Modular Diary – 016

The ARP Odyssey marks is an interesting point in the development of sythesizers with some of the flexibility of the modular systems it grew out of and the fixity of a portable performance instrument that became the norm. I’ve been thinking about the development of synthesizers over the years – the gradual change from modular systems that lent themselves to ever-evolving textures to banks of presets and large libraries of relatively short sounds. The Art + Music + Technology episode with E-Mu’s Dave Rossum provides a good example of this arc – and the spiral back to the beginning that we’ve now reached.

Benge’s 20 Systems presents 20 pieces of music created with 20 different synthesizers, one from each year between 1968 and 1988. Starting with the Moog Modular 1968, moving through ARP, Serge, Roland, Oberheim, and Yamaha in the 70s, and ending with the Fairlight and Synclavier, amongst others, in the 80s. I was thrilled to receive the CD as a gift when it first came out nearly a decade ago, feeling that it nicely mirrored the first 20 years of my own life. It too provides a good trace – a journey in sound of the arc from evolving textures to precise presets.1

  1. See also Junkie XL’s historical overviews of his classic synth collection. 

Modular Diary – 015

It seems to me that a large part of the increase in activity on the Audulus forum during the last half year has been due to recreations of hardware modules/instruments. The hardware models seem to provide a useful grounding – something to kick against in the open space of the software platform. In the absence of owning any hardware syths at the moment I’ve also found the fixity of app recreations – the Moog, Ripplemaker and VCS3 apps that I’ve looked at, a useful counterpart to the openess of instruments/devices created in Audulus. I do keep coming back to Audulus though – it still ends up being the place to get on with some real building after diving into the behaviour of the other apps.

A few weeks ago I had the Korg 2015 version of the ARP Odyssey under my fingers on a visit to a music shop, and now the Korg ODYSSEi also has it’s place on my iPad. While not exactly a modular synthesizer it has a wealth of routing options that make it extremely flexible, while at the same time practical to use as an instrument. GForce have created their own software version of it – the Oddity – and also provide a wonderful introduction to the original as part of their synth archive. As they mention in the video this can be a bit of an in-your-face punk instrument. The opposite of the distant spaciness of the (i)VCS3.

The iPad ODDYSEi sounds great, and especially with the white Rev. 1 face is a visual pleasure as well. The fader interface design1 (there are no knobs on this synth) seems well suited to an iPad touch-screen. I was delighted to find that the analogue tuning has been modelled as well. One can shift between pure equal temperament and the analogue version if it and clearly hear the differences. Richard D. James talks about layering similar differences between equal temperament and the analogue tuning of the Roland SH101 in his interview with Tatsuya Takahashi.

  1. With handy tooltips too. 

Modular Diary – 014

One of the recent guests on Darwin Grosse’s Art + Music + Technology podcast was E-Mu Systems Dave Rossum. Along with tracing the beginnings of the E-Mu Modular he also mentions the modular sequencer developed for the system. The idea of a sequencer broken into smaller component modules intrigued me, but I haven’t been able to find much information on it on the web.

What I did find was a video of Benge demonstrating it.

Benge also provides a grand tour of basic sequencer techniques demonstrated on Moog, ARP, Roland, Serge, and Buchla modular systems, as well as a little diversion with the VCS3.

Following up on Benge’s sequences I came across this thorough demonstration of classic Berlin School sequencing with a Doepfer MAQ16/3 and a Q960 (a recreation of the Moog 960).

While Benge uses a quantizer after the 960 Martin Peters tunes his sequencers by ear/hand – and that’s the possibilty that intrigues me. Hand (micro)tunings, and the possibility of setting up special tunings for a sequence without having to account for a complete system as one would be inclined to when thinking in terms of a keyboard.