The Nord Modular G2 is one of electronic music’s most beloved departed pieces of gear. Now it gets a second lease on life, for free – with Csound.

You’d be forgiven for not knowing this happened. The work was published as an academic paper in Finland last June, authored by three Russian engineers – one of whom works on nuclear physics research, no less. (It’s not the right image, but if you want to imagine something involving submarines, go for it. That’s where I want my next sound studio, inside a decommissioned nuclear sub from the USSR, sort of Thomas Dolby meets Hunt for Red October. But I digress.)

Anyway, Gleb Rogozinsky, Mihail Chesnokov, and Eugene Cherny, all of St. Petersburg, had a terrific idea. They chose to simulate the behavior of the Nord Modular G2 synth itself, and translate its patch files into use as Csound – the powerful, elegant free software that has a lineage to the first computer synth.

The upshot: patches (including those you found on the Web) now work on any computer, Mac, Windows, Linux, and Linux machines like Raspberry Pi – for free. And the graphical editor that lets you create Nord Modular patches just became a peculiar Nord-specific editor for Csound. (Okay, there are other visual editors for Csound, but that’s still cool, and the editor is still available for Mac and Windows free from the original manufacturer, Clavia.)

And best of all, if you have patches you created on the Nord Modular, now they’ll work for all eternity – or, rather, at least as long as human civilization lasts and keeps making computers, as I’m pretty sure Csound will remain with us for that. Let’s hope that’s… not a short period of time, of course.

Read the paper here:

pch2csd: an application for converting Nord Modular G2 patches
into Csound code
[Proceedings of the 14th Sound and Music Computing Conference]

Then give it a go – all you need is a machine that runs Python and copy-paste a couple of lines of code:

https://github.com/gleb812/pch2csd

Nord say they have no plans to bring back the hardware, but check the updates software on their site:

http://www.nordkeyboards.com/downloads/legacy/nord-modular-g2

Thanks for the tip, Ted Pallas!

  • wndfrm

    this is great! better than dropping 1500+ USD on a g2 =D .. ok well, that would be nice too..

  • Oh, thank you! This kind of coverage is what our world needs. Add a mention of underrepresented musickers and you got the most CDM post ever possible.

  • Yung Spleen

    Awesome! I’m so glad there are people keeping the spirit of that old system alive. I’ve wanted one for so long. Hopefully some enterprising soul creates a new hardware platform to run this engine implementation on.

  • treecathedral

    VERY interesting. So, I’ve got a Qu-Bit Nebulae Eurorack module that’s capable of running CSound patches (with assignable CV)… have I just essentially gotten the ability to run Nord Modular patches in Eurorack? Also, of interest to those of us with a Nord Modular G1, it looks like there’s a G1 to G2 conversion tool – http://www.electro-music.com/forum/forum-145.html

    • treecathedral

      Then there’s Cabbage, so I believe you could turn your favorite Nord Modular patches into VST or AU plugins and control/automate them in your DAW of choice.

      http://cabbageaudio.com

      • Eugene Cherny

        We actually talked with Rory (the author of Cabbage) about making a special build for our converter that’d allow to drop pch2 patches to the VST window and use from the DAW pretty much effortlessly. But we still don’t have all modules implemented for this step to proceed.

        • ED

          Do you have any idea on how long it might take to implement all the modules? Thanks! 🙂

          • Eugene Cherny

            Well, I think it shouldn’t take long for an enthusiast to implement most of them, as most of them are quite simple, and Csound has many algorithms implemented.

          • ED

            Thanks!

            There’s one guy who says that oscillators on G2 are bandlimited… and when I tried Nord Virtual Modular (which is basically the demo version software Clavia had, so it has all the same algorithms), and put it through Voxengo SPAN, everything running at 96k, I certainly can confirm there’s no aliasing when playing with regular sawtooth oscillator (unless playing it unrealistically high up the keyboard)… How did you encounter that much aliasing on the G2 in the example shown in your paper?

            You can see above mentioned test in action here: i.imgur.com/bAJ0Jdo.mp4

            Everything nicely bandlimited!

          • Eugene Cherny

            Hey ED, I’ll check with Gleb about this — he did the analysis for paper.

          • Gleb Rogozinsky

            Hi ED! Another dev is here. At one time your test completely matches the spectrum from the paper (when the fundamental is ~3 kHz). As you can see, we have mirrored components. On your video we start noticing it beginning from ~ 1 kHz, which is not so unrealistically high – just around C6). Yes, looking at the spectra envelope, (which seems ‘anti-aliasingly’ smooth, especially at the low end) we can suggest that the oscs are bandlimited, but I guess it is just an output LP to shape it that way, of course without eliminating the mirrored harmonics. Also, there is no sign of Gibbs effect in time domain. The saw is very sharp and strict, it also proves the hypothesis of the paper.

          • ED

            Thanks very much for your reply. I should probably redo the test and resize the GUI of SPAN so that there’s more precision in the upper frequency ranges. I think I can see what you mean around 3k fundamental…

          • Gleb Rogozinsky

            Regarding the time, it depends much on community efforts. Some of the modules are tricky. At least by now. Couple of days ago we reversed the random generator (in the sense that the probability distribution for our model is very close to the Nord’s one). So the process goes on.

  • richard conrad

    Wow this is amazing!!i have an axoliti core and its so much fun i miss my nord modular tho .thabjs fir this post

  • Seems like the sound from the G2 comes from
    1) Aliasing oscillators
    2) non sync’ed oscillator
    3) non perfect modulators, ie, a sine is not really a sine.

