This blog is going to be a bit different, mainly because Robert has been super busy with orders and hasn’t had much time to work on new modules. Most people who are anxiously waiting for a package from Germany may appreciate this!
However we are going to introduce a new independent AE module creator and his two new modules.
Zeno is a relative newcomer to the AE Modular community, but boy did he make an entrance! Already his first few videos were thumping and were immediately followed by a series of live streams of techno done with his new AE Modular system. From the start he was engaged in the DIY channel of the Discord server and board on the forum and it wasn’t long before he introduced his first module idea - Kurt’s Dead Band Filter. You can see his first announcement here:
He has taken a big step and really turned this prototype into a product which is now for sale as a DIY kit. That’s why we would like to know more about Zeno, how he got into making electronic music and where he gets his ideas for building modules.
First things first, what are those new modules?
Kurt's Dead Band is an audio/CV manipulation tool for AE Modular, homemade with tons of love by Keurslager Kurt. In the kit you will find everything you need to make your own 1U Dead Band module, you only need a soldering iron and some solder. The build is very beginner friendly, with only through-hole components.
Kurt’s Quad Boost is an amplifier module for the AE Modular format. It is tailored specifically for AE Modular, but it will work for every signal from 0-5V, and it runs on 5V. It consists of four transistor amplifier circuits, inspired by the old-school ‘LPB-1’ guitar pedal. Each amplifier circuit has its own dedicated ‘Boost’ knob that controls the input volume. The amplification has a distinct ‘transistor sound’. Due to the non-linear nature of this simple component, it is by no means a clean boost at all. Depending on the input volume, you will get everything in between crispy high end accents and deep low-end fatness.
You can see the Quad Boost in action here:
Where can people buy your modules and how much do they cost?
I will start off by offering my modules as a complete kit. So you get the PCB, front panel and all components, but you need to solder and mount it together yourself. It is honestly really easy, and could be a great beginner build for everyone who wants to try out soldering! You can get a soldering iron for as low as €10 these days and that will do for a small build like this.
I would like to offer full modules in the future, but the reality for the moment is that I have no decent workbench to do long soldering sessions, nor do I have the spare time for it besides my day job. It also makes shipping considerably harder, as I can send the kit just as a ‘flat’ envelope package, but a full module would have very different shipping needs. So we’ll see what the future brings, I’ll be on the lookout for ways to make the full module possible, and of course the success of the kit will also determine the future.
A website is in the works, but for now you can buy my Dead Band kit for €37.95 (or $45 USD, without shipping costs) via Tindie on this page:
The Quad Boost is also available now (quicker than expected)! It’s a slightly more dense build, there are more components on a smaller space, but nothing is really fragile and all components are through-hole. This full kit costs €33.86 (or $40 USD, no shipping included).
Please tell us a bit about your musical journey. How did you start making electronic music and who are your influences?
My first exposure to electronic music must have been the LP’s of Kraftwerk from my dad. However, this felt like ‘old’ music already when I was a teenager. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed listening to these records, but the first time electronic music blew me away must have been Mount Kimbie’s debut album ‘Crooks & Lovers’. I think I was about 16 years old and it sounded like nothing else at that moment, and yet, it felt very catchy and accessible. Listening back to it now, I can hear tons of interesting soundscaping, loads of hiss, bitcrushed drums, etc, but back then it was the melodies and funky rhythms that I heard. I think making and experimenting with music yourself makes you hear other music very different.
Then came tons of albums that sucked me into electronic music. There was James Blake’s first EPs and album, I remember Boards Of Canada releasing a new album which made me discover their fantastic debut. I dove into Aphex Twin and Autechre, and also enjoyed more recent stuff from people like Flying Lotus or Fourtet. One of my favorite albums was also Moderat’s ‘II’, which gave some nice introductions to techno and club music. And probably my all time favorite electronic artist is Oneohtrix Point Never, he really blurs all lines between experimental, cheesy pop and noise with his incredible catalogue of the last decade.
But the biggest influence that made me want to make techno music was definitely Recondite. He really makes music that makes me dance and touches my soul, but in a very German Techno way. It’s very minimal, almost cold music, and yet it’s crafted so well that it makes me feel something. So my first experience going to a Techno club was seeing Recondite live in a warehouse in my hometown of Ghent, and that is definitely what got me into the clubbing and techno scene.
Seeing these people perform, often with live rigs consisting of tons of Elektron gear, desktop synths and often a modular rig, made me dream about my own system. Like a lot of people here, seeing the steep prices of Eurorack gear made me reconsider my dreams. When Covid hit, I was pretty much locked at home without work (I give practical courses about electrical motors at Uni). I was lucky enough to keep my paycheck, so I had more money than usual (as I couldn’t go out), and way more time. So this is the point where I really got into hardware synths, starting with a TD-3 and an Elektron Model:Samples. After some months I also started recording live videos of my jams, which got watched by random people online (much to my suprise!!). I’ve played in quite some bands, and it always seemed so hard to even reach 100 different listeners that are not our own friends & family. So this was really a new experience for me that gave me tons of energy to explore hardware synths further.
This is also when I started to use the ‘Keurslager Kurt’ alias. I was in search of a good artist name, and it's a bit of a recurring trend with European Techno artists to make music under their own name (Charlotte Dewitte, Adam Beyer, Amelie Lens, Stephan Bodzin, Robert Langer,..). But in my opinion ‘Zeno Van Moerkerke’ was not really a great stage name. So I ended up using ‘Keurslager Kurt’, which is actually the name of the local butcher in the small rural village where I grew up (Keurslager meaning ‘quality butcher’ in Dutch). It sounds a bit brutal, which is perfect for making techno music, but it’s also a bit stupid, to indicate that I don’t take myself too serious. So when you see recurring hints to meat, butchers, etc, in my music and artwork, now you know why! Oh, and to be clear, I’m not with the meat lobby, it’s not meant to be serious at all ;-)
So after diving into hardware synthesizers,I got to know AE Modular through a video of BoBeats in the second half of 2020. Seeing those prices and hearing the fantastic music of people on here (I remember the cactus video of Slowscape in particular, but of course also the videos of Tuesday Night Machines, The 5th Volt & Technobear) made me take the dive into modular!
You have used other electronic instruments in the past and we can see a Digitakt in one of your videos. Why did you choose to add the AE Modular to your arsenal and how does it fit into your music?
Modular seemed very inspiring to me as it can do things that really no other hardware instrument can do. I’m very interested in synthesis and the crossing of science and music, and AE Modular seemed perfect for that. Besides all that, AE Modular is also compact, which is important as I have very little space to work with.
I think Digitakt and AE Modular make a fantastic pairing. I often use Digitakt as the central piece of my setup (much like a lot of AE users use a Deluge), it sends clock & MIDI signals while it also provides a fantastic sequencer with tons of musical options. However, AE Modular offers an endless amount of possibilities that the Digitakt does not have, as it is a sample based machine. Modular also gives a great way to introduce random factors, small changes and such that make the music come to life!
However, even with high expectations, I was still very impressed, surprised even, by how extremely good AE Modular sounds. I did not find a lot of people dipping in techno and more ‘harsh’ sounds on youtube, so it was a bit of a guess whether it would be something that fits AE Modular. But the brute force and power that you can create with the system really blew me away. I have spent so much time with the machine the last half year, I even sold quite some of my older gear because I don’t use it anymore since I have my AE, haha.
What do you like about the system and where would you like to see improvements?
Like most of us, I was sucked in by the affordable prices, but what impressed me most was the fantastic sound quality. I also love the patch cables, it keeps the system so portable and makes it really easy to interface with experiments on a breadboard. I think the analog modules side of AE Modular really bring tons of great options already, and I think the most ‘groundbreaking’ new options might be in the digital side of things. Which is ironic, because I only make analog stuff, haha!
So what I miss most is some type of complex, digital sequencer that would really make the system a standalone powerhouse for more percussive stuff too. However, I still have made quite some live techno on AE Modular alone, and the TOPOGRAF has been a godsend for that. What would also solve that ‘problem’ for me, would be the possibilities to have multiple MIDI channels to CV in. My Digitakt can send and sequence up to 8 MIDI tracks, so multiple MIDI in channels on the AE would make some seriously complex songs possible!
