Recently on the Muffwigglers modular synth forum, the subject of making “finished songs” was brought up. The idea is that it’s easy to spend hours and days with a modular synth creating noises and short loops of music, but it’s very difficult to put things together in a way that has a beginning, middle and end. It’s similar to making pages of sketches but never being able to make a finished painting. Or writing paragraphs but not completing a story. This problem isn’t only with modular synthesizers. I find that it’s a problem with music in general. I’ve likely written here before that when I first entered the hole that is electronic music, it seemed simple to make “songs.” I had Reason, I had a little keyboard, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I used presets for the most part, and just strung loops together with drum tracks behind them. SInce then, my tastes in the sounds I make have become more complicated, and I have many many more choices to make when working. Not only do I have literally hundreds of ways to make sounds for the songs, both in software and hardware, but I have a lot more understanding as to how these tools work, and sitting down fiddling with sounds in these tools is in a lot of ways the more interesting endeavor.
Thinking about this issue after reading and contributing to the thread on the forum, I came up with a couple of thoughts. One is that in many ways and most of the time, it’s just more fun to turn knobs and record sounds. Conforming these results to a 4/4 beat at 125 beats per minute with verses and chorus is just kind of silly. Moreover, it becomes work, and I don’t make music as work. This is a thing I do to not be working. Secondly, a lot of what I do with the modular, as well as with some of the software like Reaktor, is done with changing speeds, no real musical keys, and a real lack of structure. The way I’ve been using my main software sequencer and DAW (Ableton Live) for years is with very rigid grids and loops. After the freeform music-making with the modular, attempting to put it all together in the confines of Live is a royal pain. I just lose interest.
So I brought this up, and immediately got some replies with suggestions. They spanned from simple ideas like merely quantizing the un-sync’d sequences to bars so that at least they “reset” at common points, to the more complex, like somehow sending out a “click-track” from the modular to a track in Ableton so that I can lock up Ableton to the recorded sequence later on. Last night I tried the more simple ideas, just using pieces of a thing I recorded the day before as samples in Ableton’s drum racks and lining some bits up in Live’s arrangement view, but rather than trying to quantize the loops, I just let them run free, unwarped. I like the results, and while it’s pretty tame, I can see the possibilities.
Everything you hear here comes from The Harvestman Hertz Donut, which is really an incredible module. The bass/drum line is made up of simple samples from the Donut, and the more gurgly chaos bits are small sequences. Here are some of the samples.
I plan to put together a downloadable package of sounds from the modular. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, let me know.