Wanting to dive into modular - what's the best way to start a monome oriented setup?

  • Hey all -

    I, like many people, have been inspired to get into the world of modular synths thanks to the exciting possibilities of grid integration presented by monome.

    I've been looking for advice regarding starting setups on other forums, but no one there seems to be too familiar with monome's modules, so even though I get great feedback, I can't be totally sure how applicable it is to how monome's products are set up. I also figure there are a lot of people on here who might be wondering the same as me, so this might be a good discussion around these parts.

    So basically, what I'm looking for is - what are the minimum (or, best starting) modules that you all would recommend for each monome module, separately?

    I have an aleph that I definitely want to integrate into the setup as well, and I was able to get a good enough look at the modular used in one of the aleph videos to tell what all of those modules are, so I've kind of looked at that as a beginning setup - two Dixie IIs, a quadra, muVCA II, Polivoks VCF (not used in the video but I still want it), and a muJack. I was figuring I'd throw these plus all three monome modules (starting with earthsea, I wouldn't want all at once) in a Cell 90. Would these things let me really dive in to what the monome gear has to offer?

    I'm a drummer and percussionist, and eventually, I want to integrate a modular synth + aleph into my improvisations. I mostly want to create textures with my modular, but I figure just to get the hang of everything I'll want to start with a setup like this. Thanks for any feedback you guys can offer.

  • buy a larger case, it will save you upgrade problems later, which if you are going to try and make most of your composition with a modular and no other synths you will most likely need that much space.

    sounds like a pretty solid first set of modules and you will be able to make a lot of different sounds with it. i personally would sub the uVCA for a Linix because you can use it as mixers and vcas

  • If you can swing it I really recommend getting a Rubicon and a Dixie II instead of two Dixie II's. They're based on the same core but the Rubicon has way more wave shapes, manual control over pulse width, exp FM and of course through-zero linear FM. It pairs really well with the Dixie and Quadra as modulation and your sonic palette will be a lot larger with the ability to do TZFM. There's lots of great sweet sounds to be had playing with different FM ratios and the TZFM makes it crystal clear.

    Other than that your plan sounds like it's got all the essentials. I agree with companyofquail that you may want to start with a larger otherwise you will soon be buying a second if you get any more modules.

  • the mannequins mangrove oscillator seems like the ticket to getting the most bang for your buck. It has a built in vca and other parameters that can sound a bit like a filter. One of those and some sort of module with multiple envelope gens paired with earth sea or white whale has the potential to be a super captivating system for quite cheap. Two of them and you "unleash a snarling bunyip" as the promo text fittingly says. I imagine one of those $100 synthrotek echo units could also add loads of mojo for quite cheap. If you have the money, I think the make noise rene would go really well with both whitewhale and meadowphysics. two of the trigger outs could trigger the sequencer to move around x and y and add another layer of sequencing so you could really "set it and forget it" and improvise your heart out on the drums.

  • Speaking of Rubicon and Dixie, just saw this video posted on the IJ facebook feed which is a good example of the TZFM stuff I described:

    The Mangrove oscillator looks pretty sweet too, wish I had room for it :) I just finished building the Synthrotek Echo actually and it's a fun little unit, but it seems like it's definitely a character effect more so than something that would be a core part of every patch.

  • @Oliphaunt I actually sold my MN Rene after realizing that the monome modules and grid provided me with plenty of sequencing, quantizing and logic-like operations... so I am not sure if I would recommend Rene as a companion to monome ensemble.

  • @laborcamp maybe the rene for just a meadowphysics setup as mp doesn't have vp8 sequencing

  • Right, Rene + MP only does make sense.

    But since to use MP you do need the grid, getting WW is much cheaper than Rene, and it does expand your usefulness of the grid that you already have.

    It all comes down to personal preferences and practices.

  • One thing the monome modules lack is any form of modulation or voltage control from the rest of the modular. That's where Rene is better.

  • so funny, just went through this and would have benefited from some more advice but pretty happy with things so far. also, I'm a keyboardist so I'm sure I have different priorities from a percussionist

    i went with the pittsburgh modular 10.1+ system - I really liked their synth box as a first osc / starting point (it's awesome now that I've had some time to play with it, though it has only one osc or at least only one pitch control / cv in) and their midi3 has a decent clock for the w.w. it had enough extra space to add a make noise maths for some monome-triggered functions (although I feel like I need a vca module to take full advantage?) and all three monome modules with a little room to spare, and was pretty affordable. doesn't supply 5v on the bus though. I have an old paia kit that I'm using for extra oscillators/vcfs/vca, but one of the first things I get for the next case will be a make noise dpo for more voices - pending, of course something more awesome announced at NAMM

  • Thanks for all the feedback, guys! I'm checking out some of those other modules. I'll consider a bigger case as I'm really not much of a keyboardist - try as I might - if I'm not playing it with mallets, I probably don't get too far. I can do rudimentary stuff on keys, but I know what "really" playing an instrument feels like, and I'm just not there as a keys player. I do well with anything with a fretboard, though - so I've been looking into what I could do with 1/4" ins as well.

