Top DJs and producers talk modular synths

Carl Craig, Jas Shaw, Jimmy Edgar, Zombie Nation and Clark talk modular

Carl Craig - The Techno star and his love for all things modular

Carl craig modular

What attracted you to modular synths?
"I have a theory that a synthesizer should be able to do anything. There should be no limits to the sound you can make. I guess it's the unpredictability as well as the flexibility that I love. You can make it modulate itself and a lot of the time you don't even know what's gonna happen when you plug a chord into something. Maybe you'll hear something and think, 'That's what Anakin Skywalker's spaceship should have sounded like!'"

What are some of your favourite modules?
"I really love Cwejman and LiveWire – their oscillators are so pure and that's what I really want. Things like Doepfer are too retro sounding for me, personally. I want oscillators that are accurate; I don't want them to have too much character because I want to add the character with filters and effects later. The Tiptop Audio Prophet-5 filter clone [Z2040] is really good too."

What advice would you give someone who's starting out?
"I'd say start with NI's Reaktor. It's basically a software modular synth and if you want to actually learn how the synthesis works, that's the best place to start – and the cheapest. That way you'll get to know what modules you need for the type of sounds you want to make. Plus, there's a Cwejman semi-modular box that's really great as an entry-level option [the S1]. I don't think it has an LFO so you might have to get one, and a few effects too. But Reaktor is probably the best place to begin."


Clark - His favourite modules and chasing the unpredictable

Clark

Why did you want to start building a modular synth?
"Vintage analogue gear offers too much really. The circuitry is so honed, perfected and beautifully worn-in. It all started feeling too easy. I've been doing this for 15 years now, and I don't want to have a stock 'bag of tricks'. Modular synths have opened up my world and reset my ears. I can get to that naïve, child-like and utterly clueless state, where accidents happen and there are constant surprises."

Any favourite modules?
"My Doepfer sequencer is laaaaaaarvly! To be honest, the best things are those cables – rather rudely referred to as 'bumfuck' cables [Stackable from Tiptop] – with the insert point on the back. I basically use them as multiples. Feeding back grotesque CV information, with conflicting scales, is always fun because you get one up on the machine – it just doesn't know what to do with all that destructive interference."

What boutique modules should we know about?
"Cwejman. Are. The. Tits. So impressed. Expensive, but the ADSR is like a chop-happy nano-robot on your sawtooths. It's so brutally precise, but because it's analogue, it sounds smooth as hell."

What advice would you give someone who was starting to build a modular?
"Don't let the 'experts' tell you what you need to be buying. A few cheap modules are all you need. I have no plans to go wild and get walls of the stuff – I think you're better off knowing a few bits inside out instead."


Jimmy Edgar - His obsession and his favourite modules

Jimmy edgar

Why did you want to start building a modular synth?
"After using a [Studio Electronics] ATC[-1] for so long, I realised how incredible it is to swap the filters, which I assume was taken from the idea of modular synthesis. Also, I just wanted something new to explore – it's the ultimate in exploration. I used Max/ MSP and Reaktor for a long time and it got very boring because of the limits of the sound aliasing and digital artefacts. But I'm not as much of a nerd as I appear, most of the time I'm working at my station I'm just fucking around and trying new things without thinking too much."

Any favourite modules?
"The Erthenvar Patch Chord – it's exactly what I need in my modular system. Echophon is the best sounding module. Modcan FMVDO is great too. Toppobrillo multifilter is modelled after the Serge filter and is the cleanest and most harmonic filter I've heard. My friend made me a module called 'Majenta' after my last album – it's a multiplexing switch that carries signals through matrices. Important for what I do since I have over 30U of modules. I don't think it will ever go into production, but he'd probably make a few. Toppobrillo makes great stuff."

What advice would you give someone who was starting to build a modular?
"Don't be afraid. You can do quite a bit with just a few modules, explore with a minimum before you go buying anything big. It's worth it. Watch my videos on YouTube under the name 'Strictpolicy'. I put new ones up every week."


Zombie Nation - Happy accidents and the Roland System 100M

Zombie nation

Why did you get into modular synthesis?
"Kind of accidentally: a friend who worked at a music store told me that a customer wanted to sell his Roland System 100M which he had bought at that same store 25 years ago. I bought it more out of curiosity."

Zombie Nation's studioZombie nations studio

What advice would you give someone who didn't know where to start?
"Don't be intimidated, it's really simple to get something working. I always thought that modulars were more for physics teachers and not for musicians. After I got involved I realised I was wrong!"

What's your favourite modular and modules?
"I don't know if it counts as a module, but the SND SAM-16 sequencer is a pleasure to work with. It's built like a tank and never disappoints. I'm also very curious to try out a System 700 that I bought in Canada a while ago. Unfortunately I haven't figured out how to ship it to Germany yet."

Any routing tips you'd like to share?
"I usually set up two to three oscillators and then try out modulation sources. If it sounds good, it's right. It's always fun to use the whacky step sequencer of the 100M to modulate, especially because of its high speed."

What track can we hear your modular on?
"ZZT's Lower State of Consciousness. This really came out of a jam session with Tiga. The characteristic sound comes from the 100M sequencer. It's the 'best of' a 15-minute recording. You can't do something like that by thinking about it first."


Jas Shaw - Simian Mobile Disco on boutique and Eurorack

Jas shaw

Why did you choose the Eurorack format and what got you into modular synths?
"Initially it was purely due to availability. There wasn't much available and the vintage stuff was already overpriced. It was a lucky choice, though, as Eurorack has become the most popular format recently, with an amazing amount of options from many companies."

What's your favourite Eurorack module?
"Most of the esoteric modules I've been getting have been DIY things for a MOTM format system. In Euro, I like the Serge VCS, simply because it can be so many different things."

Any boutique companies or modules we should know?
"I'm really into the DIY 5U stuff that's available through Yves Yusynth's site and Bridechamber. I'm also looking forward to getting my hands on the STG [Soundlabs] .MIX. I consider almost all companies to be boutique. There's not much margin in making these things and it's a very limited market. Most of the companies are just one person or have very few staff, they do this because they love it."

What advice would you give someone who was about to get into modular synths?
"There are lots of ways in – you can get a basic system in a case with room to expand and see how you get on, adding modules as you find the need and the money. Most retailers and manufacturers can give you good advice but if you don't get on with the gear then it's always possible to resell stuff or swap it."

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