The instrument I’ve secretly worked on for 13 years

The instrument I’ve secretly worked on for 13 years


It’s out of control! Hey, it’s Andrew Huang! If you watch my videos you probably know I’m a pretty big music nerd, but I’ve never really shown the degree to which that statement applies. That changes today because I want to share with you all about my journey with my modular synthesizer. So this is an electronic musical instrument that’s made up of all different kinds of components from brilliant people around the world and it’s always growing and changing with me. It’s an instrument that’s highly interactive. Sometimes it feels like I’m just offering it suggestions, and it gives me back these little sonic surprises. It’s also a way to create certain kinds of music that if done with traditional instruments would be impossibly time-consuming. Modular allows for incredibly complex sound processing and mutation. It’s an entirely different approach to music creation than anything else. It’s something that I’ve been learning about and experimenting with for years, but in the last six months, it’s really become a full-blown passion. I’ve been researching and buying modules, I’ve been watching the YouTube videos and joining the forums, I’ve been getting together with new synth friends and also trying to turn my current friends into synth friends. So I want to give you a very brief crash course on modular and share some of my history with it and of course, show you some music I’ve been making. I first discovered modular 13 years ago when I was listening to a band that synth legend Don Buchla’s son – Ezra – played in and I went down some internet wormhole and discovered and became fascinated by these Buchla synths and in an age before YouTube or Spotify I would go to the library and take out CDs of music made with Buchla systems And I always thought modular synths would be out of reach for me because they can be quite expensive, but I soon discovered Reaktor which is a software modular environment, and I really dove in. I studied the software, I looked at other people’s Reactor patches I designed sounds with them that I incorporated into my own music and I even created some of my own software synths (HULK SMASH!) So over the years I experimented with a lot of different modular software and apps and some of them are even free and I will link to some resources in the description if you’re interested in exploring modular yourself, but before even touching one of these machines that’s how I figured out how all this stuff works. So, how does it work? There are lots of modular formats, I’ve mentioned Buchla systems and some others include fractional rack and 5U for my hardware journey, I decided on Eurorack, but these are all just different shapes and sizes of the same basic concept. A modular synth is made up of modules that each serve various musical functions the modules have inputs and outputs which can be connected with patch cables And it’s completely up to the user which modules They’d want to use in their system, and how they’d want to connect them. But what are they actually connecting? What’s traveling through these cables? Every signal going through a modular fits into one of two categories and sometimes both at once. You’ve got audio which is just sound and control voltage or CV, Which refers to precise voltages that are used to modulate the parameters of your audio, or modulate other control voltage. I feel like we need an example. Here we have some audio, just a basic tone being sent out of this module of Braids. Here’s what happens when I take some CV from Maths that cycles through a rising and falling pattern and patch that to control Braids’ pitch. Now we could take another channel of Maths to send CV to modulate the speed at which that first channel rises and falls So we’re just scratching the surface here, but there are countless ways that you can modulate audio and CV it’s a very different way of thinking about the music creation process and the technology and the methodology have developed to this point where there are companies making hundreds of different modules with incredibly complex and creative functions. I also think it’s really important to note that it’s all these modules that give modular its name But because it also involves all this modulation, the name is kind of a pun (AIRHORN) So beyond the technical stuff I wanted to share what I think is special about modular because there are a lot of things about it that set it apart from most other musical paradigms It’s highly processed based Which if you know me at all you know I love And it really just allows you to enjoy playing with sound outside of a needing to produce something or finish a track even though it can absolutely do that as well but when I’m working with the modular rather than treating the music as a Project that needs to be worked on, often It feels more like this constantly flowing river of possibilities that I can just dip into here and there It really makes me think of music not as these concrete parcels that we write and record and distribute but as something larger with infinite pathways to explore and get lost in. It also helps me appreciate being in the moment because it’s ephemeral you could take a really detailed patch diagram if you wanted But there’s no way to save and recall the exact positions of all these knobs and since their settings are often in these complex Relationships of modulating one another it’s really unlikely that you’ll ever get to the exact same patch again I love pulling out the cables at the end of a session and knowing that anything I recorded That’s all I have to work with that’s all I have to worry about and anything I didn’t record I got to enjoy it in the moment just once just me and now it’s gone I think one of the coolest things about modular is that anyone who’s into it is building their own unique Instrument based on how they want to interact with it and what kind of music they want to make you could build a synth That’s just for creating sound effects or percussion you could build a crazy sample mangler or a generative ambient machine Maybe you just want a really flexible analog synth that you can control with the keyboard or a touch plane or a joystick I’m interested in it from a ton of different angles so my collection of modules is still very much growing, but also I don’t know if it’s ever gonna stop growing. That’s the beauty of modular, and the downfall of my bank account I Hope you enjoyed this video Please subscribe if you haven’t already and check out the description where I put info on a whole bunch of ways that you can learn About and try modular synthesis without having to take the hardware plunge yet It’s a lot to wrap your head around but it is super rewarding and fun thanks for watching This is where you get the boops. Woah

100 comments

  1. never heard someone give such an artsy interpretation of not being able to save something. sounds like a pain in the neck.

