Interview – Matttech Modular

This interview was from Issue 7 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular. Click here for that issue of the magazine.  Note this was back in April 2016. 

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So the reader can get to know you a little … first, what led you to music? And what had you been doing as a hobby or professionally leading up to getting into modular? 

I was classically-trained for years as a kid, and went on to take a degree in Popular Music & Sound Recording at the first University to offer it, Salford. After that I had a 10 year career as a recording artist and producer, largely under the name Blue Light Fever. I eventually tired of the continuous see-saw hype train of the music industry and retrained as a teacher, moving from that into college technician work (which I know you’re familiar with! 🙂

That takes us up to you working with modular, what were you using it for at the time and how long was it before you started making audio demos for modules? 

I completely gave up music for a while after quitting the industry, but eventually got sucked into giving it one last go – but strictly as a fun hobby. I bought a huge Mac and a ton of software, and that was great for a while – but I hit a wall. I was treading the same creative paths over and over again, and also suffering with RSI from being tied to a mouse constantly. I investigated buying midi controllers for my plugins, but decided that setting them up would suck up too much time & energy. Eventually I decided to take the plunge into modular, and found that I was suddenly bursting with ideas and recordings – and they were happening much, much quicker than in the past. A lot of it may not be particularly mainstream, but it was a lot of fun putting it together. I was putting tracks together, including mixing, over a weekend. If you want to get an idea of the kind of music my modular led me to, check them out at:

After a couple of years I started producing demos for modular manufacturers (Synthetic Sound Labs, WMD, Intellijel, Frequency Central etc..). This happened organically, after I had got involved in suggesting ideas for modules and beta testing them – something that had grown out of long email conversations with manufacturers troubleshooting issues with modules. I did demos in exchange for free modules, but eventually decided that he sheer amount of work I was putting in was not making much sense (as much to do with my own tendency towards perfectionism as anything)

I found you online through those audio demos and we got talking then met in person. You were a great help in me getting into modular myself. Was the position you were in making audio demos and keeping active on the Muff Wiggler forum answering questions / sharing experiences and generally just helping other users a big part of why you decided to open up your shop? 

Well many thanks! Yes – I used to be so involved in the scene, and particularly on Muffs, that people started coming to me for advice and help all the time. If I’d bought a new module they’d ask what my feedback was after a week or so. I started to wonder whether there might be some kind of business in advice, or modular tuition…but then started to consider the retail angle.

What was your initial idea for the shop and has your initial plan changed regarding stock and general plans for the future? 

My initial idea for the store was to ONLY sell products that I had used for ages, and was particularly passionate about – and which had proved to be reliable. I was also initially concerned that stocking new modules as soon as they were released might result in a myriad of problems with faults and bugs, and this was something I was keen to avoid. However, several people pointed out that this wasn’t exactly the best business move in the world, so I have had to try to combine that idealistic approach with a more realistic one, adding emerging modules to my range when I think they suit my brand. In the end, I have only had a handful of returns out of the hundreds of orders I’ve shipped, so I think it’s safe to say that the quality control in Eurorack has gone up a good few notches of late.

I don’t just stock anything that comes out, and only stock things that I think have something really unique to offer. I also tend to specialise in modules that are in that special category, where they are able to produce a wide range of results – whether that be VCOs that can be both precise and unstable; or modulation sources that can turn their hand to any number of tasks. Oddly enough, I am also slightly obsessed with VCAs, which maybe stems from my hi-fi and engineering background. I love to have a range of those, from warm saturating ones (AJH Synth Minimod VCA, WMD/SSF Amplitude) to clean, crisp units and designs that merge flexible mixing into the package (Tangle Quartet, Erica Quad VCA).

I am also very keen to support the brands I stock by trying to keep their older “classic” products in stock. I might only sell a couple of them every few months, but I think it’s important to keep them alive. Recent examples are the Richter Envelator from Malekko, which has never been available in the UK in its current form – something I find hard to believe, as it was a “must have” product when I started out. Another is the “Multimode” collection from WMD – the VCA, Envelope & Expander – some seriously feature-packed designs that are sometime overlooked in favour of their more flagship products.

