Sunday, June 26, 2011

How to Buchla...

Precious little is actually written by Buchla and Associates about what is possibly the most complex modular synthesizer ever created. When you buy a 200e module you get a short one or two page typed paper with a brief description of some of the buttons and featured of that particular module. This is apparently a well known conscious decision, made by the designer, to encourage the user to explore the unit on their own terms and come up with what it means to them. There is no hand holding when you go to the world of Buchla and in fact there is no electronic printed or scanned documentation of any kind officially available. This is "old school" only, ironic for an instrument that was ahead of it's time in the 1960s and now still holds that place.

This is certainly one legitimate philosophy regarding modular synthesis (and creativity in general if you want to take it that far). People learn by doing and you bring your knowledge and talents to the instrument and what comes out is based on your personal experience and effort.

I've often referred to Modulars in general as a "Master's Class" in synthesis. To use one at all
you must know certain basic building blocks of sound creation and the principles of voltage control. They are not the place to start if you've never seen or used a synthesizer. The more you know about patching, module functions, and audio and voltage routing the more successful you will be in getting what you want out of the process.

If a modular synth in general is a "Master's Class" then certainly learning and effectively using the Buchla 200e can be considered getting your Phd. The 200e is so unique and groundbreaking there are many features that not only are not apparent, but many are hidden
in computer sub-menus and color coded LEDS or otherwise completely non intuitive. Even long time experienced users of patchable synthesizers can easily get lost in the maze of hidden preset settings and run/stop options.

There are multiple busses that carry preset and other information. One could spend months or longer on the sequencer alone learning it's various sync, step, loop, and clocking possibilities. The Oscillators are digital hybrid voltage controlled aptly named "Complex" machines with separate audio and CV routings. Truthfully, a one sheet summary of face value functions isn't going to get you very far in learning how to use this monster.

Fortunately all is not lost thanks to our good friend the Internet. Support groups (that's really the best way I can say it where Buchla users are concerned) exist where other 200e users, experienced synthesists, or just plain curious fans post questions and offer advice to specific issues.

The two I have used the most are the Buchla Yahoo group and the Buchla/EMS/Serge Forum on Muff's in general is an excellent place to ask questions and get quick answers from like minded and helpful synthheads regarding pretty much any topic you can think of from gear to recording techniques, hardware or software. I believe Muffwiggler is the most populated place with actual users of 200e modules and even the most esoteric question usually spawns a useful thread with information you would never find anywhere else.

Plus you get lots of pictures of Cats and synths which I always think is a good thing...

In a thread on MW I came across another resource which I have received permission to repost here. Called the "Buchla Catalog" this PDF file is
a 3rd party compilation containing the most complete resource of 200e information, tips and tricks, third party module manufacturers, and more. It starts with all the information, pictures, and descriptions from the official Buchla web site (including pictures and descriptions of out of production modules) and then includes the famous (some might say infamous) Sound on Sound in depth review of the 200e system and it's individual modules. Included in this are working guides on envelopes and filtering using the various parts of the 200e that are unique to it (Timbre and Symmetry controls, the whole damn 292e, etc.) . It's an essential place to start studying for the Buchla oral finals.

The Buchla catalog was assembled by Ross Healy
and the current version is available free for download HERE. Ross is a great guy who keeps the catalog updated on his own time and dime and makes some damn fine music of his own which you can check out on his Youtube page (which also includes demos of the 200e as well).

For what it's worth I'll mention neither the "Buchla Catalog" file nor any of the forums online are endorsed or supported by Buchla and Associates. All is not lost however as despite their "hands off" philosophy of written support for the 200e they are available from their contact page to answer questions and support their products. I have written and received answers to some of my questions from all of these resources and, like modular synthesis in general, I feel a bit of all these options will yield the best results. If you know of other useful resources at this level please let me know and I'll update this post accordingly.

Bleep on professors!

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