Do you play a musical instrument?

Well, a "conventional" synthesizer with a keyboard contains several different circuits that perform different functions. A common arrangement is to have a "voltage controlled oscillator", or VCO (or a digital equivalent), which produces a waveform at a certain frequency in response to a key being pressed. This signal is then routed to a "voltage controlled filter" (VCF) which modifies the signal and helps produce the desired timbre, and the output of that is routed to a "voltage controlled amplifier" (VCA), which creates the dynamics of the played note. The VCA is controlled by an "envelope generator", which one sets to produce the desired dynamics. There is usually also a "low frequency oscillator", which can be routed to the other components as a modifier; for example, when routed to the VCO it produces vibrato. All of this things are connected together internally in an order determined by the designer.

With a modular synthesizer, all of the pre-configured connections are broken. Nothing is connected to anything else by anything other than patch cords plugged into the jacks in the front. So you can route signals any way you want to. For instance, I can route a VCO to the VCA as a control to cause amplitude modulation, which produces a variety of bell-like and science-fiction timbres. There's a huge variety of modules available that perform different functions, including a lot of unconventional ones that you don't find in other synths -- a "universal event generator", a "quadrature oscillator", etc. I can buy the modules that I want to put together the functionality that I want.
Very interesting. Thank you for explaining. I assume both the keyboard and electric guitar can be plugged in?
The difficulty of using an electric guitar is that it can be difficult to get note-trigger like one can get with a keyboard. There have been some work to figure out a good compromise for this.

Some artists simply use the many LFOs to colour the sound of a guitar much like a pedalboard. I think Manuel Gottsching did that, especially with his album E2-E4.


Well-Known Member
Very interesting. Thank you for explaining. I assume both the keyboard and electric guitar can be plugged in?
The module at the very upper left is a MIDI interface. Anything that can output MIDI can drive it -- a keyboard, a guitar synthesizer, an electronic wind instrument, a sequencer, whatever. You can run the guitar signal directly into it -- I don't have a box that can detect the note played, but I do have one that will follow the dynamics.

There are more unconventional ways of playing it too. The "West Coast" people like to sets of touch-sensitive plates. There are theramins that can output MIDI. Or you can just play the knobs directly. That thing on the bottom with the staggered rows of knobs is called an "analog sequencer"; you can tune it to play sets of pitches (including non-standard scales and microtones) in repeating patterns.

Dance Ads