But I feel like this community is growing fast, and so many people are loving the system, that it is only a matter of time for more and more third parties to arrive! Together with Robert himself churning out so many modules, I feel like the future is gonna be great for AE (and the present is already so great!!).
How did you get started with electronics and how did you get the idea for the new modules?
I only got into electronics about one and a half years ago, when I started at my new job at the University. The previous lab teacher who retired, was an electronics geek building his own amplifiers and stuff. In the past, when people at the university were going to throw old stuff away, he always kept it in different cases ‘hidden’ in the lab. So when I was going through all the stuff, I found tons and tons of old PCB’s with loads of different stuff. I was triggered to go online and search what all these different chips did. I found some chips that came out of an old function generator, and found out that synth diy legend Thomas Henry used these exact chips to build a synth in the past. It led me into a rabbit hole of diy builders and youtubers like Look Mum No Computer, Simon The Magpie, and many more.
I started building guitar pedals, as I did not have a lot of synth knowledge back then, I mainly played guitar. However, testing guitar pedals is really a drag. You have to mess with a huge contraption of jack sockets going to your breadboard, connecting a ton of grounds with alligator clips and at the same time you have to hold and play your guitar! No fun, and very frustrating at times. So when I got my AE Modular, it was when I really took a deep plunge in audio electronics, as it is so easy to connect a breadboard and experiment! I must add that I’m also quite an electronics nerd by now, I read ‘The Art of Electronics’ before I go to sleep in bed these days, haha.
So the idea for new modules did not come out of a direct need, but rather out of learning new circuits and trying them out to see if I can make something musical with it. My first module, Kurt’s Dead Band, was based on a super interesting video I found by Prof. Aaron Lantermann. It seemed like a fun, super basic circuit that I could easily try out on the breadboard, and it worked! So I took that idea to the AE Modular forum, and both Robert and @namke (from Wonkystuff) provided me very useful input on converting this basic building block to a useful module. So I managed to add CV, together with the option for both audio & DC in, and I even discovered an ‘easter egg’ in the circuit by accident that made it possible to both create a horizontal and vertical dead band.
The Quad Boost also came into existence while I was learning more about transistors. I still have a hard time completely grasping transistors, as they feel like very complex and non-ideal building blocks with a lot of unexpected properties. So while I was learning about circuits to use a transistor as a simple amplification device, I wanted to try and design one to test my new knowledge. So after a lot of calculations and mistakes on paper, I figured out a working, simple circuit on 5V. It’s actually so simple that I managed to fit four identical circuits on one PCB with all through-hole (so easy-diy) components. I really love the sound of it, it's not a clean amplification by any means, but I think other people will enjoy the transistor boost sound too!
There is actually a fun twist with the Quad Boost: you can change just one specific resistor value in the circuit which really alters the sound in a cool way, giving it some dirtier clipping/overdrive sound. For example, for my own version I have two of the four transistor boost circuits with the ‘standard’ value, and the two others with the ‘dirty’ version. For the module I will include some extra resistors, so people at home can make their own personal version of the circuit! I will also include four different transistors for the circuit, but these only alter the sound in some very subtle (or imaginary?) way, but it's fun to introduce some randomness.
Do you have more ideas? What do you think you will produce next?
I have been messing with a recording/playback chip, ISD1820. It's a low cost and very glitchy chip, which is a lot of fun, but also very unstable. If I figure out a way to make it work reliably, I think it could be a fun circuit to convert to a module. One thing that I would also love to make is a completely analog drum kit module that is suitable for more techno-oriented setups: kick, snare and hihat. A clap would also be nice, but seems rather hard to do. So this one needs a ton more research and is something for the longer future. Probably I will do some random other circuits in between, depending on what crosses my path!
Of course I’m always interested in what other people would like, and I will also make all my schematics public on the forum, as that is how I learned about electronics in the first place! So I would like to spread the knowledge and help other interested people or builders. Anyone who has questions, tips, or thoughts, I’m very happy to chat and talk about this kind of stuff.
More Info, Social Media, etc
Don't forget to visit his Tindie Shop and buy those two modules!
February was a strange month. As you may know, we rely on our Chinese manufacturers for the production of many parts of the AE Modular. As every year, China closes for some weeks over the Chinese New Year festival in early February, therefore we placed a big order before that. Four big parcels arrived in Germany in time, with the module boards we needed to fulfil a huge amount of outstanding orders plus filling our stock; we were happy that everything went well so far. But then we found that our parcels were held by the German customs, we learned that the customs were overloaded by much more parcels they have to process (with the same staff), mostly caused by the new and somewhat chaotic customs situation of UK Brexit! So for around two weeks we did what we could with the material at hand, but the bulk of our product was stuck! And we thought 2020 was bad for shipping!
Then we heard more and more troubling reports from some customers in the USA who asked about parcels that were sent many weeks and even months ago and still hadn’t arrived! After some digging we finally received a message from DHL about the abysmal state of the US Postal Service and its backlog of half a million packages! You can read most of it on the forum:
We are still investigating other options to hopefully reduce the wait time and also to make the posting of our valuable packages more secure. As a first measure, we added optional DHL Express shipping for orders from North-/South America. With this, parcels are delivered usually within 3-4 work days.
On a much more positive note, we have started on the design of the special systems for educational purposes and are now working on a matching curriculum with an organisation which specialises in delivering music workshops for kids! We will reveal more once there is a bit more substance to this project, but it’s definitely going in the right direction and is very exciting!
The mentioned miseries have no impact on the very good mood in the AE team; we are so motivated and encouraged day by day by all the feedback and excitement we get from our customers - from YOU!
With the most important packages detained at the customs facilities, Robert had time again to finish off some new modules! The series of modules that make up the mixing console in AE Modular is now extended and offers serious playability to live and studio artists. You can expect further extensions like modules for tone control/equalizer and muting channels in the near future - the field of “mixing” offers a lot of modular extensibility too ;-)
MIXCONSOLE XLR Out (balanced)
This is an extension module for the MIXCONSOLE which we introduced earlier in the year. It adds two balanced XLR sockets for connection to PRO audio equipment. It connects to the MIXCONSOLE via an internal connector cable at the back of the module.
You can buy this module here in the online shop.
MIXCONSOLE JACK Out (unbalanced)
If you don’t want to use adapters between the ⅛’’ (3.5mm) mini jacks of the MIXCONSOLE and a studio mixer or audio interface, then you can install this module which offers mono ¼’’ (6.5mm) unbalanced jacks. This module connects either to the MIXCONSOLE or to the XLR OUT module via an internal cable at the back.
You can buy this module here in the online shop.
This is another module that makes playing with the AE Modular fun and engaging. The joystick can be moved into 4 directions and either send four individual control voltages or attenuate 4 incoming CV signals. In addition it acts as a CV mixer on a separate output.
If you have an eye on a four-quadrant audio mixing with the joystick, then you will welcome the upcoming 4VCA/VCMIX module ;-)
You can buy this module here in the online shop.
We’ve added the following accessories to make AE Modular even more colourful, and to give you more tools to make music and even build your own modules.
New Rack Colour Options!
You can now choose many different colours for the front and side panels when buying individual racks, check it out in the online shop. The days of the grey, red and black are numbered! Combine these new rack colours with the colourful knobs and you can create your very unique style!
To buy the racks with the colour options, go to this product in our online shop!
Adapter audio cables 3.5mm to 6.5mm
The MIXCONSOLE only has 3.5mm mini jacks, but most audio mixers and effect pedals come with 6.5mm connectors so we now offer these adapter cables in our online shop.
Of course, they can be used also with MASTER, 4I/O and other modules with minijack sockets.
Various parts for DIY
As you can see in the forum (more about this below) there are more and more people that create their own modules, either just for themselves or, as we hope, to sell or otherwise make them available to the wider AE Modular community.
We want to support this as much as we can, so here you can buy the original parts that we are using to build the AE modules.
If you are a manufacturer and want to buy these parts in bulk for your product development, please contact us. We are happy to negotiate a favourable arrangement with you!
