Modular synthesis has been around for decades, but has only recently experienced a massive resurgence, most notably in the Eurorack format created by Doepfer in the mid 90s. With over 5,000 modules available from hundreds of manufacturers, Eurorack has quickly become one of the most forward-thinking and inspiring technologies happening in the audio world right now. Companies are constantly competing to create the most original modules possible - everything from classic subtractive synthesis to morphable wavetables, phase modulation, audio folding, additive harmonic synthesis and more.
With such unique and seemingly endless modulation possibilities, it's no wonder the sonic properties of the Eurorack lend themselves perfectly to creating unique drum and percussive one shots - sounds that transcend what any single drum machine can offer.
With this in mind, we sat down with our favorite modules, a nice preamp and tape machine, and synthesized everything from analog bassdrums, to sinewave subs, synthetic impulses, complex stabs, melodic congas, syn-toms, lasers, obscure snares, bells and whistles, analog lasers, wavetable bongos and even classic TR sounds (with a modular twist).
The magic of the modular is that (once you know what you're doing) you can really create any sound you're looking for from scratch, and this process starts at the source. For our modular sound sources, we used everything from classic VCOs (Cwejman VCO-6; Doepfer A-110 VCO), to digital oscillators, noise generators, and deeply complex wavetable modules like the Intelijel shapeshifter, which features audio rate frequency modulation, phase modulation, and a 64 band vocoder.
Next, we combined our sources with the Doepfer A-138 as our standard mixer, and a Tip Top Audio Fold Processor when we wanted to get funky. The Tip Top is described as a "voltage-controlled wave multiplier and sub-octave generator", and allowed us to add harmonics to incoming signals, generate sub octaves and gave us everything from dissonant, sub-divided square waves to sweet, harmonic stacks.
To add more excitement, we used filters - with our favorite being the CS-8 VCF-02 Multimode Filter. Inspired by its older brother, the Ebb Und Flut (Villalobos fans gear alert!), the CS-8 stands out in the modular world because its quality and performance can compete directly with any of the world's top analog filters. With 121 different filter modes, it can sculpt just about any sound to perfection. The CS-8's beautiful harmonic distortion gave some much needed "Ummfff" to many sounds - especially sub kicks:
We're huge fans of west coast synth percussion, but since we didn't have a Buchla on hand (maybe someday!) we set out to create those weird synth bongos and lowpass blips from scratch. By modulating a complex VCO with a sine and sawtooth wave from another oscillator (with a little envelope modulation on the FM input) and then gating the sine and sawtooth outputs with our QMMG lowpass gate (with a super tight envelope triggering its VCAs) we were able to replicate those cool artificial bongos, as well as rim shots, bass drums, and pitched toms.
Modular drums isn't all blips and beeps - there are a host of companies making great modules inspired by classic drum machines - but with a gritty, modular twist. These modules offer a bit more control than their vintage counterparts, and allowed us to freak out the otherwise more traditional drum machine sounds. We modulated 909 sounding hats with pitch envelopes and pink noise FM modulation, for example. We also ran VCAs into overdrive and bit crushed claps. In this way we were able to sample a nice collection of our favorite 808, 909, and even CR78 - style drum sounds - all with a dirty modular twist:
About 95% of the work for this pack was done within the confines of the modular environment before hitting the converters, but some sounds needed some extra crunch. For this we turned to the Scooper (used heavily in Modern Oddities). We recorded our modular bass drums, snares, hi hats and claps into the scooper, and added odd harmonic bit crushing (that sounds a lot like the SP1200). These overtones really help certain sounds cut through the mix and offer more of a "sampled" sound.
Once everything was recorded, we spent months curating, deleting, organizing and naming all of the samples (describing some of these sounds with words was a challenge to say the least!) until ultimately we arrived at a collection of just under 1400 one hits that capture the sonic heat and cold precision of the Eurorack's percussive environment.
With 16 sound categories and 24 16x hit kits, this is a well organized pack of modern modular drums synthesized from scratch - and coming in at about 1/100th the cost of a basic Eurorack setup, it's a cheap and easy way to inject the addictive insanity of modular synthesis into your tracks. Because let's face it - the modular world can be very intimidating, secretive and EXPEN$IVE !