As the sidebar currently says, my current musical project is an album called Materials. It’s the kind of music that I have been making — the dark side of ambient, spooky, unsettling, etc. — but it’s also a study of Mutable Instruments Rings. Rings, a physical modeling resonator, is one of the most popular Eurorack modules (#4 if you can trust ModularGrid) and with good reason.
The easiest way to use Rings is to just send it a pitch and optionally a trigger signal, and it produces a lovely plucked string or struck bar or membrane — sounding like metal, glass, wood, etc. Guitars, xylophones, some types of drums and so on are in easy reach. But its ease of use, popularity and beauty have made it something of a cliche, and there’s a backlash against its easily recognizable sounds.
Like any good backlash, there’s a counter-backlash. The module’s designer Olivier Gillet, and some musicians such as Billy Gomberg point out you can think of it more as a sort of filter/reverb. Feed any audio source into Rings (including itself) and now instead of tapping those strings and plates, you’re bowing them, rubbing them, blowing air over them, vibrating them sympathetically… really it’s entire worlds of realistic and impossible materials for musical manipulation.
Rings was the module that got me into Eurorack in the first place, and I was doing this “fancy” stuff on my first day with it. To me it’s what makes Rings so good.
Early in October I read too many “it always sounds the same” posts and snapped. And by “snapped” I mean “decided to record an album that proves them wrong.”
The challenge has been holding back from centering other stuff that I really like — but coming up with myriad ways to use Rings that don’t “sound like Rings” has been fun and easy. I have a whole list of things I could try that I will probably never get around to. I even wound up trading a couple of less favored modules for a second Rings — they work really well together.
Overall, I feel like the best partner for a Rings is Plaits, Mutable’s versatile “macro oscillator” that incorporates many different synthesis methods. But when you have a whole modular synth to work with, plus field recordings, software synths, samples of acoustic instruments, and so on there is really no limit.
Yesterday’s effort used Rhythmic Robot Hurdy-Gurdy as the sound source for the first Rings, which then fed the second Rings. Strings vibrating strings vibrating strings! The gurdy and both resonators were mixed and run through reverb and a touch of distortion and filtering. Here is the result.
Doesn’t really sound like a guitar or xylophone, does it?