Buchla Becomes More Accessible with LEM Systems

Buchla LEM Snoopy System - Cute, Small, and Full of Bongos
Buchla LEM Snoopy System – Cute, Small, and Full of Bongos

Buchla is expensive. So expensive that people go to great lengths to obtain a full system. Selling a lifetime of gear was not uncommon just for a small system.

With all the hoopla at NAMM over the return of Moog at  high price points which were right up there with Buchla. Buchla on the other hand was introducing entry level systems under $3000 was overlooked. While this may be pricey I don’t think this is meant for those new to modular synthesis, but rather an entry point to existing modular enthusiasts, especially those with Eurorack systems. Buchla did something very smart, creating  interface modules designed with Eurorack’s minijacks in mind.

How did Buchla bring down the price point? Through the creation of 2U modules under the LEM branding. The same functionality of some of the most popular modules, but without as much duplication. These can be paired along with standard Buchla 200e modules.  So one can have a complex oscillator, with the dual low pass gates, and dual envelopes. In fact this is the Snoopy system pictured above. With all this being said, the Snoopy system is a complete voice, a small stand alone synthesizer. So even if one was just getting into modular, they can still do so with this system. The result is bongos, beautiful Buchla bongos. Or if one so chooses, using the interface modules to get some of the more esoteric Buchla functions to work in conjunction with a Eurorack system.

Buchla also introduced their legendary touch keyboard from the music easel as a stand alone controller, again, with providing the optional eurorack outs to the keyboard. But now there is Buchla has made itself available for the masses.


The Loss of DIY Build Threads on the Muff Wiggler Forum

I have complicated feelings over Muff Wiggler. The site went through a period of sexism from some users, and the forums are not as friendly a place in general as the community has grown. The site owner and the forum moderators struggled to deal with this issue, and in some ways eventually gave up on this issue. This is more noticeable in some places than in others. The off-topic discussions were especially bad, but honestly this is not a topic I wish to discuss at this time. This is not about that. This is about an attack which has effected the better parts of the forum.

The forum does have it’s awesome bright spots, namely the ciat-lonbarde and Synth Tech DIY subforums. There was a real community in both places, and this is where the forum shined as an absolutely great and welcoming resource. But it is the effect of the hacking on the DIY subforum which is most heartbreaking.

The hacking targeted many commercial activities on the the board, and since many of those who pushed for DIY on the board were engaged in commercial activities, a great deal was lost.

The DIY subforum has long been known for a “build threads” these are threads which provide information on building synthesizers and modules. With the changeover and the hacking, many of these threads are now lost. For example my friend Paul Akin from Uglysound Electronics thread on the Ian Fritz Serge Format Panels is gone. One of those panels was high on my build list. Even though Paul is readily available if I have questions, the fact is, the thread was a great resource and means many questions that have already have been answered do not have to be asked and answered again. This is why build threads are so critical.

I am completely heartbroken, even if this is temporary this is a huge loss to the synth maker community. Building is not an overnight activity, many of us take years to get to items on our build list and build threads often are invaluable resources. The very fact many of these are currently missing is a loss to both the maker and synth community.

My hope is these build threads are recovered, my fear is they are gone forever. The loss to the synth and maker community would be substantial.

Q or No Q?

As it stands neither of my modular systems have many resonant filters. In fact I always have a little internal debate in my head in terms of how useful such filters even are for myself.

One of the main gripes of many people have about older FM synthesizers such as the DX7 is the fact there were no resonant filters. For people who play keyboard synthesizers the simple subtractive signal flow of a Moog is often preferred to the algorithmic complexity of a DX7. However, over time the usefulness of frequency modulation has come to light more, and people are now shifting to a different mentality regarding filters.

Those of us who play modulars though are far more foggy regarding resonant filters though. Some people love them and they remain critical to a signal flow. Others, like myself tend to maybe have one around just in case, but do not necessary use them. I use this as a prime example, my Serge/Ian Fritz system only has one resonant filter, the Ian Fritz Teezer.

This is not to say I don’t have filters, they are just  modules which can act as non-resonant low pass gates such as the Dual Universal Slope Generator, and the Smooth and Stepped Generator.  In addition my custom built panel also has a Buchla style low pass gate. Instead my personal system is heavily reliant on Frequency Modulation, Ring Modulation, Hard Syncs, and Waveshaping to add complexity to generated sounds.

There has been a long discussion over “West Coast” and “East Coast” in the modular world over modular synthesizers. This dates back to Buchla and Moogs original modular systems. Buchla had more waveshaping and frequency modulation, while Moog systems had low pass resonant filters. The lines blurred over time with Serge having both resonant filters, FM, and Waveshaping in his modular systems, as did other makers. Serge though is still largely considered west coast with the multi-function modules such as the Universal Slope Generator. That and the fact he was living in San Francisco at the time of creating his original modules.

The reality is as synthesizers became more keyboard instruments, the Moog style signal flow began to win out, and with it, resonant filters. Q won the day, at least for a time. This however has changed over the years as people began to realize some of the benefits to that west coast signal flow. Vactrols and non-resonant filters began to become a more consistent part of modular synthesizers even outside of Buchla’s systems in recent years.  People began to see the benefits of Serge and Buchla’s designs.

