I just received a pair of rails, rack ends from Synthrotek: 104 hp. This was smaller than I imagined it would be. I've decide to go 9U instead of 3U. What size case did you start with, and what did you regret about going with whatever size you chose at first?


I started with an Intellijel 7U. Nothing bad about that one in particular (good starter option, in fact), but indeed I thought initially that the ambitious plan I made before having my first rack wouldn't change too much. I was of course very wrong and as soon as I had my first evening with my first rack, a lot changed and I ended up making more plans. I now have an MDLR 14U and can

  • try out modules that a friend lends me
  • swap modules in my rack without having to worry about replacing it with a module of the same size, and not necessarily the same function. I may end up with a weird rack layout if I have to place my modules in my rack to make everything fit
  • find space in the rack for "cable rivers" that would otherwise cover several modules entirely, reducing playability
  • plan more rack evolution plans as I experiment, without worrying about the cost of a new case

I sense that to end up with a small setup that is efficient, interesting and playable, one needs quite a lot of Eurorack experience. Thus the advice for beginners: plan a wayyyy bigger rack than what you have in mind at first, especially if you've never touched modular before.

--- Voltage control all the things ---

Hi Funbun,

Toodee's comments are spot on. You actually can't go too big if it comes to the rack (but you can go too small easily). However I know from one of your previous posts that you are looking into minimal music (or how you call that exactly?) so you might get "away with it" ;-) with a medium rack. Advisable is at least 3 rows (3 x 3U = 9U) and since you got already those 104 HP rails, 3 x 104 = 312 HP, it might just work out for you but on the bit longer future it might be still too small. So if you have the space and enough wood :-) Perhaps you could consider a 4 or 5 x 3 U case, as I mentioned in the other post, you don't have to fill them up straight away, take your time to get experience with modular and slowly try out more modules.

Good luck and kind regards, Garfield.

For review reports of Eurorack modules, please refer to https://garfieldmodular.net/ for PDF formatted downloads

Yeah, minimalist music: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimal_music
Here's a good example from Steve Reich's Six Pianos:

To me this sounds it would be best done a programmable synth like the ER101/102. I nfact I found a fellow who recorded his Phase Piano on an ER-101:

Again here's another guy on saxophone, minimal:

Also basically everything I hear in what synthesists call "ambient" or atmospherics is what minimalists were doing back in the 1960s. They just didn't have access to modular synths. They had to use traditional instruments. That why guys like Hans Zimmer and all his film scores he uses a 5U synth. All that music from Batman Begins and Interstellar, a good portion of that is 5U blended with the studio orchestra, but the heart of it is modular.

EDIT: added another example.

Hi Funbun,

Interesting examples indeed. Funny those 6 pianos and amazing regarding those saxophones. That modular system imitating the music of Steve Reich is quite nice and amazing too.

Did you already made up your mind how big you are going to build your rack? Good luck with the build and once ready show us a picture, I am pretty curious! :-)

Kind regards, Garfield.

For review reports of Eurorack modules, please refer to https://garfieldmodular.net/ for PDF formatted downloads

Thx, man! In the long run probably something like 12U. Will start with 6U by building a 2x case, throw some power in, then get a couple modules, and start from there. I think the ER-101 will be the biggest outset in terms of cash. So I'll probably start with a VCO or two, envelop, maybe a filter or waveshaper, VCA: just basic meat and potatoes to learn how a synth voice works. Then just flesh it out from there.

What's so great is that you hear composers like Caterina Barbieri using some of the same process music method developed during. Process music is a form of minimalism that arises from a process, usually a very strict process. If you listen to interviews of Ms. Barbieri, she talks about an approach very similar to methods first pioneered back in the 1960s.

Well, that "another guy on saxophone" is actually a veteran on Philip Glass' ensemble; I have Richard Landry playing on some of Glass's early works such as "Music in Fifths".

Process music...yeah, that's a strange topic. I think you can trace back to the point where it forks off of minimalism if you look at La Monte Young's "Compositions 1960", although the inspiration for this goes back to John Cage and his own procedural methods. Young managed to strip down the idea of "process" to simple, koan-like fragments that delineate the framed procedure for the work.

It's interesting that this set of pieces came about after Young's studies with Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1959, because they're not exactly "Stockhausen-esque"...at least, not yet. Instead, Young was inspired to investigate Cage's procedures by Stockhausen, who was quite taken with Cage's methods and results at that time. Stockhausen himself wouldn't hit this stride until 1968 and "Aus den Sieben Tagen" after his own process-based methods grew to a massive level of complexity with "Kurzwellen".

Yes, I know who he is. In fact he's one of the founding members of the Glass ensemble as I remember. My point is much of that music and much of the music I played as a classical saxophonist would fit well on a Eurorack. It's just that I haven't played in 15 years and my body simply can't handle the rigors of heavy daily practice, and I'm looking to modular synths to "replace" it.

As adaptive and flexible an instrument as saxophone is, I'd bestill stuck with the base harmonic make up of that instrument. No matter what mouthpiece, reed, embouchure or voicing I'd use to "filter/shape" the sound, I'd always be stick with the basic waveform that a saxophone produces.

