Hitting the road with modular gear
Future Music|August 2021
Rob Redman delves into the forgotten world of live music, exposing some key tools and techniques to help you win over the gigging masses
Rob Redman

As musicians it’s very easy for us to lock ourselves away in our studios, tinkering, practising or even writing and producing. This is all good and well, but for many of us, sharing our music is a huge contributing factor to the enjoyment of the process. For some people, it’s even what keeps them fed and sheltered.

The last year or so has been hard for many different reasons and, even if you enjoy beavering away indoors, getting out to share your music in a live setting can be one of the most rewarding experiences. It may be that you haven’t ever experienced playing for a crowd but recent months have driven you to explore that as something to balance out the restrictions you’ve been facing.

No matter where you are coming from, it’s worth taking stock of your tools and techniques, freshening up your arsenal and planning out a few ideas for performance. Modular can appear a double-edged sword for performance, with its lack of integrated attributes but ultimately it’s one of the most rewarding instruments, as you can make it whatever you want it to be. You can patch it to play like a traditional instrument, set up sequences freeing up your hands to run modulations as you feel it, or patch a completely generative piece, allowing your initial parameters to be the basis for something completely unexpected.

The brass tacks

Then there are the non-creative elements of modular performance to consider. How to power your rig, interfacing with any other gear you may want to use, and the best methods for getting audio out to the audience. Do you want to remain modular, or would you be happy taking a laptop along to a gig? These are all considerations that will affect how you interact with your music and the crowd.

You’ll note we’ve not mentioned VCAs much in this article. We’re assuming a level of experience here, hoping you understand the value of VCAs in a rig. We think it’s better to look at how you use other tools, which can, of course, be used to control VCAs as well as anything else. So, when we talk about Maestro modulating the pulse width of a VCO, that can just as easily apply to a VCA, either switching or ramping into a different part of a composition, depending on the waveshape chosen.

Some of these questions will be answered naturally, simply by force of necessity but others may have you scratching your head, looking for the best answer.

However you like to perform, and no matter what genre you work in, there are a few modules and patching ideas that can really help in a live setting, so over the next few pages we’ll share a few of our favourites, in a bid to help you discover something new and exciting, once you reach back out into the wild.

It’s in the I/O of the beholder

1 There are many ways of getting audio from one device to another. One option is to use an external mixer such as the SSL Six, which is a high-quality mixer that can handle modular and non-modular gear, and is small enough to stay portable.

2 In modular only setups, the best might be a module interface. There are a couple of obvious options, including those from Polyend and Expert Sleepers. For us, the ES-9 is the obvious choice, equally at home in the studio or stage.

3 Multiple tracks help save valuable hp for other modules and the DC-coupled device can be hooked up to a USB port on a laptop, for either CV control from your DAW, or recording. The headphone out is handy for monitoring purposes too.

4 The ES-9 can work in a few different setups. If you’re looking to get your modular out to a house PA system, then all you need is to use the pair of ¼” outputs and take the headphones as a monitor. It’s as simple as that.

5 If you want to use a laptop, then a single USB-C will send each channel over. The best way of working like this is to create a template for your DAW, with each ES-9 output linked to a track. Have a mix of stereo and mono tracks ready and waiting.

6 If you combine the ES-9 with another interface, you can set up an aggregate device to manage the various signals. We use Logic mostly which lets us switch devices easily, without the need for aggregates; or use one for input and one for output.

Live modulation patches

1 LFOs are great but at times you want more, which is where modules like the Maestro come in. For this simple, sequenced bassline we’re adding more interest by adapting the speed of modulation. To start we patch the master clock into the Maestro to sync.

2 There are six channels available so patch what you need. Here we’ve patched channel 1 into filter cutoff and channel 2 into pulse width. Our voice (Erica Synths Black VCO 2) has an attenuverter to dial back the extremes.

3 On the Maestro, we set the wave shape/speed for the cutoff modulation, then press ‘1’ to assign it. We do the same for the pulse width. The ability to make changes on the fly and mute the modulations as well, make this a great live tool.

4 Sometimes you might not want to perform every change ‘live’ and that is catered for too. Maestro has a microSD slot, to save modulations. Better still you can chain modulation changes, to save a whole song, or set’s worth of modulation.

Tap it out

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