The Difference Between Modular and Semi-Modular Synthesizers

The Kilpatrick Audio Phenol is a stand alone modular synthesizer, not a semi-modular synthesizer.
The Kilpatrick Audio Phenol is a stand alone modular synthesizer, not a semi-modular synthesizer.

There has been some confusion in the last year with regards to the difference between modular and semi-modular. Some people for example have been calling the Kilpatrick Phenol Semi-Modular. This however is not accurate, the Phenol is in fact a standalone modular synthesizer.

The difference between semi-modular and modular is that semi-modular has a hard-wired signal path that can be altered through patching, and fully modular instruments on the other hand requires patching. Modulars do not need separate units can be replaced. This is why the EMS Synthi and the Fenix are considered fully modular instruments. Semi-modular instruments of course are the Arp 2600, Korg MS-20, and more recently the Moog Mother-32.

The extent one can patch with a semi-modular synthesizers can vary greatly. The MS-20 for example lacks pre-filter/pre-mixer outputs for its oscillators. While the Arp 2600 allows for a great degree of patching between the various functions without such barriers.  The Moog Mother-32 adds a feature in that it can be hooked directly into a modular system.  The Buchla 208 was really what pushed out this concept.  These instruments can even be experimental, many of the Ciat-Lonbarde instruments are also semi-modular, such as the Sidrax. These limitations though often allow for some benefits, specifically the ability to approach the instrument without patching.  This can be helpful for those just learning synthesis to ease into modular functionality.

Modular synthesizers on the other hand come in two variety. One is modular systems, where you have cases or cabinets with modules you place modules or panels in. When you think of Moog, Buchla, and Eurorack, you are looking at a modular system.  This is a common standard where functional modules can be taken out and added. There is another category of modular though, which is the stand alone. EMS pushed forward with this concept with it’s Synthi pin matrix synths. The Fenix, and later the Phenol bring this concept to the realm of patch cable synthesizers.  These stand alone instruments do bring certain advantages, such as having all the necessary components for a voice, but still having all the advantages of signal path routing as a modular system. They also can bring increased portability, which can be an issue as modular systems grow in size.

Whether one is going with a fully modular synthesizer or a semi-modular, is often more about personal preference and budget.

A Very Rare PraxisCat Video

There are not many videos of my live performances out there, and I really do not take an effort to record live performances in general. They are improvisational affairs which are intended to be “of the moment”. Radiophonics meets free improvisation.

Dave Vosh makes a regular effort to record the proceedings at the American Electronics Museum.  Even though I was sick, it ended up being one of my better performances recorded by somebody. So here it is.

The End of Pyramid Atlantic Silver Spring

The Final Sonic Circuits Show
The Final Sonic Circuits Show at Pyramid Atlantic

There is a special place in my heart for Pyramid Atlantic Art’s Center in Silver Spring. Sonic Circuits, which is a local experimental music group regularly put shows on there, along with it’s annual festival. I was lucky enough to play some of these shows myself, and as such the venue remains close to my heart. I regularly spent my Saturdays there listening to some amazing avant garde and jazz performances, and maybe a couple I would like to forget.

This Saturday the last Sonic Circuits show  at Pyramid Atlantic in Silver Spring is happening, as the venue is going to be leveled to make way for condos, or apartments. I am not sure it even matters. Make no mistake, it will be like losing a second home to me, as well as many of the other performers and artists. Memories are going away with the wrecking ball.

This could be a commentary on how gentrification is ending arts venues in the DC area, because Pyramid Atlantic is not the first to go. But it can also be how art’s spaces end up being a critical part of forming communities, but also help discovering them in the first place. Sonic Circuits, and Pyramid Atlantic helped me find my community here in DC, and I will never forget that.

Pyramid Atlantic itself, the printshop, is moving to Hyattesville. Where Sonic Circuits, as a music organization goes is another question. Sonic Circuits when it started was one of the few offering avant garde music in DC. In fact it’s how I found the music myself. In truth without Sonic Circuits, I doubt I would be as active a live musician. Jeff, the organizer, often referred people to me. I was able to refine myself as a performing artist because of Pyramid Atlantic being available as a venue through Sonic Circuits.

There is a big question mark right now over Sonic Circuits in terms of where it will play. While Jeff has some ideas, in a rapidly gentrifying city where venues are closing regularly, it really is hard to say. Make no mistake, when the red building on Georgia Ave comes down, it will be taking a little piece of my heart with it, and is a blow to the music community in DC.

Either way, come out to see the final show this Saturday, the information can be found on Sonic Circuits website. I will not be playing, but help me mourn as another music venue in the DC area sees it’s end.