In addition I am trying to promote UK brands as much as possible, when they fit in with the rest of my range – for example, Expert Sleepers, ALM Busy Circuits and the smaller brands such as Future Sound Systems. I have also been the first UK store to stock Transistor Sound Labs’ wonderful Stepper Acid sequencer. If you’re starting out producing modules in the UK, or moving into that field – get in touch!

Eurorack and the general awareness of modular has grown significantly in the past couple of years. Where do you see it going? 

Well, obviously the big boys are getting into the game now, along with a lot of other stores which previously only sold more mainstream music gear. How that will play out is anyone’s guess, but hopefully there will still be a place for the smaller, boutique affairs such as myself as we reflect the DIY ethos that the scene was built on. I actually really like the look of the stuff that the big brands are putting out, but I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense for a store like mine. I have a somewhat “maverick” approach to business that has worked extremely well for me thus far, but may not be completely understood by huge multinational companies! Also, I simply can’t compete with the mainstream retail outfits in terms of purchasing power and logistics – but what I lack in those areas, I make up for with a ridiculous dedication to customer support, flexibility and reliability. I remember from my history as a customer just HOW important it was that the shops I dealt with were friendly, polite and fair, even when things were going wrong – and that is something I really hold onto. I have been incredibly loyal to some of the people I have bought gear off over the years – and often that is down the the person, not the shop.

I will always be looking to stock the “classics”, and to keep my ear to the ground in order to sniff out the most exciting and innovative new products. And trust me, my ear is VERY close to the ground!

Finally, anything you’d like to add? 

Thanks to everyone who has supported the store so far, and helped me get off the ground – especially the many loyal, repeat customers. It really does mean a lot 🙂 …and please come and say hello at the various modular meets that take place during the year. Matttech Modular is always in full effect at the regional events (Leeds, Huddersfield, Sines & Squares in Manchester…) and can even be found skulking in more far-flung propositions, such as last year’s “Bells & Whistles” in Peterborough. Hopefully see you at one of these soon!

Module of the Month – April 2016

Here’s the ‘module of the month’ from the April issue of DivKid’s Month of Modular (that issue is HERE – click me you know you want to). The Befaco Rampage is a take on the classic dual slope generator. There’s loads of CV, loads of options and ways to use it so check it out in the video.

DivKid’s Month Of Modular – Issue #5

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Issue #5 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular from February 2016.

Module of the month was the Defibrillator from Medic Modules, interviews were with VCOADSR and Neutron Sound, news included WMD, Error Instruments and XAOC Devices.

MAGAZINE HERE – http://joom.ag/M7op PDF HERE – http://bit.ly/DivKidMag5 (right click download / save as etc)

Module Of The Month – January 2016

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Each month in DivKid’s Month Of Modular I pick out a favourite module for “module of the month”. In Issue #4 from January 2016 I picked out Dimensions from Audio Damage. It’s a chorus module that you can push from warm and wide (it does mono to stereo), bonkers and more reverberant diffused echo style sounds. Check out the video below from Audio Damage.

Module Of The Month – December 2015

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Taking place of December 2015’s ‘Module Of The Month’ is an absolutely awesome VCO from AJH Synth’s the MiniMod series. Still used all the time and still sounding great. The FM and audio rate PWM on these things sounds killer too!

DivKid’s Month Of Modular – Issue #3

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Issue #3 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular from December 2015.

Module of the moth was the AJH Synth MiniMod VCO, interview was with Logan Erickson from Low-Gain Electronics and news included new TipTop Audio Z-DSP cards, Mutable Instruments Rings and random*source going eurorack.

MAGAZINE HERE – http://joom.ag/hjDp PDF HERE – http://bit.ly/DivKidMag3 (right click download / save as etc)

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.

Interview – RYO

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This interview is from Issue #1 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular back from October 2015. Interesting to read it back a year on.

Hi Benjamin, so we’ve been working together on promoting RYO products with my videos since RYO’s first module the Optodist. How did that module come about? Why use vactrols in it and LED based limiting?

It was a bit surprising to see how few options for distortion there was in Eurorack at the time, let alone with voltage control. We wanted to do something that was unusual even for guitar distortion pedals and would work well for synth sounds. After several experiments with different ideas for distortion designs and both OTA and vactrol based voltage control, we settled for a vactrol and TL072 based design because we really liked the way it sounded and it was indeed a bit different to what had been previously explored in this field.

