Modular By Nature

For a few years now, I’ve been gradually building a eurorack system for the specific purpose of processing field recordings that I have recorded from various locations. In the summer of 2018, I thought it would be an interesting challenge to try using my system to process the sounds of an environment in real-time. I set up my modular on my balcony, aimed a shotgun mic at the nearby maple tree, and put together a patch that would use the live microphone input within my modular and recorded the output into my portable recorder. I also set up a camera to film the whole thing and posted the result to Youtube as my first Modular By Nature video.

Over the winter I got my hands on an Aimtom portable power pack, which allowed me to take my system into remote locations. Now I was able to try these experiments of processing environmental sounds in real-time wherever I wanted. For my first session I went to the nearby park, and then next to Locarno beach, but I had to end that session abruptly when I noticed snowflakes were falling on my case. It was cold enough that my patch cables and fingers were quite stiff. Once the weather warmed up, I did a few more sessions, and another one in November using the warmth and crackle of a wood stove in an off-grid cabin. If you’re interested in learning more about why I chose the Aimtom power pack you can read my article for Ask.Audio here.

I’ve grouped this first round of experiments together as “Season 1” of Modular by Nature, and you can watch the whole series below.

Modular By Nature – Season 1

This year I’ve made some additions to my case that have opened up new possibilities and helped with creating more musical results. First was the Intellijel Shapeshifter, a powerful digital oscillator. While this might not seem like an obvious choice for processing field recordings, it’s the vocoder mode that mostly applies here. Although, it’s such a deep module that I’ll probably find other methods that work, and in the rest of my regular synth patching it will certainly be a welcome addition.

Next I added a Happy Nerding FX Aid, a 4HP effects powerhouse that can house 32 different effects. The effects can be selected and arranged using a web utility, but I was mostly interested in the reverbs; especially the ones modelled after the Strymon Big Sky. You can learn more about the FX Aid here.

The AI Synthesis AI008 Matrix Mixer came next. This added a powerful and flexible means of routing signal around my system in creative ways. With Modular By Nature, I’m usually taking a mono input and sending it to a few effects processors. With the Matrix Mixer I can easily send an input to three outputs, and I can use this approach with four inputs. This is great for experimenting with feedback loops. You can hear some of my initial experiments with the AI008 here.

Lastly I picked up the Befaco Instrument Interface. This might not seem like the most exciting module, but it really levelled up my system for Modular By Nature. Because it has a phantom powered combo jack input, I can now plug my shotgun mic directly into my system so I no longer need to bring an external preamp along with me. When doing anything portable, the less gear you need to lug around, the better. Furthermore, this module also has an envelope follower and gate outputs, which make it easier to make patches that react to an incoming signal. Check out more on the Instrument Interface here.

In May I took my system over to Galiano island and recorded a few Modular By Nature sessions. I did another one on the rocks along the beach, one in the forest, and one on the deck in the early morning. These are now the start of “Season 2” of Modular By Nature, and I’ll be adding more throughout the summer.

Moduar By Nature – Season 2

Of course there’s also one main Modular By Nature playlist with all of the videos, but I may pare it down to just my favourites.

Modular By Nature Full Playlist

A Ceremony Of Synthesized Carols

As you might already know, I put out a synthy Christmas album a few years ago. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a joke, or at best a novelty album. What you might not have realized, if you couldn’t make it through the first song or two, is that I put the silliest stuff at the beginning to make it easier to skip. Furthermore, I’m actually quite pleased with how the last 10 songs turned out, and they’re based on songs that many people don’t know.

I first heard Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols shortly before I made that album. It’s a lovely piece of Christmas music that doesn’t sound overly like Christmas music. Which is something that I find to be a welcome relief when you keep hearing the same handful of songs over and over again every holiday season. So I’d strongly recommend giving it a listen, whether it’s my version or the original, or both.

If you start with track 13 you can hear my version here:

Or you can hear what it’s supposed to sound like, as performed by a Swedish Choral ensemble:

On The Road: Portable Power Options For Synthesizers & Electronic Instruments

In March of 2019 I decided to write an article on portable power options for synthesizers. I was interested in finding something for my own system, but I also found it to be a confusing thing to research. Naturally this made it a perfect topic for an article. You can view the article here: https://ask.audio/articles/on-the-road-portable-power-options-for-synthesizers-electronic-instruments

While writing this article, I also started my Modular By Nature Youtube series. In these videos, I use my eurorack synthesizer to process the sounds of the environment in real-time to produce a piece of music. In most of these videos I’m using some kind of portable power pack to power my synth as well as a preamp for the shotgun mic.

Portable power is an area where the technology is evolving very quickly, so there’s bound to be new options available since I wrote the article. I’d love to hear of any new alternatives that you have come across to power your gear, or just hear about how you use synths in a portable setting!

Ambient Playlist

Over the years of reviewing modules for Ask.Audio, I’ve accumulated a sizeable archive of diverse recordings. Some of them are even nice to listen to! I decided it would be fun to go back through my experiments and compile a list of my favourites that could fit loosely into the ambient music genre.

Some of these recordings feel like complete songs, while others are more rough with abrupt starts and endings. I hope you enjoy my selected ambient modular experiments!

Belizean Heat on Youtube

When I released Belizean Heat back in February of 2018, I had hopes of making videos for at least some of the songs using GoPro footage I shot while there. I still haven’t gotten around to putting any of them together, so I figured it was about time I at least put them up on Youtube for people to listen even if they don’t have any fancy visual element to go with them. I realize a lot of people listen to most of their music on Youtube these days for convenience, so it makes sense to have it up there. Of course the album is also available on Spotify and Bandcamp along with other online sources if you prefer those.

You can find the playlist of the album below.