April 2020 will probably be remembered as when the modular community fully embraced live streaming of events – from bedroom concerts to chats over whiskey to full virtual trade show coverage. If you’re not already plugged in to that scene, DivKid has been keeping up a list of events (including links to replays).
I tried to figure out what would be the best contribution I could make to scene, and came upon the crazy idea of live-streaming installing modules in my recently rebuilt studio modular case. Thus, the Feeding the Monster series was born; it is explained in detail – with embedded videos – below.
April was also the month I finished moving my online training courses from the Learning Modular site (which is built using WordPress and a large number of plug-ins) to a dedicated course host called NewZenler. That involved uploading over 250 movies, copying their associated lesson text and links, and building numerous pages on that site for each course as well as general infrastructure. By doing so during their beta period (which brought its own special challenges), I was able to lock in special pricing “for life”, which will make it easier for me to keep the courses online well after I’m able to sustain music as a career. Plus, that work is already paying off with better streaming and course delivery. And, there are additional cool features I look forward to taking advantage of in the future. More on that below as well.
Here is the index to this newsletter:
- featured article (Details of the Feeding the Monster series)
- new videos & blog posts (Synth Society Summit session playback)
- updates to my courses (new course host site; new courses including a free one!)
- updates to my Patreon page (lots of new content!)
- upcoming events (Patching the Monster webcast)
- one more thing (updates from Bjooks, publisher of Patch & Tweak)
Feeding the Monster: 4 days; 12 hours; several tons of content
My studio modular – which started life as an ADDAC Monster Frame – had taken a back seat for the past year and a half as I focused on building and learning a “gigging” modular system I could travel and perform live with, either solo or with others. However, during that time I was still working on the Monster Frame in the background installing a new, high-performance power supply, while also getting custom wood end panels built for me by Jason Fink (mandofink on Instagram – by the way, he has an extra set of Monster Frame end panels available). This process has been detailed on my Patreon channel; here is one public post about upgrading the power.
When the idea came into my head to show installing all of the modules back into it, my first thought was to do either do it as a timelapse video, or as a live, silent “fish bowl” broadcast of watching me work. Then I thought the least I could do was talk while I was installing the modules, explaining why I chose each one. I then asked my good friends DivKid Ben Wilson and Kim Bjørn of Bjooks (my co-author on Patch & Tweak) if they thought it was a crazy idea – and if not, would they be interested in joining me? Both quickly accepted, so we made a plan to split up the process over four 2-hour (okay; 3-hour) sessions.
During each session, I explained why I chose a specific module to be in my case and why it was going there. Ben and Kim then shared their experiences with similar modules, plus asked me follow-up questions. At the same time, we had a very active live chat room, where Ben and Kim posted links, and viewers asked additional questions. This process often led to all sorts of side discussions of subjects including system layout, module design, synthesis principles, patching ideas, composition & recording, and performance techniques. We had a great time (despite the occasional technical issues), and we got a lot positive feedback from viewers that they got a lot out of it as well – more than they were expecting! (Which felt good.)
Here are the four episodes; each include a replay of the chat room as it was happening:
Episode 1: Overview + Note & Trigger Generators
This episode started with an in-depth discussion of my the power system in the Monster, followed by going over how I create notes and triggers in the system (controller keyboard, sequencers, etc.) – including support modules such as clock dividers, logic, and quantizers:
Episode 2: Sounds Sources – VCOs, Samplers, & Waveshapers
After a brief review of power (including explaining why I wasn’t in danger of electrocuting myself) plus discussions of module layout, cable management, level setting, and more, I revealed how I was distributing pitch CV to ~15 sources and made them track over 4 octaves. I then launched into a discussion of each of my main sound sources:
Episode 3: Filters, VCAs, and Crossfaders
From sound sources, we moved onto the “voice tail” section of filters and amplifiers. In addition to roughly 15 different filters (both analog and digital, mono and stereo, expensive and cheap), I also have an assortment of VCAs, LPGs, crossfaders, panners, and submixers, including a couple of tube-based modules:
Episode 4: Modulators (LFOs, EGs, and more), Effects, and Final Mix
Next came a row of modules dedicated to providing modulation control voltages: random sources, LFOs, function generators, and different forms of multi-stage envelope generators. Then we got to the output section: modular effects, final mixers, and interfacing with the outside world:
As I mentioned, we covered a lot of ground in those four episodes. I prepared a linked index for each of the modules for my Patrons; DivKid should be adding that to the YouTube posts as well.
After spending 12 hours assembling the Monster, of course people want to finally hear it! So we’re creating a fifth episode: Patching the Monster, which will be broadcast live Saturday 9 May. More on that below.
New Videos & Blog Posts
Between assembling my Monster studio modular and bringing the new courses site online, I did not have time to create any additional public videos or blog posts. That should change in the very near future.
Modular Courses Updates
I’ve been busy on this front. Overall the past several weeks, I’ve been copying all of my online modular synthesis courses from the WordPress-based LearningModular.com site to my own dedicated corner of the brand-new course host site, NewZenler.com. This site allows me to integrate courses, membership, live events(!), and email all in one place, plus provides a better experience for viewers.
In the middle of April, I then copied each of the student accounts from my old site to the new site, one course at a time. That’s why many of you got a flurry of emails: they were being sent out for each course that was moved, so if you were enrolled in all four courses, you received a lot of emails. (Sorry.) But everything is moved now, and seems to be working smoothly.
