In the first part of this article I introduced a way of working I’ve adopted recently that I’m finding useful for more innovative and interesting music production, and focused on the idea that ‘everything is an oscillator’ — ultimately deconstructing perceptions of what instruments are or do and treat them as raw, malleable sound.
Modulate your thinking
To begin with, let’s dig deeper into my point on the first article about traditional hardware mixing desks . These are hardly a vital component of most home studios these days and as such it makes sense to consider the modular as alternative signal route (or at the very least a useful diversion) which allows for much more dynamic control given the flexibility this offers — after all, how can you use a complex LFO shape for panning using a traditional hardware desk? Not easily without a lot of expensive and possibly irreversible rewiring. Not recommended!
Feeding an instrument part through a modular setup, rather than just using VCO’s, can allow for some amazing sonic manipulation as the signal passes through filters and FX. I’m currently into doing this with footage samples as well as string, woodwind and horn parts to make them more sonically interesting but even hardware synths and drum machines routed this way allows for much more innovative sound design than their own features allow.
This approach applies to DAW’s too and using modulation plugins such as the Modulation MIDI plugin in Logic X or Audiaire’s excellent Zenith on DAW track and plugin parameters can open up potential that traditional producers of old could never even imagine. I’ve not used it myself as yet but Bitwig studio feels like it is aligned with this mindset too.
DAW modulation of Eurorack gear can also be assigned to MIDI CC and using something like a CVpal module or the CV-OCD you can output these as CV signals create complex modulation sources and envelopes ‘in the box’ to use with your modules. This is useful especially if you want to see a more visual representation of your envelopes and LFO’s or create some very customised or weird shapes here.
Strength of signal
Whilst I’m advocating a new take on the production process, some rules from traditional production still very much apply — and none more so than keeping an eye on the volume levels.
The first and most vital reason is that as we start to delve into more and more interesting and innovative sounds we’re increasing the risk of finding a result so awesome that it blows out your speakers, or your ears. As a rule I try to start working at lower volumes, and then increase gradually the more I understand the frequencies being created.
Equally though, and especially with feeding a signal into modular, there is a risk that incoming signals (especially from DAW’s) will be too quiet. One piece of kit I use when feeding signals from my DAW into my modular setup is the Receive 2 from Joranalogue which allows me to boost external signals up to modular level and also see the input volume as the signal comes in.
In the third part of this article I’ll address the use of filters and FX in my ‘Studio as modular’ method…..