modular-2p

It seems everyone is getting in on modular gear these days, thanks to the Eurorack format. But many of these modules are variations on a theme – new models of old classic modules, existing synthesis components and filters that have just been reborn as a module.

monome white whale, shipping this month, is something different. Connect a monome grid controller to a modular, and suddenly that array of light-up buttons becomes a probabilistic sequencer. It’s live performance oriented in a way too few modules are. The results are surprising and lovely. The solution isn’t cheap – you need a monome in addition to the modular rig and sequencer module, and the setup is optimized for the larger, spendier monome models. But it does produce a standalone setup that’s a joy to behold.

white whale – possibilities from tehn on Vimeo.

The basic concept starts with fairly standard step sequencing. You get a 16-step loop with four triggers per step. Where things get interesting is adding probability indexes for each trigger and channel, which can add mutes, fills, and melodies. And various patterns can be controlled and chained, with additional chance.

In fact, it’s inspiring enough that you might want something similar outside the modular context.

Retail price: US$280. Shipping this month.

Full details from monome:

modular-3p

modular-1p

whitewhale-p

Requirements Monome grid controller
Width 6hp
Depth 40mm (“skiff friendly”)
Power 12v: 18mA, -12v: 17mA
5v: 42mA (grid unconnected), up to 600mA (grid connected, see note below **)

Description

White Whale is the culmination of methods and experiments based on a decade of step sequencer design for the grid.

A monome grid is plugged into the front panel of the module, serving as a complete interface. The sequencer continues running when the grid is disconnected, facilitating both live performance and precomposed playback of generative systems.

A sixteen step loop is the foundation. 4 triggers can be toggled per step, along with two separate CV values. 0-10v CV can be dialed via a parameter knob, copied from other steps, and tuned up and down via the grid. A CV map mode is provided for creating scales, and preset scales are recallable.

A probability index is provided independently for the triggers and each CV channel. These can serve as step mutes (at 0 or 100 percent) or chance possibility per step (for fills, emergent melody generation, etc). Each CV step can be set to have a choice of several values.

Sixteen patterns are quickly accessible. For longer sequences these patterns can be strung together in any determined order, including chance possibilities between pattern selection.

Sets of patterns are storable to internal flash memory for instant recall on power-up.

Timing can be internal (controlled via a panel pot) or externally triggered. Loop lengths and positions can be set intuitively on the grid.

Many subtle additional features make this instrument incredibly versatile yet approachable, introducing possibilities far beyond the standard step sequencer.

* Grids

There have been many editions of monome grids over the years. White Whale is optimally designed for late 128 (8×16) models that support variable brightness (2012 and on). Smaller grids are supported, but pattern step lengths are adjusted. Larger grids are supported, but presently the bottom half will not be used. Mono-brightness grids are supported, but the data displayed will be less rich.

** Power

Monome grids require a large amount of 5V power, which may not be typically available on all eurorack systems. Be sure to check the ratings of the power supply to be used.

Furthermore, eurorack power systems are not well designed for dynamic power loading. Undesirable anomalies may be introduced in certain eurorack configurations when shared with a grid controller. We’ve designed a small breakout adapter (ext5v) to separately power the grid controller if needed. If this adapter is used, very little 5V will be used from the eurorack power supply. The adapter requires a separate 5V supply which delivers at least 1A on a 2.1mm center positive plug.

http://monome.org/modular/

By the way, interested in doing this sort of sequencing without necessarily using a modular? Here are a couple of resources:

parc is a free MIDI-based sequencer, vintage monome patch and an early basis for what’s in this new project.

parc and slide from tehn on Vimeo.

And Brian points us to the functions posted in the preliminary manual for white whale, such as the scale list at the bottom:
http://monome.org/docs/modular:whitewhale

Of course, you could cook your own creations, too, for this or other control methods (MIDI keyboards, for instance).

  • Kinetic Monkey

    What a lovely creation. Why are modulars so expensive :(

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      See the links at bottom. Always more than one way to skin a cat – and to do so on a budget.

