How to recreate vintage polyphonic character, using Softube Modular

It’s not about which gear you own any more – it’s about understanding techniques. That’s especially true when a complete modular rig in software runs you roughly the cost of a single hardware module. All that remains is learning – so let’s get going, with Softube Modular as an example.

David Abravanel joins us to walk us through technique here using Softube’s Modular platform, all with built-in modules. If you missed the last sale, by the way, Modular is on sale now for US$65, as are a number of the add-on modules that might draw you into their platform in the first place. But if you have other hardware or software, of course, this same approach applies. -Ed.

Classic Style Polyphony with Softube Modular

If you’ve ever played an original Korg Mono/Poly synthesizer, then you know why it’s so prized for its polyphonic character. Compared to fully polyphonic offerings (such as Korg’s own Polysix synthesizer), the Mono/Poly features four analog oscillators which can either be played stacked (monophonic), or triggered in order for “polyphony” (though still with just the one filter).

The original KORG classic Mono/Poly synth, introduced in 1981.

The resulting sound is richly imperfect – each time a chord is played, the minute difference in timing between individual fingers affect a difference in sound.

The cool thing is – we can easily re-create this in the Softube Modular environment, using the unique “Quad MIDI to CV” interface module. Follow along:

Our chord progression.

To start with, I need a reason for having four voices. In this case, it’s the simple chord sequence above. In order to play those notes simultaneously using Modular, I’ll need a dedicated oscillator for each. Each virtual voice will consist of one oscillator, ADSR envelope, and VCA amplifier. Here’s the basic setup – the VCO / ADSR / VCA modules will be repeated three more times to give us four voices:

Wiring up the first oscillator.

For the first oscillator, I’ve selected a pulse wave – go with whichever sounds you’d like to hear (things sound especially nice with multiple waveforms stacked on top of one another). With all four voices, the patch should look like this:

Note that each voice has its own dedicated note and gate channels from the Quad MIDI to CV. Now, we need to combine the voices – for this, we’ll use the Audio Mix module. I’m also adding a VCF filter, with its own ADSR. Because the filter needs to be triggered every time any note is input, I’m going to add a single MIDI to CV module to gate the filter envelope. It all looks like this:

Now, let’s hear what we’ve got:

That’s not bad, but we can spice it up a little bit. I went with two pulse waves, a saw wave, and a tri wave for my four oscillators – I’ll add a couple LFOs to modulate the pulsewidths of the two pulse waves and add some thickness. For extra dubby space, I’m also adding the Doepfer BBD module, a recent addition to Softube Modular which includes a toggle option for the clock noise bleed-through of the analog original. I’m also adding one more LFO, for a bit of modulation on the filter.

Adding in some additional modules for flavor. The Doepfer BBD (an add-on for the Softube Modular) adds unique retro delays and other effects, including bitcrushing, distortion, and lots of other chorusing, flanging, ambience, and general swirly crunchy stuff.

Honestly, the characterful BBD module deserves its own article – and may get one! Stay tuned.

Here’s our progression, really moving and spacey now:

And there we have it! A polyphonic patch with serious analog character. You can also try playing monophonic melodies through it – in Quad MIDI to CV’s “rotate” mode, each incoming note will go to a different oscillator.

Want to try this out for yourself? Download the preset and run it in Modular (requires Modular and the BBD add-on, both of which you can demo from Softube).

DHLA poly + BBD.softubepreset

We’re just scratching the surface with Modular here – there’s an enormous well of potential, and they’ve really nailed the sound of many of these modules. Modular is a CPU-hungry beast – don’t try to run more than one or two instances of a rich patch like this one without freezing some tracks – but sound-wise it’s really proved its worth.

Stay tuned for future features, as we dive into some of Modulars other possibilities, including the vast potential found in the first ever model of Buchla’s legendary Twisted Waveform oscillator!

Softube Modular

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Escape vanilla modulation: Nikol shows you waveshaping powers

You wouldn’t make music with just simple oscillators, so why only use basic, repetitive modulation? In the latest video in Bastl’s how-to series hosted by Patchení’s Nikol, waveshaping gets applied to control signals.

A-ha! But what’s waveshaping? Well, Nikol teaches basic classes in modular synthesis to beginners, but she did skip over that. Waveshapers add more complex harmonic content to simple waveform inputs. Basic vanilla waveform in, nice wiggly complex waveform out. (See Wikipedia for that moment when you say, oh, well, why didn’t my math teacher bring in synthesizers when she taught us polynomials, then I would have stayed awake!)

