Exploring the World of Modular Synths: Artists Who Use Them

Modular synthesizers have been a staple in electronic music production for decades, allowing artists to create complex and evolving soundscapes with endless possibilities. In recent years, the modular synth community has seen a resurgence in popularity, with many new and established artists incorporating these versatile instruments into their music. From the classic analog modules of the 70s and 80s to the cutting-edge digital designs of today, there’s no shortage of ways to create unique and expressive sounds with a modular synth. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the artists who are using modular synths to push the boundaries of electronic music and create some truly amazing sounds. So let’s dive in and explore the world of modular synths!

What is Modular Synthesis?

Understanding the Basics

Modular synthesis is a type of synthesis that allows musicians and sound designers to create and manipulate sound using a series of interconnected modules. Each module performs a specific function, such as generating a specific waveform or controlling the level of a signal. The signal then passes from one module to another, allowing the user to shape and manipulate the sound in a variety of ways.

One of the key benefits of modular synthesis is the ability to create custom sounds that are not available in traditional synthesizers. By combining different modules and experimenting with different settings, users can create unique and complex sounds that can be used in a variety of musical genres.

Modular synthesis also allows for a high degree of flexibility and experimentation. Because the user can rearrange the modules in different configurations, it is possible to create a wide range of sounds using a single set of modules. This makes modular synthesis a popular choice for musicians and sound designers who want to explore new and creative sounds.

Overall, modular synthesis offers a powerful and flexible way to create and manipulate sound, making it a popular choice for artists and musicians looking to push the boundaries of sound design.

The Appeal of Modular Synthesis

Modular synthesis offers a level of customization and versatility that traditional synthesizers simply cannot match. This is because modular synthesizers are built from a series of interconnected modules, each of which performs a specific function. This allows users to create their own unique sounds by selecting and configuring the modules in different ways.

One of the biggest appeals of modular synthesis is the ability to create complex, evolving sounds that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with a traditional synthesizer. By combining different modules and experimenting with different configurations, users can create sounds that are dynamic, interactive, and responsive to their input.

Another major appeal of modular synthesis is the tactile experience of building and tweaking a synthesizer from scratch. For many artists, the process of designing and building a custom synthesizer is an integral part of the creative process. It allows them to explore new sounds and ideas, and to develop a deeper understanding of the technical aspects of music production.

Additionally, modular synthesizers are highly adaptable and can be used in a wide variety of musical contexts. Whether you’re a producer, a performer, or an experimental artist, a modular synthesizer can provide the tools you need to create new and exciting sounds.

Overall, the appeal of modular synthesis lies in its ability to offer infinite possibilities for sound creation and experimentation. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a curious beginner, a modular synthesizer can provide endless inspiration and creative challenges.

The Rise of Modular Synths in Electronic Music

Key takeaway: Modular synthesis offers a powerful and flexible way to create and manipulate sound, making it a popular choice for artists and musicians looking to push the boundaries of sound design.

The Evolution of Synthesizers

The evolution of synthesizers has been a long and fascinating journey, spanning over half a century. It all began in the 1950s with the invention of the first electronic synthesizer, the Theremin, which was followed by a series of groundbreaking inventions in the 1960s and 1970s. These included the Moog synthesizer, the ARP Odyssey, and the Roland SH-101, among others.

During this time, synthesizers were primarily used in the production of electronic and experimental music, but they quickly became an essential tool for composers and musicians across a wide range of genres. In the 1980s and 1990s, synthesizers became more affordable and accessible, leading to their widespread adoption in popular music.

However, it wasn’t until the 2000s that modular synthesizers began to gain popularity among musicians and producers. Modular synthesizers are characterized by their flexibility and the ability to create unique and complex sounds through the combination of various modules. This newfound popularity was driven by a growing interest in the creative possibilities of modular synthesis and the availability of affordable, high-quality modules.

Today, modular synthesizers are an integral part of electronic music production, and many artists have embraced them as a central component of their creative process. From ambient and techno to experimental and noise, modular synths have become an essential tool for exploring new sonic territories and pushing the boundaries of electronic music.