Express shipping for North-/South America
After the painful experience with the extreme long shipping times to the US we decided to add optional express shipping for these countries. Of course, the shipping costs are significantly higher (especially for small parcels with a few modules / accessories), but if you need the components really quick, you have this option now. You can choose between regular shipping or DHL Express during checkout.
Music made by the Community
Every month the AE community surprises us with new music! It’s an incredible joy to see the system being used in so many different ways, each beautiful in their own ways. And even though Jamuary is over, the community didn’t stop producing more tracks than we can list here!
This month was abuzz with DIY projects! It is amazing what people come up with if you give them a relatively simple framework and safe voltages to play with. Many of these projects look really promising and we hope that these might turn into proper modules in the future! Here are just some of the projects that were presented this month.
AEtari Punk Console
The Atari Punk Console is probably the “Hello World” of sound electronics! And in this post, it is shown how to patch it on the BRAEDBOARD module. Inadvertently pictures of a new cute “baby” case were leaked ;-)
When the DIY community is missing a function, it just builds it! Here are two designs for a ring modulator circuit
Teensy 4.0 Sample Player
The sound examples for this DIY sample player based on a Teensy chip is very promising and all the code is provided in this post. Check it out!
CV to MIDI
It seems that user @sleeptotem never sleeps! Here is another project based on a Teensy which transforms CV to MIDI. It’s very sophisticated even though it currently lives on a breadboard.
This wasn’t really introduced as a DIY project, rather it featured as part of a techno jam by our techno master Keuerslager Kurt. But this simple compressor circuit sounds “badass”!
Kurt’s Dead Band Waveshaper
Keuerslager Kurt is on a roll! This module now comes with a “proper” PCB and there are hints that this glitchy, noisy waveshaper might become a proper product, possibly a DIY kit! Exciting to see new 3rd Party developers on the scene!
Euclidean Sequencer with Arduino
This is a very sophisticated sequencer based on an Arduino Micro and assembled onto a AE Modular DIY board. It looks and sounds amazing and we would love to see more of this.
New mini AE format by XODE
The AE Modular format got even smaller when, completely out of the blue, XODES announced his invention and prototype of the 1/3 modules. These consist of a base module in 1U format which is used to mount up to 3 smaller modules. Very impressive design and the prototype looks absolutely gorgeous!
You should check out the thread on the forum which showed the excitement this has sparked in the AE Modular community!
However a few days later there was this thread on the forum from XODES about potential pricing, design and manufacturing principles and how an independent module manufacturer can make a living from designing and selling synth modules without compromising his principles. It was a very good discussion and showed that there are always many sides to one story and that it’s important to view an issue from many different angles. Also that sometimes one might not do something if it means compromising on one’s principles. Please read this for yourself:
We completely support XODES’ position and hope that he will find a way to make this work for himself and the AE Modular community. If you are keen to see the 1/3 modules come to life and have an idea on how to help XODES make this a reality, please let us know in the forum!
Colourful Racks sighted on Facebook
Joel, one of the first Kickstarter supporters, has started the colour revolution and posted this beautiful photo of his rack which looks like the German or Australian Aboriginal flag, but not quite ...
There was also a discussion on logical colour schemes and we like the following idea:
What do you think? If you have transformed your rack with coloured knobs and have other ideas about the colour schemes, then please let us know in the forum!
There were reports of some dead Wasp Filters which could be due to a production issue for one batch of modules. If you have a dead wasp that has this behaviour then please contact us for help.
Wonkystuff’s rbss doesn’t play nice with the QUANTIZER module?
There were some reported issues with the QUANTIZER module when used together with the rbss module from Wonkystuff. This issue has to do with some jittery noise on rbss modules of earlier batches (below #130) and can be fixed relatively easily by soldering a 103 capacitor onto the board. This thread shows how this issue was tracked down in the forum and subsequently resolved by Wonkystuff.
You can find the instructions on how to fix your rbss on the Wonkystuff website:
It’s just amazing to see how constructive and helpful the AE community is! There is never any blaming, just people working together to find and fix problems in a supportive way.
It’s truly a very special community!
Words from Robert
We have all been waiting for the year 2020 to end and have high hopes for positive change in 2021. Here at tangible waves we are certainly looking forward to the months ahead and have big plans to continue making modular synthesis available for everyone. Since the beginning of the system 3 years ago, we have steadily improved existing modules and have designed a plethora of new ones - and each single one is designed and produced with all my/our passion and excitement to see the thing growing and flourishing. This year will be no different and we’re hoping that you will enjoy all the new products that we will be releasing along the way.
This year we will also strive to make modular synthesis available to school students, by designing a rack configuration with matching workbook which can be used in schools and other institutions to teach children not just how to make electronic music, but also use this medium to further the student’s interests in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.
Last year has seen people physically isolated from each other as each country went into various stages of lockdowns and most meetups, conventions and events were cancelled. But then we saw how people got together online via Zoom, Twitch and YouTube. Suddenly meetings were happening across continents that otherwise weren’t possible. This year we may see more of those online events and we hope to see you there!
Shipping Delays due to COVID-19
While we have always struggled to keep up with the incredible demand for our systems, last year was especially bad, in that shipping was seriously interrupted due to the pandemic.
Especially shipping to the US was, and still is, a total nightmare because there are much less flights, most DHL parcels go mostly by ship and take 6 to 8 weeks to arrive! DHL asks not to place parcel inquiries before 8 weeks after shipping. Even worse, the USPS tracking is almost completely useless, all US customers we hear from get no updates for weeks. The only "good" news is that all of our parcels have always arrived, not a single one fell from the ship and drowned in the ocean.
So please be patient! While the global delivery systems will hopefully slowly increase their capacity again, so we are working hard to make our production workflow more and more efficient and catch up with our backorders list. One of our main goals for 2021 is that no customer has to wait more than 10-14 days from order to shipping until mid of this year.
New colour option for cases
To make your AE system even more personal, we now offer the possibility to customize the AE cases in a very wide range; you can choose individual colors/materials for the side panels and front/back - with different types of acrylics and two types of wood you can build your unique AE case.
DRONE38 is a sound generator with 18 oscillators in total, organized in six groups of three oscillators each. 12 of them can be switched between sawtooth and triangle waves, 6 are fixed sawtooth oscillators.
The groups can be mixed individually with 3 mixer knobs, where each 2 groups can be assigned to the level. Additionally, each group can be activated / “played” with buttons near the group.
The oscillators are not meant to be controlled by CVs, but only set static with a knob.By mixing them, very dense drones and clusters can be created.
Additionally, 6 oscillators can be synced to other ones for extending the sonic palette.
The DRONE38 is now available in our shop.
DRONX is a special mixer designed especially for the DRONE38 module; if has 6 input channels (so you can connect two DRONE38 modules) and offers some sound processing capabilities: A tone control with bass and treble control, a distortion, and finally a dual delay with different algorithms. Two insert points allow to add up to two more audio effects to the internal signal chain. Together with the DRONE38 module(s) you get a quite nice drone synth for dense, dark soundscapes. Of course, it can be used with any other sound sources!
The DRONX is now available in our shop.
TRIP is a trigger processor module; it takes incoming triggers and repeats them - you can think of it as a delay module for triggers. The delay time and the number of repeats can be set with a knob and additionally be CV controlled. Beyond static delay, the delays of one input trigger can be accelerated or decelerated, leading to the rhythm of a bouncing ball. In another mode, the probability of the output triggers can be chosen.
Different output modes change the assignment of the delays to the eight outputs; either, all delayed triggers for one input trigger are on one output, or the delays go through the outputs 1...8. By this, complex events can be triggered. Finally, the acceleration and the gate time can be CV controlled as well.
The TRIP is now available in our shop.
New GRAINS Firmware
From the Netherlands, the origin of the Grains Eurorack module, comes this new firmware which offers a really good sounding waveshaping oscillator. This has been developed by Kassen Oud, who usually develops his live sets using the live audio programming environment ChuCK. This oscillator is based on West Coast Synthesis ideas and features two sine waves with the second being hard synced to the first via a ring modulator. Then there’s also a wave shaper. Everything is manually or CV controlled which makes for some really fat sounds. It also tracks really well at 1v/oct.