  2. It looks like a big toy, to waste money, and sometimes use it for actually making a track. If you can afford it sure it fun

  3. I really shouldn't have watched this video. You just gave my bank account the death sentence. Great stuff real great stuff

  4. For me it was the Moogerfooger line that introduced separate audio and control signals. Everything after that was towards modular.

  5. It is very interesting to me to see how these types of electronic music systems have survived, are flourishing and have so many devotees today. More years ago than I want to think about I was involved with a UK company called Electronic Music Studios of Putney, developing and repairing their VCS3 and Synthi A synthesisers. I remember spending many hours patching odd soundscapes.

  6. Whenever I check out Reaktor I get sea sick…. Modular is quite complex but fun but doing it on a soft synth gives me the chills… I love soft synths btw. I discovered modular with Deadmou5 a few yrs ago. Great vid. Ta

  7. For the curious, the record shown at 1:27 was Terrorbird by The Mae Shi. Bandcamp here: https://themaeshi.bandcamp.com/album/terrorbird

  8. Such a wonderful video! I love the way your romanticize the creative process. Thanks for being an inspiration!

  9. Hey Andrew. I’ve been thinking about starting modular music and I’m not sure which one to start with. Do you have any suggestions for a first module?

  10. At this point Andrew can get hired to be an actor in some sci-fi movie and all he has to do is bring his synthesizers.

  11. I've been dying to try out modular synths ever since I took Intro to Midi (should've been called Intro to Digital Music), but I'm broke so, yeah. Buchlas always looked fun.

  12. I think i'm about to dive right into synths, the bucla easel is my favourite to mess with in my analog lab

  13. you sound like different language when you are taking about that but i love your talent and ambitions

  14. A year and a half later and I'm still trying to fill my first case haha
    But I love modular and I still love this video!

  15. This is the first time I've seen this but it would be cool if there was a module that was a radio, so you could distort whatever was playing live.

  16. This is so helpful! i begin to learn this and i feel like i ll do only modular music soon, infinite possibilities!!

  17. 15 years ago I got an upper respiratory viral infection that stole 70% of my hearing from my right ear. My left ear wasn’t very good to begin with. I can still hear but it’s like listening to am over fm. I would like to remind everyone to protect your hearing, it’s not replaceable.

  18. kind of a modern, advanced version if the Moog synthesizer from the 60's – 70's
    if anyone's interested, here's a Wikipedia page about them.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moog_synthesizer

  19. Would be cool to do live gigs with this. Of course this has always been done, but I mean start making it more mainstream in cool cafes and such. Have one guy tweaking the dials while another guy pulls video which goes to a live display. Then stream it all to twitch or youtube. You have a QR code displayed on the desk of the performer that cafe patrons can use to "tune in" and keep listening to when they leave – potentially downloading the performance at the end.

  20. 13 years and that's it? Lol I was thinking it was going to be some huge never ending rig like the guy on look mum no computers YouTube page. That dudes rig is incredible.

  21. Could you make or does anyone know of a good place to learn about piecing your own together. I’d like to slowly start acquiring pieces but don’t want to buy trash or waste money since I know it’s an expensive endeavor.

  22. There’s a new iOS app that is built based on the VCV rack called “MiRack” so far only barely messed with it but looks awesome. miRack by mifki Limited https://apps.apple.com/us/app/mirack/id1468259834

  23. I noticed the Vermona PERfourMER at 4:55? drool did you go for the MIDI or the CV/Gate version?

    Edit – Just realized it is Jogging House's set-up

  24. Another great piece of software to start learning modular is Caustic (machine called 'Modular', to be exact). Although it is not that powerful and flexible, you can still make some interesting contraptions, also the reduced complexity makes it easier for beginners to understand what's going on.
    You can try out the app for free both on Android and Windows and just mess around and experiment.
    If you want to just have a standard VST synth, but with crazy modulation options, you may want to check out Helm. It allows you to connect LFOs and envelopes to literally any parameter within the software.

    Yeah, I know this video is over a year old.

  25. To be honest, I don't know anything about sound equipment. I just enjoy watching people like Andrew or Rob or whoever talk passionately about their field of work and the new stuff they get. I just like seeing people create things and be happy! 😊👍

  26. How in hell did this get 955 dislikes?
    The confused?
    The jealous?
    The guitarists?
    The VSTers?
    Oh well, 30,000 appreciate his enthusiasm and talent.

  27. I got hooked on that song and melody in the end of the video🤩😍. but became a but bummed when i didnt saw the link to the song. It sounded so unbelievable good.😁👍😎 The vocals and the tune. I need a song of this !!! Please!!🙏🙏

  28. I feel like I'm ready to take the plunge into modular hardware but unsurprisingly I don't know where to start as a beginner looking for entry level hardware. I'm currently looking into the Behringer model D. Anybody have any advice?

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