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.
Dear AE modular Community,
After all the ups and downs of the last few months, October feels like things are finally getting settled again. My health is now back to normal, and with my new helper I am getting on top of the production and will hopefully start to ship systems out much earlier than before. I really feel ashamed that some of you had to wait for over 2 months to get your system! It is now my main focus to bring this wait time down to a more acceptable time frame!
Upcoming Module Releases
The following modules were planned for release last month, but I just couldn’t find the time. But now they are finally ready and available in the shop immediately
I’m planning to release the following modules in November:
Changes at tangible waves!
As some of you might have seen from my post on Facebook a week ago, I am no longer working alone on the production of modules, but I now have assistance from Antonia, who is the first employee of tangible waves and has been taking to assembly of modules and starter racks like a fish to water! She really enjoys the work, as you can see from the picture below.
The workshop is also expanding! We will be moving to a bigger room at the technology hub where we are at the moment and that will make it much easier to get more people on board in the future to help with the assembly if the demand is increasing as it is!
There are only so many things that can be done in a day, and the main focus these last 12 months was on improving the modules, the patch connections, releasing new modules and above all, fulfilling the growing list of orders. Unfortunately some things fell off the side and one of those is a proper and centralised documentation for all the modules and other parts of the AE Modular system. When it was suggested in the forum to “crowd-source” this in the form of a wiki, Carsten jumped right on it and created a wiki and a structure where this documentation can take shape with the help of the AE Modular community!
From now on, all documentation and other articles will take shape and live at
Already a few people from the forum have declared an interest to take part in the shaping of this new and exciting resource for beginners and seasoned AE users alike.
Please note that it is still very light on content, but if the forum is any indication for the strength and passion of the AE community, I’m certain it will fill up with high quality information very quickly.
There is also a new section on the forum where anyone can post questions or suggestions about the content of the wiki.
News from the Forum
The forum has never been this active and this is mostly due to many new members that have just recently joined and adding their take on the system. The questions that are being asked are very useful and many of those and the answers that were provided by other members of the forum, will be the basis of the beginner’s guide on the new Wiki.
Here are only some of the many new and interesting threads:
The creativity of artists in our community is unbelievable and not a day goes by that doesn’t see a new entry on Soundcloud or a new video on Youtube where the AE Modular is being used in so many different ways that it’s hard to keep up! Here is just the recent sample of what was posted on the forum lately:
And Arti has not stopped a beat and delivered track after track after track of pure AE Modular goodness! Please listen to his collective works here:
The DIY crowd in the forum is growing stronger and stronger, sometimes I feel that there are more DIY modules out there than official ones and I’m absolutely loving what you are creating! Here is a list of the most recent projects:
Digital Analog Munich - 19th October 2019
I will be playing the AE Modular system as part of the Dark Waves ambient performances track at this year’s Digital Analog event in Munich. This is a mega event with artists coming from a wide spectrum of audio and visual arts. Please join me if you happen to be nearby. More information about this event:
Synth Festival in Australia - 19th October 2019
Carsten is organising the first ever Synth Festival on the Far South Coast of NSW in Australia and will demo the AE Modular system and use it in a live performance that night. For most of us that’s probably too far away, but if you live in Sydney or Canberra, you should definitely check it out:
Superbooth Berlin 2020 - 23rd - 25th April 2020
Early bird tickets are now available until the 31st of October, so act quickly! Although it feels like this year’s Superbooth was just yesterday, I’m really looking forward to next year. This event is getting bigger and better every year and it is incredibly fulfilling to be able to meet with so many of you in person. I wouldn’t miss it for the world!
Do you know of any other Synth Events?
Please let me know. Especially if you show off your AE Modular in public, I would love to know more about it.
Dear AE modular Community,
The last two months were not easy for me because of the health issues, but I have been uplifted by the positive and well meaning messages that I received from many of you. In fact I am really feeling much better now, and although I’m still not at 100% I have the feeling that I’m over the worst of whatever this was (there’s still no clear diagnosis what it could have been).
Thank you all for your support and understanding!
With the help of my assistant Antonia we hope to get back on track with manufacturing and sending out those long overdue orders. We are also preparing for an increase in demand now that Noisebug is promoting and selling AE Modular over in the US. In fact they have presented the system at Knobcon in Chicago and the response was overall very positive.
Upcoming Module Releases
My main focus last month was on getting systems and modules shipped so unfortunately the work on the new modules took a bit of a back seat. However I’m planning to release the following modules this month:
I’m planning to release the following modules in October:
As always, please check the status of new development on the Sunrise Page.