You can download the firmware from the Github website here:
You can find out more about Kassen via his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kassen.oud
And this video by The 5th Volt shows how this new firmware works:
News from the Community
Music made by the Community
The community was again very active with making music.
First off we had an extra thread to get a few videos up for Jamuary 2021. There are some really nice submissions there, check it out:
Apart from that there were many other cool new projects and tracks by our members, for example:
There’s heaps more, please check it out at https://forum.aemodular.com/board/5/ae-music-performances
So many new people join the forum every month and I’m always happy to see them post their “first jam” with the AE Modular! While posting your first jam is incredibly courageous as you’re just finding your way around the new instrument, it’s also very rewarding especially when you get the feedback from our friendly community. Here are a few first james from new members:
The DIY section of the forum was on fire this month with new modules and other cool things being built in the living rooms and garages of our members:
Cardboard DIY Stand
We also see a lot of DIY discussion over on the Discord channel. Please always remember, if you’ve built something cool, please post it on the forum, so more people become aware of it!
Dear AE Modular community,
While so many businesses struggled during the pandemic I am happy to report that tangible waves has not just survived, but flourished. The demand for AE Modular systems and modules is steadily increasing and the business has now become “big” enough to not only pay for my own wage, but also for two employees. Both Benedikt and Antonia are now full time employees and are busy every day, assembling modules and packing and shipping orders. That leaves me some time again to design and build new modules and today I release another batch which you can read all about further below. We also work as hard as we can to shorten the long waiting times which have been exacerbated this year as global air mail services struggled to deliver packages in the usual time. Nonetheless, we have now reduced the wait times for most orders to between 6 - 8 weeks, which is an improvement, but of course we want to decrease this even further over the next few months as our processes improve. But it’s not all work and drudgery, as you can see in the photo below we also have a lot of fun while working.
But as our business grows so does the community. It fills me with so much joy to see the AE system being used with so much skill and enthusiasm and very supportive messages from so many of my customers. Another, still incredible support I must mention here is Carsten aka “The 5th Volt”; without his incredible contribution to the forum, his demo videos, his tremendous organizational support -to name a few - AE modular wouldn’t be where it is now. THANKS CARSTEN! It’s this enthusiasm and positivity in our AE community that makes this my best job ever and I am so thankful to all of you that make it possible for me to live my dream!
- Greetings from Robert, Antonia and Benedikt
Special Christmas Discount
To celebrate the end of a difficult year and to reward all of you who have stayed with us and have encouraged us to keep going, we want to offer a special Christmas discount.
Please use the following code XMAES-2020 to receive 10% off your order (does not include shipping).
This discount code is valid from today the 18th through to the 31st of December!
Amidst all the work of getting orders out of the door and into so many new hands, there was still time to design, prototype and finish many new modules just in time for Christmas. Some of those have been teased before on Facebook, but now they are here and you can order them from the online store!
This module not only shows you the level of an incoming signal, but also serves as an oscilloscope which displays the waveform of a continuous signal, eg. from an oscillator. It’s perfect for learning synthesis and looks cool in your case. Beyond the oscilloscope function, it has a few other operation modes:
The METER module is now available here in our online store.
Finally we can produce that sound of the 70’s with this module which gives any sound this unique phase shifting effect.
The PHASER module is now available here in our online store.
This module has been long anticipated and is a crucial piece for performing artists using the AE Modular in a live session or recording. This mixer has 4 channels with individual volume and panning. The 2 send and returns for effects can go out to external effect pedals and can be adjusted independently for each channel. This mixer is also a 4 channel VCA because the volume for each channel can be controlled via CV.
The MIXCONSOLE module is now available here in our online store.
This is an extension module which connects to the MIXCONSOLE via a special cable at the back. It adds 3 additional channels to the MIXCONSOLE. The best part is that you can chain as many of these modules as you want!
The MIXCONSOLE/3CH module is now available here in our online store.
This module has two unbalanced ¼ inch TRS sockets for sending audio out to a mixing desk or recording device.
The OUTPUT module is available in our online store very soon!
This module is very similar to the OUTPUT module, but instead of unbalanced TRS jacks it comes with balanced XLR output ports.
The XLROUT module is available in our online store very soon!
For lovers of faders instead of knobs - this module has the exact same functionality as the 4ATT/MIX module but instead of 4 knobs it comes with faders!
The 4ATTMIX/FDR module is now available here in our online store.
We now offer the rack cases of all sizes with optional wooden sides/fronts! You can choose between a dark Walnut or a light Bamboo.
Availeble here in our online store.
Also, the 4-row case is now available! Room for 80 units of AE modules in one box. Available in the standard version with red sides and also in two types of wood.
Availble in the shop very soon.
As the AE systems are growing more and more, the longer patchwires are necessary. To take this into account, we have added a new type with 80cm length.
now available here in our online store
And … New Knobs!!
Some have complained in the past about the tiny, fiddly knobs and there were a few suggestions on the forum about knob cabs that can be found on ebay and other such places. Robert went on an exploration himself and has finally decided to design his own knobs which are now produced en masse in China especially for the AE Modular format!
From now on all modules will come with these knobs pre-installed! But you can also order the knobs separately and upgrade your existing system; available in packs of 10 or 50.
Available in our store: pack of 10 KNOBS or pack of 50 KNOBS
Tobias was helping me out with the fulfilment of orders last year and he has started to design hand painted faceplates, which will be available in very limited numbers in the shop. You can see some here:
Third Party Modules
This year has also seen the first modules from independent manufacturer Wonkystuff. The matrix mixer mm33 and random sequencer rbss are two wonderful modules that should be in everyone’s case. John from Wonkystuff chose to make the faceplates from PCB material which allowed him to choose different colours.
You can buy those modules directly at the Wonkystuff website: https://wonkystuff.net/product-category/hardware/ae-modular/
2nd Community Album - AEtherwaves vol. 2
After the success of the first community album in 2019 the community made it happen again and released AEtherwaves vol. 2, this time with only 100% AE Modular sounds and a whopping total of 26 tracks. It’s amazing to hear so much talent on one album. Big thank you to everyone who participated!
If you haven’t heard it yet, please check it out at
Again all proceeds from sales to a not for profit organisation. This year it goes to Musicians without Borders, a fantastic group that organises youth music programs in regions that are dealing with the aftermath of war and violence, Rwanda, Palestine, Northern Ireland, Kosovo. The vision is to heal the spiritual wounds through music! Please visit their website to learn more about their programs and how to support them:
AE Modular at Synthbooth 2020
While tangible waves couldn’t be at Superbooth this year we were really happy to be invited to the all virtual online SynthBooth 2020 event in October. It was superbly organised with a host of very informative and engaging online discussions, online performances and times for chatting with people on the built-in chat rooms.
We also streamed a live presentation via Zoom which was well received. You can watch the recording here:
News from the AE Modular Community
The AE Modular community is just amazing! Not only is the forum growing every month and new and regular members come and share their thoughts, their ideas and their music, but two other communication channels became really busy as well, the Discord channel and Facebook, but more about those further below.
A huge THANK YOU to everyone who has been part of the AE community, however long or short. Your presence and participation, your ideas and enthusiasm is what makes all of this so special. The AE Modular system would not be where it is today without you!
We thought and hoped that 2020 would be the year for DIY with the introduction of the BRAEDBOARD and the DIY module. While these modules did see some sales throughout the year, we haven’t yet seen anyone do something with it. Probably next year we’ll kick things into gear with a competition to get people thinking about cool circuits that can be implemented with the BRAEDBOARD.
However the AE community has always been fond of tinkering and DIY and the corresponding sub-board on the forum is abuzz with crazy and beautiful ideas:https://forum.aemodular.com/board/8/diy-building
Faceplates decorated with paper are taking us back to the 70’s where the early Serge systems used this cheap and easy method. But these designs look really beautiful:
This total conversion project by Bradaddle has been going on for quite some time, but it is now relatively complete and looks absolutely amazing, again with some very special faceplate designs:
Simple DIY Low Pass Gate - User tarcreeper has shared the prototype of his design which might be a cool idea to try with the BRAEDBOARD module:
A very accurate BPM clock - this was just posted yesterday by new forum member Onkelhoste. It is a BPM clock run by an Arduino which gives out clock speeds from 20-400 BPM! Check it out: https://forum.aemodular.com/thread/1132/bpm-masterclock
Tea-Light controlled randomness - this looks like a fun project that turns the AE Modular into a light show just in time for the season:
New Talent and Music
So many new artists have emerged on to the AE “Scene” with new Youtube videos, hour long live sessions and full albums .. all done with the AE Modular. New music is now being published daily and it’s hard to keep up as it’s being released on Instagram, Facebook, Discord and the Forum.