The Resurgence of Modular Synths

In recent years, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of modular synthesizers. This has been driven by a number of factors, including advances in technology, a renewed interest in analogue equipment, and a desire for greater flexibility and customization in music production.

One of the main factors contributing to the resurgence of modular synths is the advancement of technology. With the rise of digital audio workstations (DAWs) and virtual instruments, many artists have been seeking out more tactile and expressive ways to create music. Modular synthesizers offer a unique solution, as they allow for infinite possibilities in sound design and experimentation.

Another factor is the renewed interest in analogue equipment, which has been driven by a desire to escape the “sterility” of digital music production. Many artists have been drawn to the warm, organic sounds of analogue equipment, and modular synthesizers offer a way to incorporate these sounds into their music while still allowing for modern production techniques.

Finally, the resurgence of modular synths can also be attributed to a desire for greater flexibility and customization in music production. Unlike traditional synthesizers, which are often limited in their capabilities, modular synthesizers can be customized and expanded upon to suit the needs of the artist. This allows for a level of creative expression that is simply not possible with other types of equipment.

Overall, the resurgence of modular synths is a testament to the enduring appeal of analogue equipment and the limitless possibilities of electronic music production.

Famous Artists Who Use Modular Synths

Brian Eno

Brian Eno, a renowned musician, composer, and producer, has been known to utilize modular synthesizers in his creative process. Eno’s work in the music industry spans several decades, and his experimental approach to music has led him to explore various forms of technology and synthesizers.

One of Eno’s most famous albums, “Ambient 1: Music for Airports,” was created using a custom-built modular synthesizer system. Eno’s use of modular synthesizers has been instrumental in shaping his unique sound, which blends ambient, electronic, and experimental music elements.

Eno’s affinity for modular synthesizers is rooted in his interest in exploring new sonic possibilities and pushing the boundaries of traditional music composition. His use of these instruments has inspired countless other musicians and producers to experiment with modular synthesizers and incorporate them into their own music.

Eno’s approach to modular synthesis emphasizes the importance of serendipity and randomness in the creative process. He often employs unconventional techniques, such as using a chance operation to determine the pitch and duration of notes, which results in unexpected and intriguing musical passages.

Eno’s contributions to the world of modular synthesizers have not gone unnoticed. He has been recognized for his innovative approach to music production and has received numerous accolades, including two Grammy Awards.

Eno continues to be an influential figure in the music industry, and his work with modular synthesizers has left an indelible mark on the electronic music scene. His dedication to exploring new sonic territories and embracing the unpredictability of modular synthesis has inspired countless musicians and producers to push the limits of their creativity.

Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin, born Richard David James, is a highly influential and innovative electronic musician from Cornwall, England. He is renowned for his unique sound, which incorporates elements of ambient, techno, and IDM (Intelligent Dance Music). James has been active in the electronic music scene since the late 1980s and has released numerous critically acclaimed albums, EPs, and singles.

Throughout his career, Aphex Twin has been known for his forward-thinking approach to music production, and his use of modular synthesizers has played a significant role in his creative process. His love for modular synths dates back to the early 1990s when he began experimenting with analog synthesizers and started to explore the world of modular synthesis.

Aphex Twin’s affinity for modular synths can be heard in many of his most iconic tracks, such as “Windowlicker,” “Come to Daddy,” and “Xtal.” He often combines the raw, otherworldly sounds generated by his modular synths with digital elements, creating a distinctive sonic landscape that is both captivating and unsettling.

One of the reasons Aphex Twin is drawn to modular synths is their ability to produce unpredictable and unique sounds. He has mentioned in interviews that he enjoys the element of chance involved in working with modular synths, as it allows him to stumble upon new and interesting sounds that he might not have discovered otherwise.

In addition to his work as a musician, Aphex Twin has also been involved in the design and production of his own line of modular synthesizers, called the “Acid Lab AFX Modular System.” This project reflects his deep passion for modular synthesis and his desire to share his knowledge and expertise with other musicians and producers.

