The MEL Modular Project
Welcome to the MEL Modular Project!
A few members of the Musical Electronics Library (MEL) have decided it would be great to for MEL to have Modular Synthesizer for everyone to use. It will live at the Audio Foundation, and anyone will be able to book time on it.
So what is a Modular Synth?
The first synthesizers were all modular synthesizers – a series of different analogue modules to generate, modulate and process sounds. The modules were connected by cables, and could be connected in an almost infinite range of combinations. They were versatile creatures – and very expensive!
From here, the Minimoog was one of the first non-modular synthesizers – which didn’t require patch cables as the modules were hard-wired in a set order. And then there were digital synths and stuff (this is an extremely brief summary, kind of like summarising human history by saying “there were dinosaurs, and then there were humans”).
But the modular synth has made a comeback in recent years – largely due to it’s extreme versatility. Anything can be connected in any order in any way (and most options will produce sound). And there’s more and more new modules being produced – so still new sounds to be discovered!
You no longer need to mortgage your house to buy a modular synth. Or buy a house to house one. But they can still cost a bit. So wouldn’t it be great to have one for the Auckland music community, that any of us can freely use!
We’re going to build our synthesizers along both East Coast and West Coast synthesis principles. In simple terms, this means you’ll be able to use a keyboard to play it, or use it to make strange electronic noises. (“East Coast, West Coast – what?!?”).
East Coast vs West Coast Synthesis
Here we will take a brief walk in the park of “East Coast” and “West Coast” synthesis. These were the concepts behind two giants of the Jurassic synth era: the Moog Modular and the Buchla modular systems. Both were developed independently in the early 1960s.
The Moog Modular was developed by Dr Robert Moog on the East Coast of America, aiming to develop an electronic instrument that could be useful for musicians. It had a standard music keyboard and could track pitch according to standard scales.
Don Buchla was on the West Coast of America, and simultaneously and independently (purists could possibly argue that he may have been first but let’s not get into that) built a modular synthesizer on different principles. He developed his system to celebrate the strange noises that electronic circuits naturally made.
So different philosophies to create different sounds. If you’d like to learn a bit more, there’s an excellent documentary on East Coast and West Coast synthesis called I Dream of Wires.
So if you’re still reading, it’s great that your interested! It takes a village to raise a modular synth, and there’s lots of ways you can help (every drop helps fill the ocean and those sort of cliches).
Here’s an artists impression of what the completed MEL Modular Synth might look like. We’ll be building the synth in stages, starting with some of the modules in the bottom left. This stage is a group of modules that can be used to get some of the basic sounds of a modular synth, and to teach how to begin to use such an esoteric instrument.
From here, there’s three main things we need:
- Time (volunteering)
- Love (support)
- Money (donating)
And you can donate any or all of these! We’d like to keep a record of everyone who helps in any way – big or small.
Some of the parts have already arrived and assembly is about to begin. We hope to have the first stage of modules completed in the earlier half of 2019 – from there it just depends on how things go with fundraising and how many volunteers we have really. Many hands make synth work. So how can you be involved?
There’s currently a small team of us building all the modules ourselves (assembling them from kits), headed up by Tim Morgan (our very own Project Manager for the MEL Modular). If you’re interested in electronics (whether you have any experience or not) and would like help, get in touch below!
A project like this will take a lot of time and energy – so even just letting us know your support is helpful. Have a chat about the project when you next pop in and visit the MEL library.
Modules cost money, and a modular synth requires many modules. So all donations (including donations of modules) towards the project are very helpful.
We’ll be doing fundraising, like selling Tape Compilations and putting on gigs, plus sourcing grants and stuff.
One of the great ways you could donate is to Sponsor a Module for $150 (some specific modules may cost more). And you can have naming rights over the module for perpetuity. Emblazon your stamp on the MEL Modular! (We’re still working out the exact details of how we will add your name to it, but we’ll get there). You can choose a specific module or let us choose one for you.
Get in touch with us below if you’re interested.
Donations of modules, parts etc are also greatly appreciated.
Even if you aren’t able to be involved, sign up and we’ll keep in touch with our freshest news.
* We’re not going to sell your email address to raise money, nor give it to someone who thinks you could use a diet pill (you’re already beautiful!), nor bombard you asking for money, nor… you get the idea! We anticipate only sending out a newsletter every few months. If you’re already a member of MEL, you may receive our Newsletter anyway – there’s an unsubscribe link at the bottom if you feel you need to use it. Don’t let us annoy you – we’re nice people!
Want to sponsor a module? Have a question? Want to get involved? Want to tell us your favourite colour? Go for it!