Bastl unveiled the Timber waveshaping module back in May, and we all thought it was cool:

Bastl do waveshaping, MIDI, and magically tune your modules

But when most people hear waveshapers, they think of them just as a fancy oscillator – as a sound source. But in the modular world, you can also imagine it as a way of adding harmonics (read: complexity) to simple control signals, which is what Nikol demonstrates here.

That is, instead of Waveshaper -> out, you’ll route [modulation/control signal/LFO] -> Waveshaper in, and mess with that signal. WahWahWahWah can turn into WahwrrEEEEkittyglrblMrcbb… ok, okay, video:

Keep watching, because this eventually gets into adding variation to a sequenced signal.

You can try this in any software or hardware environment, but you do need your waveshaper to work with your control input. What’s relatively special about Timber in the hardware domain at least is its ability to process slow circuits.

https://www.bastl-instruments.com/modular/timber/

You can also follow Nikol on Instagram.

But more of Deina the modular dog, please!

Tragically, while Nikol’s English is getting fluent, us Americans are not doing any better with our Czech. So, Bastl, we may need an immersion language program more than synthesis.

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Novation’s latest videos “hack” advanced features out of their synths

I know a lot of the folks at Novation on a personal level well enough to say – they’re synth lovers, day job and after hours. What’s great about their latest video series is, some of that comes out.

Of course, yesterday we saw at least one user really hacking a Novation product, the Launchpad Pro, by modding the hardware using a firmware release from the company. And as one frustrated developer shouted at us in comments, that requires a bit of effort. (Not so much for you – you can download a file and use this easily – but modifying real-time firmware of hardware takes some practice!)

Hack a Launchpad Pro into a 16-channel step sequencer, free

This isn’t quite that. These “hacks” have more to do with creatively abusing some features to push the hardware synths to the limit – Circuit, Circuit Mono Station, and Peak. The Circuit in particular has a user community that proved surprisingly advanced, squeezing everything they can out of this budget-priced hardware. But lately the more recent Mono Station and Peak are finding an equally devoted following.

Here’s the whole playlist, which covers sound design techniques (like oscillator sync – okay, that’s more a conventional technique than a ‘hack’), approaches to performance (patch change), working with clock and CV, and other features.

This raises a question, though – these are recent Novation products, so it’s pretty easy to get the manufacturer to do some hot tips.

But which instruments would you like to see covered – new or old – and in what way? What’s missing in tutorials? Let us know in comments. (I realize I just self-selected the answers to that with people who own these Novation synths, so I’ll keep asking this … but also curious what other stuff you Novation lovers own, too!)

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Bastl TV: Patching and looping and Nikol teaches complex envelopes

Czech builder Bastl Instruments are working simultaneously in modular and desktop instruments. But it’s not about choosing one or the other – it’s getting inspired to play musically, either way.

So Patchení s Nikol is back, with Nikol to show you some serious patching techniques. And yes, of course, this is a nice showcase of Bastl’s own skiff of modules. But it’s also a nice example of what you can do with modulated envelopes – adding modulation to an amplitude envelope to give it a more complicated shape than just attack and release and so on. You could certainly apply this to other modular environments.

Actually, one of my favorite modules Bastl have put out lately is this one: Hendrikson is designed just to make it easier to add stomp box and external effects to your modular rig. It gives you easy-access jacks for patching in your pedal or pedal chain, some handy knobs, and all-important wet/dry mix. Plus, you can patch control into that wet/dry to automate wet dry controls with your modular if you like.

https://www.bastl-instruments.com/modular/hendrikson/

They’re obviously having a lot of fun with this:

Hendrikson

Speaking of economizing, how about that Zoom MultiStomp you see in the middle of the video? It’s got a whole massive list of different effects, all of which you control, and a street price of around $100 right now.

Vaclav I believe turned me on to that Zoom. And now switching to the desktop hardware they make, here’s a personal testimonial about how much he’s appreciating their THYME looper – seen here played live and with some destructive looping.

Vaclav tells us: “I have been playing the THYME for quite a while and has a certain instrumental quality that is quite hard to master – as with any other instrument… it really became one of the most essential pieces of musical gear that I use all the time. I am really proud of it being a real instrument now and not just a dream that I had more than 3 years ago!”

I’m here in Moscow now for Synthposium where we’ll see Bastl at the Expo and in a talk on music gear business in the online age. Stay tuned.

https://www.bastl-instruments.com/

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Nikol returns to teach beginners modular – next, panning and ducking

Modular isn’t just about building synth sounds; it’s also about routing signal and mixing in a new way. So we welcome the return of Czech superstar Nikol Štrobach, who continues her mission to make modular accessible to beginners.

