OK...go here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/8429881@N06/sets/72157602899680757/

What you're looking at is a collaboration between Bob Moog and the composer Joel Chadabe that was installed at SUNY Albany back in 1969. This was known as the "Coordinated Electronic Music System" or CEMS, and was the first modular rig specifically intended to do what we now call "generative music". Chadabe's "Ideas of Movement at Bolton Landing" was one of the first such works that explored this process, and you can hear that here: https://joelchadabe.net/ideasofmovement/

Now, for those trying to build a proper generative rig...pay very close attention to those pictures of the CEMS. Yes, those ARE eight Moog 960 sequencers. Yes, that IS a custom triggering/timing system at the top of one rack. And so on...

"Ideas of Motion..." actually sounds rather simplistic when compared to present-day generative work. And that's because it is. Even with this large Moog rig, you don't get too much going on.

So...if the result from this monster system is actually as simplistic at it sounds, what's actually going on here?

Well...like many generative builds, there are a lot of modulation sources here, notably in the form of those eight Moog 960s that also control pitches and the usual sequenced stuff. But the sound generation aspect is pretty simple, which is typical for that time period; it would be another year or two before Dr. Tomita started showing everyone how to do really nuanced sound on the Moog. And as we know, nuance needs more of...everything, tbh.

So, sure...Eurorack makes things physically smaller. But not functionally. Not even close. To get Chadabe's results in "Ideas of Motion...", you still need much of what you see in those pics of the CEMS, or similar. Then, to get that ambient sonic complexity, you need the nuance of later synthesists...so, let's see what Tomita was up to in the mid-1970s: http://www.isaotomita.net/interviews/KEYBaug1977/images/1.jpg


Even if you shrunk all of what you see in that pic down to Eurorack dimensions, you would STILL have something pretty damned big. I mean...that's a IIIp, a 55, and there's even more that's not in the frame. Slap THAT together with the CEMS's control systems, though, and you'd have a top-shelf generative ambient rig. But the problem is that you'd really need to be working on that scale to get something that's musically effective. True, we have denser functionality on modules these days, and everything's smaller and so on, but you'd still probably be talking about a rig that would take up a whole Doepfer A-100 12U Monster Case at minimum.

Now, hopefully this explains why some of us keep saying that you can't do a proper, musically-interesting ambient generative setup in a two-row 84 hp cab. Even if you could jam a lot of the "voicing" in with 4 hp and smaller modules, you would still have issues with supplying enough integrated timing/sequencing/modulation sources to make it do something interesting. Hopefully this explanation is helpful to those of you contemplating this concept. Note that I'm not saying "don't do this"...instead, if you're going to do this, look at this as an example of how TO do it, understand the scale you'd be working on, and THEN start working out ideas. Anything too much smaller isn't going to work as well as you'd think.

Hi Lugia,

Ha, ha, interesting post and thanks a lot for sharing that picture of Isao Tomita, that gave me sweet memories of his early music. Tomita was for me also the one who torpedo-ed me into two music arts: electronic music (like Tomita, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Kitaro, Vangelis, J.M. Jarre, i.e. the usual "suspects") and classical music.

So I was surprised I managed to get two more of Tomita's CDs when I was recently in Japan; one of it is the CD Dr. Coppelius, didn't even know about that one till I bought it :-) Pity though he died a few years back :-(

I was just about to send you and Ronin a PM (personal message; which I never tried so far though) about... should we perhaps together write a "starter's manual" for beginners into Eurorack? I wouldn't mind to start with that and perhaps you and Ronin can add your bits? Then for the obvious new rack questions from people starting just into Eurorack, we can refer to such kind of manual :-) Would save us a lot of time for the first round of replies ;-)

Is there any possibility to share Word documents? Then, as I mentioned already, I don't mind to start with such "manual" and you and Ronin might want to review it before we release it here somewhere in the forum?

Please let me know your thoughts about it and kind regards, Garfield.

Actually, MG's already got me working on something of a "how-to" on constructing a proper, functional modular. It's coming along slowly, though, mainly because I'm trying to work on my studio refit in amongst everything else that threatens to suck the brains out of my head at present. But a collaborative effort might not be a bad idea...would just take some judicious editing to mash the various docs together into a single one, but working from a multi-user perspective could be quite useful.

