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Tutorial: Intro to Modular

I'm extremely excited about Pulse Code's new app Modular, coming out on the 12th next week. I've had a chance to play with it for a while now and have been thoroughly impressed. You get a ton of good stuff in the free package before you even spend a dime, so I thought this would be a good app to teach the concepts of modular synthesis! This is Part 1, which uses only the free modules. Part 2 gets a bit deeper using premium modules.

Buy Modular Synthesizer on iTunes: Freemium ($9 Unlock Bundle)

Reader Comments 40

There's something you don't see every day- an actual TW tutorial! Looking forwards to part 2....

September 06, 2013  | person_outline Zymos

TBH Tim, this is the single most exciting development since the Nord Modular. But I think having only one panel is going to get limiting pretty fast, which brings me to the next 'problem' with modular synthesis, you can never really have 'too many modules'? Really looking forward to this software. AND with iVCS3 also making an appearance, September 2013 is going to be a great month!! 8-)

September 06, 2013  | person_outline tom_tm

Yep the second ivcs3 comes out every other synth will be taking a rest if it makes the sounds of the original & is not awkward as this looks a little like that if you dont own a keyboard but i will still buy as the price sounds very reasonable & Tims tutorials are always very helpful.

September 06, 2013  | person_outline andre

nice intro Tim. anxious to see the next episode...'Bullwinkle needs a bigger rack'... or...'how to keep your spaghetti from sticking together' (only one color btw?). hopefully the premium modules include a comb filter, and maybe some sample and hold?

September 06, 2013  | person_outline a1

Given the limited real estate, it seems extremely inefficient to have to use all those patch cords and splitters to get the keyboard CV to multiple modules. It would seem like the option to have the keyboard "normalled" to any 1v/oct CV input would go a long way to eliminating a bunch of cords and splitters.

September 06, 2013  | person_outline ahclem

@a1 thanks! Putting the new camera and lens to good use! Check out that depth of field as I talk with my hands in 1080p! Good news, Sample & Hold is a free module.

@ahclem, that is an excellent suggestion. I'll bring this up to the dev!

Yep, great work. Thanks Tim.

September 06, 2013  | person_outline Trueyorky

This is really, really good. I'm fairly new to modular synthesis, so I think this will take several tutorials and some time working with it to figure out how to get into all the sonic beauty. This is good to keep me going while I wait. This will also be a hell of alot cheaper and easier to carry around than an actual modular synth! Is it the 12th yet?

September 06, 2013  | person_outline Christan


1. Great work, Tim
2. Nice to see a tutorial from you
3. Auto normalling would be very handy indeed
4. Colored cables (multi) would be handy as well
5. That's an awfully generous free package

1. Needs more rack space. Constraints can be a wonderful thing. We have the amazing audulus for a modular world without constraints.

Buying this on release day. I don't need anymore synths but I don't care.

September 06, 2013  | person_outline Will

Im a big sample & hold fan,first thing i learnt on ims20,so thats sold it to me

September 06, 2013  | person_outline andre

Thanks Tim. These videos/tutorials will really help me out. I had all your iMS20 tutorials lined up in my Pocket account, but never got around to watching em or use the synth that much either for that matter. But this time I'ma learn to love those friggin cables lol

September 06, 2013  | person_outline ChrisG

TBF Will, I can't get into Audulus at all. I've never liked that way of programming with all that math and whatnot. I agree up to a point that constraints can be a good thing, but on some occasions constraints can also be a bloody pain in the arse.

September 06, 2013  | person_outline tom_tm

@Andre - Cool video on the EMS synthi http://youtu.be/MN3J74ghRP0

September 06, 2013  | person_outline Steve

Steve thanks that made me jealous & i really hope the app can make these sounds ,apparently the word is its alot of fun coming from the tester.

September 06, 2013  | person_outline andre

I watched klaus Schulze showing it of on same page & said still uses it live today because no other synth gives the atmosphere sound like that can,i really hope they get the distinct sound close as possible with the app.

September 06, 2013  | person_outline andre

Looks great, have mixed feelings about the space/constraint issue, agree about the default behaviour, and that constraint is one of a musicians best friends, but would it be so bad to have an endless rack?

I know there re computational limits, but surely there is a more democratic way to manage these?

Thanks for the tutorial Tim, nothing new for me, but I appreciate how you managed to explain something quite challenging to someone who knows very little about these things in a way they might actually get! Good work!

September 07, 2013  | person_outline Baddcr

Jeez, what's with all the assholes over at Synthtopia...?

September 07, 2013  | person_outline Zymos

@Zymos: yes it's (they're) crazy. This is a very good video tutorial for people who have never laid their hands on a modular synth but want to try it. I don't understand how anybody can hate this video. Keep them coming Mr. Webb!

September 07, 2013  | person_outline synthandson

I think it is just the way Jim framed the article, as though it were meant as some demonstrational preview. I don't blame him; I can see why he would call it a "first look" when it is... kind of. Likewise, I don't blame folks who are disappointed by it not living up to that expectation.

Honestly Synthtopia's comment section is brutal, this is par for the course. I know this because I've been a part of that same crowd, so I know what it is like on both sides. Some of those comments would have really hurt a couple of years ago, but you have to have a pretty thick skin to keep producing free tutorials for the Internet.

I'm just happy to be featured on a site I've read for years!

I'm frequently one of those assholes over at Synthtopia myself, but not towards someone who goes out of their way to do something educational for others and isn't even trying to sell something.

