Having lately been interested in modular synths, I began to look at the sonic capabilities laying in gear already in my arsenal.
So part of what makes a modular synth so interesting is its myriad variations which allow one to route anything almost anywhere. Sure, great, but there are a few concessions. They are often monophonic, large and expensive.
Modulars use CV (control voltage) to modulate and control many parameters. I began to think, why use CV when you an use midi CCs? Well, your modern synth probably accepts midi CC to control and modulate parameters, so why not use them? For instance, the KORG Minilogue only has one amp envelope, but with programming, you can send separate volume CC messages to allow the volume of the 2 VCOs going into the synths Mix section to be controlled separately. For instance, using midi CC to the 2 oscillator independent volume controls can allow you to “cross-fade” for wavetable style pads.
I use Ableton and Max4Live which has some really sweet midi CC patches. LFOs and Envelope Max patches can send midi cc and the built in midi plugins can help create chords or a sub octave, velocity messages or other control.
Here is an example of a “modular” style patch I might make on my Minilogue. Some of the pre built Max patches can send CC an some can only modulate knobs within Ableton. (If I can’t send CC I will drop an instance of the Max patch “CC16” which allows you to send 16 different user-defined CC number messages.) To route a separate Max Envelope patch to the volume of VCO 2 Level, I drop a “CC16” patch in, and set one of the knobs to send midi CC 40. Then map the envelope to the knob sending midi cc 40. Adjust the envelope to taste, and you are in business. Instant 2nd envelope! Yes, I am still limited to the one hard-wired Amp Envelope in the Minilogue, but if I duplicate this envelope and route it to CC39 I then have an envelope controlling VCO1’s Level, essentially bypassing the internal VCA Envelope. If I want to route an LFO to the OSC Shape I just drop the Max patch in and assign the Midi CC parameter within the patch to midi CC 36. By using this process, I can also add an LFO to one VCO pitch.
It is also possible to use Ableton’s built in midi effects. I can add a midi effect in Ableton to change my single notes into chords. If I drop another processor, I can limit the notes to a key so everything plays in key. So I have a patch here with 2 separate Amp Envelopes, a pitch LFO, a shape LFO, and a chord harmonizer. Plus I can use the internal LFO and filter envelope of the Minilogue, or bypass those and control them with Max4Live sending midi CC as well.
Basically I am hacking the synth to control the OSC and Filter and digitally controlling (via midi cc) an infinite amount of LFOs and Envelopes, all of which can edit the synth or other LFO and Envelope parameters. Endless.
The beauty of Max4Live is also that you can use other controls to extend a hardware synths sonic and performance potential. I love my Mopho since I can assign after touch to vibrato depth, allowing me to lean on the note more to get vibrato. The Max expression patch lets you assign aftertouch to the internal LFO intensity. I also use my Mopho expression pedal and assign expression to the LPF for foot controlled filter sweeps.
Hopefully this opens up some ideas to to you take this even further and get more mileage out of synths you may already have.
DON’T HAVE MAX 4 LIVE?
You can create a looping clip with midi CC automation to work as a free running/ sync’d LFO and allow it to play live while you perform. Ableton can take input from 2 midi tracks and merge them live so you can perform and record the info with the LFO. To one track or clip. Envelopes need to be programmed in, but Ableton makes it simple to copy and paste in an automation curve once you create it.