Hi Lugia,

All right, if there is some specific part of the documentation I can do or if I can make a Visio diagram of a basic modular synthesizer setup, or anything into those directions, just let me know and once I done that and you got my stuff returned to you, you can just copy/past it in your main document. Up to you, just let me know if I can do something for you.

Kind regards, Garfield.

Eww... eww... Mista Cawtaw!!!! Eww... Ewww... can I participate? Seems the three of us are always answering posts and this is a common refrain.

Exactly what I had in mind, Ronin...lemme get the initial text done, then it looks like it's you, me, and Garfield that'll be hashing out a final version.

Ha, ha, looks like we three got the same thinking here and thanks a lot Lugia for starting the initial part of the document!

Great guys! You have my support!
I‘m going to write a little modular introductory manual for a music conservatory and I‘m sure I could take a couple of cues from what you will cook up. :-)

I bought a Plaits module and a Wasp filter. I also threw in a Maths. Do I need anything else? I'm looking to do multi-timbre ambient stuff. My skiff is full.

Ha, ha, you are mean Ronin ;-) But yeah, go ahead buy some more fancy modules and everything will be fine :-)

I bought a Plaits module and a Wasp filter. I also threw in a Maths. Do I need anything else?
-- Ronin1973

Duct tape. ;-) Get the most expensive kind you can find.

Ha, ha, looks like we three got the same thinking here and thanks a lot Lugia for starting the initial part of the document!
-- GarfieldModular

TBH, tho...it's sort of hard to keep motivated to work on it, mainly because I know that it'll be rather long. And this kicks in the TL;DR response from the exact crowd that 100% needs to "R" it, regardless of how "L" it is.

Which is effing stupid and irresponsible, really. Probably too effing stupid and irresponsible to even be all that concerned about when you're trying to be helpful and let people know that they're in the process of making critical errors, some of which can theoretically cost a couple of grand to fix. So there's times where, yes, I do care about seeing users make the most of getting into modular synthesis with a minimum of hassles. But then, there's also plenty of instances where I'll just look at a post and go "nooooooo..." when seeing some build that really could only be improved upon by fire/tannerite/catapult-into-brick-wall. Worse still, you'll try and point out to those people that, um, hey...you really can't have a synthesizer that doesn't have basic things like VCAs, mixers, etc...and they promptly try and end-run everything you're putting forward as build-saving advice by trying to change up the fancy stuff when all that's really necessary is a few hundred $$ of basic/utility modules at the expense of removing one or two costly space-gobblers.

Now, I love ModularGrid. It's an amazing resource. And it surely could benefit from hosting a primer text on how to do a proper modular build. But while working on this, I keep having this nagging doubt about the real worth of the effort. Because it's not merely new users that are part of this issue, but I think you can also add to that quite a bit of the retailers of the modules. Note that I'm NOT pointing at any of the respected modular dealers, but instead at the MI crowd...Sweetwater, GC, Thomann et al...that sell this stuff on a large scale with absolutely NO acumen on how to build one of these systems. Their attitude is "you got money? we got stuff!" and if someone creates an utterly foobar build on their sayso, they benefit later on when said user comes back to "fix" what's wrong with the build that...had there been proper advice...they shouldn't have ever built in the first place. Yes, yes, I know the old adage of "The customer is always right"...except that when the customer is WRONG and is about to blow wads of ca$h, then someone needs to step up and let them know this. Profit-driven MI firms just don't do this, from my experience, or even know how to...in fact, the first time I went to our local GC when it opened a few years back, one of the salesforce asked me what kind of music I did. I answered that I worked a lot with electroacoustic media, studied composition in Germany w/ Stockhausen, etc...and this dolt thought I was talking about acoustic guitars with electronics added, to say nothing of not knowing who the hell Stockhausen was. Natcherly, this store's most sophisticated synth at that time was a MicroKorg...a decade-plus-old design that doesn't reflect much of anything that's going on in synths now, and tbh, the place really hasn't improved any since. Another instance happened at Sweetwater a few years ago, trying to explain why they just might want to carry things like multiples, attenuators, and other such utility modules even though they're 1) not as expensive, ergo Sweetwater would make less on them while they take up the same space in the warehouse and 2) they don't look as cool. Mind you, I think Sweetwater finally had enough knowledgable users calling them out on this that they DID clue up a bit and add these things, but even with that, how many people on their sales force know how to configure a basic modular synth? Probably only a handful.

