Even as modular synths make a comeback, the definitive work on the topic languishes out of print since its 1972 publication. But now, one synth maker is translating its ideas to video.
The folks at Make Noise, who have been one of the key makers behind Eurorack’s growth (and a leader in on the American side of the pond), have gone all the way back to 1972 to find a reference to the fundamentals behind modular synthesis.
“Where do I find a textbook on modular synthesis?” isn’t an easy question to answer. A lot of understanding modular comes from a weird combination of received knowledge, hearsay, various example patches (some of them also dating back to the 60s and 70s), and bits and pieces scattered around print and online.
But Allen Strange’s Electronic Music: Systems, techniques, and controls covers actual theory. It treats the notions of modular synthesis as a fundamental set of skills. It’s just now out of print, and a used copy could cost you $200-300 because of automated online pricing (whether anyone would actually pay that).
So it’s great to see Make Noise take this on – if nothing else, as a way to frame teaching their own modules.
And… uh, you might find a PDF of the original text. (I think most people read my own book in pirated form, especially in its Russian and Polish translations – seriously – so I’m looking at this myself as a writer and sometimes educator and pondering what the best way is to teach modular in 2018.)
I’m definitely watching and subscribing to this one, though – and this first video gives me an idea… excuse me, time to load up Pd, Reaktor, and VCV Rack again!
Allen Strange wrote the book on modular synthesizers in the 1970s. Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques, and Controls. Unfortunately since the expanded 1982 edition, it has never been reprinted, and in today’s landscape where more people have access to modular synths than ever before, very few have access to the knowledge contained within. This video series will explore patches both basic and advanced from Strange’s text. Even the simplest patches here yield kernels of knowledge that can be expanded upon in infinite ways. I have been heavily influenced by Strange since long before I became a modular synth educator. Please share this knowledge far and wide. The first video in the series covers one basic and one slightly less basic patch using envelopes.
MIT’s soft robotic fish is studying real ones in Fiji
MIT CSAIL just revealed footage of SoFi, the lab’s robotic fish, which looks right at home swimming amongst the coral reefs of Fiji. The project is an attempt to create an autonomous underwater vehicle that looks as close a real fish as possible, in hopes of studying marine life without disturbing them in the process.
The system is built around a soft robotic muscle, designed to operate similarly to a real-life fish tail. “We developed a system that takes silicone elastomer and placed hollow cavities in such a way that can equally distribute pressure on the skin of the body,” the study’s lead author Robert Katzschmann told TechCrunch. “We have two balloon chambers and flow water back and forth. That change in pressure causes the tail to undulate back and forth.”
It’s a principle that works similarly to existing soft robotics, many of which utilize shifting pneumatics to create motion in their joints. Here, it allows for the fish to be in constant motion, emitting less sound as it travels through the water.
The team did, however, use sound in other ways. A diver, equipped with a waterproofed Super Nintendo employed a custom acoustic system to help guide SoFi from afar.
“One challenge is that radio signals are absorbed really quickly in water, so something like WiFi or Bluetooth would only work within a few feet,” explained grad student, Joseph DelPreto. “Sound travels really well underwater, so we used that instead. The remote control sends out sounds that are too high-pitched for humans to hear, but the robot can decode them. Using this, we can send high-level commands to the robot.”
For now, the system is a cool video, but the team hopes access provided by Sofi’s on-board camera and fisheye lens could ultimately give marine biologists unprecedented access to their subjects.
“The fish could potentially do extraordinary things for our understanding of whales,” expand CSAIL head Daniel Rus, adding that whale births have been an extremely difficult phenomenon to capture on video. “Imagine using our fish as a non-threatening observer that is able to capture images and scenes that have never been seen before. We can learn so much about marine life.”
Modular is popular, and if anything it’s getting more popular in all areas of of electronic music making. But it isn’t cheap, not by a long way, and as such it probably isn’t something you might want to spend a lot of money on without being sure that it’s for you. I’ve known quite a few modular converts who’ve described buying modules as more of a habit than a hobby, and that doesn’t make me entirely confident about stepping down that path.