Nikol is juggling mom duties with modular – we’ve even seen her kid Lumír. And our patching professor, after a year and a half of video production, did have to take a parenting sabbatical. But she’s returned with a new set of advanced tips and tricks, say our friends at Bastl Instruments. And she’s even added English-language narration (though we rather enjoyed the Czech).

Next up, panning (ooh, stereo!):

And ducking (using amplifiers to have one signal control another):

Bastl tells us this is just the start – two episodes are finished and scheduled for the next couple of weeks, with more in production.

Previously, a classic:

Watch a perfect explanation of modular physical modeling

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How to make dirty sounds, in videos, with Novation Circuit Mono Station

Remember when we were sold on everything being clean and digital? Now it’s just about grime and filth. But if you were wondering where to start with Novation’s cute, dirty Circuit Mono Station, they’ve got a series of hands-on videos to get you going.

Some back story: the Mono Station is the follow up to the first Circuit. Like the original, it’s a square-ish looking box with a colored grid as its center. But whereas the original Circuit concealed a digital polysynth and drum machine (with the ability to load your own samples), the Mono Station is all about analog synthesis. That means it also has additional controls, and unlike the mysterious macro encoders on the first Circuit, the Mono Station’s knobs and faders and bits actually have labels. So you can read a label with words on it, and you know, maybe have a better idea what you’re doing. Or you can just ignore that and give it a try anyway.

The “How to filth” series runs through a set of fairly practical ideas to get you going.

It’s really rather a nice way to get a manual. There’s no lengthy explanation, no theory – and no sitting through a really long tutorial. Just watch a few steps, and then see if you can copy more or less what they’ve done. That should help you dive straight in. And if you’re on the fence about the Circuit Mono Station, this gives you some stuff to go try if you’re borrowing a friend’s hardware or going to the shops.

Here’s the full series:

This is a great one for summer, too, as Circuit and Circuit Mono Station are nicely portable.

What do you think? Is this sort of thing useful to you? Would you want to see more / something different? Let us know; it’s great to get feedback from readers on what’s making you musically productive. And if you make some tunes with us, send us those, too!

Here’s our story on the instrument, at launch. Some time later, it’s still holding up at that price point – and it’s not a clone or throwback, either, but a totally new instrument, designed by some nice people in England. (I know – I’ve met them! And they’re musicians, as well, of course!)

Novation Circuit Mono Station: paraphonic, feature packed, $499

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Here’s what to learn to get a jump start on the new monome thing

SuperCollider? Lua? Huh? The latest creation from the makers of monome, norns, looks great. Here’s where to start learning the powerful sound engine underneath – which you can use on your PC or Mac right now, for free.

So far, from recommendations from the https://llllllll.co/t/approaching-norns/13236/”>thread introducing norns:

Supercollider tips, Q/A [thread on the monome forum]

The SuperCollider Book [a massive treeware tome from MIT Press – LinuxJournal have even done a review]

Learn Lua in 15 Minutes [the scripting engine that powers norns – but also a solid way to script SuperCollider in general]

Recommended tutorials for SuperCollider [from the source – and multiple languages]

Nick Collins’ tutorial

You may also want to check out simpler entry points into SuperCollider:

TidalCycles live coding environment [actually, this should also run on norns]

Sonic Pi

I’m sure there are other resources, so I’m just going to leave it there. Sound off if you’ve found a resource that helped you teach or learn.

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How to try GPU-accelerated live visuals in a few steps, for free

The growing power of gaming architectures for visuals has a side benefit: it can produce elaborate visuals without touching the CPU, which is busy on musicians’ machines dealing with sound.

But how do you go about exploring some of that power? The code language spoken natively by the GPU is a little frightening at first. Fortunately, you can actually have a play in a few minutes. It’s easy enough that I prepared this lightning tutorial:

I shared this with the #RazerMusic program as it’s in fact a good artistic application for laptops with gaming architectures – and it’s terrific having that NVIDIA GTX 1060 with 6 GB of memory. (This example can’t even begin to show that off, in fact.) These steps will work on the Mac, too, though.

