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1st year in synth

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It was the last day of the 9th re:publica, 7th of May 2015. Most people hang out outside, having a beer, something to eat, heavy networking. Lunch break. And I suppose that everybody was partially waiting for the final session and the traditional Queen choir.

A lot of spare time to finally do what I had in mind for some month. It’s a short, but not so beautiful walk from Station Berlin to Schneidersladen, the place to be or better go for if you are or want to be into modular synthesizers. Issue is that the opening hours are more then special, especially for me not living in Berlin. Not open on weekends, and not open past 6pm it was my chance to get in touch with an unknown world of sounds, which I plan to discover.

So, walk to underground station Kottbusser Tor, having some cigarettes, getting more nervous with every step. What will it be like? How do they treat total noobs like me? Am I too early?

Found the address and the doorbell. It’s a place I’ve been often before, but never saw the shops huge sign outside. Now I know. Door opens, up some stairs, next door. And I entered my new realm. Girl at the desk welcomed me friendly. Ask what I’m looking for. What do I know? She shall! Nervous again.

So I explained what I had in mind, that I want to dig into modular and was looking for a starter set, some 100€, nothing too expensive, something to carry with me. “Hm, I’m not an expert on this. Please go to the backroom…”, pointing into some direction, “… they’ll help you there.”

There I stand, a normal size room holding 2 or 3 huge (as in very huge) racks stuffed with Eurorack modules. Some interesting people in there, couldn’t distinguish between customers and sellers. “How can I help you?”

“Ähm, puh, so, hmm, …”


“I would like to start with modular synth. And ‘am looking for a starter kit, around 500€. Something small to take with me and start fiddling around and to discover whether this is something for me or not. So, that I do not spent that much money on it and discover later that this is not what I’m really into doing on my own.” (I know myself, in most cases).

First lesson to learn: No way! You need a case, and you need some basic modules to get at least a sound out of the system. This will be VCO, VCF and VCA, LFO will be helpful (and yes, same named British band is also helpful). So, to start, it sums up to around 1.000€.

We left the modular show room, back into the entrance area. And he let me play with a drum machine (MFB-522; at this moment not my type of thing; some weeks later I was angry about not taking this for the price it was offered; now sold out), something else, and a MeeBlip anode.

To make it short: This is what I picked as my first synthesizer! A little (10x10cm) black beast with not so lovely sounds. Exactly what I was looking for. But… How to get sound out of it? No clue.

Some months later (recently) I listened to a track from one of the Brainwashed podcast  episodes: “100 Gongs For Arieto” by Eleh/Tara Jana O’Neil. And I thought that I could try reproduce this sound. I thought that this seems to be a bell-shaped curve over sound with some low, very low frequency modulation on the lower band. I had an idea of how to twiddle the knobs. I was proud of myself. And more than happy finally when it sounded like the stuff I listened to before (ok, close to, in my reception).

What happened in between was:

  • I needed something to drive the meeblip. I decided to go for an Arturia BeetStep (not the pro version, which came out some weeks after my purchase). It was fun to connect the device, pluck the meeblip into the stereo, set up and run a sequence and tweak the knobs. Lovely sounds in the room. The feeling of doing something good to myself.
  • I came across an really good offer for an Korg MS-20 mini. As it is semi modular I could learn very well how the main components of synthetic sound creation work and work together. It is pre-wired, but could be over-patched  for your needs. Learned a lot. And could be also driven by the beatstep thingy.
  • A friend of mine make a gift to me: A midi key board/controller.

So, within my first year in synth I collected some gear (MeeBlip anode, Arturia BeatStep, Korg MS-20 mini and the additional key board). I have two sources of sound. But most of all, I’m still and even more infected with the idea of going modular.

I do not sit there for hours an trying to create a certain sound or to publish something. But I sit there and get lost in time. And have the growing feeling of finally having found a hobby.

So there are some essential steps to take next year:

  1. Get some sort of mixer and monitors. Reason for the first one shall be clear, for the second one that I want to get rid of listening to the beautiful sound through headphones only.
  2. Went to Schneidersladen again and compile my starter modular synth.

Written by Rayk Fenske

December 24, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Posted in synthesizer