Also, it always seems to me that a modular system is never complete. In fact, from the friends I have who have trodden this path, they mainly say that they’re always either in the process of filling their current case, or, when it’s full, deciding on a new case to buy, and then embarking on filling that.
Having said all of that, there are quite a few ways that you can dip your toe in the water without breaking the bank, and I’m going to talk you through them in cost order, from the cheapest to the most expensive.
Let’s start with apps
Yep, apps are by far the very cheapest way of starting to play with anything modular, and when I say apps I don’t just mean iOS apps, although they certainly play their part of course. The very cheapest way to get going with modular is on your computer with the VCV Rack system, much of which is completely free. To find out all about VCV, just start here.
Of course, if iOS is more your platform of choice, then there are quite a few options to take a look at, and they’re all cheaper than starting to buy modules. I’ll start with a list of the modular apps that are essentially my go to apps, and then we’ll go over their relative merits.
zMors – Probably my current favourite modular synth in iOS
Audulus 3 – Almost certainly one of the most complete, and also complex modular synths for iOS
Moog’s Model 15 – A virtual representation of the model 15 and it runs on iPad and iPhone
iVCS3 – A loving recreation of this classic modular
RippleMaker – A much easier to use modular
Jasuto – I couldn’t make a list of modulars for iOS without including Jasuto. It’s out of date and hasn’t seen an update in way too long, but it’s a personal fav.
There are more, not a huge number, but there are others, notably Caustic (which also runs on Android) which is really a lot more than a modular, as it contains multiple synths, drum machines and FX, but its modular it pretty good too. Next let’s have a brief look at each.
zMors Modular synth
I’ve been a big fan of this app since its launch. It’s universal now and in my view is one of the easiest to put together your own synth ideas rapidly. If you’re completely new to modular synthesis then this isn’t a bad place to start at all. It’s only $9.99 on the app store too.
This is a big app and a massively capable app too. Users have made some truly amazing patches for Audulus. If you check the forum there’s well over 600 there which you can download. There’s also lots of tutorial videos and even live streams too. But this is a complex app and you will need to take time to learn how it works to get the best value for your $19.99 on the app store.
This is an interesting idea for a modular app. It is essentially a full representation on iOS of Moog’s iconic Model 15 modular. Moog have taken a lot of trouble to make the app as close as possible to the original hardware. It’s certainly fun, but it is the most expensive of the batch at $29.99.
Continuing the theme of vintage recreations, the iVCS3 is a very carefully made iOS version of the original hardware. VCS3 was created in 1969 by Peter Zinovieff’s EMS company. The electronics were largely designed by David Cockerell and the machine’s distinctive visual appearance was the work of electronic composer Tristram Cary. The app version is certainly more affordable than trying to buy an original as it’ll only set you back $14.99.
This app from Bram Bos is, in my view, one of the most straightforward ways to dip your toe into modular synthesis in iOS. It refers to itself as a West Coast Flavored Modular. With modules, such as complex oscillator, lowpass gate, FM, mathematical utilities and slope generator, are designed for exploration and experimentation. All modules are prewired; offering a powerful monosynth without using a single cable. Ripplemaker is designed for fun – big enough to lose yourself into, yet intuitive enough to not get lost. RippleMaker is one of the cheapest iOS modulars at $8.99.
Jasuto was the very first modular on iOS, and in fact well before iOS was called iOS. It saddens me to say that it hasn’t been updated in a long time now, but it was a great app, and way ahead of it’s time.
So, that was apps, what next?
