Like Taking Up Crack
To anyone thinking of taking the leap into modular synthesis, James Holden immediately offers a clear warning: “It can be moreish… like taking up crack.” Holden’s move into modular hardware stemmed from his first experiments with electronic music, working with the free Jeskola Buzz software. “Buzz was pretty modular in how it worked,” he recalls. “And that way of visualising my audio chain just stuck. I got into the habit of only working with wonky, unreliably patched messes. The modular addiction comes about when you’re half way through patching something and realise you need one more oscillator. I’ve reached the end of that now as my studio has run out of shelves for racks to go on…”
Jeremy Greenspan of Canadian electronic duo Junior Boys tells a similar story of the irresistible lure of modular gear: “I started using them sparingly, and now I would say that I don’t go a day in the studio without using my modular in some capacity. Sometimes for almost every element of a track.”
Greenspan first discovered modulars through a chance visit to Analogue Haven in 2007. “We were touring the second Junior Boys album and we thought we’d go in and buy some Vermona equipment,” Greenspan remembers. “When we got there we were completely swept away by the possibilities of Eurorack, which we’d only just heard small things about. Both Matt and I walked out with full cases that day. At the time there were only a few companies making stuff, so my excitement level grew with the amount of new companies making more and more stuff. I was especially excited by companies who were designing modules that were influenced by companies like Buchla and Serge, insofar as they were slightly leftfield of more traditional synthesis.”
Dominic Butler of London-based DFA signees Factory Floor explains how he gradually moved into modulars through vintage analogue synths: “A friend of mine had an SH-101 in his bedsit and we used to get completely absorbed in playing about with it. The arpeggio function seemed to fit well with the amount of weed we were smoking! I guess I was always looking for a way to open it up and push it some more.
“I was aware of modular synths through listening to artists like Morton Subotnick and Chris Carter. There was one record that I couldn’t stop playing called ‘Her Blade’ by Eazy Teeth. I knew it was done on a Serge modular but I just saw them as unobtainable, financially out of my league.
“The first module I bought was a Doepfer A-111-5, which was fun but I soon sold it and started buying individual modules. I think when I discovered Make Noise and 4ms was when things started getting really interesting. Their design and usability fitted perfectly with the way I approach making music.”