Friday, December 11, 2015

On Modular Purism and Sozialrealismus

Among practitioners of modular synthesis, there is today a widespread reverence for the pure modular, where the modular shines on its own as the single sound source, preferably recorded in one take and with minimal post-processing. In improvised music this kind of purism may make sense, but modulars are often used in other ways, e.g. driven by sequencers or set up as a self-generating system more or less nudged in the right direction by the modularist.

Playing live in a concert, overdubs or edits are obviously not a part of the game. Perhaps that spontaneous flow of live performance is taken as the ideal form that even home studio recordings should mimic.

This ideal of purity often serves as an excuse for acquiring a voluminous modular system. Even more so if one wants to achieve full polyphony. However, there is so much to gain from multi-tracking and editing that it is a wonder why anyone with a modular should refuse to deal with that part.

The pieces on the album SOZIALREALISMUS are collages and juxtapositions of a variety of sources. All pieces are centered around recordings of a eurorack modular, often accompanied by field recordings.

In some pieces the electronic sounds were played through loudspeakers placed on the resonating bodies of acoustic instruments and then recorded again. Recordings have been cut up and spliced together in new constellations.

Although the blinking lights and the mess of patch cords of a modular projects an image of complicated machinery leading its autonomous electric life, another aesthetic is possible even in the realm of modular music, an aesthetic of handicraft, allowing the imperfections of improvisation. The included drawings that come with the digital album and the linoleum print cover on the cassette hint in that direction.

Linoleum print © Holopainen. Makes for an interesting stereo image as well.

There has always been a focus on technique and gear in the electronic music community. When modulars are becoming more common, their ability to provoke curiosity may dwindle if the music made with them fails to convince the listeners.

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