In case you haven’t kept up to date with the latest musical trends, modular synthesizers are all the rage in the music maker community. What’s really interesting, though, is how artists get lost in the process of making sounds with those synths.
What I mean by getting lost is the process through which one searches for that piece of gear, sells that other piece they bought that doesn’t really do what they were expecting, searching for one that has more CVs, and so on.
Being a perfectionist or a purist and adventuring into that path is pretty much like knowing you have an addictive personality and deciding to explore crack smoking or heroin shooting.
Here’s an excellent doc titled I Dream of Wires: The Modular Synthesizer Documentary that brilliantly explains the world of modular synths:
More often than not, music composers struggle with one of the biggest challenge they will encounter: the quest for perfection.
It’s pretty much impossible to know where it starts and where it ends. Many of us always feel something is not totally right in what they’re doing. Once a song is done, we feel this or that could be still be fixed. It’s no surprise that artists often do music that sounds similar to one another, as if they’re trying variations to see what actually feels right.
What people are looking for in modular synths varies from one person to the next, but one common thread is the craftsmanship, the creative feeling and the impression to have a better workflow. There’s no doubt about the workflow, which is more “scientific” and visual, than working with something like, let’s say, MAX/MSP, which is more of a coding approach.
One of the biggest hurdles with modular synths is the fact they can be quite expensive, as well as the lack of global reference, but there are excellent sites such as Modular Grid where you can build your own, ask for advices and then shop. But if you’re like me, you probably have a limited budget, so you’re looking for cheap alternatives. There are, of course, some software alternatives and here are a few of the more notables ones that I thought you might be interested in.
A personal favorite of mine for years, Reaktor by Native Instruments is a very deep environment to explore. You can build your own synth and design it the way you want. The options and possibilities are so vast that you might need some help or training. I recently did some classes with ADSR and that was a really mindblowing experience. I had been doign my own patches for a while but there was a level of programming I’m not familiar enough with, which is the core aspect. If you think you know a lot, dig a bit more and then you’ll see you might know that much.
A recent discovery of mine, this environment is really more on the graphic side of things and is just plain beautiful. Same sort of logic than Reaktor but without the extended patching option, Andulus is also available for tablets and smartphones, so you can carry it around and experiment on the go. The sounds you can create with it are very warm and the workflow remains very smooth. Save for a few minor bugs, this solution is a lot of fun.
ACE and Bazille are two really kick ass VST solutions. these essential synths are something I couldn’t produce without… Well, I don’t want to exaggerate, but I really, really not only love the workflow, but the sound quality is just top. It’s happened to me more than once that people asked me what kind of hardware I used, and yet all I was actually using were these two. No jokes.
Aalto is another killer VST made by a great programmer. Give it a try, and I’ll bet you’ll want to buy it after just a few minutes of playing around.
OK, I can see some of you looking at me with a perplexed look, but I recently fell back in love with Reason. For a while, many people have been seeing it as a toy or something not really serious, but with the version 7, you really need to look at some of the extension racks available to realize the modular approach is quite serious. The most annoying thing about Reason’s racks is that the presets seem to have been done by some trance or EDM producer, but this doesn’t mean it is limited to those sounds. It can do A LOT and it’s a bummer there’s not that much variation in its presentation. Have a look at these videos, try to remain unexcited.
Tuna Gear Knobs
Tuna gear knobs This promising tool is the perfect companion for your iPad or iPhone; it gives you the possibility to have something closer to a physical experience. Perfect with Liine’s Lemur if you want to design your own controller. I hope they will make faders next.
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