Aphex Twin’s influence on the electronic music scene cannot be overstated, and his innovative use of modular synths has inspired countless artists to explore this expressive and dynamic form of music production.

James Holden

James Holden is a British electronic musician and producer who has gained international recognition for his innovative use of modular synthesizers in his music. Holden’s music is characterized by its rich textures, intricate soundscapes, and dynamic rhythms, all of which are created using a combination of hardware and software synthesizers.

One of Holden’s most notable works is his album “The Inherent Sadness of Sunset,” which was released in 2013. This album features a wide range of modular synthesizers, including the Buchla 200, the Serge modular, and the Doepfer A100, among others. Holden’s use of these synthesizers allows him to create complex and evolving soundscapes that are both haunting and beautiful.

Holden is also known for his work as a remixer and producer, and he has worked with a variety of artists, including Four Tet, Jon Hopkins, and Oneohtrix Point Never. In addition to his own music, Holden has also contributed to the development of new software and hardware tools for electronic musicians, including the development of a new modular synthesizer module with the company Punctum.

Overall, James Holden’s use of modular synthesizers in his music demonstrates the incredible versatility and creative potential of these unique instruments. Through his innovative use of modular synthesizers, Holden has helped to push the boundaries of electronic music and has inspired countless other artists to explore this exciting and dynamic field.

The Role of Modular Synths in Modern Music Production

Creative Techniques and Processes

  • Utilizing Modular Synths for Unique Sound Design
    • Creating Custom Sounds by Combining Different Modules
      • Experimenting with Different Combinations of Modules
      • Exploring the Possibilities of Waveform Generators, Filters, and Effects
    • Layering Sounds to Create Complex Textures
      • Stacking Multiple Modular Synth Patches for Rich Soundscapes
      • Using Envelope Followers and LFOs to Control the Timbre of the Sounds
  • Modular Synths as a Tool for Live Performance and Improvisation
    • Improvising with a Flexible Sound Palette
      • Using a Modular Synth Setup to Generate Unique Sounds in Real-time
      • Adapting to Changing Musical Moods and Genres
    • Creating Dynamic Live Performances with Feedback Loops and Effects
      • Using Delays, Reverbs, and Other Effects to Create Spatial Soundscapes
      • Using Modulation Effects to Manipulate the Timbre of the Sounds in Real-time
  • Embracing the Limitations of Modular Synths for Creative Constraints
    • Exploring the Boundaries of the Modular Synth System
      • Limiting the Number of Modules or Parameters to Challenge the Creativity
      • Forcing Oneself to Think Outside the Box
    • Finding Beauty in the Imperfections of the Sounds
      • Embracing the Glitches and Quirks of the Modular Synth System
      • Using Unconventional Techniques to Create Unique Sounds.

Experimentation and Innovation

Modular synthesizers have become increasingly popular among artists looking to push the boundaries of sound design and experimentation. These versatile instruments allow for endless sonic possibilities, enabling musicians to create unique and unconventional sounds that were previously unattainable. Here are some examples of artists who have embraced modular synths and used them to drive innovation in their music production.


Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes, is a Canadian musician and visual artist who has made a name for herself by blending pop, electronic, and experimental music. She is known for her avant-garde production techniques and her use of modular synths in her music. Grimes’ sound is characterized by its ethereal, dreamy quality, which she achieves by layering intricate synth textures and manipulating sounds in unconventional ways. Her music is a testament to the power of modular synths in creating otherworldly and innovative sounds.

Death Grips

Death Grips is an experimental hip-hop group that has gained a cult following for their unconventional approach to music production. The group’s members, Zach Hill and Andy Morin, are known for their DIY ethic and their use of modular synths in their music. They have used these instruments to create a unique and aggressive sound that challenges the conventions of hip-hop production. Death Grips’ music is raw and intense, with layers of distorted synths and dissonant sounds that create a sense of chaos and tension.