Here is a selection of recent releases, in no particular order and as always, this is really only a small collection and I leave it to you to discover the other many great contributions that have been advertised on the forum.
Please visit https://forum.aemodular.com/board/5/ae-music-performances to see and hear more of the incredible talent that is present in our community!
Discord and Facebook
Slowscape has set up and is now managing the “official” AE Modular Discord server and it is growing daily. There are now many different sub channels to cater for topics like DIY, Inspiration, General Chat and also a Sell & Trade channel.
It is much faster paced than the forum and if you’re not participating daily you may miss out on a few discussions, but it’s a great place to hang out and chat or get answers quickly.
To everyone who’s on Discord I would like to ask you though, please also post your creations or cool things that you do with the AE back in the forum. Discord is not for everyone and the forum is a more permanent medium with a wider reach.
You can join the Discord channel by following the invite link in this post:
What will 2021 bring?
The AE System is now entering its 4th year of existence and is slowly “growing up” to become a “proper” musical instrument which can take it up with Eurorack and other modular and semi modular synthesizers. Although there are now almost 60 different modules available and the first third-party modules appear on the market, there is no end in sight of what needs to be developed. It will take years before all the modules are built that we want to build.
Hopefully the pandemic will be reined in with the availability of a vaccine and live meetups will be allowed again. It would be fantastic to meet some of you at Superbooth 2021, if this will actually happen!
Whatever happens, please stay safe, stay healthy and keep patching!
All the best,
Robert and Carsten.
I was very surprised and pleased when I received an email late last year from one of my favourite synthesizer creators, Paula Maddox, enquiring information about the AE Modular system. Paula is an incredible synth designer and is probably best known for starting the Modal company and creating the much coveted synthesizers, the Modal 002, Modal 001 and Modal 008 which were years ahead of the competition in terms of capabilities at the time.
Being no longer involved with Modal, she started another company Dove-Audio which has released two amazing Wavetable modules for Eurorack and 5U formats, the WTF (Window Transform Function oscillator) and the Waveplane oscillator. It was this technology that she wanted to bring to the AE Modular system and I was thrilled to be working with her on this vision. You can find more information about Paula and Dove-Audio on her website at https://dove-audio.com/
I am now very happy to release the new WAVETABLES module, the product of a very fruitful cooperation between tangible waves and Dove-Audio.
The WAVETABLES module is a high quality sound module based on the wavetable technology first heard on the PPG range of synthesisers. There are a number of different tables each with their own unique sound, from very gentle, though vocal sounds, into rich bell like tones to harsh digital tones.
It offers the following features:
This is the first of a series of modules that introduce a high level of digital synthesis to the AE modular palette. WAVETABLES works with a 32-bit microcontroller and 16-bit audio output. Therefore the price is higher than the average AE module, but still very affordable for the quality.
Many thanks for Felix from The Tuesday Night Machines for making the following amazing and comprehensive introduction video:
This module is now available for purchase in the shop.
I seem to be apologizing in almost every post about the wait times, and again I can only say that I’m sorry that it takes so long for some of your orders to get assembled and delivered. Especially now that the shipping is often delayed as well due to the global restrictions. Antonia, Benedikt and I have certainly been very busy going through the hundreds of orders and sending out dozens every day, but there is only so much we can do, so I really appreciate your patience.
I have also been busy developing a row of new modules, some of which of you have been eagerly anticipating for quite some time. All of these new modules are in the shop, in stock and ready to ship!
The number of available modules for the AE system has now grown to 52!
The 2CVTOOL offers two units for offset and -/+ attenuation for CV signals, also known as “attenuverter”. This can be useful for all kinds of modulation purposes.
More information can be found in the shop.
The POLAMIX is similar to the 2CVTOOL in that you can offset and -/+ attenuate CV signals, but it also acts as a 3 channel mixer. Try to use this with 3 LFOs for modulation mayhem!
More information can be found in the shop.
The FMOS is a new digital oscillator that brings FM synthesis to the AE modular! It offers the basic FM synthesis with one oscillator and one modulator, running both with sine waves or triangle waves. The modulation depth and frequency ratio of the modulator can be set with a knob and additionally by CV control. If you want pure sine waves, this is for you too - simply set the modulation level to 0.
More information can be found in the shop.
The SAWVOX module is a “complete” synth voice with two sawtooth oscillators, a filter and a VCA, all realised digitally with a tiny 8-bit microcontroller. The oscillators are detuned by a fixed rate to get a fatter sound, and can be switched to a single oscillator. Of course, due to the limited resources of the processor, the sound has the typical 8-bit lofi charm… But the CV tracking is quite fine, and it can find its place in a lot of patches. All parameters can be CV controlled, like filter frequency and resonance.
More information can be found in the shop.
The long anticipated ADSR module offers a 4 stage envelope that is not only loopable (patch the end output into gate input) but also accepts CV control over each of the stages!
More information can be found in the shop.
The QUANTIZER has also been long in the making and finally it’s available! There are 4 independent channels that are quantized to the same scale that is selected by an encoder and shown in a text display. As an additional feature, the module provides a trigger signal for each channel on every change on the output CV.
More information can be found in the shop.
The SEQ8 is very similar to the SEQ16, but instead of 16 steps it only has 8 steps, is half the size and doesn’t have the note repeat function. Otherwise it functions the same way and is a great companion to the new QUANTIZER module.
More information can be found in the shop.
The 4BUFFER module is a buffered multiple of 1 in to 2 out, with the option to chain the 4 channels together to create a total of 8 outputs for one input. Buffered multiples have the advantage over the normal passive mults in that there are no voltage drops across the signal path. As the AE system matures into more precision regarding oscillator tracking etc. this is a helpful utility for various situations.
More information can be found in the shop.
News from the Forum
The forum has become a very busy place and it’s really great to see new people joining almost every other day and being welcomed and assisted with their queries by the accommodating “old-timers” of the forum.
There is a big focus on the DIY section with some very interesting projects:
Stands and Cases
There seemed to be a drive to either improve on the existing AE cases or to build stands that would hold bigger systems. Here are the most prominent examples.
Rodney's mobile carry case
Bert’s cardboard stand
Krakenkraft’s Funky Acrylic Stand
New GRAINS Firmware
The GRAINS module is a clone of the Eurorack module of the same name by Jan Willem from Ginkosynthese and as such can use the firmwares that are available from that website.
However Mathias (aka VisuelleMusik) is a gifted software developer and dove straight in to develop his own firmwares specifically for the AE GRAINS module. These are now available from a dedicated Github repository: https://github.com/aemodular/GRAINS
If you have the GRAINS module, you should definitely check them out, they are really fun and interesting to play with. And looking at the code, who knows. You might want to develop your own firmwares soon? If you do, please let Carsten (@admin) know!
AE Modular Discord Chat Server
Thanks to Slowscape there is now a chat server where you can chat with other AE Modular fans in real time (if you are in the right timezone). The discussions there are not replacing the forum at all, but are of more ephemeral in nature and therefore a great complement and service to the AE Modular community.
You can find out all about it here:
AE Modular Performances
The most amazing part of the AE Modular community is its artists. Almost every day there is a new video or Soundcloud link to another fabulous track made mostly with the AE Modular system and this is what inspires me most in my daily work to get those systems delivered to you.
Carsten has started a dedicated page on the Wiki to promote all of you who are making music with the AE Modular. Please get in contact with him for details on how you can be listed on that page:
There are also some “newcomers” that are contributing now regularly to this list of performances. Here is only a short selection, but please do go to the forum and savour all the posts, they are all delicious!
Black Warrior Lures
User @funbun has only recently acquired his AE system and is now using it to score his incredible and successful videos about his fishing adventures on his YouTube channel. Even if you’re not into fishing, these videos are beautifully made and give you some time to breathe and reflect.
