Interview – Mutable Instruments on Braids

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This interview is from Issue #2 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular back from November 2015. It was also part of the process of putting together my article and video on Braids for Future Music Magazine

When thinking about speaking to Olivier from Mutable Instruments many
questions spring to mind. I thought I’d keep things focussed by keeping theinterview questions about one module. That module is Braids. Which is one of my most used modules.

How did Braids come about? What was the idea with putting so many synthesis types in one module?

Around the end of 2011 I started collecting little bits of waveform synthesis code for what was going to be a factory-made version of the Ambika polysynth. My goal was to cover as many different audio generation processes as possible that could provide raw material for synthesis, and simultaneously to simplify the control scheme for these, by coming up with two well calibrated parameters covering a wide range of sounds within a given technique. I started with the Shruthi oscillator code and tried to push things further in terms of quality or control. About 20 or 25 of Braids’ synthesis models originate from that time. Then a couple of
things occurred: first I realized that a lot of the stuff I had written did not really make sense in the context of subtractive synthesis, so it would be out of place in a polysynth. And then, around mid 2012, I got really
sick of the polysynth project and ditched it. This is also the time I was starting to play with my first Doepfer modular system…

It became obvious to me that all these digital sound sources would be great in a modular system – there was nothing like it in the Eurorack format, probably because the few digital module makers at the time
focused on “deep” modules; while there are many sound generation techniques that are just tiny islands of sound you certainly can’t package into a big, deep module. Another idea came in… When I was patching the Doepfer system, I often found myself saying “hey I like this patch but it’s using all my VCOs and half my VCAs, can I have this in a box with just these two knobs and CV inputs that stick out, so that I can build something else on top of it?” – there were things I was building all the time like two or three sync’ed VCOs enveloped by the master VCOs for which I wanted a shortcut. I started adding these mini-patches to my “oscillator inventory” project.

As Braids has developed it’s now essentially a full voice. With envelopes
for tone and/or volume control. Was that the original idea? A multipurpose voice in a small space?

No, the original idea was not to make it a full voice. If I wanted to
make a voice module, there would be some kind of looping envelope/LFO
accessible on the front panel – probably an analog filter too!

Originally, I just wanted to give the ability to directly send a trigger to the module and get something to happen – sort of like the “Strike” input on some MakeNoise modules. So the original firmware had a built-in envelope that modulated the TIMBRE parameter, with just a few settings to make it louder and faster… and what happened is that almost as soon as the module was released, people asked me to make this built-in envelope control the VCA too – many were using Braids for percussive hits and they didn’t want to waste a VCA and envelope for that. With each firmware revision I added more and more settings to this built-in envelope – to the point that now it has A/D time settings and amounts for 4 destination.

This way of using the module is interesting because it deviates from the norm of building a single entity, a single mass of sound with the system. Instead, the modular becomes an orchestra with different performers each of them made of a single module or a small group of modules, and complexity is achieved not by interconnecting modules, but through layering, or rhythms. This influenced the design of the following modules in which I tried to provide ways of making the
module usable as a standalone source (for example by adding a built-in VCA in Tides, or a built-in drum sound source in Peaks).

Was the openness and power of soft synths inspiration for the device? And bringing that to a modular format that still offers hands on control.

I used csound in the late 90s and it always served me as a “map” of what’s possible in terms of synthesis. But I haven’t used softsynths throughout the 00s and 10s.

You can read my article on Music Radar for Future Music Magazine on Braids by clicking right here. Go on, click it, you love it, you know you want to.