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Thoughts on Semi-Modular Synths vs. Eurorack – Part 7

semi modular synths Workflow

Thoughts on Semi-Modular Synths vs. Eurorack – Part 7

We have reached chapter 4 of our comparison of semi modular synths and Eurorack at last. If you want to support my work, please make use of the "PayPal" button - thank you very much indeed!

Chapter 4: Workflow

Having a couple of semi modular desktop synths and having a (probably larger) collection of modules in your pure-blooded Eurorack setup may seem not that different concerning the workflow when designing sound or producing music. With both systems you use patch cables, with both systems you deliberately link modules together. So, you might ask yourself: “what shall be fundamentally different then?” Well according to my experience with both kinds of systems – semi modular synths as well as Eurorack setups – there are the following 4 main differences, which require a different workflow:

semi modular synthesizers workflow

first: the immediate knowledge and awareness of the invisible pre-patched structure of each individual semi modular synthesizer in your setup

second: the arrangement of modules of the same kind in your setup

third: the coaction of MIDI and CV controls at the same time

and fourth: the application of the sequencers, which you´ll probably have in the lap of luxury in your semi modular setup (not say needless many).


Some examples of how helpful – but tricky – the invisibly pre-patched structure under the hood of our semi modular machines can be, and how it therefore influences our workflow. Image a section of a patch containing only a VCO and a VCA (see graphic). Let´s say the internal structure links the VCO´s output into the VCA´s input by default. Patching a cable in one of the two jacks of this links interrupts the connection between the VCO and the VCA. But which of the two jacks do I have to use to interrupt this connection? The output of the VCO or the input of the VCA? Or will any of these two interrupt the connection? Let´s say it´s the input jacks of the modules in our semi modular synthesizer. Which interrupt the connection. Plugging in a cable at the output of a module doesn´t interrupt its internally pre-patched connection. In this case we could patch the VCO´s output to any module in our whole setup and having it connected to the VCA at the same time. We would not need a multiple. But in the Eurorack world using a multiple would be inevitable to achieve the same patch (see graphic). Quite helpful this internal structure in this example!

semimodular synths workflow

Now for another situation. We are doing a live performance. The section of our patch I´m going to talk about contains a VCO, which if connected to a VCA (again). But this time the internal pre-patched default structure is: the VCO´s output is connected to a VCF´s input. The VCF´s output is connected to the VCA´s input. Because I´m not using the filter I have patched a cable from the VCO´s output directly to the VCA´s input. The VCF is bridged, the jack, that is patched in the VCA´s input interrupts the connection VCF-VCO. But now I want to patch the output of the VCO into another input somewhere else in my patch. The moment I remove the jack from the VCA´s input the filter “steps in” again, the VCF-VCA connection is not interrupted anymore, and because the VCF´s input is not patched at all, the connection VCO-VCF is intact as well. I´ll have to plug a “blind” jack in the VCF´s input before I remove the jack from the VCA´s input prevent getting an unwanted VCO-VCF-VCA sound (until I use the “free” VCA for something else (see graphic).

semi modular synthesizers

The next aspect is the arrangement of the modules in your setup. You will have arranged the modules in your Eurorack setup either organised in voices (VCO, VCF, VCA together) or according to what kind of modules you have (all VCOs together, all VCAs together, all VCFs together, all modulators together etc. But in you semi modular setup you find modules of a certain kind – let´s say for example envelope generators – spread all over the whole setup. Each of your individual semi modular synths will have its own envelope generator. The difference to a clear arrangement of a Eurorack setup is smaller when it comes to arranging the modules in voices (as said before), but the problems basically stays the same. In your semi modular synthesizer setup/collection there is not only the VCO-VCF-VCA group physically near to each other and together, but near to each of these “voices” you find modulators like envelopes and LFOs as well as eventually some effects. You would never arrange the modules in a Eurorack setup this way. Patches get rather chaotic quite soon.

In the next article I´m going to talk about aspects three and four: MIDI and CV and “legions” of sequencers.

to be continued

to part 1: https://www.dev.rofilm-media.net/node/336

to part 2: https://www.dev.rofilm-media.net/node/352

to part 3: https://www.dev.rofilm-media.net/node/354

to part 4: https://www.dev.rofilm-media.net/node/359

to part 5: https://www.dev.rofilm-media.net/node/366

to part 6: https://www.dev.rofilm-media.net/node/375

to part 8: https://www.dev.rofilm-media.net/node/387

to part 9: https://www.dev.rofilm-media.net/node/392


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