Modular Tips and Tricks Guest Post: Frequency Fodder on putting together a rhythm section
This is part of a series of guest-post tutorials from Noise Engineering users showing off various tips for NE modules, modular use in general, or how they integrate modular into their workflow.
Have someone you think would be great to write a guest post? Have a modular tip you want to submit for us to create a video around? Please submit ideas for this occasional column here.
For this outing, we have Frequency Fodder, who is known on YouTube for his exceptionally good series of demo videos and monthly “Live from the Lab” series. We found him when he did some demos of Noise Eng modules and showcased them working with other modules in ways that blew our minds. I hit him up to to see if he would be willing to talk to us about his setup, how he uses modular, and walk us through a patch.
Kris: I like to start by asking people who they are / what they do in the big, wide world.
Kris: What brought you from there to modular synth? What kept you here?
FF: I love the performance aspect of modular: taking risks and doing things in real time, playing an instrument and yet… it’s an electronic instrument. The Modular community is mostly adult (in action if not age), and everybody isn’t high every minute of every day. I could do anything and be anybody…I can be me here.
I am a classically trained timpanist and drummer who got interested in electronic music while recovering from a potentially career-ending injury. I saw a drummer hit a pad and a voice from the movie Repo Man came out of an Akai S-950, and just like that, my life changed right then and there.
By the time I’d mostly recovered from the injury, I never really looked back. After listening to A Tribe Called Quest (Low End Theory), Gangstarr, Paul’s Boutique, and Nas’ Illmatic, I started to make beats with an MPC-3000, but everything I program is affected by that decade as a drummer and by my injury. Cobham and Bruford probably go down as my all around favorites and if it’s rock then there is no replacement for John Bonham. Also Mike Clark, Harvey Mason, Steve Gadd, Lenny White, Neil Peart, Prairie Prince, Kenwood Dennard...the list goes on.
Kris: John Bonham certainly, but I’ve definitely hold Neil Peart up there close to #1.
FF: ha ha well there's a reason why a framed vinyl copy of "Hemispheres" is hanging surreptitiously on the wall in the background of my Live From The Lab Vol 001 video. Most recently, I think that GDFX is doing ridiculously incredible stuff - The Gradual Progression title track blew my mind in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time.
I also listened to a ton of Tangerine Dream and Jean Michel Jarre in my formative years. My high school had an ARP-2600 and I learned a lot about synthesis from working with it. I discovered dance music in the early 90’s by way of old-school hardcore on mix tapes that my buddy brought back from England, and after I started going to warehouse parties in 1993, everything changed—soon enough I was producing trip-hop and drum-and-bass for labels. I performed and toured using hardware without turntables, improvised and mixed on the fly. Recordings were made in a single take to 2-track, but the tools were not as powerful as what Eurorack offers today.
Fast forward to now, and eventually… because Ableton is a very seductive and powerful DAW, I I found myself triggering clips and manipulating the results…[But] music is something I need to be submerged in and part of while I am performing it. The more time I spend finalizing a composition with all-powerful Ableton, the less I feel comfortable playing it back in front of an audience or changing what it is that I spent all that time making perfect. So much of the music I like is improvisational, and modular is improvisational by design but still electronic.
Kris: So that brought you around to Eurorack?
I’ve known about Eurorack for a long time...I met a guy who gave me just enough information to get started and I put a MI Ripples filter into an Erica Black Output module and made it self oscillate. Game over and game on. I created the Frequency Fodder project, and I took to it really fast because I had already been a hardware junkie, except now all the machines were much more powerful and I could afford them. I lost interest in more laptop-reliant bass music (except for collaborations as modular synth contributor) and even Ableton to some extent (except as a multi track recording medium; yes I pre-ordered version 10) and jumped into modular entirely. It felt completely natural.
Kris: Your Monthly Live from the Lab series seems to indicate that you have quite a system set up, not just with modular. Could you tell us a little bit about what else (non-modular) you have in there, just for the gearheads among us?
FF: Well, I have the Minimoog reissue and Moog did a fabulous job with that. I have used the original and the reissue has an extra LFO but Moog maintained the same design so it's still the greatest performance lead synth ever made. Under the Minimoog is a limited-edition, no-longer-in-production MIDI/CV step sequencer. It does some things that other sequencers do not and I’m planning to use it in a future Live From The Lab.