I’m stealing a demo here. Isadora creator Mark Coniglio showed off his team’s GLSL support more or less like this when they unveiled the feature at the Isadora Werkstatt a couple of summers ago. But Isadora, while known among a handful of live visualists and people working with dance and theater tech, itself I think is underrated. And sure enough, this support makes the powers of GLSL friendly to non-programmers. You can grab some shader code and then modify parameters or combine with other effects, modular style, without delving into the code itself. Or if you are learning (or experienced, even) with GLSL, Isadora provides an uncommonly convenient environment to work with graphics-accelerated generative visuals and effects.

If you’re not quite ready to commit to the tool, Isadora has a full-functioning demo version so you can get this far – and look around and decide if buying a license is right for you. What I do like about it is, apart from some easy-to-use patching powers, Isadora’s scene-based architecture works well in live music, theater, dance, and other performance arts. (I still happily use it alongside stuff like Processing, Open Frameworks, and Touch Designer.)

There is a lot of possibility here. And if you dig around, you’ll see pretty radically different aesthetics are possible, too.

Here’s an experiment also using mods to the GLSL facility in Isadora, by Czech artist Gabriela Prochazka (as I jam on one of my tunes live).

Resources:

https://troikatronix.com/

https://www.shadertoy.com/

Planning to do more like this, so open to requests!

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Don’t miss this video of Jakob lubing up his DJ battle mixer

Hey kids: don’t forget the lube. Well, actually … like seriously.

Jakob Haq is simply one of our favorite YouTube contributors, all round – normally covering mobile music tech, but sometimes a range of other topics, too. And this video proves it.

Description:

The faders on my old Stanton SA-5 Allies signature mixer needed cleaning and some lube love in order for them to glide smoothly again. I recently started using this mixer after being hooked up with a new wall-power adapter for it (Thank you Ribbon). The fun lasted for a day before my faders started getting dodgy so it was time for an overhaul.

Okay, so obvious lube jokes aside (hey, it’s a real thing), this video is great on a number of levels. Apart from presumably helping someone out there with this very specific case, I can’t count the number of times people ask me, how do I repair this music thing xx?

And frankly, we don’t ask that nearly enough. An irony is, when I talk to people from the ex-Communist world (which happens, well, frequently), there’s far more widespread knowledge of repair technique – one born by necessity. But we all need to do that. When you’re touring and your gear breaks down, you need to be able to fix it. When you’re out of cash and your gear breaks down, you need to be able to fix it. When the planet is buckling under the weight of trash, toxic materials from these products can leech into the ecosystem, and when, well, people need gear – we need to fix everything.

It’d be great to put together repair guides in some centralized place. I’m up for ideas.

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How to make the free VCV Rack modular work with Ableton Link

VCV Rack, the free Eurorack modular emulation software, is a perfect match for wireless sync. Here’s how to do it, step by step.

Why Link? Link has already made itself known as a godsend. Not only does it work in Ableton Live, but Traktor, Serato, Reaktor, and Reason, and others. It works with numerous iOS apps, too. Get those tools on the same network (probably via wifi router), and all of them can use the same tempo and transport. There’s no master, no slave – in the style of a jam session, everything follows a shared tempo – which also means you don’t lose timing if one drops out.

And Link is a logical choice for VCV Rack. Both have an open source base. And whereas you own physical analog gear and modulars, you’d use clock signal by connecting a cable, here in the software domain, wireless, networked clock is just as useful.

Think modular. Even with the latest copy of VCV Rack, you don’t see a big, friendly “Link” button in the corner. Remember that the whole metaphor of Rack is that you have a virtual rack of modules. You’re going to have a module doing the Link synchronization – and you’re going to be able to use Link in some more modular ways.

To add Link support, you install a free, virtual module. (It’s the on-screen equivalent of coming back from the synth shops with a new bit of kit and bolting it in with a screwdriver, only this will be faster and … won’t cost anything or take up space in your studio.)

You may want to review our more in-depth guide to getting up and running with Rack:

Step one: How to start using VCV Rack, the free modular software

That article also includes instructions for building from source, though here we’ll use pre-built software for ease.

Installing Link on Rack

1. Grab a copy of the Stellare Link module. Link comes from Ableton, but it’s open and available to developers. So our friends Sander and Enzo (Stellare Modular) made their own virtual module for Rack. To get it, head to vcvrack.com and select the Plugin Manager. Type “Link” into the search box, then click “Free” to highlight it. This adds the Link module to your account, and will synchronize it to any Rack setup.

2. Synchronize your Rack. Now with Stellare’s module attached to your account, you need to install it to your machine. Launch VCV Rack (you need a current version), and click Update Plugins. You should see a progress bar appear, and you’ll be prompted to restart Rack.

