My Introduction to Modular Synthesis

Music, it is one of my deepest passions. Some of my earliest and favorite childhood memories were listening to Queen on vinyl. Like many, many people who love music I tried learning an instrument. First it was guitar, then bass, after several failed attempts I thought maybe I would never learn an instrument. Fortunately, I was wrong!

In a series of posts I would like to share my experiences of learning to play synth, modular synthesis, and the various resources for learning. This post will focus on how I discovered synthesis and the process of selecting my first module.

The realization that I could create music with modular synths was a long process. About nine months ago, I started listening to more and more electronic artist. I was really enjoying LCD Soundsystem, Chvrches, and Justice. The a-ha moment came while I was watching Chvrches in the Moog Sound Lab. As I watched the performance the synths were being played with calculation and precision, it was technical, and it really caught my attention. It was at that moment I knew I could learn to play an instrument.

My journey to find the right instrument involved tons of research. I spent hours watching videos, reading about synthesizers, learning the terminology, and talking with people in the community. I began by watching all the Moog Sound Lab videos. While watching the videos, my first observation was, that there are a variety of synthesizers. I decided a good first step would be to learn the differences between a few of the most common; eurorack modules, monophonic keyboard synths, and polyphonic keyboard synths.

In short, monophonic and polyphonic keyboard synths look more traditional, they are pre-packaged as keyboards with sound modulation interfaces and have tons of knobs and presets. They also tend to be rather expensive. In contrast, eurorack modules do not come pre-packaged with a keyboard and are usually built from many different modules. There are dozens of reputable companies that create all sorts of interesting modules, some of them are even local! I quickly realized that the loose architecture added a ton of flexibility, specifically the ability to start small. I decided to move forward with eurorack modules because of their flexibility and price.

After researching different modules and companies I selected the Moog Mother-32. The Mother includes the Moog ladder filter, which has an outstanding reputation within the community. Also, the Mother is semi-modular, it provides all the basic building blocks of a modular system including a patch bay, but it is pre-wired. This allowed me to start making sound immediately without additional patching or modules. It was like having a quick-start guide for modular synthesis.

I now have three modules and am in the process of purchasing a fourth. I am excited to talk in more detail about the Mother and other modules in another post. Thanks for reading!

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