Synth Artist Thought Experiment to Discover the Modular Already In Your Rig

Back on March 7th I presented a workshop in Boulder called "Intro to Patching Virtual Modular Synths". I thought I'd pass along a concept from this workshop that might save you money as well as inspire you to start down the path of modular and semi-modular sound design with your existing rig.

Many of you already have modular and semi-modular synths but don't necessarily view your current rig with this lens. To illustrate this idea I came up with the following thought experiment.

I've spent a lot of time doing sound design on the Waldorf Blofeld. It's not one knob per function, but does have a nice display with interactive feedback on sound design elements. It's also semi-modular. After some dedicated use with instruments like this and more complex plugins, you start holding the architecture in your head. As a thought experiment I thought it would be interesting to pull apart the modules used in a Blofeld preset and rack them up as if they were in a hardware rack - then draw patch cables that represent what is really going on with the preset and signal path.

I also own Waldorf Largo which is very similar to the Blofeld (see this post and mindmap Waldorf Largo vs Blofeld). This being the case, to save time,  I took screen shots of the Largo and then laid them out in a "case".


 Here is the closeup.


Using the matrix in Blofeld, or just about any other instrument that has a robust modulation matrix, you can override the default signal flow and - voila - you realize you have a  modular or semi-modular  hidden in plain sight within your rig :^)

One last note on the Blofeld before you move on. If you have a Blofeld, make sure you schedule some time to check out binary modifiers in the mod matrix. Here is an excellent paper on the topic from

To illustrate some of the sonic range you can get with an instrument like Largo/Blofeld when you take advantage of the mod matrix to add real-time expression here is horror soundtrack I produced solely using Largo in one real-time improvised pass.

When you are alone in the dark your mind will play tricks. 

Over the last year I've been spending time listening to the tone. harmonics, overtones, and distortion created by expressive electric guitar greats like David Gilmour. "Alone in the Dark" is my exploration of expressive manipulation of harmonics and distortion with a single synthesizer patch custom programmed. As a result you'll hear me go beyond the sonic range of guitars into the sub-harmonic realm.

Another awesome synth you might not have considered as  semi-modular is Native Instruments Absynth. All along it's signal path you can use the edit button to swap in a huge variety of modules overriding the default module for each slot.


You can even swap modules within modules. For example, if you select a filter type that supports feedback, you can swap in a wave shaper, frequency shifter, or ring modulator. 


BTW - Manipulating the audio in the feedback of the filter is a great way to add non-linear results to sounds that would normally be in the realm of unstable analog circuits. 

A sound design experiment showing the darker virtual analog modelling side of Absynth (no samples here) to illustrate Absynth's range beyond the typical motion pad :^) This piece is an improvisation using an original preset patched with two oscillator in single mode and two Filters with feedback. I'm using waveshaping feedback mode and modulating filters and resonance with envelopes which creates the sonic movement as the envelopes play out. 

Another great and affordable choice if you want the vibe of working with patch cables is U-HE ACE. It's only around $80, sounds fantastic, has a very good manual, has a great set of free YouTube tutorial videos and recipes produced by U-HE, and is way more than the sum of it's parts.


 It's a great learning and teaching instrument and using ACE will help you wrap your head around modular sound design recipes. Working with ACE could help you make better decisions about what you might want in a hardware system.

To help give you a jump-start check out my U-HE ACE Patch Cable 101 video - 29k views and counting :^)


Need more than ACE? 

Here are some other excellent choices in the virtual realm.

Of course this is a partial list of what's available. Pop the hood on some of your favorite virtual instruments - or put a new lens on the way you look at your existing hardware. Perhaps you'll find some modular and semi-modular joy in what you already have. 

I hope this post inspires you to use what you've got and/or helps save you time in money when considering choices in the hardware realm. Happy patching!

Hosting Boulder Synthesizer Meetup #36 - Live Looping in Ableton Live w/ Serafin Sanchez, Music by Darren Kramer


I'll be hosting Boulder Synthesizer Meetup #36 tonight. We'll have a great lineup with Serafin Sanchez presenting and Darren Kramer performing at the after meetup.

Fun fact - meetup now has 275 members!!!

See you locals tonight. If you are ever visiting the Boulder/Denver area on the 2nd Tuesday of a month we'd love to see you.

Thanks to Ableton for swag for giveaways and the The Walnut Room for giving us a home.

To give you a taste for what will be going down during the after-meetup, check out Darren Kramer's "Heavy Metal Paperclip" featuring  live looping trombone through guitar effects.

 Oh, and if you want to check out music from our members here is our moderated soundcloud group.

Synth Artist Tip: Fingering Technique and Hand Position Cross-Pollination - Or How I'm Bringing Grid Chops Back to the Keyboard


Like so many of us, my first interface for synthesis was akeyboard. I grew up playing organ, then gigged 100s of shows playing synth keys in an alt-rock band in a past lifetime.

Five years ago when I was designing a studio and performance rig for my original albums and shows, I started embracing a wide variety of controllers such as gesture-based infrared Percussa AudioCubes, as well as grids such as Tenori-On, and Launchpad. Over the past year-and-a-half, I've been playing the Ableton Push - like a lot. I'm hooked on the isomorphic note mode and I really love the feel and response of the pads.  

