Saturday, May 28, 2011

Meet Mr. Modular Preset...

When we last left our hero he was mesmerized by the blinkenlights of the Buchla 200e. Today's post will be a summary of some of the things I discovered as we started talking to each other.

One of the unique features of the Buchla 200e modular is it's preset system. My configuration has the 225e module but another option which accomplishes the same purpose is the 206e. in "traditional" modular synths it's more WYSISWG in that with the knobs and cables patched the setting that are displayed are exactly what you are hearing. Not so with any preset synth and while this has been common since the early 90s when synths like Roland's Juno 106 replaced their Juno 6/60 as far as I know this is the first time a Modular synth company has employed presets. Given the complexity of the Buchla modules this not only makes sense but offers a great benefit but at the same time it takes some getting used to.

Case in point is what I used to consider the quintessential 200e Module, the 259e oscillator. This module has, among other features, a modulating oscillator (MO) with assignable and voltage controlled setting to influence the primary Osc, a wave table oscillator with dual digital banks which can be mixed via CV or the MO, a filter like Timbre control, various CV influenced Warping and Morhphing features of the wavebank, and, of course, separate audio and CV in and outputs for FM, CV scale etc. Looking at the module any of the knobs that drastically change the sound may appear to be set a certain way but in fact they are whatever is called up in the preset. So the visual setting might say the MO is turned off and not affecting the main wavetable Osc but in fact you could be hearing violent sweeps of both the wavetables and pitch as the MO does in fact mangle the hell out of it all. More odd is when I pull up a preset that has something set up (I got the system used so I don't know what the setting all correspond to) and the pitch knob on the wavetable Osc does nothing. One would imagine at the very least you could manually sweep pitch up and down with a pitch knob but I have found a few presets which somehow disable this (at least initially until I stumble upon the magic formula that changes that setting). The modules are DEEP and there is a lot going on in the CPUs and saved routing settings and I have found this type of thing in other modules as well including envelopes that seemingly don't take a pulse in to trigger and a sequencer that only runs from it's own clock and skips visual steps (more on the 250e in another post).

Again, this is not necessarily a good or bad thing and with a little reading of the brief documentation than came with my system I learned the REMOTE/Enable buttons on each module turn the preset recall on and off. So theoretically if you disable the 225e from talking to the module you have a more "standard" module that does show exactly what you are twiddling or patching into it. The catch is that also depends on the state you started your session at. when you turn on the system it recalls the last patch you worked on so if you left off with something being sent to the module that is not what is visually shows that will be resent and you will need to remember what you did to get it back to the "blank" state. I suppose what one does is create a bank of "template" presets which have a base state of all modules that you are comfortable with. In a way that is an amazing option and very helpful. But at the same time it is truly a different way of working than ever before on a modular and requires a shift in mindset to use and take advantage of it. One of the obvious limitations of modulars in the past was that they are "only" live and you never get the same sound out of them twice. Many users turned this "bug" into a feature and developed the habit of not only appreciating this but also using it as an inspiration to constantly move forward in their synthesis.

The 200e ups the ante in allowing some preset features that do in fact recall the sound (or sounds) you were working on the day or week before. But, as with most computer oriented things, it's not perfect (even with the latest firmware there are times it doesn't save everything on the first press or stutters on recall) and it comes with a learning curve.
I am at the point where I appreciate it and am starting to understand how to best meet the synth half way and use what it offers and merge that with my current personal style and habits. Where we go from here continues to remain an exciting mystery...


dougcl said...

With the 259e, you must cross the preset value by turning the knobs before the knobs have any effect. After loading a preset, it's common to ramp the knobs back and forth to get control back.

dougcl said...

The 250e can be clocked externally. Light the Edit LED. press the MODE button (the gray one) until the mode LEDs are off and hold it there. Now twist the center knob to apply the change to all the stages. Now a pulse in the Mode jack will advance the sequencer.

Alternatively, you can put the 250e in continuous mode (lower right) and feed it a CV to make it go around. Once you have this mastered, put it in strobe mode and apply a pulse to the strobe input. At this point you have a quantized sample and hold.