So, with THESE sorts of people out there working to make sure that future modular users get BENT OVER for their bucks instead of getting BANG for their bucks, and those future users being all too willing to accept advice from people who get a check each week for whatever sales they can wrangle instead of expertise under their belts, coming up with a comprehensive beginner's manual sometimes feels like a fool's errand. I want to do this, mainly because MG is such an excellent resource that it needs its own in-house primer, something authoritative to go alongside their authoritative information on modules. But part of me just wonders "is there a point to all this typing?" if so many people have been conditioned into that TL;DR mentality, often to the point that not even rudimentary research has been done before setting out on this technically-complex and usually-expensive path.

Too many people watching Youtube videos and liking the sounds that they are hearing but not doing enough research into HOW those sounds are actually being generated. There's such an unsexy side to Eurorack consisting of a lot of modules doing utility work so a few featured modules can do their thing. That's always glossed over in demos with those modules off screen or connected via a maze of patch cables. Anyone who's not familiar with the Eurorack ecosystem would just assume that the featured modules are all that's needed to get "that sound" as if each module was its own synthesizer rather than being a module.

There's a lot of assumptions that because I'm familiar with soft synths or even hardware synths that Eurorack is a no brainer and just another synth. Which it is not. Modular Grid is great and easy to use... so easy that someone with zero experience can populate a rack with modules. Then they throw it to the forums to see if they've put together something "good." Nine times out of ten... no... because they're missing the most basic concepts.

I want to help people fix their basic systems. I like Eurorack. I don't want people defaming it because they spent a lot of money blindly and were unsatisfied with their results. If you get enough ignorance buying modules... that's great for the short term. But in the long term, the genre of synthesis will suffer and get pushed back into the closet if enough people have a bad experience.

But part of me just wonders "is there a point to all this typing?" if so many people have been conditioned into that TL;DR mentality, often to the point that not even rudimentary research has been done before setting out on this technically-complex and usually-expensive path.

There is a point because some of us are eager to learn :D
You may remember helping me a little while ago, all of you, and perhaps I haven't made it clear enough in the previous posts but your advice has been truly invaluable. I am now reading up your advice elsewhere on the forum about other people's beginner rigs and it's just as useful.

As many, I started learning about modular through Youtube and as Ronin puts it very well, the "unsexy side of Eurorack" does not get much love there (with a few honorables exceptions). I didn't assume that because of knowing about synthesis with "traditional" synths I would understand modular, but the issue was finding info about what makes a rig functional in the modular sense. I knew that throwing sexy modules in a rig would not give me something coherent but I had issues finding organized advice on the modules you don't see in the videos. When you don't have much experience in modular, how do you figure out if you need buffered mults, logic modules, what your final patches should look like and if you're going to be short on VCA's or if a switch multiple could really make a difference in the rig?

An advice that goes around a lot is "know what you want to do before you start buying modules" but reading from you guys about how it all works together as a system (e.g. why one needs utility modules to make a generative rig possible) makes a real difference for beginners who are ready to put in the time to read manuals or guides. I'm fairly certain it's impossible to avoid having some people getting overexcited over some videos and giving in to the TL;DR/I want it now mentality. It's very difficult to fight this and to be honest, I still remember the excitement I felt when I decided I would actually get into modular, it was truly hard not to be an idiot and start a cart on some web shop :) Nevertheless, there will always be people who are willing to do the research and since MG is the number one site being talked about in the Youtube videos as a "want to know more?" sort of place, we all end up here sooner or later. Having that sort of authoritative resource being produced here would mean a good number of those looking for learning resources would end up reading this one.

Reading your advice here did save me from a few mistakes and a few choices I would have regretted. Now that I'm playing with my rig daily and I start grasping the concepts I missed, I understand how important that initial advice was.

If I can be of any help to make this happen, proof reading, beginner's mistakes I made, etc, I'd be happy to assist.

Best regards,

Hi Lugia and Ronin,

You both hit the nail on its head and I totally agree.

Lugia, about the manual, I am afraid that what you think might happen, indeed will happen: that people don't bother to read large manuals and still focus, indeed Ronin, on the cool & fancy looking modules...