    • Kinetic Monkey

      Oh yeah, I own an older greyscale monome and use this kind of sequencing, but the romantic workflow of playing with electronic music without a computer is a distant vision for most amateur musicians on a budget.

    • Jim Aikin

      I’m guessing your question (“Why are modulars so expensive”) was rhetorical. But as Peter noted, a cello is expensive. I happen to own both a cello ($10,000 including the bow) and a Yamaha C-3 6-ft grand piano. Combined, they’re worth at least $25,000. For that amount, you could build quite an amazing modular system … at least in euro-rack format. I went with euro rather than Serge or Buchla both because of the relatively lower cost of euro and because of the number of developers coming up with new designs. Anything with discrete components is going to be expensive. But if you choose, you can think of Csound or Pd (both free) or Reason (around $1,000 if you trick it out with a bunch of Rack Extensions) plus a fast laptop as a full-on modular synth. For $2,000 or so, you’ll have a modular that can do waaaay more than a rack full of hardware. You just won’t have the knobs and patch cords, that’s all.

  • heinrichz

    great, so we’re back to gear for rich kids now, reminiscent of the state of electronic music in the early eighties, when only some could afford their Emulators, Prophet Synths and Linndrums to show off to their not so fortunate friends. I’m really opposed to this kind of development on political grounds, no matter how interesting this equipment might appear to be.

    • michaelmatos

      You need nothing more than air and someway to move it to make music. Considering that musical devices are a luxury in a world where millions die each year due to the lack of sheer basics for survival, arguing over which level of excess you deem acceptable seems a rather pointless endeavor. Music and technology is more accessible than ever in human history. The existence of these small, boutique manufacturers is a testament to the leveling of classes and their access to technology. The race to the bottom on price points is what limits choice and gives rise to global behemoths that erode small business innovation. Although this is out of my price range, I appreciate all that they have done to usher in the power of the grid interface.

    • heinrichz

      The leveling of classes happens because of the availability of inexpensive instruments. My problem is with people believing again that they will need expensive gear to make great sounding music and there is a strong current of that happening right now with super star dj’s and pop producers fueling that trend. As a music educator i have to be totally opposed to that.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      “for the rich kids” — apart from a link to a free Max/MSP patch, and some observations that you could apply the sequencing ideas here in other environments, free.

      What are the political grounds?

      Brian and Kelli have built their own business selling hardware they design and manufacture themselves and relying on a local network of suppliers they support. Indeed, being able to sell higher-margin products in low volumes has opened up a lot of doors for people to support themselves in small businesses doing their own design and manufacturing.

      And not all of those customers are rich – not by a longshot. Some have decided to make small investments in modular rather than enormous ongoing investments in software/computer upgrade cycles. For every rich oral surgeon buying gear that goes mostly unused, there’s a musician on a budget who has slowly built a suitcase modular because it makes them happy. (And, I mean, cellists aren’t known for being rich – but if you’re a cellist, you aren’t playing a cheap instrument.)

      Now, I’d be the first person to protest if we started fetishizing a certain kind of gear as the only way to make music. But I don’t think CDM has ever, ever done that. I think we continue to cover the full spectrum of technology and how it’s used.

    • heinrichz

      Don’t take it personal Peter and yes you do cover any type of gear and i do read your reviews every day with appreciation. i guess you know what the word political means in this context: i merely referred to the limited means of many musicians, i’m not calling for an overthrow of the capitalist system…at least not here. You mentioned that this one was pricey, so i responded only to that aspect and did not critique this piece of equipment beyond that, i’m sure it’s great and i probably would love to have one myself, yet i will abstain, the same way i would not buy some other expensive hardware i.e. on ‘political’ principle. And nobody says you always have to buy the latest software update either to make music. The main thing is that you know your tools well.
      Either way i’m fully aware of my political incorrectness in this matter.

  • Taylor

    What Eurorack power supply can do 600mA at 5V?

    • chomz

      4ms Row Power 40 can do 1.5A.

  • Aaron

    I really like the idea of hardware that is designed to be used with a mononome with pre-set functionality.

    • Aaron

      er.,sigh. typo. i meant monononononomeme.