Me & Modular: Sound, Serenity, and Sickness

My first real experience with a synth… I had traveled down to North Carolina for a gathering of friends. I’m pretty sure it was one of the Volca’s or something similar anyway. I heard someone play with it for a mere minute. Being granted an opportunity, I poked a few of the keys/touchpads… whatever (yep the vaguest recollection of the seminal moment for me). I made a few sounds and was very amused. I quickly let it be, knowing that I could fiddle about making pointless sounds for hours (to the annoyance of everyone present). I really needed to look into synthesizers.

Almost two years passed, researching the subject intermittently, before I purchased my first synth. Somewhere in the research I’d stumbled upon these crazy little synths, built from individual modules, covered in jacks and knobs, and I’d become enthralled. I purchased a Dark Energy II and played with it on and off for about a year. My attention ranged from engrossed to apathetic during that time. You see, I’m quite badly ADHD. This means that, in general, I have little control over my focus. On a good day, it’s a struggle. As much as I may attempt to direct it somewhere it’s apt to scatter to the four winds. Other times my mind will latch on to something, and much as I’d like to divert my attention, I’m as likely to derail the hyper-focus as a penny on the tracks is likely to derail a freight train. After a year, I felt the pull toward modular and so at first I began to expand my semi-modular, and eventually sold off the Dark Energy II and went fully into the modular world.

There’s something about the modular experience. I was initially drawn by the wild sounds. But it’s not just the sound, it is the mental game of designing my own instrument, it is the immediacy, the tactile nature, creating a physical pathway for the creation, manipulation, destruction and reconstruction of sound. These all combine to create a unique experience, intimate, experimental, and expressive. These little electrical machines are truly lovely creatures. Their broad appeal helps me maintain my wandering attention. Though truth be told, it waxes and wains none-the-less. For someone whose brain is similarly atypical as mine, the new is ever a wonderful stimulant and can help grab the attention afresh. At times I can find this stimulation organically, by discovery of some new approach or sound, or by the sharing of an idea or concept through our community, which excites me to exploration. Sometimes the stimulation is achieved “artificially” so to speak, by adding a new module, or pedal, some new sound toy, to expand on what is already there.

I came for the sound. I stay because of the serenity. There is a sort of calm, of peace, of focus I find either in sculpting some sound to express myself, or in the wide-eyed wonder of exploratory patching. But there is also the sickness, the part of my brain that’s wired all wrong and is hardly content without the constant stimulation of the new and unknown. Yes, sometimes the synth soothes the savage beast, at other times, I’m afraid it merely feeds it. It has been a bit of a struggle to find a balance. Two things have helped me. My wife some months back suggested I blog about my little hobby, to which I responded, “that’s ridiculous, why would I do that?” Yet, it provides me a motivation to keep going and discovering with what I have, so that I can strive to share something meaningful with you all. And so, you help and inspire me in that way. And then my wife somehow manages to encourage and indulge me, while all the same, holding me back from the precipice.

There has been some unexpected fruit from this strange journey of mine. One, is this amazing community of which we are all a part. We’ve been brought together from a diversity of nations, languages, and ways of life by our common passion. Yes, I know we have our bad moments as a community, when things can get a bit ugly, and that frustrates me too. But often we have this really beautiful sharing of ideas, of passion, of creation, and expression. I didn’t start down this path to meet so many amazing new people. But I have, and thank you for letting me be part of this community with you. And without trying to sound like Bill and Ted (but failing all the same) keep being excellent to one another! The second is the time I get to spend with my little girl. Which is a struggle sometimes as she would totally dominate the synth given the chance. But it is so wonderful to be able to share this with her, and I hope (she’s only three right now) that she stays interested in these things and that we can continue to share this as she grows up. I’m super excited for her fifth birthday, because if she’s still into all this, I really want to give her the Mother 32 as her first synth… but that part of the story is yet to be told. We shall see how it unfolds. For now I’m hugely encouraged by Caitlin, of The Mad Music Machine, and her dad, as they seem to be learning and sharing their journey together (and with us, on Youtube).

This is quite different from my usual ramblings, but I wanted to share something more of myself and of my journey with you. And also to thank you for sharing your journey as we commune together in our forums and groups. And for those whose journeys are just beginning, we’re so glad you’re here. We are excited to share this wild, beautiful, anachronistic world with you!


Honorable Mentions:
Our awesome community
The Mad Music Machine

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