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Like the modulars themselves, an upcoming documentary on these analog synth beasts has been lurking behind closed doors. But that won’t be the case for long. “I Dream of Wires,” the crowd-funded documentary that probes artists’ fascination with making music by connecting patch cords, will see a public showcase at Montreal’s MUTEK Festival. This and an upcoming film release, atop a big get-together in New York, could make this a proper summer of modular.

In anticipation of their showcase, MUTEK has released two significant excerpts from the film. One talks to Carl Craig, Detroit techno legend, top. Craig describes how this tech has influenced his music, and what inspired him to look at modulars. The other clip – true to MUTEK’s Canadian home base and the origin country of the film itself – looks at Canada’s contribution to electronic music history. Detroit’s place in techno certainly needs no introduction, but it’s about time Canada got its role in synthesis recognized (below), having given the world pioneer Hugh Le Caine and the University of Toronto Electronic Music Lab, among other highlights. This excerpt turns the clock forward to modern-day synth goodness. We’re of course happy to know of a certain digital synth designed in Canada, but here the modular Renaissance gets the spotlight. As the film creators explain:

Recently, Canada has again come to play a significant role with the modern day resurgence of modular synthesizers; it is home to two highly respected manufacturers: Modcan, founded by Toronto’s Bruce Duncan, was the first company to reintroduce modular synthesizers to the post-MIDI marketplace, and Intellijel, founded by Vancouver’s Danjel Van Tijn, is one of the fastest growing and most respected lines of Eurorack synthesizer modules.

The MUTEK showcase will include live modular performances by Sealey/Greenspan/Lanza (Orphx/Junior Boys), Keith Fullerton Whitman (Kranky/Editions Mego), Solvent (Ghostly International/Suction Records), Clark (Warp Records), and Container (Spectrum Spools).

The film itself is a production of director Robert Fantinatto and Jason Amm (aka Ghostly International recording artist Solvent); Solvent is also composing the musical score. This isn’t simply a history of electronic music; instead, it focuses on the modern revival of the instruments. (The history is a subject of a future film, but we’ll let them finish this one first.)

It’s worth saying that modular synths aren’t all pleasure – they bring some pain, too. That’s why it’s worth watching the interviews excerpted in the November promo for the film. In that piece, even as they sing the praises of modular analog’s joys, musicians talk about challenges ranging from live performance setup to tuning. It’s impossible to understand the love for these instruments without grasping some of their idiosyncrasies. In the earlier clip, you see everyone from builder Lori Napoleon to pioneer and custodion of electronic music history Joel Chadabe to composers like the late Richard Lainhart and the legendary Morton Subotnick, as well as builders and the film’s own Solvent.

The filmmakers continue to raise funds from fans. A recent West Coast USA tour, funded by IndieGogo, added interviews with Trent Reznor, John Tejada, cEvin Key, Jack Dangers, Bernie Krause, Richard Devine, Make Noise, Cynthia, The Harvestman, SynthTech/MOTM, Metasonix, Intellijel, and others.

Round 3 funding: http://www.indiegogo.com/IDOW-round3

Keep tabs on the film on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/idreamofwiresdocumentary

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Electronic music making has had several major epochs. There was the rise of the hardware synth, first with modular patch cords and later streamlined into encapsulated controls, in the form of knobs and switches. There was the digital synth, in code and graphical patches. And there was the two-dimensional user interface.

We may be on the cusp of a new age: the three-dimensional paradigm for music making.

AudioGL, a spectacularly-ambitious project by Toronto-based engineer and musician Jonathan Heppner, is one step closer to reality. Three years in the making, the tool is already surprisingly mature. And a crowd-sourced funding campaign promises to bring beta releases as soon as this summer. In the demo video above, you can see an overview of some of its broad capabilities:

  • Synthesis, via modular connections
  • Sample loading
  • The ability to zoom into more conventional 2D sequences, piano roll views, and envelopes/automation
  • Grouping of related nodes
  • Patch sharing
  • Graphical feedback for envelopes and automation, tracked across z-axis wireframes, like circuitry

All of this is presented in a mind-boggling visual display, resembling nothing more than constellations of stars.

Is it just me, or does this make anyone else want to somehow combine modular synthesis with a space strategy sim like Galactic Civilizations? Then again, that might cause some sort of nerd singularity that would tear apart the fabric of the space-time continuum – or at least ensure we never have any normal human relationships again.

Anyway, the vitals:

  • It runs on a lowly Lenovo tablet right now, with integrated graphics.
  • The goal is to make it run on your PC by the end of the year. (Mac users hardly need a better reason to dual boot. Why are you booting into Windows? Because I run a single application that makes it the future.)
  • MIDI and ReWire are onboard, with OSC and VST coming.
  • With crowd funding, you’ll get a Win32/64 release planned by the end of the year, and betas by summer (Windows) or fall/winter (Mac).

I like this quote:

Some things which have influenced the design of AudioGL:
Catia – Dassault Systèmes
AutoCAD – Autodesk
Cubase – Steinberg
Nord Modular – Clavia
The Demoscene

Indeed. And with computer software now reaching a high degree of maturity, such mash-ups could open new worlds.

Learn about the project, and contribute by the 23rd of March via the (excellent) IndieGogo:

http://audiogl.com

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