Make Noise 2018: Contour

Our first modulation source is the lovely little Contour module. I sometimes get the sense that Contour is considered Function’s poor cousin. So, is Contour just for those of us too cheap to drop the extra $45 for Function? Personally, I don’t think so.

What contour is, at it’s heart, is a beautiful and versatile envelope generator. It’s not unusual to have a switch that allows you to move between AD and ASR envelope modes. Contour takes this a step further, with the Sustain knob, and lets us go from AD, to ADSR, to ASR. It’s incredibly useful. Moving through envelope types on the Sustain knob makes it easy to experiment while patching. There have been more than a few times when I thought I wanted an AD envelope, but and ASR or even ADSR just brought something special to the patch.

The decay knob is another wonderful little detail. Normally an ADSR has four knobs, one for each stage of the envelope. However, Contour uses a single knob to control the decay and release times. I was a bit worried about loosing individual control over decay and release times, but for 95% of situations the combined control is perfect. It sounds great and makes adjustment and modulation simple and effective. Counter-intuitive though it may seem, the one knob control is a real boon.

The EON (end of onset) and EOC (end of cycle) outputs send out gates, and can be used to trigger all manner of events. By patching the EOC back to Contour’s gate input it becomes a cycling AD envelope so you can use it for LFO duties. It can get very slow, or can be driven into audio rates. Yes, Contour is a masterful envelope, but I confess to using it as an LFO a lot more than I perhaps should, and doing so with a huge smile on my face.

Now lets talk about the Mirror output. Mirror is not an inverted output (from 0V to -8V back to 0V). The Mirror output starts at +8V goes down to 0V at it’s “peak” and then back to +8V. This was a feature which I thought was a bit stupid when reading up on Contour, but once I had it in hand all became clear. While I don’t use the mirror output on every patch, it sees frequent usage. I sometimes even find myself reaching for the inverted output of Function, only to be disappointed that it is not a mirrored output.

Finally the response knob. The response ranges from linear to exponential. It get’s really snappy on the exponential end, perfect for pinging vactrols. The linear provides the longest envelopes. But I really find myself digging into the intermediate shapes most of the time, and being quite happy with the results. I do prefer Contour to Function on this end, only because I really haven’t found any use for the logarithmic responses on Function. Contour gives me more usable range and really lets me dial it in.

All in all Contour is a great modulation source, not just on a budget, but full stop. It has pulled it’s weight in this Make Noise build and with my larger system. Being able to call up three different types of envelopes using a single knob has opened up a lot of possibilities for me in patching. The single knob control of decay and release times is a beautifully playable simplification. And the Mirror output opens up some amazing patching possibilities. These coupled with rest of Contour’s features result in an extremely well featured envelope, with incredibly intuitive patching and play-ability.


Honorable Mentions:
Make Noise Contour

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Tips and Tricks:

  1. Patch the EOC into the Gate input to create an LFO. Don’t forget while doing this you can use the EOC/EON outputs as a pulse LFO or as a clock source. Adjust pulse width or PWM by modulating attack and decay times. The Shape knob is great for changing things up in this mode.
  2. When using Contour as an LFO it’s a blast using it to tear STO to pieces with FM and Sync.
  3. Max out the attack or decay time (or both) and patch in a positive voltage to slow Contour to an absolutely glacial pace. (Forgive me for not timing the complete Attack/Decay cycle.) Turning the Attack knob fully clockwise, and sending it constant +8V (I used Functions EOR output to hang it at the top of the cycle) I got a 27 minute attack phase with a linear response. Assuming the decay is equal, that means you could get up to a 54 minute cycle out of this thing in AD mode (or when cycling).
  4. Set up the SQ-1 to dual eight-step mode, use one channel for gate/CV and the second channel to set individual decay times for each note.
  5. It can sound pretty cool to send the Mirror output to STO’s linear FM and the normal output to the Shape input, and mult it out to your LPG. You get the rise and fall of the primary and additional harmonics doing this sort of balancing act.
  6. Experiment with different envelope types, really dig into that sustain knob. You may be surprised to find that a differen’t envelope type is exactly what your patch needs. And don’t be afraid to wiggle this knob for a bit of variety while you sequence.
  7. I sometimes like to switch from AD to ASR while playing a sequence, modulate the gate length on the SQ-1 by hand for a bit, and switch back to AD when I’m done enjoying that.

Addendum: Contour vs. Function
I don’t want to get into a detailed comparison, but I think it’s worth talking, even briefly, about Contour vs. Function. I can see why these two are sometimes compared, because there are similarities between the modules, but I believe the similarities are more cosmetic than substantial. There’s a sense that Contour is not as well featured as Function. Having both and having used both for a while, I really don’t think they’re comparable units. Contour excels as an envelope generator, it’s incredibly intuitive and very well featured. Function, yes, is also an envelope generator, but crippled by comparison. However Function brings a lot of other useful features to the table. If you’re trying to decide between the two I suggest you consider whether you want an excellent envelope generator or really diverse utility module. In the case of our build here, the two compliment each other well, their diversity helps fill out the system and the limited overlap between the modules creates a bit of needed redundancy in basic modulation sources.