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  • Alex Tebeleff

Approaching Ambient with 'Just Friends' and 'Elements'

I've been trying to slow things down recently in my patches on my eurorack modular synth system. Ambient music like Hiroshi Yoshimura and Harold Budd helped lift my spirits and lower my anxiety when we were quarantining during covid. Though I have usually focused on more groove oriented music on my modular system, I've been feeling like it is time to do something more calming.

Well, the piece in progress in this video is not exactly what I'd call "calming". It does however have a mood and energy that's slower and more enveloping. It does bring to mind a feeling like the way the aforementioned ambient and environmental music does for me. Closer to Brian Eno's Ambient 4 rather than Ambient 1, shall we say. So, while this piece feels too otherworldly so far to be very relaxing, it does have a grounded and meditative feeling that I've been searching for more of in much of my music.

In this particular patch, I set up multiple voices, but ended up focusing on two. Sequencing of both voices courtesy of a Make Noise Rene 2 + Tempi combo. Extra sound and color courtesy of SSF Vortices and UAD Curve Bender and Zener Limiter plugins via Apollo Console.

The first voice is a Mannequins Just Friends in Sound/Cycle mode through a Mannequins Three Sisters. A synced Mannequins Mangrove provides audio rate FM on Just Friends for lots of unique and engaging harmonics for the Three Sisters filter to cut into. Three outs from Just Friends go into hi, bandpass, and low inputs on Three Sisters in Formant mode, with Three Sisters set up to function like a crossfading notch multi-filter with the resonance set inversely. It sounds to me somewhere in the territory of a phaser effect, but certainly it's own thing. Last, Three Sisters All output goes into a heavily modulated Make Noise Erbeverb reverb for a surreal sense of shifting space and further harmonic modulation. Lots of modulation involved, but XAOC Devices Batumi LFO's and Mannequins Cold Mac are pulling the heavy weight here.

The second voice is a Mutable Instruments Elements going into a Mutable Instruments Beads, again with lots of modulation. The key on this voice is it's being controlled by an Intellijel Planar 2 joystick. So while the first Mannequins voice supplies the more "stable" siren-esque modulating pattern, the Mutable Instruments voice gets triggered by the manual gate from the Planar 2, with heavy modulation coming in realtime from controlling the joystick itself. The Mutable voice is a more unwieldy and dynamic contrast to the Mannequins voice's more stable, shifting drone.

As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or want to learn more about how to use modular.

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