Synths open a whole new world of possibilities. We all grow as musicians, and sometimes we out grow the instruments themselves and need something else. Modular may be that for me. The saxophone can't grow with me. The a modular can grow and change as I grow and change.

Hmmm...have you considered an approach halfway between the two? Sure, the sound of a sax is sort of basic, but I can think of a few reed players who've pushed that via electronics, one being the amazing David Jackson, formerly of Van der Graaf Generator. Jackson used saxes (and a flute) fitted with ligature pickups, and fed these through various devices including a Maestro W2, octave dividers, etc. But while Jackson developed these techniques in the pre-synth 1960s and 70s, there's no reason why you couldn't put a modular synth after the pickup(s). You'd need to have an input preamp that can handle the pickup impedance as well as an envelope follower, for starters. Then if you wanted to track the sax's pitch, something like Elby's ED-102 can handle that for both V/8va and Hz/V scalings.

Ultimately, something of this sort would give you the playability you're accustomed to on your axe while opening up a lot of different sonic possibilities that it normally could NEVER have!

I've thought of that already. At the moment I don't own a saxophone, and I don't fancy practising 8 hours a day. Like I said, my body can't handle the horn. I have back problems, and I don't fancy having to work up chops. The reality is I will never sound like is did in my 20s. My face will never have the stamina. It's like being an athlete past your prime. Every day my body is deteriorating, and it would take longer and longer to heal from difficult long days of practise.

It's time to switch instruments. I'm interested in composing music for my YouTube videos, not practising saxophone all day. Again I've come to this decision after 15 years of thinking about out it.

Also for the cost of a new saxophone $5,000+, I could build a monster synth. Or build a modest synth, and buy more camera gear for my YouTube channel.

Oh, I know quite well about what happens when you go off your chops. My instrument of study was voice during my undergrad, since this was the 1980s and the school I was at was not keen on having electronics as an instrument. Soooo...many years of vocal training, solo and ensemble work, studio stuff on occasion, etc etc, but when I got into graduate studies in composition, I finally got to deal with electronic instruments on the level I'd wanted. But I quit singing. Mind you, I can still sing, and that vocal training was the sh*t for the sort of exacting ear training that electronics require. But like any other set of muscles, they lose tone, and these days I can choke at the drop of a hat after some 30+ years off of that training.

But at the same time, I fight constantly with chronic physical pain, and I don't have stamina, and etc etc alla that. And yet I still mess with electronic instruments, some of which I can barely move these days. Do I contemplate quitting? Oh, hell no! If anything, it gives me the determination to push this effing envelope as far as I possibly can before some total physical epic fail happens. I've even considered picking up low clarinets again after many years to add THEM to the fray, although I'm still looking for just the right bass and alto to live with (and get fitted for piezos) for the next couple of decades. But me, I just work at this until the body says "ENOUGH!!!" then I fall over and wait for the pain to roll back...then I dive right back in again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

If I worried about the past, and how my abilities since then have been impacted, I probably would wind up living in a refrigerator box. But this studio I'm in doesn't look like any refrigerator box I know. The only thing I concern myself with is to continue with my music and everything that goes along with that. Since it's not possible to predict anything in the arts (for the most part), I prefer to defy limitations and be ready to go 100% full-on anytime...instead of imposing limitations on myself or (especially!) my music. Might get painful; don't care. Physical things are transitory. Music is not.

Anyway, getting back to tech here...no, 1 x 104 hp is way too small for what you're envisioning. In order to get some interesting results out of time/phase-based cellular forms (ie: "minimalism") you're going to need quite a few modules to screw with the timing behavior: comparators, discriminators, Boolean logic, clock divider/multipliers, Euclidean sequencers, etc. Done right, you can wring loads of power out of these. As for a suitable case, ample power, etc...look at Pittsburgh Modular's Structure EP-360 instead. 3 x 120 hp there, power supply is super-beefy, form factor is like a large briefcase, and its wood case is built like a brick s**thouse. And with 360 hp, you'll have ample room for the various timing toys and sequential thingys that minimal/process stuff needs. Seems like much more of a realistic start.

Thx, Lugia. I had decided to go with a 3 x104 since I already have the rails for a 3U 104.

I quit playing because I hated music. Music school has a way of doing that to you. It has taken 15 years of healing to get back to a point where I would want to even think about playing again. He we didn't have electronics in our music school either. In the interim I picked up a camera and learned filmmaking.

The process of composing a shot, writing a story, learning about color. In other words I picked up a different art form. the process of making a film, video or storytelling through motion picture got me thinking about music again. First out of necessity. The audio libraries out there are full of commercial music which doesn't help tell the stories I want to tell.

So for the first time I'm hearing my own music and not other people's music. That's something I can't ignore. Because I design, make and sell custom fishing tackle, That's another art form I've picked up. That process of making something new plays into this as well. So I'm producing art in all form. The kids these days call it being a creator: writing a blog, filmmaking on YouTube, photos for Pinterest, designing custom fishing tackle. Well, why not use the training I have and stay on the trajectory I'm on?