Collaborative works from Four57 & Slowscape
Users @slowscape and @four57 have started an online collaboration in which one sent the other a track and the other had to finish it and vice versa. This might be the beginning of more such collaborations and also now has its own channel on the new Discord Chat server.
Also new to the forum and the AE system, user @martynaudio has debuted his first tracks which are very musical and demonstrate how the AE can be sequenced from the Reaper DAW. The second track features the Solina module which is modulated by the SEQ16, a very neat trick!
Both user @101 and @four57 are experts at making breakbeats and breakcore with the AE system, albeit with different twists:
User @bradaddle aka DBSCM who has also been a part of the AEtherwaves album last year, has delivered a really nice track again after a longer hiatus. A great comeback!
Microscopic Polar Bears
User @gaetan, who is also the developer of the wonderful AE Modular Grid has taken samples from Hainbach’s “Isolation Loops” and processed them through the AE Modular in this track:
Dear AE Modular friends,
The last two months have been a strange and challenging time for all of us as we are locked in our homes in our respective countries and watch as this unprecedented global crisis unfolds around and among us. I hope that you are doing well and my best wishes go out to all of you for the health of yourselves and your loved ones!
But being stuck at home can be a chance as well to pursue your passion or learn new things. One thing that I’ve noticed on the forum lately is, that the DIY section has become incredibly more active over the last few weeks and I’m amazed by the inventiveness of the presented designs.
So, just in time for Superbooth@home 2020, I am very happy to announce a new line of modules that I have wanted to make for a long time, but somehow never got around to as I was expanding the sonic range of the AE Modular system. However the main reason I started this whole project was because I love to build circuits in 0-5V and I wanted to make a system where anyone, who knows a bit of electronics, can get in and make their own modules easily. The DIY-Module has been listed on the page of upcoming modules since the start of the tangible waves website and has served as a constant reminder of the roots of this system, but sometimes you have to come back home via a long detour and that’s how it went with this module.
Introducing the BRAEDBOARD Module
First let’s cover the prototyping stage of module design. As we develop circuits we don’t want to solder things together from the start, as it would be very time consuming to fix any mistakes. Instead we usually prototype a circuit on a breadboard and only when the circuit is working fine, do we solder it in place.
To make it even more easy for you to prototype your DIY designs, there is now the BRAEDBOARD Module! In the package there is a bunch of electronic components (resistors and capacitors of different values, LEDs, different ICs that are common in synth circuits, transistors, diodes, potentiometers, switches) that you can use for a few simple projects to get you going with building analog music circuits. And if you have mastered the beginnings, you can start building more complex designs. I’m hoping to have a catalog of various DIY projects listed with build instructions on the Wiki in the near future.
This module is now available for purchase in the online shop here.
Progress your designs with the DIY Module
Once you are happy with a design on the breadboard you might want to take it to the next level and turn it into a “proper” module. This is where the new DIY module comes handy. It is a kit consisting of faceplate, potentiometers,, switches, LEDs, sockets, spacers and two blank PCBs that you can solder onto any circuit you want.
So you can make your own AE style module; just bring your own solder iron and a wire cutter to the party!
The DIY kit is available for purchase here.
I hope you will enjoy these two modules and I’m looking forward to your creations, please post them on the forum!
With warm greetings from me and the team here at tangible waves, please stay indoors, stay safe and produce great music or another module!
The newest edition of the German synthesizer magazine SynMag has a very detailed article the AE Modular system and interview with me. Please check it out!
This is an interview in the series of "Content Spotlights" which used to be infrequent and longer posts on the AE Modular Forum that showcase an artist's work and their thoughts about the AE Modular Synthesizer. Due to the length and formatting challenges of the forum editor I have decided to rather post them here on the tangible waves blog from now on.
- Carsten (forum @admin)
The community of AE Modular enthusiasts is quite diverse and it shows in the different topics that are being discussed in the forum. The community is also in constant flux as is normal with online communities in this age of fast flowing information and a myriad of competing streams clamouring for our attention. The membership of the Forum can be roughly categorised into the following groups (even though this is by no means a complete list of categories and most people fall into more than one category):
Andy is one of those Wizards and this spotlight is long overdue!
In his forum signature Andy proclaims to have been a lifelong student of Berlin School music, which is reflected in his towering presence in the forum and authority of all aspects of electronic music. Just by looking at the sheer volume of his contributions you can see that the forum wouldn’t be the same without him.
It’s not just quantity, but he answers questions in great detail, puts out ideas and challenges our conceptions. Here is a tiny and almost random selection of his contributions to the forum:
He also took part in creating some of the Patch Challenges, to which I would invite all of our newer members to participate even though they are now “over” they are still good exercises to get out of your comfort zone and try something new with your gear. You can find the list of all patch challenges here: http://forum.aemodular.com/board/14/patch-challenges
But his greatest contribution to our community would be his work on the mastering and subsequent release and administration of our very first collaborative Album “AEther Waves Vol.1” which featured 14 tracks from 14 artists from our community each with very different styles and approaches. Andy made sure that each track sounded great not just individually but also in the whole of the mix.
I have no idea where he finds the time, but after writing on the forum he still creates music in two related but still quite different genres.
He makes solo music via The Soviet Space Dog Project, which started as a way for him to explore his desire to make music in a very confined space and with a new set of instruments. Having built and used two large studios, he wanted to see what he could do with less equipment and in a faster, more live environment.
Soon, he was making a lot of longer-form ambient pieces, so he started to put those out (anonymously) via The Ambient Fish Society. This really did feature a lot of what the AE Modular could do live and was fun to make and he hopes that it’s also fun to listen to.
But enough of singing his praises … let’s let Andy speak for himself!
How did you hear about AE Modular for the first time?
Around June 2018, my mind got to thinking about how nice it would be to have a modular synthesizer for some super-fun noodling. I was at a point in my life where I was only buying equipment that could give me something different within a very small studio setup. I’d had larger setups at various times in my life, but now it was time for something small, effective and fun. A small modular setup looked like it would fit the bill, although I had prepared myself for it to be expensive.
A quick bit of googling and soon I had located some articles about this Tangible Waves format, a “Modular for the Masses” no less. Looking back at the articles now I can see that they featured demonstrations by no less than Tuesday Night Machines himself. http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2018/06/27/tangible-waves-intros-modular-for-the-masses/
After a bit more reading and looking at what I could get for my money compared to a Eurorack system, the decision was quite easy. The AE Modular appeared to tick the small, effective and fun boxes. The order went in and the waiting began.
When it arrived, it came on the same day, and via the same carrier, as the autobiography by Edgar Froese (deceased Tangerine Dream founder). As I said when I introduced myself on the Forum, the two packages were the same physical size and weight. This says a lot about the portability of the AE Modular and the quality of the book.
What is your favourite style of music? Would the AE system fit this style?
I like many different styles of music, although my real love is definitely what’s often called Berlin School Electronic Music. Whilst I’m not keen on the classification of music, that’s the name it’s usually given. I don’t particularly like classification as not only is it often artificial but it also can stifle growth and innovation when something no longer fits the imposed straitjacket – in my opinion, of course.
[Aside: I used to be involved in an online discussion forum called GoldTri, which was a contraction of Golden Triangle. The concept was that “good” music sat within a Golden Triangle, with a specific definition at each point of the triangle. Music could only be “good” if it was contained within those tight definitions. As you can imagine, it didn’t take too long before the arguments raged… and raged. Somehow we managed to issue two compilation albums before the whole thing imploded, with quite a lot of acrimony. So, I’m not keen on classifying music after that. We moved on and created another discussion space called Beyond_EM that accepted that there could be music beyond those boundaries. You can find more information about the two compilation albums here: https://www.discogs.com/label/234451-Stonker-Productions]
With that in mind, I would consider Berlin School Electronic Music to be what artists such as Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze were creating in the early 1970’s in West Berlin as they moved away from traditional instruments (guitar, bass & drums) and towards these new synthesizers that were being created. The traditional instruments were still there for a while, but augmented. It’s interesting that two of the greatest exponents of the sequencer (a key part of Berlin School) were both drummers – Klaus Schulze for Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel, and Chris Franke for Agitation Free.