The new URL for the courses is courses.learningmodular.com. The courses also still exist for now on LearningModular.com, but they will be removed from that site in a few months (before I have to renew my plug-in licenses for courseware and streaming video). LearningModular.com will continue to exist, but now will be focused on hosting my articles, blog posts, glossary, and this newsletter.
While I was setting up my courses on the new site, I wanted to make sure there was a couple more affordable options. For example, my Eurorack Expansion course had become quite large – and its price increased to nearly $200 to match. To make it more accessible, I’ve now created three versions or “Tiers” of it:
• Tier 1: The Essentials – The least expensive version. It includes the overall introduction and “core concepts” movies, as well as the introductory “how to integrate this type of module into your system” movie for each of the six module types covered in this series.
18 lessons, nearly 1.5 hours, $20. Click here to learn more.
• Tier 2: The Core – In addition to the Introduction, Core Concepts, and “how to integrate” movies for each of the six module types, this Tier also includes the movies for the first three modules in each of those six sections that serve as primary examples of each genre. This version of the course originally appeared on Lynda.com; the version I’m offering also includes a bonus seven movie section on the Serge Dual Universal Slope Generator: the forerunner to the Make Noise Maths and other popular modules.
82 lessons, over 7.5 hours, $97. Click here to learn more.
• Tier 3: Extended Edition – This “jumbo” version of Eurorack Expansion – closing in on 200 lessons and 20 hours of videos – includes an ever-growing list of modules (50+ and counting), and will expose you to a wide variety of synthesis approaches, tricks, and techniques. Those who enroll in this course will get all new module lessons added in the future for no additional charge.
Nearly 200 lessons and 20 hours (and growing), $197. Click here to learn more.
There is also a free course on the site: The Basic Concepts of Synthesis. This came out of a set of 10 movies I created for new users getting into modular synthesis, as a sort of “pre-school” for the book Patch & Tweak. It’s been getting a lot of positive reviews from those who have viewed it – even those with prior synthesis experience.
One of the reasons I moved the courses Zenler is they make it possible for me to add closed captioning to the movies, to help those who do not natively speak English, or who otherwise have difficulty following me when I speak too fast (again, sorry). The Basic Concepts and Tier 1 of Eurorack Expansion currently have captions; I will be adding them to most of the other course in the coming months. Also, I will be adding downloadable text transcriptions of the movies, so you can plug them into Google Translate if desired. These currently exist for Basic Concepts, and will be added to most of the other courses as well. I will keep you updated on my progress in these newsletters.
Zenler is also in the process of integrating Zoom, so I can do live events or courses in the future. If you have any suggestions for such events, let me know in the comments below.
My Patreon supporters get the extended version/director’s cut of whatever I am working on or thinking. April was all about finishing off my Monster studio system. For subscribers who have not had a chance to keep up with the recent posts:
- I wrote the two final(?) installments in the Monster Power series, including one on heat and ventilation (you won’t believe how hot the system got without fans…and how well the fans cooled it off), and one on lighting the Monster.
- I also created an “annotated” post for each of the Feeding the Monster videos, including a linked index for each episode, as well as answers to many of the questions that came up in the live chat during the episodes (we didn’t get to all of the questions “on air”, plus I couldn’t see the chat panel during the sessions). There are annotated posts for Episode 1 (power, notes, & triggers, Episode 2 (VCOs, samplers, & waveshapers), Episode 3 (VCFs, VCAs, LPGs, and submixing), and Episode 4 (modulation sources, effects, and mixing).
- After the Monster was fed, I also had a “spring cleaning” module sale at special pricing for my supporters at the +5 level and above. A lot of modules went very quickly; some interesting ones are still around – for now…
If you are not yet a Patron of Learning Modular, here is an index of posts you get access to as soon as you subscribe. Supporters also get access to additional benefits, including access to one or all my courses.
Just a couple of months ago, my calendar was full of synth events and performances I was planning for the year. Virtually all of them are cancelled now, and I’m afraid to post about the events that have not yet been cancelled.
But not all is lost: On Saturday May 9, DivKid, Kim Bjørn and I will be live streaming another episode of Feeding the Monster. This time around, it’s going to be Patching the Monster, as I demonstrate various patch ideas that were discussed in the earlier episodes. It is scheduled to start 8:30 PM (20:30) European Central Summer time, 7:30 PM (19:30) British Summer time, 2:30 PM US EDT, and 11:30 AM US PDT. (Fingers crossed that the technical gremlins stay away this time!)
Since the last episode, I have been working further on the Monster. I have the controller keyboard hooked up to it, and the external mixer/recorder is supposed to come this weekend. I am also installing a set of Klavis CalTrans modules to allow me to more precisely tune my sound sources, plus quickly dial in semitone and octave offsets per module.
Bjooks – run by Kim Bjørn – publishes Patch & Tweak (which I co-wrote with Kim) as well as Push Turn Move and Pedal Crush. They are in the process of consolidating their presence across social media to make it easier for speak to those who own more than one of those books, and for readers of one book to discover the other ones. Look for the tag @wemakebjooks. Make sure you follow their Instagram and Facebook channels during the month of May – it will be worth your while.
To help you learn about their other books, they recently created this free online preview that features a good number of pages from each of their books – it’s a great way to look before you buy. And if you do decide to buy, they have a list of over 100 resellers now, plus sell direct from their web site if there is not a reseller in your area.
It’s surprising how many things are happening right now in the modular world, while other parts of the world have come to a standstill. As if we need to be reminded, here is a very funny video about how much things have changed in just the last few months. Coping with this pandemic has caused all of us to re-align our priorities. I hope making music has stayed near the top of your own personal list – being creative is a wonderful release.
best regards –