What are modular synthesizers
Modular synthesizers are electronic musical instruments made up of a variety of components (modules) that are used and combined to create electronic sounds. The modules are connected to one another via cables, switches, and controls to configure different connection options. The parameters of the modules in analog synthesizers can be controlled by Control Voltage (CV).
Modular synthesizers were developed in the 1970s, they were quite bulky and expensive. Bob Moog, known for his revolution in the world of electronic synthesis, worked to solve the three main problems of the electronic composer: size, stability, and control of the instrument.
With the increase in popularity of electronic music and the evolution of technology, modular synthesizers have become increasingly accessible and popular among musicians and recording studios.
Today, there are many manufacturers that offer modular synthesizers for both professional and home use.
Modular synthesizers: hardware and software
Today we can find modular synthesizers in both hardware and software versions. Some of the most famous brands that produce modules for modular synthesizers are:
- Moog Music: founded by Bob Moog, it is considered one of the most important companies in the field of modular synthesizers. It produces both modules for Eurorack modular synthesizers and full-size modular synthesizers.
- Buchla: founded by Don Buchla, it is another important company in the field of modular synthesizers. It produces modules for Buchla Series 200 modular synthesizers.
- Eurorack: is a standard format for modular synthesizer modules developed by Dieter Doepfer in 1995. There are many Eurorack module manufacturers including 4ms, Make Noise, Intellijel, Mutable instruments and others.
- Pittsburgh Modular: is another company that produces Eurorack modules and modular synthesizers.
- Roland: is a long-time company in the synthesizer industry, has recently released a series of Eurorack modules.
- Doepfer: is a company founded by Dieter Doepfer, one of the pioneers of Eurorack modular synthesizers.
- Studio Electronics: is an American company that produces Eurorack modules.
These are just some of the more well-known brands, there are many other manufacturers of modules for modular synthesizers.
There are also many modular synthesizers available in software version, some of the most famous are:
- VCV Rack: is a free and open-source software that emulates Eurorack modular synthesizers. It supports third-party modules created by many manufacturers of real Eurorack modules.
- Reaktor: is a software developed by Native Instruments that offers a wide range of tools for sound creation, including a modular synthesis section.
- Max/MSP: is a visual programming software developed by Cycling '74, that allows to create custom musical instruments, including modular synthesizers.
- Softube Modular: is a Eurorack modular synthesizer simulation software developed by Softube, which offers a wide range of modules based on classic modular synthesizers.
- Reason Rack Plugin: is a software by Reason Studios, which offers a modular synthesis section, where users can create virtual module schematics and use third-party virtual modules.
- ModulAir: is a freely programmable modular synthesis software for Windows and Mac, which offers a great number of synthetic modules and effects, some of which are based on classic designs.
Controlling Events in Synthesis: The Role of Triggers and Gates
Triggers and gates are signals used to synchronize and control events in a modular synthesis system or synthesizer.
A trigger is a short and precise signal, usually a pulse, used to trigger an event, such as the start of a sound or a sequence. For example, a trigger can be used to start a count in a sequencer or to start a note in an oscillator.
A gate is a continuous activation signal, used to control the duration of a sound or event. When a gate is active, the sound or event continues to be generated, while when it is inactive, it stops. For example, a gate can be used to control the duration of a note in an oscillator or to control the duration of an effect in an effects chain.
In general, triggers and gates are used together to synchronize and control events in a modular synthesis system or synthesizer.
THE CLOCK GENERATOR
The clock generator can generate a wide range of frequencies, from a few Hz to GHz, depending on the needs of the circuit. In general, the clock frequency is determined by the needs of the circuit, because a frequency that is too low may cause delays in data processing, while a frequency that is too high may cause overheating or excessive energy consumption.
The clock generator is a key component in many electronic applications, as it allows circuits to be synchronized and operations to be performed precisely and in a timely manner. It can also be used to generate different clock frequencies for different components of a circuit.
The Role of Oscillators in Sound Synthesis: From Sine Waves to Complex Sounds
Oscillators are electronic circuits that generate periodic signals, such as sine waves or square waves. They are used in a variety of applications, such as the generation of synthesis signals, the modulation of radio signals, the creation of audio effects, and the synchronization of digital systems. There are many different types of oscillators, such as crystal oscillators, transistor oscillators, and solid-state oscillators.
In the musical field, oscillators are used to generate periodic signals, such as sine waves, triangular waves, and square waves, which can be modulated to create sounds. Oscillators are used in synthesizers, modular synths, and audio workstations to create synthetic sounds and sound effects.
Synthesizers often use multiple oscillators to create more complex sounds, and can also modulate the oscillators among themselves to create further sound effects. For example, frequency modulation (FM) uses a modulation signal to change the frequency of an oscillator, creating metallic and percussive sounds.