AEther Waves Vol. 1
This album is a phenomenal collaboration of many members of the forum and presents the variety of sound that the AE Modular system can produce. The quality of the tracks and the joy in which those artists of the forum have participated in this project show how remarkable this community is.
If you haven’t already, please check out the album on bandcamp and consider purchasing it for less than a cup of coffee. All proceeds go to the non profit organisation Sea Watch who is rescuing refugees that are in danger of drowning while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
Upcoming Events in September 2019
Knobcon in Chicago has just come and gone and was a great success for Noisebug who were presenting the AE Modular system.
Tangible Waves will be present at this year’s Dutch Modular in The Hague on the 27th and 28th. If you are nearby, please come and visit us!
Dear Customers and Friends of AE Modular,
As many of you have noticed, there have been considerable delays in the fulfilment of orders and also a slowing down of the release of new modules. This has partly to do with the incredible influx of new orders that I’ve received since Superbooth. Although I always hoped that this business could grow to be my sole income, I have been caught by this a bit by surprise. But it’s a good surprise and I’m so happy that I can do something full time that inspires so many people! To get on top of the orders I have employed someone who is helping me with the production and after an initial few weeks of training she is now proficient in the assembly and packaging that is required to fulfil the orders. So I was hoping that the situation could improve.
Unfortunately however, my health is currently not good and that’s why even with my new assistant we are lagging more and more behind in production. It started a few weeks ago that I had pain in my neck and legs that just wouldn’t go away so I went to see a doctor who couldn’t find anything. Now the pains are worse and even after many visits to various doctors they still can’t figure out what’s wrong. So I’m spending a lot of time in doctors offices instead in the workshop and also the pain makes it a lot harder for me to concentrate on the work.
I’m really sorry that this is happening now that the AE Modular format is really taking off and I’m sorry, too, that so many of you have to wait weeks and sometimes months(!) for your system. All I can say is that no order will get lost and that we are working as fast as we can to send out every order. However if you do have an issue with the long wait time, please contact me and we can sort it out.
I hope that my health will improve soon and I have plans to ramp up production capabilities then to cope with the increasing demand. And finally - No worries - AE modular is alive and will grow on!
This blog post has been long overdue and I hope you won't be put off by the great number of videos. Superbooth took a great chunk out of my time with preparations and then afterwards the sheer volume of new orders! Next blog will be on time again!
This was the second year at Superbooth for tangible waves with the AE Modular system and it was phenomenal! We had so many people come to our booth to learn more about the system or to just chat and hang out. The booth was a bit of a hang out for members of the forum and we had the chance to see some of them for the first time in person which was a real treat. I also had a lot of help and support from so many people, especially Carsten, Felix and Mark … thank you all for your passion and continuing support! Although I’m of course really passionate about the AE system itself, my real joy comes from seeing the forum and the community thrive, with so many passionate people using the AE Modular for their enjoyment and creations. This is what makes me get out of bed every morning!
The Superbooth also had the effect that I received so many new orders that I’m now up to my ears in work and for the first time I had to hire someone to help me out with the assembly and fulfilment of the massive amount of orders. So if you are still waiting for your system, please be patient … we are working as fast as we can!
Felix of The Tuesday Night Machines organised this video where I could sit with and talk about AE Modular with three of my top supporters.
One of the main objectives was to get the word out to a wider audience about the AE Modular system and in this regard Superbooth was a huge success! We were visited by a few very influential YouTubers and their interviews attracted more views on the web than we ever had.
First was Gaz Williams from SonicState who is always very excited about everything, but I feel that he was really impressed by the system.
Then I was interviewed by Ben from DivKid and he created this wonderful video which was instantly viewed by over 5000 people in the first 2 hours!
Although not a review per se, but Bo Nurmi from BoBeats came by to say hello and he gave the AE System an honourable mention in this video:
Tom from the SynthAnatomy channel also conducted a lengthy interview and this was released just recently on his channel:
There was even a team from a Russion synth magazine who also were there last year. They were really impressed with the improvements that were made and about the amount of new modules that were released over the last 12 months.
And last but not least I was able to meet Sam Battle from Look Mum No Computer just before his very impressive show in Munich and he had a first look at the AE Modular ... and maybe he will use it in one of his upcoming videos?
