My modular electronics rigs are constantly in flux. When I first began assembling the original box I figured I’d “design an instrument” and then feel good and have that to work with. But it didn’t turn out that way. And trying to make it turn out that way–a static piece of gear–just isn’t the way I am. I’ve come to accept that.

What started as a single box eventually grew to three: a bass processing rig, an effects-and-modulating-a-collaborator rig, and the “space & time” larger rig. I’ve been doing a pretty good job at drawing the line at 3 but truth-be-told there are some smaller little “desktop” pieces that occasionally get rebuilt for specific tasks.

Each box fulfills a specific function. But often at the studio they all get wired together and that leads me to re-arrange things. Or I have a gig that I’m playing out and I really want to be able to use one module or another and then it all gets sorted around.

The bass synth, probably in the greatest disarray since it’s effects section has been pilfered for other duties. 

The act of getting in and re-organizing things, I’ve come to accept, is in fact an aspect of the music. Just as learning scales and fingerings and bowing on my bass. Choosing which piece of processing power resides nearby to another processor has implications for the sound and for the musical choices I make. When I find myself resorting to a specific sound too often I simply move the module or remove it from the system entirely for awhile. I wish I could do that with some of the finger patterns embodied in my hands.

Specific projects also lead to re-organizations. I have three things at the moment which are making use of the modular, Adam Ploof’s “Ideas Have People” electro-classical ensemble, incidental music that I’m making for a production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and my on-going bass-electronics explorations (including upcoming improvisations with others). As a result everything is all over the map. But as these shows lock down and firm up so will my system.

The effects box, also pretty seriously pilfered for other uses.

I chose these formats of cases based on logistics: they all fit in the overhead compartment. The smaller ones can fit under a seat in front of me as well. In addition, they carry the less-common Pulp Logic 1u Tile format: a great source of inexpensive utilities and attenuators to do the kind of detailed control-voltage tweaking that is important to the sound worlds I make.

The Time & Space box, where most of the parts ended up.

Each runs a different power system, not exactly by design but just how it happened over time. All three power systems work fine, have small quirks, and sound good. The heavy rails in the “effects” box are simple and keep a nice plain profile in TSA’s x-ray and handle the jostle of travel a little easier (being screwed down). The larger “Time & Space” box has an over-powered behemoth power distribution system which is great and prevents me from ever worrying about how much stuff I put in that rack. The “bass-synth” has a nice simple distro-board that does the job.

Using the eurorack synth has taught me tons about electronics certainly. But more than that it’s had an impact on how I think about music. More on that in another article.