Another key player for me was Manuel Gottsching, who is a guitar player (Ash Ra Tempel) who ventured into the wonderful world of synthesizers, but not without first creating “Inventions for Electric Guitar” on the way in 1974; an album that hugely influenced what I wanted to do with a guitar.
Not only did the technology drive the music that was being created, allowing the creation of inter-weaving sequencer lines to create some driving rhythms, it was also being driven by the people who wanted more from the technology. There was a symbiosis being created between the technology and the music.
I first heard Berlin School Electronic Music in about 1977 when a friend lent me his big brother’s copy of “Rubycon” by Tangerine Dream. The sound and the feelings that the music evoked have never left me. Does the AE Modular fit this style of music…? Absolutely and completely. When I sit down with my AE Modular, I feel the spirit of adventure that must have filled those early pioneers.
I find the The AE Modular to be a blank canvas with many possibilities – it can create ambience, it can create sequences, it can even create some great lead lines. Being monophonic, I still rely on a few other instruments to bring that wider polyphonic sound into play, much like those early players did using organs, pianos and the proto-sampler, the Mellotron (although sadly not a real one).
Even the initial range of modules that came with my two-row starter rack was more than enough to get sounds that equalled some of those being created in the early- to mid-70’s. With the addition of the on-board SEQ16, I was able to do almost everything within the modular. As the range of filters continues to grow (I like filters), we have a continually increasing palette of analogue manipulation in a very small package.
To gain access to a greater range of oscillator base sounds I have added a Bastl Kastle to my setup, which has opened a door onto some fantastic ambient soundscapes - it is like adding a complex oscillator. Being fully compatible with the AE Modular, the Bastl Kastle interfaces at the patch lead level, enabling cross-patching and a lot of control.
In summary, with careful sound creation, combined with sequencing, the AE Modular is immensely capable of sitting at the centre of a setup for Berlin School music - and most styles of Electronic Music, to be honest..
How did you get started with making electronic music?
After hearing, and loving, music like Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, as well as more “mainstream” music like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, I had a yearning to make my own version of it. I bought a cheap guitar, amp and a couple of pedals and also eventually an ARP synth (from the London Synthesiser Centre) at the very end of the 70’s and I started making some noise. I didn’t understand about things like reverb, but I quickly learned that one of those tape-based delay machines (mine was a Wem Copicat bought second-hand) made a big difference to sounding more like what I heard on the records.
I would simply play along to all of my favourite records, sometimes even in the right key…!!! I also had a friend who had ARP and Yamaha synths, so we started making our own Tangerine-flavoured Dreams in his garage. Somewhere there are some dreadful cassette tapes waiting to embarrass me.
Moving into the 80’s, I was able to buy some of the excellent Roland equipment that was coming out (SH-101, TR-606, TB-303, MC-202, etc.). I was a student, but I got a job both to help fund my studies and also to feed my addiction to synths. In the end, I sold all but the TR-606 (not sure why I kept that one, but I still have it, in pristine condition) and bought a Roland polysynth – the JX3P. I used this for my final year degree project, where I built my own MIDI interface that fitted inside a giant S-100 bus, Z80-based crate in the laboratory, just like the Crumar GDS system that my hero Klaus Schulze was using (although I didn’t know that at the time). Having got the hardware working, I set about writing a simple sequencer in Z80 Assembly Language (that dates me). Somehow, I got it all working and demonstrated it to the amusement of the academics assessing me.
Towards the end of the 80’s I lost some faith in the style of Electronic Music that I loved. It just wasn’t sounding the way I liked it, it was becoming much more computer-based repetitive and a bit samey (not in the good way that it had been). So, at this time, I switched to just guitar for a while, playing in a Blues band around London. Luckily, I didn’t have much of a worry about improvising – something that has stayed with me.
This is about getting started, so I’ll stop there. This all lead me into playing with some like-minded European friends in a band called Kubusschnitt and together we had some fun (and not so fun) times.
Your name is also connected to the band Kubusschnitt who are also present on Bandcamp and at some time toured and played live. Could you tell us a bit more about your involvement with the band and how that influenced your musical “career”?
Back in the mid-90’s, there was a mailing list devoted to Tangerine Dream discussion (Tadream), which was originally hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Parkside (UWP). This list was the place to discuss Tangerine Dream and also the music being created by a number of gifted newcomers, who were creating the new wave of Berlin School, which had pretty much blended into New Age music by then. In 1996, there was even a members’ cassette put together, “Network-388”.
It was through this mailing list that I met (physically) a lot of people with whom I’m still in contact now – this included the other three members of what would become Kubusschnitt. There were four of us: Tom Coppens (from Belgium), Ruud Heij (from The Netherlands), Jens Peschke (from Germany) and me, Andy Bloyce, (from the UK). Our backgrounds were very different, as was our musical equipment and we started to share ideas via CDRs posted to each other.
We still had to actually meet, of course and the Electronic Music Festivals in The Netherlands provided an excellent way of meeting face-to-face and the first meeting was at what was to be the final KLEMdag in 1997. It was a fantastic day, with Ashra topping the bill in an excellent fashion. Chuck Van Zyl (the host of the long running radio show "Star's End") was also at that one, and I remember him being treated like a Rock Star as he was walking around, with the hushed talk of, “That’s Chuck Van Zyl”. He was, and is, a lovely guy, but he was a name and we were in awe.
As I said, we shared ideas and rough sketches by sending CDRs through the post and then playing with them to build up ideas, but it really came alive when we managed to get together in the same room and we could improvise with the DAT running.
Our first real musical meeting was in 1998, when three out of the four of us met in Utrecht and created the basis of what would become our first album “The Case”. It was never meant to be anything other than improvising and fun, but when the UK label Neu Harmony heard some of our early drafts we were asked to turn it into an album.
At the same time, I was also working up some solo material that turned into duo material when I was visited by the German contingent for a week. This became the Neu Harmony album, “A Different Kind of Normal”, issued under the name wEirD (the “E” being for England and the D for Deutschland). As a fan of Manuel Gottsching, there was quite a lot of guitar on this album. The track “Manuel Gearchange” was the just about the last track I recorded in my original studio, which had an 8-track reel-to-reel, after which I built a new studio based around a PC running Cubase.
Both of those albums sold reasonably well (very minor fish in an exceptionally small pond), so we carried on for a bit and made a further two studio albums, “The Cube” and “The Singularity”. At the same time we were playing a few gigs around Europe, which included the Jodrell Bank Observatory (in the UK), the Alfa Centauri Festival (in the Netherlands), the Krautrock Karnival (in the UK) and the National Space Centre (in the UK).
As we improvised, based on initial ideas, we recorded almost everything, all of the sessions and the rehearsals and the gigs themselves. Up until recently, the Kubusschnitt albums had become hard to find and, in some cases, a little expensive. As I really wanted to share the music for a reasonable price, I remastered all of the issued material and I collated the best of the various sessions and rehearsals and I started to put everything on Bandcamp for reasonable prices.
Ruud, Tom and I are now in the process of making some new music together for the first time in 18 years, and I fully expect the AE Modular to stand up well in the presence of a lot of vintage, new and generally interesting equipment.
Besides AE Modular, what is your favourite equipment?
I like equipment that inspires me, equipment that makes me enjoy the sound that I hear. Being a fan of the music, it’s really important that the sounds inspire me. So I like equipment that I can play live and is easy to control - for me that means that I can get those sounds that are buried inside it into the real world. An interesting piece of real hands-on equipment that I bought nearly 25 years ago is the Latronic Notron sequencer (the Mark I version as well, of which only 100 were made).
I still have it and I was amazed to find out just how rare it is. Of course, its similarity to a toilet seat couldn’t go unnoticed when Kubusschnitt got together for the Krautrock Karnival.
Over the last 40 years, I’ve been through quite a lot of synthesizer equipment, analogue and digital, a lot of which I still have buried in original boxes. One of my recent favourite is the Arturia MicroFreak, simply because it’s capable of producing some off-the-wall sounds - and it has some interesting randomisation features. The presets are awful, in my opinion, but sitting quietly with the machine does pay dividends with some sounds that are hard to get elsewhere. I also have a Make Noise 0-Coast, which is wonderfully complex for something about the size of a paperback book. Again, spending time quietly sitting and experimenting pays huge dividends with this synth, it’s my version of a mini-Buchla.