There were 7 new modules that I showed at the Superbooth and of these the one that got the most praise was the Solina String synthesizer module. Not surprising really, since just on the first day of Superbooth, Behringer announced that they are “thinking of maybe designing a prototype of the Solina String Synthesizer”. Well at the tangible waves booth we had a prototype for people to play and listen. Felix from the TuesdayNightmachines even made this short video about it:
Next up was the new drum section consisting of 3 new modules: TOPOGRAF (a clone of the Grids Eurorack module by Mutable Instruments), KICK (a pure analog kick drum synthesizer) and DRUM 010 (a lofi digital drum kit with a few banks of different drum sounds). Again Felix made an amazing video about all three modules:
There were also the new Multi Mode Divider and a new Slew Limiter module. But what most people were asking for was a playable version of the ALGODRONE, a bytebeat noise generator that I demoed last year and never got around to finish until this month! And once more, Felix did a superb job of capturing its essence:
If you don't know what Bytebeat is you can read more about it in this forum thread.
Most of these new modules will be available in the shop either by the end of June or in July, so stay tuned for more info on this.
NEW Patch Cables
The patch cables were really the most annoying part of the whole AE Modular experience and so many people have told me again and again how they would fall out of the sockets, or cause crackling or just did not make a good connection. I totally agree! The standard patch leads that are normally used for electronics prototyping on breadboards are not really made for patching musical instruments and my friends over at Bastl share the same issues with this “state of the art” as it also affects their products, the Bastl Kastle and Bitranger.
But there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel and that came with an idea of one of my customers who suggested I try those slightly thicker pins that are being used in the RC model aircraft / helicopter DIY community. I ordered a few and made a few prototype cables with them and brought them to Superbooth to give away to a few people for testing.
So far these cables are holding up very well. They are much softer and they connect much better to the patch points, even to the older style ones and they won’t fall out! Now I just had to find a way to have those cables made large scale to get the price down to something that is affordable and after a lot of research and being in contact with various suppliers in China I finally found a reliable supplier and a very decent price point.
I’m very happy to announce that the age of bad patch connections and cables that are falling out is finally OVER!
Once I have enough of those cables in stock they will be available for purchase and they will also be added to the standard beginner rack systems instead of the old cables.
AE Modular retailing in the UK and USA
I have made arrangements with two distributors in the UK and USA who will offer the AE Modular system for retailing directly in their respective country. For now they will sell the Starter Racks as it is a complete system and easy for anyone to get into modular synthesis and Juno will also sell a palette of modules and accessories.
Please find more information at https://www.juno.co.uk.
Info about USA retailers will follow soon!
The forum is growing and more and more people are releasing their music online and discuss their techniques and support each other with (mostly) positive feedback. Just have a look through all the new content, if you haven’t in a while … it’s quite amazing:
Especially the patch challenges have become a focal point for new and creative ways to use the AE system. You can find a list, current and past threads here:
Otherwise it’s just so good to see so many new members connecting to the AE community. This is what my idea was all about, to create a system that is affordable so that many people can use it to learn and to make music with it for their own enjoyment or to share. And the forum is a great place to share and to ask more questions
My focus is to fulfil all those wonderful new orders that came flowing in after the Superbooth activities and also to finish the new modules so that you can order and start playing with them.
I also made some really nice connections with other module makers at the Superbooth and I am looking forward to some really interesting collaborations over the next few months with Casper Electronics, Ginkosynthese and Non Linear Circuits.
Dear AE modular Community,
It’s an incredible pleasure to get up every day and knowing “I will produce my own modular synth stuff now” or “I will work on a new module today”; Never in my life did I feel more to be at the right time in the right place (although I enjoyed my previous work in the IT business too, but nothing compares to be a synth developer and manufacturer!). And this is possible only because of you, all you who are using the AE modular, sharing ideas, giving support by motivating/enthusiastic/uplifting feedback, being patient if shipment takes longer than planned… So it’s time again for a big THANK YOU: you are an awesome community! And big thanks also to Carsten, Felix and Mark for their engagement in the forum, making excellent videos, DIY modules and overall helping out others and making them feel welcome. Sometimes I’m speechless what happens around the AE modular …
Upcoming Module Releases
AE modular goes drums!!
News from the Forum
Last month we could celebrate the 100th member signup on the forum! Another milestone on the way to a lasting and vibrant community around the AE Modular system and synthesis in general.
The forum has become the go to place for newcomers and seasoned professionals alike to share ideas, discuss gear and technique and to find information not just about the AE Modular system, but also the periphery which can be connected to it and integrated with.
The Patch Challenges are attracting more performers and are becoming the beating heart of the forum. If you haven’t already, please have a look at the depth and breadth of submissions to an increasing variety of synthesis puzzles and brain teasers.