I also have an original ARP-2600 with the 3620 keyboard. I got it for a very fair price off eBay from a great guy who I’ve become friends with. Any legendary instrument of yesteryear has a story behind it and my 2600 is no exception. Apparently it once belonged to Ruth Underwood from The Mothers and the guy who sold it to me was a successful session player in the 1970's. The spring reverb and some other connections were non functional when I got the 2600, but I had it refurbished by someone locally who also rebuilt the power supply. I also got an MS-20 from the guy that was literally near death but not because of anything he did - it was covered in dust from being in storage, and the keyboard had broken keys. The MS-20 is almost done being refurbished and I can hardly wait to get it back to play during an upcoming Live From The Lab. I also have a Make Noise Black and Gold Shared System Plus and it was difficult to wait on buying any of those individual modules while I filled my first case, but I knew I wanted them all together.
Kris: That’s a lot to integrate! Would you walk us through your recording setup and how you get that all together?
FF: I have a UAD 4-710d as a multi-track expander to my Apollo Twin. The 4-710d connects to the Apollo Twin via ADAT light pipe, and boom: multi-track. Four channels have built-in hardware tube compressors and the other four line inputs have enough processing power in the UAD software to add virtual Neve 1073 pre-amps on the way in. The whole thing sounds like butter.
Anyone who's played with larger modular systems will realize that every voice is often interconnected and certain gates depend upon and have an effect upon other musical elements, so to get the recording right with discrete processing on each channel, multi-track is a requirement if you want to adjust levels after the fact. That's what I do with "Live From The Lab" - there are no edits/eq/processing made after recording, but I do adjust levels on the hardware synths before rendering so there’s no need to set up a monitor mix. In my "Modular Mondays" and "Video Ventures" YouTube series, I just grab everything to 2 track, but those series do not involve hardware synths.
I knew I wanted my system to be mobile, so I use an NW2S:o16 module to get everything down to proper line level and that goes DB-25 snake into the UAD. I am basically just using Ableton as a multi-track until I decide to do a studio album. The sync between Ableton and the modular is done using a prototype device that my friends built, and I won’t say anything more about that until it’s officially released, which is going to be soon and imo, it’s a game changer for all of us.
Phew. A whole ton of research went into all that!!
Kris: Your patches tend to have a rhythmic sensibility that I really appreciate, obviously that reference to your drummer background you mentioned. The patch you put together is a deeper dive into how you set that up. Can you walk through what’s happening a bit in the video?
When I saw the Noise Engineering Time Control modules, I got very excited and ordered most of them straight away, because they were going to let me piece together tools that I didn’t know could exist.
Kris: In your dream setup, what else would you like to see in this patch?
FF: Primarily my own module idea as a drum trigger generator, which would allow me to pair the Varigate 8 with a Voltage Block and go bonkers on other stuff. Baseck does really amazing things with those two and just a single module in several recent videos. To build my own trigger generator prototype, I’d first need to learn more about electronics and firmware programming, or finalize the functionality and have it created some other way, or most likely both. I would really like something that does what I might do if I were still behind a drum kit. That module doesn’t exist, but I’ve gotten pretty close with my current rig.
It might be cool to have another Mutable Branches and another Bastl Grandpa for only hi-hats. Mylar Melodies had a video recently where he was using branches to select open/closed hi-hats, and Grandpa automatically cuts off its other sound when one plays so it would be excellent to use it as the sound source. I suppose I could reload all my percussion modules with a new sounds, but that would be a PITA, and I already really dig the way my Branches is feeding presets of two glitched vocal hits in my Grandpa. And so it goes… the wonderful endless journey that is modular.
For more Frequency Fodder, check out his YouTube channel, where you can find a number of demos and all the different series we mention here (and more).
FF is also on
collaborations and download info for Live from the Lab can be found on SoundCloud; watch for more here and on Bandcamp when FF puts together a studio recording.
Stay tuned to the Noise Engineering blog for more tips and tricks for modular users. And if you have questions you'd like to see here, please drop us a line.