a self-haunting

There’s a thread on MW, “Some thoughts on people asking for advice on their rack.” Long story short, this got me thinking about when I was a beginner. How would I have answered the common questions people ask? What sort of advice would 2024-me give to 2016-me if they started a “please advise” thread now?

At the time, my goal for modular was “Explore. Get some sounds I haven’t been getting from software.” My plan was to go for a small case of modules to give my Microbrute superpowers, or a single synth voice to complement the mostly-softsynth, linear MIDI sequencing habits I had known.

My original Plan A — precipitated mostly by Mutable Instruments donating modules to a KVR charity auction — was this:

Elements / Warps / Tides / Peaks / uZeus

In a DIY, approx. 75HP box. Because cases were expensive and I only wanted a few modules. Before I actually got started, this got mutated to:

Rings/ Tides / Peaks / uZeus

With hindsight I can say the following:

  • Tiny cases seem like a good idea, but actually that’s expert difficulty. You need very well-defined goals and limitations; this is the opposite of what somewhat who wants to explore should be doing. Trying to cram a lot of stuff into a small amount of HP means you’re limiting your choices to some more mediocre options that compromise sound, features, playability etc. (A smarter choice for exploration on a budget would be software like VCV Rack and/or semi-modulars, or maybe AE Modular. Those weren’t so abundant and wonderful in 2016 though.)
  • Utilities! This is what people always say. These modules being paired up with the Microbrute, it desperately needed attenuverters. I discovered that very quickly on my own though.
  • A particular interface quirk of Peaks made it unfun for me to use, and it’s a particular interface quirk I hated on desktop synths before that and should have studiously avoided. But it would take several more modules that do this before I learned that lesson. (If there’s ever a preset or a mode that changes the value of a parameter out from under the knob that’s supposed to control it… yuck.)

Anyway… I started listening to some of my older, pre-Starthief, pre-modular music. Some of it I don’t enjoy, because I got so much better at production skills. Some of it’s obviously trying stuff and not quite reaching what I wanted. There was a lot of exploration of styles and genres…

But some of it sounds like I recorded it yesterday and even matches the specific aesthetic I’ve been into for the past few weeks. With no modular, no hardware of any kind, only a portion of the plugins I regularly use now, and linear MIDI sequencing in FL Studio. There’s even a moment that sounds like I used Rings.

So… it’s really not about gear.

I have suspected for some time now that, with the mindset and workflow that I’ve developed since getting into modular, I could go back to 100% software-based music creation, albeit with some nice MIDI controllers, and still make similar music. This is confirmation that even without what I have learned and developed and practiced since then, I could be making that music. It’s just sort of… me-music.