The challenges have now moved to their own sub forum:
We were surprised when we received an order from Ezra Buchla for one of the Rack1 systems and asked him whether he would be available for an interview. You can read the first part of the interview here:
After we talked mostly about the AE system we then also touched on more general topics, the music industry, appreciating music through deep listening and tips for beginning electronic musicians. All of this you can read in part 2 of the interview:
And just to top it off we also had the great pleasure of interviewing Karin aka Kapuzal, a very talented music producer from Munich. You can read about her musical journey here:
We also were quite surprised about the proliferation of DIY modules when we saw this photo posted by @ben of his AE rack with a plethora of self made modules:
On the support side of things, there were questions about various aspects of the AE power supply: http://forum.aemodular.com/thread/198/another-power-supply-question and the available current: http://forum.aemodular.com/thread/186/available-current-question
And various options for keyboards were discussed, again initiated by @ben with a photo of one of his amazing DIY creations: http://forum.aemodular.com/thread/117/keyboard-ae
And last but not least: if you are a beginner to the AE Modular system or even modular synthesis in general you may be interested to check out the series of tutorial videos that Carsten aka The5thVolt is uploading regularly to his website:
Upcoming Events in 2019
Tangible waves will be present on the 6th-7th of April at the MEFF event in Florence, Italy! If you live nearby please come and visit us. More information about this event is here: http://tiptopaudio.com/meff/
May kicks off strong with the Superbooth which is from the 9th to the 11th in Berlin. Please come and visit us at the tangible waves booth. We are also planning an AE Enthusiast’s get together at the event. More information and tickets are available here:
You can find us at Booth W400, more information here: https://superbooth.com/en/tangible-waves.html?articles=tangible-waves-793
Although not directly related to AE Modular, but he is a kindred spirit, a DIY genius and an over the top performer. If you can make it, please come and see Sam Battle perform his “Look Mum No Computer” live show in Berlin on the 11th of May just on the last day of Superbooth. It will be the Big Bang with which to end the greatest synth show in Europe.
More info and tickets are available here:
And to finish May off on a more mellow note, please join us in Munich on the 24th and 25th for the “Ambient Waves - Kosmische Musik” festival where you can see Robert perform together with Dieter Doepfer and Thomas Quaeschning from Tangerine Dream among others. The line up reads like a who is who of German synthesizer craft and ambient music. Don’t miss out on this event:
This is the second part of my interview with Ezra Buchla. If you haven’t already, you can read part 1 here.
At first I only wanted to ask him about his experience with the AE Modular system which he had ordered a few months ago. But as we were talking we naturally touched on some more general topics about the current commercial landscape of modular synths and about making and appreciating music in general.
As a DSP programmer by trade, in which direction would you like to see DSP-based modular synth modules evolve in the future? Are there any exciting projects or developments you’re following closely or looking forward to?
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the proliferation of small computers in modular synthesizers (and elsewhere). On the one hand, it's pretty awesome that embedded computing is so accessible right now. On the other hand, it seems like a strange allocation of resources to have a eurorack system with 20 computers in it or something, all of which are similarly spec'd with different panel art and firmware. not every problem needs to be solved by throwing a 100 MHz processor at it. :)
My tendency is to want my digital devices to be maximally flexible and reusable. there's a huge number of used smartphones and laptops in the world, available basically for free...
So, I like the fact that there are open-source digital modules and that there is a large active community engaged in modifying them. (e.g. Mutable Instruments.) any digital module that isn't open-sourced seems weird to me.
My long association with monome.org speaks to our shared design values with regard to functional minimalism and openness. Last year they released "norns," which I was instrumental in designing and implementing; it is their take on the portable, linux-based desktop sound processor. The upcoming "crow" will be a complementary unit for analog hardware interfacing.
At this year’s NAMM 2019 we’ve seen some big companies getting into the modular world. Especially the Korg Volca Modular came as a big surprise and it introduces the “masses” to west coast synthesis. How do you feel about this “east coast vs. west coast” synthesis and do you even think about this when you are making music?
For what it's worth, I think it's a silly marketing conceit, and always was. Neither Don nor Bob appreciated the terms. Just say what you mean! (sequenced, generative, keyboard-based, FM, additive, subtractive, whatever.) I chose to disengage from the music tech industry in my daily life a couple of years ago and am now working in the hearing industry, which is a lot more fulfilling to me. I’m not sure I like the “toy” aspect of where things are heading and especially how many little computers are now being used and sitting in your rack. You know, there’s a $25 digital board and a nice aluminium panel and it becomes this collector or fashion item and is really marketed towards this certain upper class people that seem to mostly just collect these things. These are just not my values and especially with these digital boards you’re engaging with this global supply chain that artificially deflates the cost of the components. This is just not great for the world. We are now living in a world where people in the developed countries throw away their phone every three years. That’s why I like the really analog designs which have much less impact. I would like to do more with fewer computers.
