For many, the notion of producing sound by patching spaghetti-like nests of cords in hardware is a historical curiosity. Even among those who appreciate this hardware for what it is, conventional wisdom says such instruments aren’t really modern. (Don’t even ask the various universities who gave up on using and maintaining the gear entirely, relegating them to dusty closets — or much worse.) Modular synths are under pressure in 2007 to compete with lots of new technologies. Is it worth making music with them?
Composer/musician Richard Lainhart has taken up what is perhaps the most modern of modular analog synths — the Buchla 200e — not because of historic interest, but because “I’ve come to miss the immediacy and organic sound of analog modular synthesizers.” He’s not planning to lock himself in a room and make archaic, hours-long compositions with it, either; he chose it because its patch memory is “ideal for live performance.” And, as a person trained as a composer myself, that seems like the ultimate test of an instrument — if you can actually play it live.
Even if you’re not ready to shell out the money required to buy your own 200e (they cost about as much as a pickup truck), if you have any interest in synthesis at all, it’s worth joining Richard on his explorations. Get started by checking out the Introduction video for a look at his rig and how he uses it, then check out expressive applications like the video entitled “Chorale.” It’s immediately inspiring as a way of thinking about sound and performance. I certainly can’t afford this setup myself, but then that’s not the point. Once you see an exciting performance, you’ll find a way to do something of your own on what you can afford; that’s part of the grand tradition of music.
This happens to be an excellent demonstration of the potential of the Haken Continuum Fingerboard controller, as well.
We’ll be watching, Richard.