fed back into themselves. The O-Coast Krell that got me started with all of this is a good example. The generative aspect puts one in a very different position from the prog rock ‘keyboard wizard’ of the 70s. The person ‘playing’ the modular is potentially both listener and performer.1
Oscillators and filters can be feedback loops within themselves – which can then be connected together to form larger systems in which everything feeds back into everything else. Cicuits such as Rob Hordijk’s Rungler, Benjolin and Blippoo Box embrace the chaotic behaviour that can arise, with the player more in the role of steering the direction of the sound than using it as a form of ‘expression’.
Nicky Case recently presented a wonderful talk at The Long Now Foundation: Seeing Whole Systems. He visualises differences between linear cause and effect thinking, and complex systems in which everything influences everything else, covering examples from nature and social constellations to health and economics. He suggests some tools (and has also written games and apps) that might help us learn how to steer and play the chaos.
And that’s exactly what a lot of modular people are doing.