Again working with wood for my custom fishing tackle business, I can build my own case.

From what I hear you saying comparators, discriminators, Boolean logic, clock divider/multipliers, Euclidean sequencers and other timing modules is the way to go in order to do it right. That's sage advice.

Ahhh...see, when I ran into the Academic Crapwall by the time I hit grad studies, my view on music had been so firmly formed that when I started dealing with the typical overinflated academic composition egos, I was ready to swing and not cringe. A lot of my formative work prepared me for that...constructive undergrad influences, the Nashville (my original hometown) proximity, numerous personal experiences, and a strong musical compass that took a lot of work to forge (still ongoing, tbh). I can recall switching studios after handing in a killer electronic work, informing them that I was changing because no one had the right to tell me how my music was to be composed. Besides, I'd done a number of "don'ts" in the work that this sooper-geenyuss electronic music prof could not detect... and that was very much an "emperor has no clothes" moment. If he couldn't hear what I'd done, then he had no business telling me how to do what I did in the first damn place!

Similarly, I ran into another "sooper-geenyuss" at Illinois that barged into my studio work (something which, in Nashville, could find one on the receiving end of an airborne ashtray if the engineer was in a particularly foul mood) and started asking me a bunch of "why the f**k are you asking me this right now?" questions, notably "What are your influences?". When I mentioned the Berlin School aspects to him, he huffed and looked down his nose (no shit! like in a cartoon!) and stated imperiously "we don't deal with such things here." Yeah? Well, eff that. He also tried to explain to me why I "didn't know" how a pair of Symetrix gates (the same model I have two of to my immediate right in my own studio) in the Moog lab were used...yeah, ok, sure, they're not the more complicated Valley People Dyna-mites I was so fond of at the time, but it's not like there's anything complicated there. Used 'em anyway in a repeat of the above trick...and the prof failed. Why the hell would I study with someone who didn't have the expertise to sort out when their own rules were being run over roughshod?

Some years later, I was on a festival bill with Terry Riley, and during some downtime, Terry asked me about my background. Note that...NOT "influences", but "what did you actually do?" So, I mentioned my early industrial and ambient stuff and the point that I'd been majorly deep in the punk scene at the very end of the 1970s when it finally hit Nashvegas. And at that, Terry interrupted me...and said "That. That's important stuff, that punk aspect. NEVER lose it!" Well...ok, then! But thinking about it, I'd not lost it, and it had successfully kept me from being cowed by diddly-crap morons who had the benefit of the right papers on the walls of their offices. Thanks, Terry!

But anyway...now, hold up here...you work with custom designs in wood. And you get what's needed for housing modular synths. It would seem to me that there's a rather interesting opportunity here. No, modular cases aren't the same as fishing tackle, but there's a line there to pursue, it seems like. And there IS a "hole" right now in intermediate-sized cabs, the 120hp+ and 3-4 row range. True, you have Doepfer's Monster cases and Behringer's teasing some 2 x 140 hp stuff that may or may not ever be released, but for the most part there's nothing happening in that 140-ish hp range. And there should be, because some builds really would benefit from having that much room to spread into. Something to think about, perhaps...

Yeah 9u.
If you want more.
Your dedicated and will get boats for it.

I would start with something like the MDLR 12u case with 1u tile rows. I quickly outgrew my two Doepfer 6u cases and already have most of my 14u case full. For a travel case, the Intellijel 7u is hard to beat. I plan to get one as soon as they are back in stock.

Quick thoughts from skimming this thread:

1) Love this convo and love the idea of bringing a process approach to the modular world, lots of room for discovery there and I've been trying that myself lately. Along with all the other great thinkers/composers mentioned here, James Tenney has a role here too and his writings are pretty accessible, worth checking out.
2) In addition to everything @lugia suggested I'd emphasize the role of function generators to add some movement, organic-ness, tension, etc to your music. A little harder to channel but they open up process potential in the continuous realm, and there's a lot of them to choose from.
3) Check out the Monome Crow if you can or want to code, it's a cheap and small way to add programmatic features to your rack. Want some quadraphonic melodies? Want a microtonal quantizer? Easy, write a script for it.
4) I know you've said you're not going to get the sax back out @funbun but if you're interested in hearing someone bring woodwinds and modular together check out Golden Retriever, it's really special stuff and half the reason I started my eurorack journey. All their albums are great, but I'll share my fav: https://goldenretriever.bandcamp.com/album/arda-viraf

Finally, I'll wish you good luck. And keep us posted, would love to hear some tunes once you get going!

No! DO get the sax back out...but only after you listen to THIS:

My bet is that after about 10 minutes of playing this, you're gonna be looking for a suitable pickup...I know these guys have made ME reconsider picking up a bass clarinet again, but ONLY if I get it drilled for a piezo FIRST.

Yeah, Van Der Graaf Generator and Peter Hammill of course :-)

He, he, that guy plays two sax at the same time, didn't even know that was possible :-)

For review reports of Eurorack modules, please refer to https://garfieldmodular.net/ for PDF formatted downloads