Furthermore, oscillators can be used in combination with filters and effects to create even more complex and customizable sounds.
In summary, oscillators are a key element of sound synthesis and are used to generate a wide range of sounds, from clean and acoustic sounds to experimental and strange sounds.
Exploring Waveforms in Synthesizer Oscillators: The Impact on Sound Characteristics
Oscillators used in synthesizers produce different waveforms, each of which has unique sound characteristics. The most common waveforms used in synthesizer oscillators are:
- Square wave: a waveform that has a constant amplitude and a square shaped waveform. This waveform has a "clean" and "sharp" sound with a strong presence of harmonics.
- Triangular wave: a waveform that has a constant amplitude and a triangular shaped waveform. This waveform has a more "warm" and "soft" sound compared to the square wave, with fewer harmonics than the square wave.
- Sine wave: a waveform that has a constant amplitude and a sine shaped waveform. This waveform has a "clean" and "natural" sound with minimal presence of harmonics.
- Sawtooth wave: a waveform that has a constant amplitude and a sawtooth shaped waveform. This waveform has a "clean" and "sharp" sound with a strong presence of harmonics.
- Custom waveform: some synthesizers allow for creating custom waveforms with the help of a wavetable oscillator.
In general, the waveform used in an oscillator will affect the sound generated and the amount of harmonics present in the sound.
Exploring the Sound Capabilities of Wavetable Synthesis in Modern Synthesizers
Wavetables are a form of sound synthesis used in some synthesizers. It consists of a table of waveforms, each of which represents a unique sound, which can be played in sequence or selected randomly to create complex and varied sounds.
The process of generating sound in a wavetable involves using an oscillator that moves through the waveform table, selecting a waveform at a time to generate the sound. This process is called "wavetable synthesis" and allows for generating a wide variety of sounds, from acoustic sounds to synthetic sounds, using just one oscillator.
Some synthesizers that use wavetables allow for modifying the selected waveform within the table to create custom sounds. Furthermore, some synthesizers can use multiple wavetable oscillators to create more complex sounds.
Modifying Sound: Understanding the Role of Filters in Synthesizers and Audio Systems
Filters are circuits used to modify the sound in a synthesizer or audio system. They can be used to remove certain frequencies of sound, for example to eliminate high frequencies to create a "deeper" sound or to remove low frequencies to create a "higher" sound. They can also be used to create "rise" or "decay" effects of sound, or to create "wah-wah" or "talkbox" effects. Filters can be of different types: low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, low-cut, high-cut.
The components of a filter can vary depending on the type of filter and the circuit used. In general, a filter may include some or all of the following components:
Oscillators: used to generate the signal to be filtered.
- Amplifiers: used to increase or decrease the level of the incoming signal.
- Capacitors: used to block DC currents and pass only a certain range of frequencies.
- Inductors: used to generate an inductance and limit the range of frequencies passed.
- Resistors: used to create a voltage division and establish the polarization of the filter components.
In addition, some filters may use diodes or transistors to create distortion or saturation effects of sound.
In filters, resonance is an effect that occurs when a band-pass filter (which only allows a specific range of frequencies to pass through) is set to allow a specific frequency to resonate. In other words, resonance is an amplification effect of the signal in a specific range of frequencies, around the filter's cut-off frequency.
Resonance can be controlled through a "Q" control (which indicates the width of the amplified frequency band) or "resonance" (which indicates the intensity of the resonance effect). This effect is widely used in synthesizers and audio processors to create accentuated and percussive sounds
VCA and VCF: Key Components in Modular Synthesis
VCA stands for "voltage-controlled amplifier," which is an electronic component used in modular synthesizers and other electronic musical instruments to control the level of the audio signal.
The VCA is controlled by an external voltage signal, which can be generated by a control module like an envelope generator or by an audio signal modulated by an LFO.
The VCA is used to control the volume of the sound generated by the synthesizer and can be used to create volume effects like attack, decay, sustain, and release. Additionally, it can be used to create panning effects, to vary the volume of the sound in relation to its position within the sound field.
The VCA is a key component in modular synthesizers, as it allows for control of the volume of the generated sound and the creation of complex volume effects.
VCF stands for "voltage-controlled filter," which is an electronic component used in modular synthesizers and other electronic musical instruments to modify the sound based on frequency. The VCF is controlled by an external voltage signal, which can be generated by a control module like an envelope generator or by an audio signal modulated by an LFO.
The VCF is used to control the frequency of the sound generated by the synthesizer and can be used to create tone effects like attenuating or accentuating high or low frequencies. Additionally, it can be used to create "wah-wah" or "talkbox" effects by modulating the cutoff frequency of the filter.
The VCF is a key component in modular synthesizers, as it allows for control of the frequency of the generated sound and the creation of complex tone effects.