This is the thing, in terms of my own music, I cannot really see much of the purpose for resonant filters. I always feel I need more of them, but often realize I rarely use the ones I have and instead fall back on other synthesis methods, especially waveshaping and FM. The best use of the resonant filter often ends up being another oscilator.  The reality is I am more comfortable without the Q.


Jazz by Any Other Name: On Performing Live with a Modular Synthesizer

Modular synthesizers are often instruments that behave in an unpredictable fashion.  Sometimes this is by design, chaos generators are not meant to be calm, other times it is just the nature of analog instruments. This unpredictability can be tamed in a studio setting where one can sample and edit and control the environment. But as a live instrument, one must embrace these unpredictable aspects as part of performance itself. Those of us who perform with modular synthesizers, understand the improvisational element is essential to performing with them. While one can certain degree of control, the reality is nothing is under pure control. Understanding the instrument and knowing how to play it is essential, but part of that understanding comes from know how one is not in control with a modular synthesizer, and applying those chaotic elements to the performance itself.

Playing with a modular synthesizer then may be “electronic”, but those of us who perform with these instruments try to dance around another label, a label I think needs to be embraced on some level. That is Jazz.

Yes…Jazz. Seriously. When did Jazz become a dirty word. Well I mean besides it’s origins as an actual euphemism for sex.  I think the reason why is pretty simple, we see the arrogance of some parts of the jazz community by those who hold close to traditionalism, and I think when many people face elitism they tend to run the other direction. But this needs to be understood, while there is the traditionalists in jazz, there is also things such as punk jazz, free improvisation, and free jazz. All of which are less constrained by convention, and fully embrace the unpredictability of improvised live performance.

There is also the fact that electronic music has it’s own rich history and legacy. We look at Delia Derbyshire and Kraftwerk as part of this musical history. Many of us in the studio are pretty close followers of Ambient,  Minimalism, Musique Concrete, Radiophonics, and Elektronische Musik when it comes to composing and producing Electronic Music. But the personality and performance with live performance is another story. We should realize none of these musics came about in a vacuüm. They were defined by their times, and other music popular during their creation.

Where electronic music (make no mistake, the non-dance type) has gone with modular synthesizers, especially in the Avant Garde community is placing it in somewhat in a jazz context, though in this case one based in improvisation.  While this may feel like an odd fit, it is not really. One cannot go to a Borax show and not see the relations to free jazz and improvisation.   My own shows are pretty much laced with a free improvisation ethos. Additionally, the instruments themselves, and the philosophies around them are taking on such constructs that Jazz often feels like the best category even if the sounds and structures are defined by bleeps and bloops, instead of the sound of a horn or a guitar.

All this being said, I still would not suggest showing up with a Serge at a Jazz club on a random night. But in the right spaces at the right times, magic could happen. There is not as much as a disconnect as the perception may suggest.

The Childfree Electronic Composer

If one goes through the list of famous female composers in electronic music, you will notice a bit of a commonality emerge,  many do not have children.  I should note that I do not have children as well, and this is largely a personal post on the reason, and how it is related to music, or more specifically silence and sound. While this is my personal experience, anecdote is not a substitution for data or evidence.

While these days going childfree is openly discussed, the reality is this has long been the case for women who make electronic music. The explanation may be simple, making electronic music is best done distraction free. This has to do with the fact that making such music one is not just the musician, but the musician, the producer, and the engineer. I remember Laurie Spiegel writing about advice given to her when she was a younger about the nature of producing art. It is something she shared during an interview. This was to make sure ones life is not incumbered by the distractions of life.

When one considers that much of the work of raising kids often rests of women, it could become a barrier to producing music. Which for many women who make electronic music, music often is a second job. For many women raising kids, it is often the kids themselves which dominate ones life. Some of this arises out of societal expectations, but other times this arises out of ones own desires. Often the truth lies in-between these two facets, but the reality is parenting involves a great deal of time, and activities such as music are cast aside for caring for young children.

My explination though for not having kids, but also composing is simple, and it is the importance of silence. Kids are well…kids. They make a great deal of noise. Often the most important moments in producing music are the moments defined by silence. Becoming keenly aware of the constant noise gently in the background. The humming of the fridge, the sound of cars passing by, the ventilation system, the birds, and other noises ever-present in our life.

Additionally, I have sound to color synesthesia (also known as Chromesthesia), and I am on the autism spectrum, which makes me more prone to overstimulation. While this is wonderful for producing music where the combination can often come off as a bit of a super-power, it is horrible for being around people at times, and especially children, since tolerable sensory intake tends not mesh well with certain voices.  While this is easily resolved in an office setting, especially in a technical profession, the potential for overstimulation is nearly constant when around children. Overstimulation from such sensory environments where children can often result in severe headaches for me. The opposite is the case with music, as it ends up being a solid focus point and can recharge me. Music thus becomes not just a creative focus, but also a point of relief.

Being childfree is a choice.  People should be aware of the fact circumstances are different for everyone. The reasons people do it are numerous.   For those women without children who compose electronic music that choice though may extend into the environment they work best in, and sometimes music itself is an extension of ones own needs.

While I am childfree, I stand by the fact that electronic and experimental music can be approached by anybody who has the time and focus to make such music, whether they have children or not.