The isomorphic nature of the Push encourages you to hold your hand in certain shapes when playing in note mode. The pad response also encourages you to vary the tension in your hand in ways that are just different from what you are used to on keys. If your hand is very tense your fingers and hands bounce of the pads with much more force than on a synth action or piano keyboard.

After months of mostly playing on the Push I started working on a new long-form piece on the Nord ad 4. The Nord Lead 4 has the lightest synth keyboard action of any keyboard I've ever owned. I really love it.  As I was riffing out and experimenting with new ideas I noticed my hand position was different. I was using a more clutching rigid hand position with more tension in my hand just out of habit from playing chords and doing melodic work on Push. I started to run with this idea and started playing they keys more like a push. I've come up with all sorts of new chops as a result. 

In a related note - you can of course go the other way. The always amazing and inspirational Jeremy Ellis is a great example of someone taking piano training to a responsive grid. This video illustrates some of the hand position and rigidity I was mentioning.

I have spent over five years jumping from controller to controller. So what's different this time? It was the dedication to the Push for months  - and break from keys that allowed me to form a different habit, and also create a gap where the other technique wasn't used and lose a bit of the old habit in the short-term.

Like the old saying "travel expands the mind" - travelling to the Push, then coming back to keys has expanded my chops on the keyboard.

Time for a trip. Where can you travel "instrument-wise" to expand your chops?

Synth Artist Tip: Dedication to Small Set of Instruments


"Dedication" has been my watchword for the last few years. I've spent 100s of hours working with a small set of instruments -  Octatrack, Nord Lead 4, Ableton Push, and Absynth.

The payoff is when you transcend the technology you can make and change sonic decisions in real-time and focus on making music and live in the moment. It also allows you to make deeper connections to the music and other artists when collaborating and in ensemble situations. Another payoff when you deepen your relationship with your instrument is that you end up building a signature vocabulary of chops and sounds.

"Inside the Grid on Altair IV" by Mark Mosher. A One-Note One-Patch Soundscape in Absynth 5 from Mark Mosher on Vimeo.

 While this might seem obvious, I'm making a point of stating all this here as a nudge. In the world of electronic music it's easy to get caught up in solving creative issues by buying more gear or more sound sets. The alternative path of dedication to a small number of instruments will get your further down the road of your unique artist journey.

As you build up your chops and "voice" through your instruments odds are you'll also be invited to collaborate more - which again pushes your craft. It all comes full circle. 

14259083805_158e9c3c1e_oPerforming in a collaboration at the Asheville Electro-Music festival 2014 with 16-MCollaboration with Sally Sparks, Bill Fox, Mark Moheny (photoby Adam-Holquist). 

You'll also be more ready for short-notice opportunities like being asked to do an impromptu performance while visiting a radio station to promote a show. 

Mark Mosher (Push) & Victoria Lundy (Theremin) Live In-Studio Performance University of Colorado Boulder Radio1190 from Mark Mosher on Vimeo.

The instruments you pick almost don't matter - although - I do recommend instruments with depth that will reward your dedication. My personal picks of Octatrack and Nord Lead 4 allwed me to recapture the notion of a hardware "trinity" (synth, sampler, drum machine) with morphing expression. Push turns all of Live into a massive modular backpackable (a big pack mind you) environment with almost no mousing. Absynth allows me to do very complex sound design and shaping. You'll also notice my picks are all quite complimentary. They offer a variety of experiences depending on the situation and my mood.

 Consider yourself nudged :^)

Synth Performance Tip: Rehearse in the Many Lighting Conditions


Can you read the labels on the knobs and switches? Neither can I. Point being that you can never count on a particular light condition at a show.

Memorize the function and workflow of you instruments in near dark conditions where you can't read labels. This will prepare you for anything. 

It's also a good idea to test you rig in bright sunlight. Better to find out you can't see anything at rehearsal than at a gig. Then come up with work arounds to remedy the situation. 

Back in the day I gigged with an Ensoniq ESQ-1. I remember I was going to perform at an outdoor show. I couldn't see anything when I tested in bright sunlight. I built a little sun shield out of cardboard and black electrical tape.


Video: Rick Wakeman Solo Performance Live At Montreux 2003

I've seen a lot of Rick Wakeman videos on the YouTubes, but this one is pretty damn fantastic. It's a solo Performance Live At Montreux 2003 while touring with Yes - He looks pretty exhausted by the end of this blistering 5 minute plus performance. Fantastic!

Photos from Denver Synth Meet 2015

Mark Mosher - Denver Synth 01b - photo by synthtopia

I attended and performed at the Denver Synth Meet on March 14th. It was a great event with many attendees coming in from out of town. 

Here are some photos of the general event as an album on Flickr.

After 5pm, musical performances began which included the following lineup.


I performed my full controllerism set performing songs off of my three alien invasion cinematic electronica albums Reboot, I Hear Your Signals, and Fear Cannot Save Us

Synthtopia was in the house and got some fantastic photos of my set. I performed using Ableton Live with tons of virtual instruments I played using Ableton Push, keys (Nord Lead 4), Tenori-On, and Percussa Audio Cubes. on the center screen were my visuals which are created on the fly with live camera input and real-time FX (Live acts as my controller hub for this).  I was honored that vent founder Chris Blarsky run a second set of visuals on the outside screens during my set.

Here is a flickr album of my set

What a great event - especially for the first year.