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A breif Foundation of Modular Synthesizer

IT’s an electronic instrument which produces alien sound using electricity. The variation in the electric input voltage determines the sound output. A modular synthesizer is a bunch of devices. This one synthesizer instrument can be split into sub instruments, for example – an oscillator, sequencer, mixer, effects & processors. The beauty of modular synthesizer is that it let you forge a dimension of objects & characters and wander around to make the story. Every day it’s a new story!
Voltage input in oscillator generates periodic or repetitive tone by using basic waveform(s), it could be a sine wave, saw wave or triangle wave, this instrument is called VCO or Voltage Control Oscillator. It means voltage input controls the frequency of oscillation.

Waveforms
Sound of Sine waveform 
Sound of Sawtooth waveform
Sound of Square waveform

In these waveforms, imagine yourself going from one end to another. It would be a very bumpy ride in square & saw-tooth waveform as compare to sine & triangle waveform. Likewise, the signal in VCO rides.

Above is an example of a Voltage Control Oscillator, a small-sized modern VCO. It’s an independent instrument which needs to be connected to Amp and mixer to hear the output. Yet sound from VCO is a plain sound without any movement.
To make sound alive or moving, a producer adds motion to the sound. It’s a characteristic which creates a rhythmic pulse or a sweep to modulate various effects and processors applied on the oscillator. One exercise is to modulate sound using Low-Frequency Oscillator or called LFO, which is an electronic signal at below 20Hz that trigger oscillator to control its phase, filter cut-off frequency, amplitude, or pitch to make an effect like tremolo, vibrato, rippling effect or get a wobbling bassline, etc. This is an example of LFO with an amplified control.

Low Frequency Oscillator

To this moving, the character is added take it as a third dimension, by routing envelopes, filters, LFOs etc. These effects may come attached or can be attached using an external instrument to enhance the sound. Summing this up, we can say that this synthesizer is a pack of submodule instruments put together called Modular Synthesizer. Today, we see these modular framed in a rack with a lot of cables. It’s a thing that enables different modular devices to talk to each other, with help of patch cable. And it’s called ‘euro rack’ system. Here are two examples in the pictures below, observe the simplicity and complexity that may one require to achieve his/her sound of satisfaction.


It was days of the late 70s when Moog synthesizer bloomed the music market and opened the new ocean of producing electronic music with the introduction of Moog Synthesizer I, II and III. “I got a copy of Midnight Cowboy the other day, and Walter Sear did a lot of that score with the Moog Modular. There’s a psychedelic scene where everybody’s stoned, and that’s where they used the Moog. You know, you really couldn’t get stoned back then without having some synthesizer music playing. You had to do things right” – Bob Moog. And in a decade, Moog Synthesizer became a symbol in the music product industry.
In 1954 a German electronics engineer, Harald Bode, moved to Brattleboro, Vermont as the Director of Research and development at Estey Organ Corporation (a company founded in 1852 by Jacob Estey in the United States). While working on developing many organ instruments for Estey Co. he developed the new state of the art – Estey Electronic Organ model S and ASI along with young engineer Leslie Nicholas in 1959. Harald objective was to create an instrument that could be connected with the different component as needed to record, and design and process sound for films and Television audio production.
A year later Harald Bode invented his Modular synthesizer and Sound Processor and presented at the Convention of Audio Engineering Society in New York. This was a remarking presentation, a discovery in the field of electronic sound production. Bob Moog was an audience and deeply inspired by Harald’s Modular, then young Bob Moog was running a business selling Theremin kits. What is Theremin?
It’s an instrument which produces atmospheric or landscape kind music, like in movies or television series or an old hall performance. Thereminist, the one who plays the theremin, don’t physically touch the instrument. A device has an antenna which sense movement of the hands. It was developed in 1920 by the Soviet inventor, Leon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928.

Spellbound | 1945 Movie
The day the Earth stood still | 1951
Celia Sheen playing Theremin

Bob Moog sold a thousand pieces of Theremin kits. He was an inventor and sales guy too …

“I had been making Theremins on a custom basis since I was 19. My New York rep was Walter Sear — these days, Walter makes Grade Z movies, but before he made Grade Z movies he made porno movies, and before porno movies, he sold tubas and my Theremins.”

Bob Moog in May 1988

Harald Bode’s synthesizer was the combination of known electronic circuits used to produce patterns and unconventional sounds. Where he created new sound & effects by synthesizing the acoustic phenomena and processing the natural or artificial (electronic generated) sounds.

In this design, production of new sound or musical effects can be made possible with intermediate and immediate processing. Intermediate processing includes tape recording procedures as reverse, pitch-through-speed change, editing, and dubbing. Because of the time difference between production and performance using an intermediate effect, the composer-performer cannot hear or judge his performance. Therefore, they have to wait and thus make corrections. Method of immediate processing includes modification from harmonics to non-harmonic overtone relations and application of periodic modulation effects – reverberation, echo, and other repetition phenomena.


Harald’s instrument wasn’t a product that the composer and musician could easily use, but it was the Idea. By this time Harald already invented a few devices like Melochord and Melodium and was a bit aged too as he was born in 1909. But surely his Audio Synthesiser Processor impelled young engineers to invent. Bob Moog and Donal Buchla were among. Buchla, in California, and Moog, in New York, both came up with their design in later years with the different approach but made One successful synthesizer instrument in 1970 – Buchla 200 Series Electronic Music Box and Moog Synthesizer. Soon modular synthesizer begins to recognize worldwide. These designed later developed in coming years, to date. Certainly, 70s designs were the foundation of the modern modular synthesizer.

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