I was recently in NYC improvising with Anne Lanzilotti, for our collaborative project The Yes &. I’ll write more about this project later but for now the thing to know is this:  Anne improvises using a wide array of the extended techniques for viola that she uses to such musical effect while I take the sound and run it through a modular synthesizer/effects rig. It’s great fun and if you’re a musician I recommend doing something like this yourself.

Part of the challenge of this format is figuring out the wiring. Anytime a modular system is involved wiring issues explode exponentially. Wires for connecting sound and control signals. Wires for amplification and audio interfacing. Wires for power.

Within this mess there’s the similar-wires-that-behave-ever-so-slightly-differently. Take audio formats for example. Anne’s viola microphone takes an XLR plug and requires phantom power. My modular runs a mini tip-sleeve cable at +20v (modulars run super hot as a way of increasing the signal to noise ratio in an inherently noisy system). Most digital interfaces accept audio on XLR or tip-ring-sleeve at +4.

This means that in order for my sound to be anywhere near the same volume as Anne’s I need to run all kinds of pads or lowered volume etc. I had decided to leave my interface module–which would have made connecting very easy–back home in the hopes I could find something similar in NYC. Long story, shorter: it didn’t work out that way.

I ended up improvising and repurposing some voltage controlled amp units in my modular and a knob plugged into the cv control of those modules to make a stereo volume knob I could use to turn everything down. It worked alright though it took up three of my sound resources and the balance was a little off.

This sort of thing happens, maybe more because I’m still not a master of the electronic hardware. But when it does it’s good to remember that improvisation isn’t just for sounds, it’s a way of persevering and finding solutions in real time.