Saturday, 12 August 2017

Do I really look like a guy with a plan ?

Nowadays, as you start a project like a modular synthesizer, you look for resources on line.  You are soon overwhelmed by the possibilities.
It's easy to get drowned into the 'mare modulae'.  In a pinch, you imagine a system that will take dozens of modules and require tons of space and money, with little purpose.

So it's important to remind the fundamentals :
  • start small.
  • some sort of a plan is necessary.

I intend to go one step at a time, at a steady pace; leapfrogging from stable state to another stable state to have some fun and learn at each phase.

With a modular synth, I believe it's a good idea to start planning with the type of sounds you have in mind. 

I tried to imagine my first patches.  How many modulation sources will I need to achieve a fluid ambient patch ?  How many mixer tracks for a drum machine ? Do I need to input a guitar into my FX setup ?  What could be the minimal viable system that permits me to achieve my goal ?

My plan for a modular synthesizer came after I made some rough sketches about two simple synthesizers I thought I could build as first Synth DIY projects.

At first, I wanted to build a noise machine, with some whizz, some bangs, some crsssshh.  Something different from the sound of my Anushri.  I intended to build it all with the help of the schematic from the Yusynth project.   I wasn't too sure of my ability to tune a VCO though.  So I was happy that this project didn't involve tuned VCO.  The main sound source was  a noise generator, plus a couple of VC-LFO that could eventually extend to audible range.

Early sketch of the noise box

Then, I thought I could build after that a basic synth with roughly the same sound architecture as a Roland SH-101.  Nothing revolutionary.  But I would have built it myself, once again thanks to the resources from the Yusynth project.

Is it really simple ?

When I saw that both projects shared the same basic functions, I decided to merge them in a single modular synth.  The Eurorack format seems the most practical and has a great community.  I settled for 2x 84HP rows, partially because Doepfer sells a simple kit to start with.

So here we are.

I'm still not very confident to build and tune a complete VCO, plus I needed a good example of Eurorack module to serve as mechanical reference.  I chose a Doepfer A110-1 Standard VCO as my first and main VCO.
To bootstrap myself on the basic synth voice, I picked a Doepfer DIY synth.  The assembled board has all the necessary functions : VCO-VCF-VCA + Enveloppe generator & LFO.  I intend to fit it in a semi-modular 42HP module.

The Doepfer boys chilling on the bench.

Time to think about something to build from scratch.

I'll give a go at the Sample&Hold/Random module from Yusynth (for the noise source).
Regarding effects, I want to try mounting regular guitar pedal kits into Eurorack format.
Finally, I plan some utilities (multiples, inputs, outputs, inverters, …) in a 2U space between the two rows.
And as a starter, a simple module : a basic audio/CV mixer.

Early case sketches

I wanted to experiment by making the case myself as well.  After having sketched several versions of angular cases : 30°-45°-60°, 0°-30°-60°, etc… , I finally decided to keep it simple and have a basic 8U box.

Basic plan of the basic 8U case

White modules are in the making.  They constitute the minimal viable synth depicted above.   When I'll be there, we'll see.  Greyed out modules are envisaged later on, depending on what I feel is missing.

I'll still need some kind of controller or sequencer though.  A Korg SQ-1 or an Arturia Beatstep maybe.

Mmmh let's dive into more demo video....

1 comment:

  1. I'm on a similar journey to you, started about a year ago. I bought an Arturia Microbrute as an affordable 'benchmark' for quality and tuning, and also to act as a CV keyboard, sequencer and MIDI-to-CV converter all in one. It works well at these things!