Modulating Sound Parameters: Understanding the Role of Envelopes in Synthesizers and Electronic Music
An envelope is a control signal used to modulate sound parameters such as volume, tone, waveform, and more. Envelopes are typically generated by a module called an envelope generator (EG) and can be used to create effects such as attack, decay, sustain, and release.
An envelope typically has four phases:
- the attack, where the signal quickly rises to its maximum value
- the decay, where the signal gradually falls to the sustain level
- the sustain, where the signal remains constant at a specific level
- the release, where the signal quickly drops to its minimum value
Envelopes are used to create volume, tone, and waveform effects in synthesizers, drum machines, and other electronic musical instruments. They can be generated by an envelope generator (EG) or by a low-frequency oscillator (LFO), depending on the synthesizer model.
Exploring the World of LFO: How Low Frequency Oscillators Modulate Sound in Synthesizers
LFO stands for "low frequency oscillator". It is a circuit used in synthesizers and other electronic musical instruments to generate low frequency signals, usually below 20Hz, which can be used to modulate sound parameters.
The signal generated by the LFO can be used to modulate parameters such as volume, pitch, waveform, and others. For example, an LFO can be used to generate a tremolo effect by playing with a sine waveform, or to generate an auto-panning effect by playing with a sawtooth waveform. LFOs can also be used to generate more complex modulation effects, such as modulating a filter to generate a wah-wah effect or modulating a waveform to generate an FM (Frequency Modulation) effect.
The LFO is a key component in modular synthesizers, as it allows for generating complex modulation effects and creating dynamic and varied sounds.
Sound Modification Techniques: Audio Effects
Audio effects are processes used to modify sound in an audio system or synthesizer. Audio effects can be divided into two main categories: sound processing effects and time processing effects.
Sound processing effects include:
- Filters: used to modify sound frequency, such as attenuating or emphasizing high or low frequencies.
- Distortion: used to create saturation effects on sound.
- Chorus: used to create "doubling" effects on sound.
- Reverb: used to create "echo" effects on sound.
- Compression: used to control the dynamics of sound.
- Time processing effects include:
- Delay: used to create "echo" effects on sound.
- Flanger: used to create "flanging" effects on sound.
- Phaser: used to create "phase" effects on sound.
- Tremolo: used to create modulation effects on volume.
Audio effects can be used to enhance the quality of sound, create special effects, or adapt the sound to the needs of a recording or performance. In general, audio effects can be used in multiple ways, depending on the needs of the artist or producer.
Understanding Oscilloscopes: An Instrument for Displaying and Analyzing Electrical Signals
An oscilloscope is an electronic instrument used to display and analyze electrical signals. It consists of a power source, a signal acquisition circuit, and a display, usually a CRT screen or an LCD panel.
Oscilloscopes are used to display and analyze signals of various shapes, such as voltage, current, frequency, and logic signals. The oscilloscope displays the signal in a graphical form, showing the amplitude of the signal (or voltage) as a function of time.
Oscilloscopes can be used to display signals of different frequencies, from a few Hz to GHz.
Where to Study Modular Synthesis Techniques: Educational Opportunities from Music Schools, Universities, and Specialized Institutes
Modular synthesis techniques can be studied in various music schools, universities, or specialized training institutes. The study opportunities depend on your geographical location and personal preferences.
Some options for studying modular synthesis include:
- Music schools: many music schools offer modular synthesis courses as part of their music technology or music production training programs.
- Universities: some universities offer undergraduate or graduate programs in music technology or music production that include modular synthesis courses.
- Specialized training institutes: there are also specialized training institutes that offer intensive modular synthesis courses.
- Online: Our platform (Samplesound Academy) offers a lot of totally free training to learn how to use modular synthesizer modules.
Furthermore, there are several books that contain patches for modular synthesizers that can be considered among the best. Here are some options:
- "The Expert Sleepers Silent Way User's Manual" by Expert Sleepers: this book offers a complete guide to using the Silent Way software and includes a large number of patches for modular synthesizers.
- "Patch & Tweak: Exploring Modular Synthesis" by Kim Bjørn and Chris Meyer: this book offers a comprehensive overview of modular synthesis and includes a large number of patches for modular synthesizers, along with usage examples and tips for creating sounds.
- "The Synth-DIY Experimenter PCBs" by Ray Wilson: this book includes a series of printed circuits to build modular synthesis modules and includes exemplary patches for using the created modules.
- Modular Synthesis: The Newbie Guide" by Raul Pena and Andrew Ikenberry: This book is a beginner's guide to using modular synthesizers, which includes simple patches to start experimenting with modular synthesis.
- "The Superbooth Book" by Superbooth: This book is a collection of patches and tutorials written by artists and modular synthesizer designers to demonstrate the use of their modules.