I can see this is so true. There are so many new Eurorack modules coming out all the time and everyone has to have them. And then on YouTube you don’t really find many people that actually do interesting or even musical things with them.
Yeah, and I don’t really consider myself a musician nowadays. Although I did for ten years when that was my job. Nowadays I don’t feel like releasing electronic music because it feels like a very saturated world. I much prefer to do live performances.
I think it’s really cool, too that the synthesizer market empowers people to created their own sounds. That’s what this is really about, you can create and compose anything you like for your own enjoyment in real time with these machines and that’s the magic of them. At the same time I think it’s a poor fit with the traditional recording industry with their record release cycles. So it’s not appealing to me for instance to release for ambient synthesis music as a professional package because to me it feels unnecessary. It just feels strange to say, here is a recording made by a professional and you should value it more than other recordings made by non-professionals. And at the same time you’re saying, here is a machine that you can buy and make your own ambient music that sounds just like it [was made by a professional]. It is a strange and ego driven world where you’re trying to have both. And people are pushing their own creations out there at this breakneck pace that to me discourages reflection and listening with presence. And this is what I appreciate most in some aspects of ambient or minimalist music. That it’s ephemeral, that it exists in time and is a conscious experience of time and not just the clicking of the next Youtube link.
That’s interesting, that you’re talking about your love for ambient and minimalist music. Where is this interest coming from, what are your main musical influences?
The term “ambient” is a strange one and most of what is called ambient music I don’t care for, it’s too tame for me. But I like Minimalism as a compositional philosophy and ambient music in the sense of Satie’s music or Feldman’s music that is about really experiencing duration. That’s what I grew up listening to. Probably my most formative experiences were a lot of John Cage performances, Feldman performances and Éliane Radigue and Steve Reich which I experienced as a young person. Those were very formative for me in the aspect of how to approach process driven music. Because the interesting thing that synthesizers can do is create autonomous musical processes that provide a different way of accessing the same sort of compositional space that Feldman or Steve Reich were addressing. When I was enrolled in a conservatory as a string performance major and composition major and whether it’s acoustic instruments or electronic, those were always the compositional frameworks that I was interested in and that still interest me.
But I also played a lot in bands and I’m very influenced by Punk music and metal and all kinds of stuff. But in those frameworks the synthesizer has a different role, which is to make a sonic object that is impactful and that is maybe hard to do with other tools. For instance I used to tour with a band where I was mostly singing and I also played this tiny modular that was basically just a triangle core and some feedback - a dual oscillator setup that produced really aggressive sounds which were very physical when you cranked it up in a big room. So I would turn it on for like a second - [vroom] - and that’s what it did.
But these are all just tools like a cello is a tool and you can play Feldman or Xenakis with it [laughs].
So probably many people who are getting into modular synthesizers nowadays aren’t composition majors or may not have much musical education at all (myself included!). What advice would you give these people? What could they study or experiment with?
In don’t know really. I think you should just be aware of what your interests are and what kind of experiences you find enriching. That’s really the only advice I would give anyone, whether they’re a musician or not. One thing that I never understood is this desire or the attitude that I see expressed a lot of “How do I make this kind of music on my synthesizer?” or even “Which synthesizer do I have to buy to make this kind of music?”. This baffles me although I kind of understand it, but to me it misses the point. To me, music is a communicative medium and even to communicate just with myself to express through sound how I perceive the universe. Kind of like a lens through which I see what’s happening right now. And then you can transfer that experience to other people, and that’s what I’m interested in. I never thought “Oh I want to make something that sounds like a Kraftwerk song.” I just never thought that. So maybe this is very cultural. The environment that I grew up in was very much about this sort of experimental sound community in the Bay Area. And this music community was very much influenced by listening practices, maybe even more so than sound production. So if you look at the history of electronic music and how for instance Pauline Oliveros writes about music, she doesn’t write about how do you produce a sound, she writes about how to listen to a sound. The same with John Cage and other of my role models, they were all more interested in listening than sound production. And that’s what I still continue to do.
So my compositional advice is to just listen! But to do this in a really attentive way. This may sound obvious, but I think that a lot of people aren’t really listening in a critical way. You know? It’s really difficult to really listen to what you’re doing. It’s extraordinarily difficult.
