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

Taking The Red Pill And Diving Into The Matrix (Mixer)

Matrix Mixers are one of those things I came across when first getting into modular but didn’t really get and kind of dismissed as being overly complicated. I think I was also put off by the size of many of them, like the 4MS VCA Matrix. But when this little guy was released it caused me to reappraise things. I came across this Muffwiggler thread stating that Matrix Mixers are a uniquely eurorack type of mixer and really necessary for a proper system. Basically the usual sort of thing you come across on Muffwiggler, but it did strike a chord with me and pique my curiosity. I started to see the potential that this little guy could add to my system, so I thought I’d give it a try. This video provides the start of my journey down the rabbit hole. I’m still trying to determine how deep it will go.