As a relative noob to the modular world, I’ve been trying to share a few long-winded updates on my thought process, mistakes, rack, and music every couple of months for the last year. It's nothing profound, but I thought it may help other noobs in their planning, and writing it out helps me make sense of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. So, here is the latest update and my very limited wisdom.
Long story short, I’ve been around synths, recording, and DJ equipment for 20+ years but got disillusioned with making music and stopped completely for years. I stumbled upon the world of Eurorack in 2019 and became inspired again. So, I dove in headfirst and have few regrets. I started out with one Make Noise skiff and a couple of the most popular modules that everyone else seems to have. I had about 50 different genres of music I wanted to explore, and while modular is great for that I found that paring my approach down to just a few styles was much more fulfilling. To my surprise, even though I narrowed the types of sounds I was trying to make, my rack kept growing!
It’s true what everyone says, you need a lot of utilities and support modules to make the most of modular… and that requires a bigger case than you could possibly imagine when you are starting out. I am just about maxed out on “studio” space, so I really can’t go much bigger than this final planned iteration of my rack. It’s almost double what I had initially planned, and almost a completely different set of modules than I thought I wanted when I started out. Allow yourself some flexibility in size, budget, and module choice. I realize that many noobs are just looking for something small to supplement their other studio gear, but I imagine most of those people will quickly tire of the limited sound palette and possibilities of that small supplemental mini-rack. Not to mention the terrible ergonomics of a bunch of 2hp and 4hp modules sitting side by side in a small skiff. (I must reiterate that I’m not a wealthy man, but I made some sacrifices and picked up extra responsibilities to pay for this monstrosity.)
I recently debated getting a Doepfer monster base/case (thanks @GarfieldModular for the Doepfer case breakdown) but ultimately decided on four TipTop Mantis cases joined with brackets. This is for reasons of cost, power, portability, and aesthetics, as I already have two Mantises and three Make Noise skiffs. The Doepfer cases are amazing, but the Mantis works for me. I emailed TipTop yesterday, and they have an ETA of mid- to late-April for replenishing Mantis stock at retailers.
On several occasions I have bought cheaper, smaller, or less fully featured modules than what I actually needed, thinking, “Oh, I can probably make this work…” Bad idea, and a waste of time and money! Don’t cut corners. Save up for what you actually need to accomplish your goals. Move on quickly from modules that you don’t gel with. Don’t let them take up valuable space and collect dust in your rack just because you made a bad decision and think that you will get around to mastering it “someday”. You won’t. Fill that expensive-ass rack space with something that you want to use constantly.
I like to listen to generative music as much as anyone, but I made a conscious decision to reject that with my rack. With Spotify and other data-collection companies actively stealing (or paying fractions of pennies for) the work and ideas of artists in order to create artificially intelligent generative music that sounds like those artists, I wanted a much more human and interactive approach to making music. Mylarmelodies actually had a great conversation with BT about this kind of data-mining, intellectual property theft, and generative music on his “Why We Bleep” podcast if you are interested. So, what I decided to do with my module choice and music is sort of a mash-up of conceptual/dada/Fluxus art, minimal techno, post-punk, and noise. Kind of Merzbow meets Plastikman at Cabaret Voltaire’s house. It’s really focused on interaction and the limitations of the man/technology relationship. Probably sounds pretentious, but it is what it is… haha. I’ve limited the inclusion of menu-divey and button-combo heavy modules for this reason. The level of module complexity that one is comfortable with is definitely one of the choices that new folks need to contemplate right away.
I love the Rings into Clouds into Beads, perfectly lit, fern and herbal tea, sit-back-and listen, ambient videos as much as anyone, but that approach isn’t authentic to who I am and what I want to say with music. I’m more of a gritty lo-fi mess full of mistakes and impulsive decisions. I think my rack reflects that. I encourage all the other noobs to think about what they ultimately want to express. Hopefully it’s not just about increasing social media follower counts, clicks, “content creation,” and “engagement” with the newest shiniest module. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but there are probably far cheaper ways of doing it. If that is your mode of authentic expression, I say, “Go for it! The more the merrier in modular land.”
So, anyway… here is my rack. I already have most of this, but still have about 104hp left to buy and fill. I may yet make a few small changes. In general, I’ve arranged sound sources and effects at the top, drums and modulation in the middle, and sequencing and mixing in the bottom. I have sprinkled some utilities throughout just because of my workflow, cable management, and where I would get the most use out of every module. I’ve been doing my best to incorporate interactive modules that encourage a live performance approach in the bottom row. The arrangement actually took quite a long time, multiple virtual and physical rearrangements, and finally makes sense to me based on my personal experience. @JimHowell1970’s post a few days ago really resonated with my personal experience of trying to create a playable instrument even as it grows to nearly unmanageable size. This is a never-ending process. Other things I’ve found: There is no good place to put Disting Mk4. It’s such a versatile and useful module, that I can never quite find the right place for it. Also, Doepfer is your friend when it comes to utilities (and most other things too)!
Please feel free to roast my rack, ask questions about modules or arrangement, or share your philosophy on creating music. To any other noobs reading this, above all have fun. This ain’t brain surgery.
Thanks for your time, and enjoy your weekend!