On the same topic, I met with Sam Aaron recently who produced a computer language environment called SonicPi, mainly to teach kids music and programming at the same time. And I asked him, how do you teach this to kids? And he said “You don’t. You just show them the command that plays a note at 440 Hz and then you tell them that this number can go up and it can go down. Then you add the command for a pause and you just gave them the tools to play all of western classical music.”
And that’s what is was like for me, too. I had a lot of music education, but the most educational single memory that I recall was actually sitting down at the piano with my dad and he asked me to play just one note. And my dad actually got piano lessons from David Tudor, who was a great John Cage interpreter and an electronic composer in his own right. So these exercises were like “Play and hold this one note and then listen until you can’t hear it anymore.” And that was very impressive because when you pay really close attention then it’s very hard to say that you’re not hearing the sound anymore on a piano. Another exercise was, how soft can you play the note. Just like a lot of Feldman piano pieces have the direction “as softly as possible”. Softness isn’t just about volume, but also about touch, how softly can you touch the keys.Those things together give you an appreciation of the incredible sensitivity of human hearing. The dynamic range of human hearing has about a factor of a million between the strongest and the weakest stimulus that you can perceive.
So my music education was very non-traditional and some of the pedagogical techniques that were most influential to me were not traditional ear training or music theory, but a practice that was rooted in deep listening and experimental performance. Another person I like alot is W.A. Mathieu who wrote a book called “The Harmonic Experience” which has a lot of a sort of meditative training exercises, a lot of singing. This is how I would approach talking to kids about sound and music. I have taught the violin and piano to young kids, but never synthesizers. Only once did I play an old Buchla with my nephew who’s one and a half. He was just fascinated by the fact that you can turn a knob and the sounds goes up and down. That was enough for him and was an almost magical experience.
Thank you Ezra for this very interesting chat!
If you haven’t already, please also check out and listen to this piece that Ezra performed with the AE Modular, his Viola and tenor guitar:
Here are some links to composers and performers that Ezra talked about:
You can read part 1 of this interview here.
(Interviewer: Carsten Eckelmann, Skype interview from 10th February 2019)
Ezra Buchla is an accomplished violinist and musician who is creating soundscapes using just his violin and a computer running the supercollider audio programming environment. He is the son of the late Don Buchla who was instrumental in designing the Buchla music system and through his work defined what some people call “West Coast Synthesis”. Ezra is also a founding member of The Mae Shi, an experimental rock band from Los Angeles.
We were surprised and very pleased when - out of the blue - we received an order for the AE Modular Standard Rack 1 from Ezra so we wanted to find out what his thoughts are now that he had some time to play with it.
The following is my transcript (in sense if not word for word) of some written communication and a subsequent Skype interview with Ezra. It is quite long so we’ll release it in two parts.
Please also check out and listen to this piece that Ezra performed with the AE Modular, his Viola and tenor guitar:
How did you find out about AE Modular and, given that you obviously have access to much more expensive gear, why did you choose to buy a system from us?
I saw it mentioned on the `lllllll.co` forum and was intrigued by the overall design, the motivations and some of the specific modules (like the NYLE filter) and the price was low enough to justify satisfying my curiosity. I’m not a big gear head and I mostly work with computers. That’s why I worked alot with the monome.org project mainly on the "norns" machine. But I was curious about the sound producing components especially the oscillators and the NYLE filter. I really love that filter, it’s totally bizarre, the resonance knob goes to self oscillation at 12 o’clock and you can bleed different inputs depending on the output conductance. When I contacted Robert I was impressed with his passion and the way he talks about his system. So I wanted to evaluate it for the analog sound sources because I wanted to hear if they have more character than just a clean sound. And it was just what I expected, really grungy so I’ll probably run my viola and the guitar or voice through it just to give it some character.
Please be honest and let us know what you think about the AE Modular system. Would you use it for one of your performances?
Sure, I used it in a performance back in October, which went great.
The system I have is quite limited because I was mostly interested in checking out the oscillators and filters, and routing audio through it. For example, I have no sequencing capabilities at all! I tend to want to do sort of strange things with musical event generation, which are best realized on a computer. So I have been intending to build my own 5v programmable sequencer interface, but of course haven't had time.
I'm also not a big MIDI user... so at the moment, the system is basically a source of static textures / drones. This is totally fine with me, and I've spent enough time with it to have some ideas about what few things to add to optimize it for that role...
Which improvements would you like to see, which drawbacks do you see?
The main drawback for me is just the fragility of the sockets themselves. But I see this has been addressed in recent revisions. :)
There are a number of oddities and strange behaviors, but I don't actually see this as a drawback per se. Like, a lot of outputs aren't buffered (?) and adding e.g. capacitance to them (like by touching with a finger) can affect other outputs in the circuit in strange ways.