    That's what's so attractive to me with earthsea; those who have it, is it a worthy keyboard replacement?

    I've been looking at synthy stuff for quite a while now, but I keep feeling like I find out new stuff every day that totally changes what I think I need. It's pretty daunting.

  • could be a worthy replacement for solo keyboard work but since you're limited in how many voices you have by how many oscillators are in your rack, you're not going to be able to do a lot of things you could with a keyboard.

    earthsea is very instinctive to play though, especially if you have experience with a fretboard. if you're looking for a key layout that is more instinctive to you than a piano keyboard this could be it, but again only monophonic. there are also some cool ipad apps that you might like if you don't know of them already.

    one other oscillator you might look at is braids by mutable instruments - I haven't played with it, and it's a little more expensive than dixie ($400). It generates its signals digitally but supposedly has quite a range of what it can produce, which might be nice in a small starting rack. It also takes up more rack space than dixie, if you're trying to conserve. perhaps someone with experience with braids would care to comment (sorry, guilty of some ulterior motive here, I want to know more about it too).

    my brief two cents on 'synthy stuff': software synths are a great option if you're doing production, song writing, anything where the finished product is the focus - all you need equipment-wise is a midi keyboard/input. you'll have more options of sounds, voices, automation, and points of control. but, if you're more focused on performance, or the act of playing (in other words in it to have fun) then you're on a good path I think. modular is a great way to learn and discover, and I'd suspect tons of fun coming from a percussionist perspective.

    as far as being daunted - so much of the synths out there are the same shit trounced around with a different fancy name or a novel way to do something or other (so it will seem new and different enough to buy). at the end of the day, it's all just making waves - find whichever way is fun, interesting, and stimulates your artistic growth and go for it.

  • Getting a big case for you starting system might set you back a lot and potentially limit you initial module budget. A modular system is in constant flux in terms of modules, and you will probably finding yourself trading away modules frequently just for the fun of it.

    Considering that, id say start with a smaller or medium sized rack (the doepfer low-cost versions are good examples i think), study the modules you want before getting them, and put together synergies of modules that fit your purpose without redundancy. Many modules take a lot of time to explore to their fullest extent. The more modules you have, the less time will be available to put your attention on each of them separately, potentially missing out on details that could make your sound more interesting.

    Less is more.

  • @sphiralstudios

    See, that's the biggest thing for me - the bulk of my training is in jazz, and what I really love about that music is the room for improvisation. The act of playing is really important. I have a lot of fun with software, too, because it can be refreshing to go in the complete opposite of my usual "free avant-jazz that can go any direction at any time" and explore what I can place meticulously and build things that way. I don't really do much with software synths though - only add-on I've bought in 4-ish years of using Ableton has been high quality Rhodes and Wurli samples - and everything else is either found or stuff I made with my own percussive gear.

    I had been looking at Braids too - I made a few setups on modulargrid and had shared them on other forums - at the time, Braids was my only oscillator. I'm super new to the modular world; for all I knew, the monome modules featured polyphony. Obviously, not the case.

    I keep coming back to keyboards though, I feel like I "should" be better at playing them. Really a MIDI to CV module is the only thing I'd need because I own a pretty decent electric piano with outs. Grids are just an especially attractive option to me because the idea is that I could play the kit with three limbs while messing around with parameters and actual note content with the leftover hand.

    Yeah, though daunting it's pretty exciting to look into all of these things. My descent into modular has had a lot to do with how I haven't had much luck connecting with musicians deeply in my current location, so I've been looking at ways to add texture to my drumming and to hopefully be able to perform something interesting and exciting solo. I just wish there were cheaper ways to test the waters. I'd hate to be $2000 in before I realize I should have done something else.

  • I'd think that some of the other things you can do with a grid and a computer might lend themselves to some interesting layers also, especially improvisationally.

    and for the sake of clarity, the monome modules aren't really monophonic or polyphonic, they only send out triggers and pitch info (a la cv). you can send that info to any number of sources to get different voices, however, earthsea can only send one cv (or root note) at a time. you could send one of the other three cv outputs to the 1v/oct pitch input on an oscillator, but that would only switch between different set values. the appeal to me (among other things) is the ability to make sequences and play them at a meta level, that is play whole sequences like notes, at high tempo.

    I do agree that there's no reason to buy a limitingly small case - my one regret is that my case isn't upgradeable as easily as I'd like (and the no 5v, grr). I wish I'd gotten a happy ending kit for 150 bucks and just put it in my cabinet, so I could expand into my cabinet (which I'm going to end up doing anyway). If you already have any rack cabinets this has got to be the cheapest way to go - for 300 bucks you get 170HP (or more?) - but you can do one at a time as you expand.