Let’s talk about Nano-Modulars
Apps are great, and whether you go for VCV Rack or any of the iOS options above it’ll never be quite the same as have real patch cables to plug in, but you still don’t have to go the whole way and spend a fortune to sample some modular delights. There are cheaper options than modules themselves. My personal favourite is the Kastle synth from Bastl Instruments. This is a delightful little instrument that will give you a good taste of using patch cables and won’t cost you the earth. Bastl have recently released a new version of the Kastle synth. Version 1.5 boasts a lot of additional features over the 1.0 version, including USB power.
I’ve now got both versions, and one thing that is really useful is being able to patch them together. Version 1.5 is certainly a step up from the original, but both are a load of fun to play around with, and eminently affordable.
And finally …
I did say there were three options. The first was apps, the second was the Kastle above. Last but not least is the lunchbox modular. This is the most expensive of all 3 options, but it is viable. The best example I’ve seen so far is Tom Whitwell’s lunchbox modular. He brought this to the Ableton Loop festival in 2016 and I’ve been slowly putting my version together ever since.
You should read the whole story from Tom. It’s pretty interesting. Of course, this is the most expensive option and does involve getting real modules, but it’s cheaper than buying a full rack and all that goes with it.
So there you have it. If the modular bug has been eating away at you for a while, try these options, and if none of them work, then sadly, my diagnosis is that you’re going to end up hooked. It could be worse! At least you’ll have some fun!
On Saturday, the United States Navy’s newest submarine goes into service and it is completely state-of-the-art except it uses a 12-year-old Xbox 360 controller. The USS Colorado, a 377-foot-long and 7,800-ton Virginia-Class submarine, is considered the most powerful submarine in America’s impressive arsenal and yet it uses the same controller that you used to blast friends on Gears of War.
The 12-year-old Xbox controller is used to maneuver the photonic masts—sensors that have replaced periscopes in modern submarines. The reasons for using Xbox controllers are actually amazingly justified. The USS Colorado, which is the latest Virginia–Class sub, is built in a partnership between General Dynamics Electric Boat in Connecticut and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. The USS Colorado costs approximately $2.7 billion, but the builders were able to cut some costs by using video game controllers.
The original interface was a custom joystick-style controller that costs $38,000. The builder swapped the ridiculously expensive controllers for the Microsoft Xbox controller, which has a very thrifty price of $39.95. Imagine that, the government saving tax dollars? What a crazy concept! Another benefit of the Xbox 360 controller is that service members have played games with them in the past and thus are very familiar with them.
So the new nuclear-powered underwater vessel that is capable of launching six Tomahawk cruise missiles at once uses an Xbox 360 controller. Hope nobody trips on the wire and yanks the controller out of the submarine.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has been conspicuously silent about the controversy surrounding Cambridge Analytica, and its reported misuse of Facebook data to help influence the 2016 US election, is said to be planning a public statement about the scandal for Wednesday.
Axios reporter Mike Allen reported the news. So far neither Zuckerberg or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg have spoken out about the scandal, which involved Cambridge Analytica using Facebook tools to harvest the data of approximately 50 million users, mostly without their knowledge or informed consent. While Facebook tightened the way developers gather data years ago, the revelations have led to calls for the public to re-examine its relationship with the social network, which now has over 2 billion users.
Zuckerberg’s silence has led to growing questions about just where the hell he is? Publications from Recode to The Atlantic to Quartz have all called for him to make a public statement, and he — and Sandberg — were reportedly absent from an internal “emergency” meeting at Facebook to address questions from employees.
While Zuckerburg hasn’t said a word since the story began to unfold late Friday, other Facebook executives, including VP Andrew Bosworth and Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos — who is reportedly on his way out from the company — have addressed the controversy on both Facebook and Twitter. Some of those comments have since been deleted.
The Axios report says Zuckerberg’s statement will be aimed at “rebuilding trust.” It also cites the reason for his delayed response as “that he wanted to say something meaningful rather than just rushing out,” and that he was initially focused on “fixing” the problem instead of speaking out about it.
Representatives for Facebook didn’t immediately respond to Mashable’s request for comment.
from Mashable! http://on.mash.to/2HRWHFp