(that's is sort of a guess... honestly, I haven't even engaged with the system in a "technical" mindset at all. I haven't hooked it up to a scope or even looked under the panels. for now, I'm happy to keep it that way :) )
Would you recommend it to other musicians or students of modular synthesis?
Absolutely. Of course this would depend on the person's needs or intentions. To some extent I think it seems actually a little challenging for beginners. For a practicing musician new to synthesizers, road-worthiness is important, limited signal flow is ok, so semi-modular designs make sense.
But if someone is already familiar with synthesis paradigms (and digital systems can easily provide this experience), or wanting to dive in at the "deep end," then I would definitely recommend the AEM system.
Which modules would you like to see most in the AE environment
I could go on of course, ha.
At the AE Modular forum we have now started a fun little series of weekly challenges which are supposed to inspire people to produce and record small pieces with their system. The challenges are also a bit of a puzzle, like produce sound without using an oscillator, or produce ambient spacey, drones. What challenge would you set us?
So these are almost like scores, right? I did a lot of this work as a composition student, like scores for modular or instructions for modular. I have mixed feelings about it. I don’t really care for the prescriptiveness of the challenges, but I can see how it would be helpful for someone who is starting out and wants to sit down every day and do something, but isn't sure how to go about it. It helps to have a goal in mind. Maybe in a pedagogic sense, it seems cool, but it’s not really for me.
The most interesting thing for me is that because the way the AE system is designed, I believe it cuts a lot of corners. I’m guessing there are unbuffered outputs and stuff like this. It has these strange behaviours that deviate from the sort of ideal that someone might have learned in a software environment and that’s a really valuable thing to have. Like if you have never experienced this tactile environment where you are interacting with a real electric circuit and not just a number that’s copied over here when turning this knob.
Maybe that is a challenge that I would set: “Try to find a behaviour that you can’t explain.”
What would your “stranded on a desert island” music setup look like?
I actually don’t have a lot of stuff in my studio. I have this Italian viola from 1850 which is really nice and if that was the only instrument I could take, I would be more than happy. I also have another very modern viola with a carbon fibre body and an electric pickup which I really like. I also have a tenor guitar which I use a lot and a really nice audio interface and some distortion pedals. There’s a Moog Rogue which is really fun. That and the monome stuff of course and a few weird circuits that I’m working on is really most of what I have in my studio. Probably that’s already too much for a deserted island, but it’s not really a lot.
There’s this interview which I really like with Robert Henke, one of the co-founders of Ableton, where someone asked him about plugins and he replied “You know in Ableton or really any DAW you can have as many compressors as you want. You can serialise them, sidechain them, you can do stuff that no one even imagined being able to do in the ‘80s, not even in a million dollar studio. And now on your computer you can have all of this basically for free.” This is a really great antidote to the gear chasing mentality. You know, doing more with less is the essence of art. For instance the early Beatles records were recorded with one dynamic microphone in the middle of the room in mono.
A lot of my favorite music is recorded with pretty minimal means. My favorite artist Alastair Galbraith in New Zealand really does a lot with a violin, a guitar and tape loops and his voice.
So my deserted island setup would probably be just my viola and if I could bring my computer that would be great, too.
When playing a violin, you are able to add expression and emotion to your sound quite naturally and spontaneously via fine tactile input. Modular synths are often controlled without this kind of “touch” however. How do you feel about this? Do you miss certain controller types for modular synths, or is the often rather algorithmic approach to modular music-making a welcome change or even a challenge? In another interview you said that you mostly use software to program sound (was it csound?). Do you think that you can achieve a similar expressiveness in a live situation with program code as with knobs and faders?
I've mostly used supercollider for the last 10-15 years. I personally tend to use electronic sound structures as environments / processes that proceed sort of autonomously, sometimes in response to acoustic signals.
In both analog and digital systems, expressivity and depth of control are totally achievable. the kind of analysis-driven processes that I gravitate towards are much easier to achieve in the digital domain (e.g. with trivial access to frequency-domain / pitch / timbre analysis.) and on the other hand, direct response to gesture is fundamentally an analog thing.
There's a bit of a paradox in control design: you can make a system that is flexible and patchable, and highly responsive - but controlling responsivity takes practice. In an experimental environment it's cool to change up the gesture -> music linkage, but in I dunno, in more "traditional" music forms it actually seems helpful to have a sensitive but constrained set of gestures, and practice intensively with them. (consider the theremin for example.)
But yeah, for myself, real time control is not actually a big concern, since compositionally I tend towards static structures / minimalism in any case.