It did the job for overdrive and distortion well but it also had this smudgy smooth character to it that we hadn’t heard much in other distortion designs. The vactrols response to control voltages sounded really good with the overall distortion character of the module. The idea of the limiter was to tame the output a bit but we also found that using LEDs sounded really nice, and worked fittingly together with the name Optodist.
We chose to have the limiter switchable and an input level attenuator to add as much range and usability as we could, from a gentle VCA with minimal distortion or a smooth overdrive and all the way to full crank. We find that it always add something pleasant to the sound at practically any setting.

Tell us a bit about RYO in general, who’s involved, where are you based, when did you start the company?

My interest in synths and music production much originated from softwares such as Reason and vst plugins, I bought my first hardware synth as late as 2009, a Korg MS2000R, and after that I was pretty much hooked by the fun and directness of hardware synths and not too long after I had gathered up a little synth setup. Andreas has had a background in programming and some hobby electronics and shortly after we got together he started to find an interest in music equipment as well.

We got started with modular around the autumn of 2011 when we bought a Doepfer eurorack case and a couple of modules, the whole concept of modular synthesis was quite new to us so it was an initially baffling process to get the grips of this machine, so shortly thereafter we started hanging out on music forums and IRC chatrooms such as Muffwiggler and 99musik here in Sweden. Via the Muffwiggler chat we got acquainted with hobby electronics interested Tom who have a long history with using modular and other synths as a musician and over time the ideas and plans for a company started to grow.

The company was officially launched in the Spring of 2013, here in Gothenburg, Sweden. Andreas is the main driving force of the company keeping the administration in check as well as building instructions, research, circuit and PCB designs, building/kitting modules and more. My work involves most of the front panel designs and building/kitting modules. Tom is involved in doing research, circuit designs and support. None of us are working full time with RYO yet.

I really like your VC Seq module in 10HP it’s a nice compact module that’s just the right size to jam on for me. People may have seen the second video I created using two of the sequencers and expanders together, can you tell us anymore about further expansion for chaining modules?

Thanks! Yeah the VC Sequencer has quite a journey of redesigns and revisions. It started out as the idea of something really simple but fun and interesting as a concept, basically only 8 steps and the voltage controlled mode. Soon after development of that had begun we looked into the idea of having a more classic clock mode also to make it a bit more versatile and usable in more traditional sequencing applications.

This implementation was very close to see release until we stopped at the last minute more or less, and reckoned it would be a very cool thing to have trigger/gate outputs together with the VC mode. It was a feature that we reckoned we would later regret if we didn’t add, and so came the channel expansion header into existence! Around the same time we thought that as we’d already jumped in with one expansion header, why not allow them the possibility to chain together too?

The 16 step expansion is one of the projects we are currently working on, I don’t have too many details about it so far buy we what we can say for sure it will do a 16 step sequence (of course) with clock or voltage addressing but the by far most interesting thing about it will be the both clockable and voltage addressable X/Y snake/cartesian mode, using one input to control the horizontal rows and another for the vertical, as far as we know, no other hardware sequencer allows this with both clock as well as voltage addressing, so we hope it will open up some new doors for peoples musical inspiration! 🙂 One other certain thing is that it will allow you to run the voltage control both free running like on the VC Sequencer as well as syncing with the clock input via a built in S&H.

So I’ve already probed for sequencer expansion news, what else do you have coming up? Anything you can tell us in detail or tease us with?

Except the 16 step expander we are at full throttle on a vactrol vcf/vca with the classic vcf/lpg/vca modes. Tom is finalizing it as we speak. We also have a couple more small simple but very handy set of modules that’s been finished on the desk for a while.The first one is a 4hp 5-step sequencer (basically half a Baby10) with a switch for 3, 4 or 5 step operation, clock and reset inputs and as a bonus for the homebrewer, pads on the pcb for 5 gate outputs and a sequencer hold input for those who want to make their own expansion. More of these compact “building block” type of things are just about finished as well and we just need to decide a release order.

We want to complete a full voice in 2016. Exactly what order and technology they will be based on is for the future to tell. We have almost settled for the ARM platform for some future digital modules. Oh, and some sweet percussion!