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tag: modular

One Synthesizer, Multiple Voices

A work for modular synth by Fastus

Different musicians have different audiences. The thing that distinguishes SoundCloud from most music services is how people use it to post half-done pieces, sometimes with their “listener” audience in mind, often with their “peer” audience, the latter meaning other musicians, who are, of course, often listeners themselves. On video sites, “unboxing” and intro “tutorial” or “overview” clips let new owners share some of their consumerist energy, and occasionally even some tips. On SoundCloud, the closest comparison might be “first try” or “first take” audio, when musicians post a very early attempt to use a new piece of equipment. That subset of audio is followed by instrument-centric recordings, like this piece by Fastus, in which the equipment may not necessarily be new, but it still has the spotlight. “Isolation,” as it’s called, is a modular synthesizer piece that, per the very brief (eight-word) liner note, is based around a single item of equipment, the Telharmonic (from the company Make Noise), which came out a little under a year ago. It’s a remarkable recording, multiple voices moving throughout, cycling and echoing each other, built largely from organ-like tones and a rhythm that sounds like steam pipes opening and closing.

Track originally posted at Fastus is Ian O’Brien of Jersey City, New Jersey. More from him at

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A Click Here, a Tone There

The "blind" recording process of ioflow (aka Joshua Saddler)

Joshua Saddler, who records as ioflow, takes delicate sounds in this short, eminently loopable track, and from them ekes out plaintive, elegant mixes of texture and tone, of gentle percussives and subdued tension. The piece is titled “Clouds and Wind, Shifting,” and it very much has an elemental feel to it. It follows a pace of sorts, but there’s nothing trenchant about the beat or pulse of it. It just proceeds, a click here, a tone there, sometimes overlapping, sometimes left on their own, preceded by silence or followed by a sudden, yet still quite intimate and fragile, convergence.

Saddler recently expanded his instrument collection with the start of a modular synthesizer, and this track is his first ever recording with that equipment. The full list of equipment is: lap harp, ebow, field recordings, pedals, and modular effects. He employed what he described as a “‘blind’ recording process,” which involves recording several tracks separately and only hearing them back in unison when they’re all complete.

Track originally posted at More from ioflow/Saddler, who is based in San Diego, California, at,,, and

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What the Creators of the Monome Sound Like as Live Performers

Kelli Cain and Brian Crabtree recorded live in San Francisco (February 2016)

Update (April 3, 2016): The SoundCloud account of half of the Monome duo mentioned below, Kelli Cain, today uploaded a higher-quality recording of the same concert:

The original post appears below.

The developers of the Monome have shepherded not just a series of refined devices, including their namesake grid and a growing number of synthesizer modules, but a community that makes music with them and software for them.

That Monome community largely gathers at, a discussion site, but occasionally there are opportunities to meet up in person. About a month back, on February 19, Monome’s Kelli Cain and Brian Crabtree, who are based in upstate New York, performed as a duo at a tiny shop in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond neighborhood. The audio for that set is now available as a free download from shop’s SoundCloud account (

I was at the show, and can confirm the audio captures the songs well. It’s a series of gentle, folktronic pieces, each with a trance-like quality. Certainly there in the mix are the soft looping synthesizer sounds often associated with the Monome, but there’s also a sweet vocal thread, the pair harmonizing like adjunct members of Low or of Iron and Wine. The acoustic shaker heard early on in this half-hour set is one of several that come out of Cain’s work in ceramics (see:

At the show Crabtree had several of the shakers on the table. He’d shake one for awhile, and then pass it to someone in the audience to continue the pattern. Each person became an extension of what Crabtree had started, but then altered it a little, whether through the conscious decision to contribute a musical idea, or simply because their sense of rhythm differed from his. Either way, the passing around of the shakers was a masterful example of the real (that is, physical) world reflecting something intrinsic to electronic culture (looping), all occurring in the context of a makeshift community (in this case the few dozen attendees).

Here are two shots I took at the time and that I posted the day after the show at



Track originally posted at More on the Monome, Cain, and Crabtree at

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Julianna Barwick’s Machine-Woman Interface

A track from her forthcoming album, Will

Part of the pleasure of the first track to be (pre)released from Julianna Barwick’s forthcoming album, Will, is how her voice merges with the synthesized sounds that accompany it. The piece opens with this slow mix of drone and scale. The drone pulses and the scale, tracing the shape of the pulse by moving up and down on repeat, puts soft pads against something even softer still. (According to NPR it’s a Moog synthesizer, the Mother-32.) And then comes her voice — her voices, really. Barwick’s breathy intonations come and go in looping layers, a folktronic canon. These echoes proceed for the length of the piece, which is titled “Nebula,” tracing the vast contours of an imagined cavern. It’s one of nine tracks on Will, and while “Nebula” is solo, the album features a range of guests: singer Thomas Arsenault (aka Mas Ysa), cellist Maarten Vos, and percussionist from Jamie Ingalls (Chairlift, Tanlines, Beverly). There’s also a video for “Nebula,” directed by Derrick Belcham and shot at Philip Johnson’s historic Glass House:

The album has a pre-release page at More from Barwick, who is based in Brooklyn, at

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Tastes of the Sync 01 and Moog Concerts

Work by Suzanne Cianni, Neybuu, and Bana Haffar

This weekend was a pretty tremendous one in San Francisco for modular synthesis. There were not one but two expos. A series of workshops capped by a concert was sponsored by Moog as part of its Dial-tones regional spinoff of Moogfest, and a dozen manufacturers plus four performers gathered under the aegis of Sync 01, an event plotted by Chris Randall of Audio Damage. I posted a few photos from the evening, and interviewed both Ciani and Randall in advance for If you missed the shows, here’s a taste:

I caught the Sync 01 performances as well as the Dial-tones headliner, Suzanne Ciani (the elder statesperson of the crew), who did a concert-length piece on Buchla. This video shows her working with Moog equipment and unlike her Dial-tones event it isn’t in quadraphonic, but it gets at her rhythms-as-texture mastery:

The Sync 01 performers included Neybuu, who mixed her tabla through a pair of Elektron tools, the Octatrack and Rytm. Neybuu, who lives in Portland, spent a decade in India learning to play tabla. She produced the Total Tabla sample set for Elektron ( More from her in an interview at Here’s a video that’s close to (arguably an improvement on, as there were feedback issues last night) what she sounded like at Sync 01:

The highlight of all the weekend’s performances was arguably Bana Haffar. (I’ve written about her once previously, back in January.) Part of this has to do with her set being the most difficult to describe. There were echoes of Tangerine Dream and mellow Underworld in some of the other performances, and classic modular quadrophonic rhythms in Ciani’s, while Reybuu quite clearly was porting an old tradition through a new one — all of which led to interesting results. But Haffar’s was something apart, a through-performed work that mixed drones and pulsing and low-level hints of vocals into a fully formed work. This recent live set of hers, nearly 18 minutes in length and recorded in late February, feels more subdued than last night’s performance, but it gets at the sinuous, exploratory nature of her work:

Track originally posted at Haffar, who plays bass professionally, lives in Los Angeles.

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