September 07, 2013  | person_outline Zymos

all the spaghetti reminded me of this one that doesn't seem to have made it yet

tim- see author url link

September 07, 2013  | person_outline a1

Can you explain the tuning knob works for the VCO?

Does it go in semitone steps?

September 08, 2013  | person_outline Codec303

Just wanted to say, I hope the trolls stay under the bridge. Don't let the negativity keep you from making these quality videos. I am looking over the modules on Pulse Code's site, and I would certainly benefit from further installments of the modular tutorials. Opinions are like assholes - everybody's got one, some of them stink and alot of them are full of shit. That's my opinion anyway.

September 08, 2013  | person_outline Christan

Hey Tim, I really enjoyed your introduction to Modular. It looks like a great piece of software and I look forward to covering it on SonicTouch. I also think that you did a great job in not just giving a good introduction to the software but a good general intro to modular synthesis. I enjoy your breezy informal style and like the way you make things accessible. I was a bit puzzled by the negative comments on Synthtopia too although I really like that blog usually.

keep it up!


September 08, 2013  | person_outline Gaz

Thanks a lot, Gaz!

@Codec303: It is in semitones, down to cents/percents. So for the free VCO you can go +/- 7.00 semitones, with an octave offset between 0-3. The premium one goes +/- 12.00 semitones, and has extra octave offset for 0-4.

Very useful video, Tim! How do they handle polyphony (do they handle polyphony?) -- inquiring minds want to know!

September 08, 2013  | person_outline Fessaboy/Secret Base Design

No polyphony, except the arpeggiator will use whatever intervals you throw at it.
(For the benefit of people who don't know what that means: If you hold down a C Major chord, the arpeggiator will play a C, then E, then G, and loop back again. So rather than some arbitrary Note+0, Note+1, Note+2, you can use this to assign specific intervals for the arp sequence. This works great with the Note Latch/Hold.)

Polyphony isn't common in modular synthesis, since multitimbrality would require 2+ copies of every single module. You can do polyphony without multitimbrality, but then you still have to think about how you want to handle anything that is gated. All of this is solvable in software, as evidenced by the many Reaktor ensembles that do just that, and could be made to work in Modular if Pulse Code wants to. I kind of think that is an extra layer of abstraction from the design. The way it is now, everything does what it looks like it should.

will it have sequencer with sequential switch?

September 08, 2013  | person_outline qmish

It doesn't have a sequencer at the moment, but you'll like how I get around that in the next tutorial!

Thanks for explaining the tuning Tim, I've only played with Reaktor and Audulus so far and it seems that each has it's own way of tuning oscillators, and having semitone steps is a nice way of doing it.

Idea for part 2, maybe show how you could a pitch or mod envelope?

Also another vote for more than one cable colour, I can imagine it can look a little messy once you build up a more complicated synth!

September 09, 2013  | person_outline Codec303

Fantastic video, Tim! I've never really done the modular thing, so this will be a big help getting the first sound out!

P.S. - the new camera has really upped your game with videos!

September 09, 2013  | person_outline Joe

Great job, Tim. You may have figured this out already, but you can use the minus (-) next to the module category to collapse the categories, which makes it a little easier to navigate when you're looking for specific modules.

I look forward to part 2. :)

September 09, 2013  | person_outline Clif Johnston

Wow, no I hadn't figured that out! I kind of liked the bits in here where I was scrolling through everything though to give a good sense of how much it is shipping with. That will be a really handy tip for personal use though!

It's here! Yeah!

September 11, 2013  | person_outline synthandson

Cheers @synthandson - bit of a bugger to find, I had to search for rhythmstudio and look in the developer info section!

Downloading now :)

September 12, 2013  | person_outline Baddcr

Ooooops... that's a bit addictive! It's a beast - lovin it already! Congratulations to PulseCode - this is ace!

First play:


Drums from iElectribe, other two sounds from Modular. Wobble bass is a copy of VCF-12 with an additional vcf-01 and a vca-11 and playing the rate live, the noise is a modified Alien Comm C2, keyed and some messing with various settings. Recorded in Cubasis - another first play!

Both very enjoyable experiences :))

September 12, 2013  | person_outline Baddcr

Downloaded last night as I was falling asleep. Didn't go to sleep for several hours - sleep is so overrated. Never sleep when you can goof around with a new synth instead. Who needs serotonin? The cake was aroused to find a dinosaur with dark spam insoles cavorting on the pasture of her inner frosting... (Hmm. Maybe sleep isn't such a bad idea after all).

September 12, 2013  | person_outline ZenLizard

I wonder what modules they have in store for the future, given that it is already pretty robust. A wavetable module? A grain module? A step sequencer module? What would you all like to have? I need to get a list together to include in my first presumptuous nuisance email to the developer.

September 12, 2013  | person_outline ZenLizard

What? No fanfare... No headline? Not even tutorial 2? I figured today would be all about Modular. I can see how an app like Boinkss would take top billing (smirk), but I expected a mention. ;)

When they get to adding new modules in coming updates, I hope there will be new mixer and splitter modules with, like, 8 I/Os instead of 3, and no attenuation knobs. Those 3 port jobs take up precious rack space fast, especially when so often the signals don't require any attenuation.

September 12, 2013  | person_outline ZenLizard

I'm a complete/total/utter newb when it comes to this type of music making and wizardry, but i've gotta say, i'm really fascinated by this. The number of free modules is great, and the fact that a full "subscription" to all future modules is only $5 is brilliant. Might just have to take the plunge on this today.

September 12, 2013  | person_outline David

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