    Imperfections is what we all want eh? 🙂

    • Eugene Cherny

      Yep, there are a lot of simple tricks to make it sound less digital, but nothing like simulating cirquits, etc. Also we found that the the oscillators start with random phase on each note-on. The envelopes also have some weirdness at the beginning because they don’t sound like typical exponential ADSR — one thing to be investigated.

      • That’s interesting Eugene. Do you think the shape is derived from the DSP? Wondering if they wanted it to be that way – creative decision – or it just made sense in light of the available resources and programming constraints. Envelopes are an often under explored area in most sound design I see.

        • Eugene Cherny

          I’m not sure what you mean by the derivation from the DSP. I’d prefer to believe that those envelope shapes are “creative decisions” — simply because thinking this way the task of analyzing and reproducing these shapes them feels less daunting.

  • Max

    OMG!

  • Владимир Кондратьев

    Tried to convert some patches from factory bank, doesn’t work. Many modules are missing.

    • Eugene Cherny

      Yep, a lot of them are missing due to the lack of spare time. But the converter should work fine. Our initial goal was to implement all modules from the Nord’s DEMO app.

      • Владимир Кондратьев

        May be some working example from demo app?

        • Gleb Rogozinsky

          Hello Vladimir! I am not sure that there’s some working patch from factory library by now, since almost each of them demands either chorus or some other modules, which are not at the top of our list now. Anyway, you may try making a synth from finished models of modules (the completion list is on the github) and check the sound.

  • Eugene Cherny

    Hey folks!

    pch2csd dev here. Currently we have the converter code working more or less fine, but many modules are still missing. We’re currently missing a lot of modules implemented in order for this tool to be useful. If anyone wants to help writing little bits of Csound — please contact us!

  • Dave Phillips

    Just a note to let Linux users know that the Clavia editor works fine with Wine. 🙂

    • peter

      Dear Dave, that sounds great. Coud you pls giva a newbe with soundsoftwear on mint a hint how to take Joshys Nord Modular demo “out of the wine botle”, or does it run on linux the way it is? Do all the Midi conections work so that I can hook up a hardwear midi controler? Sorry if these questions are to demanding.

      • Dave Phillips

        Hi Peter, I was able to get it up & running but I’m not getting any audio out of it. However, from what I found on electro-music.com that appears to be the expected behavior. Alas, I have no hardware MIDI controller to test, but the MIDI connections appear to be functional. Btw, I just ran ‘wine Nord Virtual Modular.exe’ and it started up without problems. I’m on Fedora 23 here. I hope that helps get you going.

        • peter

          Hi Dave, thank you for replying. I also have a mac OS 10.8.4 on witch it´s runs without having checked it in detail. I just would have preferred it to be on the newer (Lenovo x220) hardware under mint 18 .. Thanx anyway PS I´m hoping to purchase a Nord Modular Keyboard (digital vintage!!)

  • Grzegorz Bojanek

    Does it work with Micro Modular, too?

    • Gleb Rogozinsky

      Grzegorz, MicroModular, as far as I know it, is the LE version of Nord Modular. Our project is on the second Modular. Meanwhile, the first Modular seems to be easier in all senses. So if we lucky to finish it, the first generation Modular is just a matter of time I guess.

  • “your favourite device ressurected for internal life in the halls of Csound”

    Nice! Still have the red shoebox Micromodular here somewhere.

  • EricM

    Is it just me or wasn’t there already an official Nord Modular software? I vaguely remember when first got into using computers for music that there was a software version that was used to create, edit and preview patches.

    • Gleb Rogozinsky

      Hi EricM! We are not talking about the patch editor. We are talking about the software to convert the Nord Modular patch files into the Csound synthesizers to be run on almost any piece of silicon).

      • EricM

        Yes, I know, but the software I remember could make sound on any silicon-based Windows PC (and probably Mac), just like this one, no Csound needed.

        • Gleb Rogozinsky

          Yes, I guess you are talking about demo editor of NM. It was able to run without hardware brains. But there were lots of restrictions, no MIDI, some modules were restricted as well. And also no connectivity to some DAW.

          • EricM

            Yup. that’s the one. Never found it all that inspiring so never used it (I’m sure the the restrictions had some help in that).

  • Gabriel Roth

    I bought my G2 in 2004, so have been a long-time user. It’s still my favourite synthesizer, and that’s for two reasons that this port doesn’t replicate. The first one’s that the thing is extremely well thought out as an instrument, standalone. It’s very easy to use, the whole Clavia expertise of making live instruments really shows. Eg. each patch can have eight completely different settings of all parameters stored as “Variations”, what on a fixed-architecture synth would be a “Patch” (and between which you can switch using CC 70). This experience of an instrument is of course impossible for a software version to substitute. I also have an Engine, the version without any knobs/keys, which you are interacting with solely via the editor or MIDI – this on the other hand could be substituted much better.
    The second reason I like it so much is that I enjoy the patching process, I hardly ever use full patches somebody else made, but just patch away and see where it takes me – even though there are some mind-boggling ones made available! So a static converter for finished patches is really only half the fun. Because of the synth’s modular nature, I also tend to make my patches much less flexible than a hardwired synth would be, eg. I just connect an LFO directly to what I want to modulate, I don’t build full “Modulation Sections”, necessitating a change at patch level whenever such a simple thing needs to modified. If possible, it would be amazing if this converter would be able to dynamically communicate with the editor, so you could “live-patch” it!