3. On Windows, move one file. On Mac and Linux, you’re done with installation. Windows users need to add one additional step, because as of now, the Plugin Manager isn’t yet fully able to locate one needed file. (This feature is in development, so this may be addressed.)

After running ‘Update Plugins,’ locate the installed directory (using C: as an example):

C:\Users\[yourusername]\Documents\Rack\plugins\StellareModular-Link

Copy link-wrapper.dll from that directory to the directory where your Rack.exe executable is located:

C:\Program Files\VCV\Rack\plugins

— so that link-wrapper.dll is on the same level as Rack.exe.

Restart Rack.

Wire up Link

4. Add the Link module. If you’ve performed the above steps correctly, you can now add the Stellare Link module to any rack. Right click in a blank space, then choose Stellare, then Link. On Windows, you may be prompted to enable access for Rack on your network; make sure to check both boxes, and then choose Allow Access.

5. Get something to sync. Any iPad on the same network, running an app like Modstep or Elastic Drums, or any local desktop software (Ableton Live, obviously, but here for fun I chose Serato DJ instead) can now jam along with VCV Rack in perfect timing.

Make sure “Link” is enabled (highlighted) in the associated software.

6. Play with clock! We’re on to the fun part!

The “/4” output jack on the Link module represents quarter divisions of the current Link clock. Reset sends a pulse on each subsequent downbeat. You could obviously get fancier than this, but you don’t need the Link module to do much more – you can divide or multiple that beat with other modules.

Here are two free modules (both installable from plugin manager) you can try out as gateways from Link to other stuff.

Add Grayscale > Algorhythm. Try connecting from the “/4” output on Link to the “CLOCK” input on Algorhythm. Click the start/stop at the top left of the Algorhythm module, and you’ll see Link advance the clock.

Now add Fundamental > SEQ-3. (As the “Fundamental” name implies, you should almost certainly install this selection of modules.) Connect from “RESET” out on Link to “EXT CLK” on SEQ-3. Now, the bottom row will advance at the same rate.

What’s actually happening here, respective to the master tempo? Well, the “/4” in Rack represents quarter-subdivisions of the beat – so think sixteenth notes, since the Link beat is a quarter note. (You’ll get four subdivisions for each kick drum in four-on-the-floor techno, etc.!)

Try moving the patch cable on the SEQ-3. Drag on the end connected to “/4” – move it so it’s connected from ‘RESET’ on Link to ‘EXT CLK’ on the SEQ-3. Now, the sequencer advances on every downbeat.

7. Keep on ticking:

From here, you can experiment with other modules that take signal, clock dividers for transforming metrical divisions of the signal, and more.

A great place to start is by installing the Simple modular pack, then selecting Simple > Clock Divider. This will give you some different, musical divisions of that incoming clock.

Ted Pallas, who has been contributing our tutorials so far, uses that 1/16th signal to drive the VCV Pulse Matrix modules.

You can also make creative use of the useful ‘Offset’ knob – something missing in a lot of other Link implementations. Offset simply dials in a continuously controllable amount of time added or subtracted from outgoing clock signal. And that can be used as groove, as Ted explains:

A super cool feature I hope to see repeated next to every Link button I ever encounter is seen here for the first time: there’s an offset knob, and if you spin you’ll shove the link signal forwards and backwards in time. This knob allows you to really dial in the perfect sync between Rack and the larger system you’re trying to lock to. I’ve also used to Offset knob as something of a “swing designer,” placing my sequencer rhythm ever-just-so alongside a Tr-09.

Here’s a sample from Ted:

Oh, and another thing: there’s a lot of room for happy accidents and mistakes that wouldn’t make sense in another context. Because you’re just messing with signals, you may discover that something that isn’t theoretically what you intended is something you musically like. And since music is about making decisions based on taste, that opens up possibilities.

In Core, you’ll find a bunch of objects for routing MIDI signals – including clock – to modules. That may make a good future tutorial, and it’s where you’ll want to start if you have hardware or software sending MIDI clock in place of Ableton Link. (Hey, MIDI clock still has its place!)

The Link module isn’t a complete implementation of everything Link can do. There’s no way to transmit clock from VCV Rack using it, to adjust the tempo of other connected hardware and software on your Link session. And there could be additional rhythmic options built in.

But it’s free – so if you are already enjoying it or if you want to encourage such features, here’s a thought: donate to the developers!

More:

https://github.com/stellare-modular/vcv-link/ (though you don’t need this site to install automatically, source and documentation live here)

Donate:

https://paypal.me/stellaremodular

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