So therefore my suggestion, just write a real basic manual, I wouldn't go over 10 or max 20 pages or so because otherwise you put way too much efforts in it, and I agree, the danger that people don't completely read it becomes quite big and that would be a real pity of your efforts, it would cause frustrations to you and, let's be honest, you should/could have put that time better in enjoying your own rack and creating fantastic sounds! :-)

I wanted to start yesterday evening with a basic Visio drawing but I have a problem with by laptop (MacOS) and Parallels. I think I need to update my Parallels first before I can use Visio again. So at the moment I can't help you with a basic synth drawing, sorry about that.

Take it easy Lugia on yourself and I do think a basic manual of a few pages should be sufficient to get people starting with modular synth into the right direction. Looking at the efforts it would costs, my advice is to keep it simple and don't try to come with an extensive manual (that might be something for later in case the "basic manual" would work well). But hey, that's just my two cents, it's up to you of course.

And a big thank you for being so honest, that at the same time hits a few real good points!

Kind regards, Garfield.

Hi Diego,

Looks like our messages got crossed, I only saw yours now :-)

Yes you are right of course and a manual is still helpful. I just try to avoid that Lugia puts, initially, too much efforts in it, especially regarding the "TL;DR" effects ;-)

It is also nice to hear from you that it's still a good thing to work on this, thanks a lot for this positive support!

Kind regards, Garfield.

The part I find most newbies aren't getting is the concept of control voltages (gates, triggers, clocks, CV). In a post-MIDI, post-DAW world this aspect of control is like going back to ancient Latin when everyone is used to speaking French.

The voltage environment is "new" to most people and they don't get it. That's why the unsexy stuff is overlooked. So a primer centered on control voltage management would go a long way to opening eyes. There are a lot of aspects of modular that can't be fully expressed in 10 pages if you're going from soup to nuts.

So Garfield is right that anything written can't be a bible to Eurorack but simply an introduction to the functionality of Eurorack. But I would try to relate it to common entry points like MIDI and soft-synths. I.E.- a MIDI note-on message and breaking down the Eurorack equivalent, MIDI sync vs. clock, CC modulation vs. CV.

Educating people as to WHY they need to worry about CV clocks rather than detailing how they physically work should be the focus.

And for God's sake, why a VCA and attenuverter are necessary utilities.

I find myself writing a lot of replies to beginner threads too - mainly on Muffs and Reddit

Most beginners do not even appear capable of reading a post 3 down from the top which has 90% of the answers they need

Most of the issues are about cramming too much functionality in a small rack with little or no utility

or trying to save money with an effects only rack to start with hehehe

In terms of a manual - a quick start - "read this before wasting your money" guide - with links to more in depth coverage may also work

as for how to describe cv I'd go even further back and talk about pressing a key on a keyboard (gate and v/oct) and twiddling a knob, then how that relates to both midi and cv

and I'd add a list of things to list when posting beginners questions - what other gear they have, mixers, outboard, computer, audio interface, other instruments etc etc what sort of music they hope to make etc etc

Admittedly I'm impressed you are all so willing to put the effort. I won't get into the nitty gritty of the matter, but I do feel impressed about how strongly some people feel about helping newcomers to the format of modular. I guess cleaning up MG isn't that dissimilar - so we're all a bit weird after all :)

I'd be happy to do some proofreading (it's part of my profession) if you need it.

All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed.

Admittedly I'm impressed you are all so willing to put the effort. I won't get into the nitty gritty of the matter, but I do feel impressed about how strongly some people feel about helping newcomers to the format of modular.
-- ParanormalPatroler

There's a lot that can go wrong with modular. Not the hardware, mind you, but the user. It is ridiculously easy to get all bug-eyed when viewing MG and then conceive of a Deadmau5-level wall of blinkenlichts und tvistenknobs that appears like it might be a badass synth rig...until you blow $20k on it and realize that what you've created is an unworkable mess.

And a lot of us just don't like seeing that happen. Modular synthesizers have loads of possibilities as long as they're not thwarted by bad planning. But given that there's not really any decent books on modular synth architecture, and the Internet has a lot of really crappy info foisted off by people who know how to make a good presentation but who ultimately don't know jack-shit about the subject, about 80-90% of the info I at least run across (other than that by manufacturers and/or most retailers) is utter rubbish. And that doesn't help at all...in fact, it more or less UNhelps, leading to systems sitting in closets and so forth when they should be out making wonderful noises.

Ultimately, I think those of us trying to put this effort forward are simply wanting people to make music, and to make it with instruments that work and that are a joy to play.