DIY and Pre-Assembled Eurorack Products

Control Options

[originally posted on ModWiggler formus by me many moons ago!] I seemed to be answering a lot of questions via PM, msn and email about real basics of modular synths - the same stuff i wish someone had told me when i first started, but was afraid to ask and wasnt yet ready to cope with reading whole books on principles of synthesis etc. (so, for those with zero knowledge here's some slightly oversimplified, sweeping generalisations, for the sake of easy explanations to those who want to get their newly acquired/setup modular tested and working):

it's important to remember you dont just need modules and a cool case - before you get all excited about what amazing $600 module you can get to do weird wiggling with, you need a bit of your budget to cover actually making the modular produce sounds i.e. a way to control it:

- you can always just use the modules themselves - even a simple LFO or envelope with cycle/loop/repeat can produce patterns/rhythms etc as cv/gate/trigger signals.

- there are dedicated sequencing modules, some very cheap - pretty much they will range from something that spews triggers/gates to ones that send a cv value when a certain time/clock dictates, but the complexities are pretty much endless

- the simplest as far as instant results is probably a keyboard/trigger button/pressure pad/theremin/ribbon/whatever controller that produces cv signals. just plug the thing in and press/wave/slide hands and fingers to make noises. (often not the cheapest options, and sometimes not useful with anything other than a cv controlled synth)

- probably the most versatile for the money is a midi to cv module. there's a range of options from doepfer's A-190's that are pretty cheap through to polyphonic monsters that take some programming patience. these will of course require a midi source to drive them:
> if you have a midi controller/keyboard/etc. then just plug in and, configured appropriately, you're set.
> a hardware sequencer will be similar as far as setup goes, but you'll need a little knowledge of programming midi hardware - grooveboxes like the korg electribes and yamaha rm1x excel at these tasks
> a computer running a midi sequencer or DAW with midi capability is great if you get on with software, but you'll need a midi interface. anything from a $3 usb to midi adaptor cable through to a $1k studio interface card/breakout box setup will perform if you have compatible gear and the skills to set it up.

- the same midi options apply to non-module midi to cv converters - these stand alone units tend to offer greater fuctionality but often cost more. unless you already have the rest of the midi gear needed, even though you can have multiple scalable cv outs, Hz/V, s-trig, din-sync and built in lfos etc, they're rarely the cheapest option for the money.

- 'midi' via usb is becomeing available now, and although basically no great difference to the midi setups above, you should be able to avoid needing a dedicated midi interface for the computer and find compatbility with many modern usb enabled hardware controllers and synths.

- if you want to use a computer running a DAW, by far the best option of the money is probably something from the Expert Sleepers range - dedicated conversion of the outputs of an interface into cv signals via a plugin for the daw and a module that takes stuff like audio, lightpipe and spdif in, and provides a stack of cv sockets.

personally i found there were a few basic factors affecting my decisions, based on:
- how did i want to use the modular
- what did i already own
- what was my budget
- how much space did i have in and out the case

- i am so uncoordinated and desperately anal that i wanted to be able to set everything in stone and reproduce the results over and over. this lead me to wanting a programmable sequencing option. i generally seem to find that many many modular owners want to have much more immediacy, freedom and life from their setups hence choose keyboards/pressure pads etc.
- i started with a studio based around midi gear so already had both hardware midi sequencers, a computer with midi interface and all the cables etc. choosing midi was therefore cheap as well as convenient. had i none of that i probably would have either started with a usb 'midi' interface or Expert Sleepers depending on budget.
- due to limited budget i selected Doepfer A-190-2 modules since i had no shortage of space to put them in - had i not got midi gear, on the same budget now i would have chosen the doepfer usb versions of those modules - they may be monophonic and only have a few outputs, but with a starting system of only a few basic modules, they should plenty, supplying pitch, note length, velocity pitchbend and gen. purp out via the standard 1v/oct, gate, and cv sockets. though the default settings are pretty much perfect for most basic midi setups i found the config easy to alter and there's scope to experiment with the uses for the output sockets however you patching them...
- having followed that route i ended up using a monster external kenton pro2000 mkii midi to cv box, but the total spend on gear actually means that if i were to try and jump straight to this setup riht now it would have made more sense to just opt for expert sleepers from the word go.
- I also went down the rout of clocked hardware step sequencers a bit after setting up a live techno rig based on tiptop trig riot and z8000 matrix sequencers, but, inevitably...
- i must admit, i got bitten by the modular sequencing / patch programming bugand filled 12U with modules like step-sequencers, logic, clockdividers, etc. and other such cool stuff - and ultimately stopped pretending that i wasn't interested in that stuff's ultimate end - serge...

p.s. You're using a modular - rules are meant to be broken; with  the exception of manufacturer warnings about specific module settings, inputs and outputs that dont like being used in  certain ways, experiment! the whole point of a modular is to mess about and find unusual ways to do stuff [***dont fool with mains electric unless you know for certain what youre doing***].

these links may be of interest/use to many: