Modules: Design, Usability, Experience, Theory And More

This is my opening for anyone to chat about what this topic means to them. I think that there’s more to get from modules that are straightforward on the panel and the others came from the same theories which let the interactions multiply their functions. I reached this when I searched for Eurorack modules and I found many of those are made with theory on how to they’re laid out on the panel and theory on what makes them best interact with the others. The first instance was when I looked at Vermona Fourmulator / VCDrive which both caught my attention for being two individual modules of functionality which obviously comes from carefully applying to user design and user experience with the labels being aesthetically pleasing together. The unexpected result from the pairing is they came from the same theory on how they should interact and I realized it was together a complex vibrato effect. The second instance was when I looked at Mutable Instruments and popular modules of the whole collection. The collection is well known to have knobs and jacks arranged with great usability and some of the most loved aesthetically pleasant labels. What I’ve learned is that where MI has changed over the course is complicated function of one module has been excluded while multiplication of the function when one module is applied to another is included. It’s often made a point about many modulars are patching patch MI Rings into MI Beads however that’s just because of the usefulness increases when they work together. And while sometimes there’s sounds made from the less imaginative patches that are heard many times with the experimentation those frequently heard sounds will be surpassed. Still now I’m in awe of MI and I hope I’ll see what she’s got for her future after all the stores sell out of brand new modules she designed. Last thought is I’ve been looking at Bastl Instruments and they’re stuff isn’t Vermona or Mutable Instruments but the crazy nature of them has drawn me to a few of the aluminum and blue modules. I guess I wish I pulled the trigger on a Softpop II but I’ll manage with some of those artsy aluminum and blue modules.

-Fumu / Esopus

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Most on this forum are used to the modular principle. People who come here from guitar pedal design and construction already have a head start, similarly those from studio production field or software engineering value the power of modules. Lego bricks you can fit together in a way that suits your needs.

I do often find myself in search of a completed toolset, though. The Behringer Crave, for instance, is a semi-modular system that sells at a price no modular Eurorack system can rival, and you can literally unpack it, attach your headphones, switch it on, and play it instantly. The Akai Miniak and similar designs from everyone from Korg to Roland and Yamaha, present DAW-like capabilities in a monolithic form.

MIDI is a great leveller. By standardising the signal chain at the level of connectors and at the software level, it made practically everything with a MIDI port into a module. MIDI over USB (not to mention MIDI over Bluetooth) has accelerated the pace. Just as portable phones have engineered a great convergence of video, telephony and computing, we’re well into the era when computer software can do jobs formerly assigned to specialist hardware.

Amid all this technology-driven change, there has been a renaissance in modular synthesizers. This is in part driven by hobbyists, fuelled by the human habit of collection. An ecological niche has opened up for individual producers to market their own designs without the need to worry about power supply details, interoperability or volume production. And here we are. Eurorack has become so popular that it’s appproaching the status of the de facto standard for the rejuvenated field of CV/Gate/Trigger hardware interoperability.

I’m still more interested in what I can do with my limited spare time and energy, and as my skills were developed in the software development field I’m increasingly focussed on the convergence themes I mentioned above. Modules are conceptually important, and it’s an essential organising principle. It’s not the only game in town, though. Mutable Instruments’ products are great modules, I don’t doubt, but to me it’s more important that they’re a beautiful example of the convergence between Eurorack signal standards and digital signal processing hardware and software.

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