The Master Plan
Understanding Patching Concepts
(In Search Of My Muse #1.01)
As with any Art to be mastered, analog modular synthesis is theory, theory, theory and a lot of practice. Indeed, once you have a sound knowledge of electro-acoustical theory, it is much easier to grasp "The Big Picture"...
First identify all "objects" and classify them one-by-one.
For example, in the first paragraph, "The Big Picture" is a symbolic object: it also contains three symbolic "things" : "The" ,"Big "and "Picture"...
The next step is to identify the inner structure of each "thing" : zoom-in and out and take some 'samples' on a micro and macro level: analyze the relationships of the "things" and their eventual "sub-things" vs. the different objects and vs. the whole. Identify their patterns of relationships.
Mental Mapping Of A Patch
Now, try to visualize a mental map of your future patch. Then, group it, by category, classes , instances (or sub-classes) and sub-instances...
For example, the Audio category contains different classes like: VCO, Noise, Ext. Audio sounds, VCA, and so on...
Similarly, the Modifiers category contains classes like: VCF, Ring Mod, Wave Multipliers, Multipliers, Phase shifters, Mixers, and so on...
Also, the Amplifiers category contains classes like: VCA, Panners, Cross-Faders, and so on...
Finally, the Controllers category contains classes like : S/H, LFO, Sequencers, Keyboards, Envelopes, and so on...
Now, each class has a number of instances or sub-classes.
For example "VCO sawtooth output" and "VCO sync input" are subsets of the VCO class. Similarly, "VCF Ext.CV input" and "VCF LP output" sub- classes are subsets of the VCF class, and so on...
Needless to say, there are a number of classes which have a special functionnal relationship with other classes and the same goes for sub-classes with other sub-classes....
For example: the "Envelope output" sub-class is deeply entertwined with the "VCF Frequency cut-off input" as well as the "VCA gain input" sub-classes. Also, the "Keyboard CV output"sub-class has a special connectivity relationship with the "VCO 1V/oct.input" and the "VCF 1V/oct.input" sub-classes....
As an e-music convention, you should always start a patch from the Audio Sources on ; then, complete the audio chain with the Modifiers and Amplifiers (the audio part of the patch is written horizontally from left to right).
Only when the audio path is completed - and heard - should you start patching the Controllers : always patch them first to the Audio Sources, then to the Modifiers and then to the Amplifiers (the controls are written vertically from bottom to UP).
A structure of voltages
When you patch modules together, you assemble individual "components, "much like a gigantic puzzle board. Each module is important to the overall sound structure : one missing patchcord or wrongly placed module in a patch can affect the sound in its entirety.
So, when you build up a patch; you are not only connecting modules together, using voltages of different polarities (+/-) and types (AC/DC): you are also building a mental structure of "classes "and "sub-classes".
If your patch is correctly built -and properly attenuated at each stage - then, the whole structure should be more or less in "virtual equilibrium". If it is not, then it might collapse and the sound you are working on might suddenly disappear alltogether. Sounds familiar?
The Master Plan
On a lighter side, the act of composing a piece of music is not much different than an Architect drawing the master-plan for a building. :-)
A Typical Architect's Master Plan
Initial survey on the possibilities of erecting a building. (Initial survey of the gear you'll need -or have to acquire - in order to realize your musical composition).
Initial survey of the grounds and the immediate environment. (Initial survey of the musical and technical knowledge you will need -or have to acquire- to realize this project).
Initial survey of the building impact on socio- economical, cultural, political and environment issues. (What kind of musical composition should you write to be easily accepted by your public?)
First draft, including a detailed cost-estimate. (How much will this composition cost you in labor, time and energy?
Acceptance of the Architect's draft by the client. (Will your producer like the music?).
Laying down the foundations. (Determine the overall aspects of your musical composition. Focus on the melodic/ timbral / rhythmic aspects, as well as the global amplitude vs. time).
Erecting the structure from the ground up, floor- by-floor. (Build up your patch systematically, as outlined here above. When satisfied with the results, proceed to record your sounds, layer-by-layer, using a digital multi-track recorder or a quality reel-to-reel multi-track tape recorder).
Placing and securing the bricks with mortar. (Check constantly if each part is consistent vs.the whole. Pay particular attention to the "junction points "or drastic mood changes between the different parts of your composition).
Placing the outside windows. (Recheck the range of your Sample and Hold!).
Placement of water and electricity. (Don't overuse the 'wetness' of your reverb unit!).
Erecting the inner-walls and staircases. (Avoid overusing the arpeggiators and smooth-and-stepped generators !)
Placement of the doors and wooden parquet. (Check if your Gates and Triggers are in sync)
Plastering and painting of the walls. (Check the relationship between the Frequency cut-off (Fc.) and the resonance (Q) of your VCF).
Fine-tune the interior decorations and check for details omitted. (Tweak, tweak, tweak and recheck your sounds until you are satisfied with the results).
Building completed. (Composition completed).
Go back to 1... (Always improve your composition as you go)...
(Extracts from 'Ye Olde Timer's Analogue Cookbook' by Andre C. Stordeur)
Andre Stordeur has taught analog modular synthesis since 1973. He studied with David Wessel at the I.R.C.A.M , in Paris, and with American composer Morton Subotnick.