This is the end of part 1 of this interview.
Please come back for part 2 where we will talk about the current state of the industry around modular synthesizers, appreciating music and Ezra’s main artistic influences.
This is a link to the projects that Ezra participated in:
Ezra also a bandcamp page:
And he is a founding member of The Mae Shi, an experimental rock band from Los Angeles:
Dear AE modular Community,
December was an extremely busy month with many orders and again I’ve tried my hardest to assemble and send them out in time, but even though the new production measures have helped a lot I’ve still a long list of orders to ship. My apologies to all that have missed their system for Christmas and are still waiting for it.
In December I also released not just one, but six new modules which now brings the count of available modules to 32!
I did take it more easy over January, but have still continued to work on shipping orders and also designing and testing prototypes of new modules, so stay tuned, there’s more to come!
New Rack Cases!
The new cases are finally here! They come in single and double rows and three different widths. They also feature a new power distribution system which makes it possible to combine them without using the Racklink module. A new hinge can be used to attach two or more together to form a much bigger rack.
These are all now available directly from the web store.
New Module Release
The OR2x4 is a logic module which provides two logical OR circuits and a gate trigger with which you can trigger the output of the module. Two of these modules can be combined to an 8 input OR via a switch.
This module can now be ordered from the webstore.
News from the Forum
The forum is growing and we could celebrate our first 1,000 posts this month!
Weekly Patch Challenge
Mark aka @thetechnobear has started the weekly Patch Challenges and these proved to be a great source of inspiration and I hope that these will attract more people to post their creations on the forum. You can find the patch challenges and other performances here:
The NAMM 2019 show was in full swing in January and of special interest was the new Korg Volca Modular, which at first glance looked compatible with AE, but on further investigation isn’t. See the discussion about this here: http://forum.aemodular.com/thread/151/korg-volca-modular
Personally I see the Korg Volca Modular as a great entry into the world of modular synthesis for people that are new to this. With a growing range of over 32 modules the AE Modular product range can then provide the variety of additional modules once someone wants to expand their Volca modular and dive deeper into synthesis.
Upcoming Events in 2019
Tangible waves will be present at the April MEFF event in Florence, Italy! If you live nearby please come and visit us. More information about this event is here: http://tiptopaudio.com/meff/
There is also a London meetup of Synthesis Enthusiasts called CV FREQS and they meet next on February 23rd. More information here: http://forum.aemodular.com/thread/170/cv-freqs-xi
Dear AE modular Community,
The year 2018 comes to an end, and I want to take this opportunity to say a big THANK YOU to all of you! It was an exciting year with really a lot of work. Over the last few months there was even so much going on that those of you who had ordered in this time had (and still have) to wait several weeks for shipment... Although I’m not happy about this fact, it nevertheless made it clear to me what an awesome community you are. No one was really complaining, instead I have heard so many understanding and encouraging words from you, it’s totally amazing!
In the meantime I got support for the production, and a big bunch of development tasks (see below) have been done, so I am looking forward to a wonderful and exciting year 2019 for AE modular! Together with your support and inspiration it will grow with a lot of new modules and mature further - and all this would not be possible without YOU!
A special thanks goes to Carsten and Felix for their incredible and enthusiastic support; you guys really rock! The heaven has sent you!
So again, a BIG, BIG THANK YOU! You are such a wonderful community!
New Standard Rack and Modules
Just in time for Christmas I have finished work on optimising and redesigning some modules that are part of the standard Rack 1 and Rack 2. In addition there are now also new variations of the cases which can now also be connected to each other.
Rack 2 now contains the trigger sequencer TRIQ164 as standard (which is the successor of the STEP10)
As before the complete systems are available in the shop now in their new configurations.
These are the new modules:
As you can imagine this was quite a lot of work, but in my opinion it was necessary to overhaul some of these fundamental modules before they are released to a much greater market in 2019 (more about this in a later post).
News from the Forum
There wasn’t a huge amount of discussion on the forum, but I was really happy to see more original performances and I am impressed on how well those artists managed to fit the AE system into their compositions!
Meanwhile The Tuesday Night Machines was tinkering again and is now controlling his AE modular with an IR remote: http://forum.aemodular.com/thread/114/receiver-module-easy-building-attenuator
Just a reminder for everyone, that tangible waves will again be at the Superbooth next year and that we will make this an event that you don’t want to miss!
Early Bird tickets are still available until 31st December at https://www.superbooth.com/en/tickets_en.html
Robert Langer, founder of tangible waves. Here, I will share some thoughts, background infos and news about AE modular and tangible waves.