There was a phase in synthesisers where everything was hidden behind a large number of menus, with a small display acting as your guide. Whilst these were undoubtedly very powerful and quite often innovative synthesizers, they were quite soul-destroying to play and program. There existed great sounds within them, but they needed to be teased out and then carefully stored as user presets.
To me, these were dark days and I didn’t really buy much equipment at all during that period. I still have a Waldorf MicroWave 2 that I did buy, which brought Wavetable synthesis to within reach of normal musicians. As a result of enjoying that synth, I did buy a Waldorf Blofeld more recently and that still sees a lot of use in my setup. It’s a remarkably powerful (the modulation possibilities are mind-blowing), although it does need patience to coax the sounds out of it.
Overall, my favourite equipment will have an appealing interface that invites sound exploration. Whilst I’ve been through a lot of equipment, the AE Modular does present that opportunity for exploration in one of the most persuasive sizes I’ve seen.
How do you integrate the AE system into your music production workflow?
I have a very simple workflow - or so I think. I set up equipment, with effects, into my mixer and I send that to Reaper as a stereo pair. I have all of my recording equipment behind me and when I start I hit record, turn around, and then just start playing. This process can generate ambient sections or sequencer parts, which are captured and if needed then played in whilst I improvise the next part.
I try to do as much as possible in one pass, but sometimes that just isn’t possible as I have quite a small music area. So, if I’m creating a longer piece with a number of 20-30 minutes live sections, I’ll record them live, set them up to play from Reaper and then I’ll improvise and record some bridging pieces live to create the overall longer tracks. It can get a bit exciting if I have to remember tempo or key changes, but that’s part of the fun - and I try to do it without turning around to look at Reaper, I prefer to use my ears.
The AE Modular is one of my improvising synths, I use it mainly for ambient sections as the huge amount of live tweaking available can produce some very complex sounds. These are great when combined with some effects routing live into the mixer. For effects I now use my ever-growing pedal farm that started purely for guitars, but I soon realised just how much fun it was configuring these into various serial/parallel routings. I do “play” my effects at the same time as the synthesizers when I’m improvising.
What are you missing from AE Modular, how can it be improved, and which modules would you like to see in the future?
I really like filters and sequencers, and a nice sequencer pattern, with a modulated filter overlay is always a nice feeling. So, I would like to see more filters (e.g. a Moog-style ladder filter) and a sequencer with a deeper set of controls. I would be willing to give up a considerable amount of rack space for a more controllable sequencer.
I’m also very interested in manipulation of real world sounds (i.e. musique concrete), so a set of modules that allowed voltage-controlled manipulations of samples would be an amazing addition.
In terms of any improvements on the existing system, either offering a buffered CV input on the oscillators (or a buffering module to interface would help when tuning the oscillators in more critical applications. When you’re aware of the effect of a drop in voltage (and hence pitch), you can compensate for it - and knowledge of this is key at that point. It does mean that live performance patching can be a dangerous practice.
Finally, I really like randomisation, so an interesting source of randomness would be a great addition, especially if it could be tamed into repeatability (e.g. MI Marbles). Is that really random…? Yes, in spirit ?
Oh yes, and a Quantizer, but I think that’s on the cards anyway.
Notes and links
Creative Londoners, an Interview with Andy Bloyce:
The Kubusschnitt Blog:
The Kubusschnitt Bandcamp Page:
The Soviet Space Dog Project Blog
The Soviet Space Dog Project Bandcamp Page:
The Soviet Space Dog Project YouTube Video for “The Dark”:
The Soviet Space Dog Project Experimental SoundCloud areas (including Patch Challenges):
The Ambient Fish Society Bandcamp Page:
TANGERINE DREAM - FORCE MAJEURE, written and compiled by EDGAR FROESE. https://www.edgarfroese.de/shop/products.php?g1=e0ab31&g2=a99cac
Happy Birthday AE Modular!
Today is the 3rd anniversary of the AE Modular System. The Kickstarter Campaign ended successfully funded on the 16th December 2016 and with that this new system was born and changed my life. Now three years later the user base has more than quadrupled, the number of modules has increased from the initial 14 to over 40 different modules for all styles of music! This year has also seen a huge growth in the community and the number of performances that people have released on Youtube, Instagram and other social media. I have heard from many of you that this system has changed your life as well and that makes me incredibly happy.
What started as a hobby project which I was able to pursue in my spare time while working a job as a software developer has now become my sole focus and source of income. The demand has increased incredibly especially after Superbooth and I had to make substantial changes to the production process as well as hiring additional staff in order to keep up with the volume of orders that started flooding in. This increase in demand has led to an embarrassingly long wait time (for some up to 3 months!) and although you all have a right to be frustrated with this, I am also extremely humbled by the overwhelming good will and many messages of support from you, my customers and the community especially during the time when I was very ill.
Whereas the last three years have been focused on upgrading the original modules (better sockets, better patch wires, some fixes and improvements of the circuits) this year has seen a shift towards upgrading my production processes and while there’s still much to improve, I believe that I’m getting on the right track to deliver more orders in a much shorter time.
We can never be sure about the future, but I believe that 2020 will be another incredible year for tangible waves and the AE Modular system and community. The main focus will be to first get on top of the outstanding orders, but once this process is more streamlined I can focus again on the development of more and exciting new modules. The system will also be visible more globally as well, not just at Superbooth, but potentially also at next year’s NAMM, and hopefully in Japan and Australia as well.
Merry Christmas: 5% off all products!
I have decided to give you all this year’s Christmas presents early to thank you all for your continued support!
Please use the code XMAES2019 to receive 5% off any purchase on the tangible waves online store!
This code is valid until the 15th of January!
New Module Releases
These modules were silently cooking in the background and now I’ve finally managed to move them into production just in time for Christmas … you may buy them today but they won’t ship until next year as I’m still working on reducing the backlog!
The following modules have been updated:
Changes at tangible waves!
Tangible waves had to move to a bigger room as we’ve grown to keep up with demand and Antonia and I have now been joined by Tobias who is doing an internship and already showing his enthusiasm for synths and electronics with his involvement in the development of an interface module for the Volca modular.
(Greetings from the tangible waves team)
Documentation and the Wiki
With the fabulous help from Roger (aka @pol in the forum) the wiki now has documentation for most modules as well as a very promising getting started section. Please check it out and send any ideas of improvements to Carsten at the forum.
News from the Forum
Here are only some of the many new and interesting threads:
AE Modular Performances
The amount of new tracks that are being created with the AE Modular is truly breathtaking and it’s really heartening to see and hear so many new artists appearing on the scene every month! Every track is great to listen to, here’s a sample of last month:
And this video of me playing at the Ambient Waves event in Munich earlier this year has finally found its way to YouTube. I hope you enjoy my little performance on the AE Modular:
The DIY section is where the forum got really busy over the last few months and it’s really great to see that the 0-5v format inspires and enables so many interesting projects.
Tangible Waves was present at 4 music trade shows and meets this year at MEFF, Superbooth, Dutch Modular and Knobcon which was already twice as much as the year before. But next year we will double that again and try to show this new format to the world as far and wide as we can!
NAMM Anaheim CA, USA 16th - 19th January 2020
This is the King (or Queen) of all music conventions, the biggest and loudest and the one where most music hardware companies show off new gear. Although not 100% confirmed, it could be that an AE Modular system might be present and one or two completely new modules could be revealed at that show! Stay tuned.
Synthplex, Burbank CA, USA 26th - 29th March 2020
This is like NAMM, but more specifically geared towards synthesizers, modulars, pedals and controllers. An AE Modular system might be present there, but again, not 100% confirmed!
Superbooth Berlin, Germany 23rd - 25th April 2020
I’m looking forward to again present the AE Modular system at this event, which is growing ever bigger and more amazing each year. Please join me again if you can make it to Berlin, I’m keen to meet you and to hear how you are using the AE Modular or to answer any questions you may have.
Robert Langer, founder of tangible waves. Here, I will share some thoughts, background infos and news about AE modular and tangible waves.