Oneohtrix Point Never

Oneohtrix Point Never, also known as OPN, is the stage name of American musician Daniel Lopatin. He is known for his avant-garde electronic music and his use of modular synths in his productions. Lopatin’s music is characterized by its complex soundscapes and its blending of electronic and organic elements. He uses modular synths to create intricate textures and to manipulate sounds in unconventional ways, resulting in a sound that is both experimental and emotionally charged.

In conclusion, the use of modular synths in modern music production has enabled artists to push the boundaries of sound design and experimentation. Grimes, Death Grips, and Oneohtrix Point Never are just a few examples of the many musicians who have embraced these instruments and used them to create innovative and unconventional sounds. Modular synths have opened up new possibilities for music production, and their impact on the music industry cannot be overstated.

The Future of Modular Synths in Music

Emerging Trends and Technologies

Integration with Digital Technology

  • Increased integration with digital technology
  • Virtual instruments and software
  • Combining digital and analog sound creation

Live Performance and Improvisation

  • Live performance and improvisation
  • Real-time manipulation and processing
  • Interactive and generative music

Multidisciplinary Collaborations

  • Multidisciplinary collaborations
  • Art, science, and technology
  • Experimental and innovative music creation

Customization and Personalization

  • Customization and personalization
  • DIY and modular synth kits
  • Tailored sound design and performance

These emerging trends and technologies in the world of modular synths are shaping the future of music creation and performance. The integration of digital technology is opening up new possibilities for virtual instruments and software, allowing for a combination of digital and analog sound creation. Live performance and improvisation are becoming more prominent, with real-time manipulation and processing enabling interactive and generative music. Additionally, multidisciplinary collaborations are pushing the boundaries of music creation, with artists working at the intersection of art, science, and technology. Finally, customization and personalization are becoming increasingly important, with DIY modular synth kits and tailored sound design and performance providing endless possibilities for artists to express their unique creative visions.

The Continuing Appeal of Modular Synths

The popularity of modular synthesizers has not waned since their introduction in the 1960s. In fact, they have experienced a resurgence in recent years, with artists from various genres embracing their unique sound and versatility. This section will delve into the reasons behind the continuing appeal of modular synths, which has contributed to their enduring success.

  • Flexibility and Customization: One of the key factors driving the appeal of modular synths is their ability to be customized and adapted to the needs of individual artists. The modular nature of these synthesizers allows users to select and combine different modules to create unique sounds and effects. This flexibility empowers artists to experiment with their music, enabling them to achieve the desired sonic palettes for their compositions.
  • Limited Production Runs and Exclusivity: Many artists are drawn to modular synths because of their limited production runs and exclusive nature. Manufacturers often produce limited quantities of these synthesizers, resulting in a sense of exclusivity that can enhance the allure for collectors and musicians alike. This scarcity contributes to the appeal of modular synths, as they offer a unique and distinctive sound that sets them apart from other synthesizers on the market.
  • Artistic Expression and Creative Exploration: The ability to explore new sounds and creative possibilities is a major factor in the enduring appeal of modular synths. These synthesizers offer artists an opportunity to push the boundaries of their artistic expression, experimenting with unconventional techniques and innovative sonic textures. This freedom to explore and invent allows artists to tap into their creativity, fostering a sense of limitless potential and inspiring new musical directions.
  • Emulation of Classic Synths: Another reason for the continued appeal of modular synths is their ability to emulate the sounds of classic synthesizers from the past. Many modern modular synths are designed to recreate the sounds of iconic synthesizers such as the Moog Minimoog, Roland SH-101, and ARP Odyssey, among others. This capability enables artists to incorporate the timeless sounds of these classic synths into their compositions, adding a vintage flair to their music while still benefiting from the modern features and flexibility of contemporary modular synths.
  • Collaborative and Social Aspects: The modular synth community has fostered a sense of collaboration and social interaction among artists, engineers, and enthusiasts. This camaraderie has contributed to the appeal of modular synths, as artists can share their knowledge, ideas, and creations with like-minded individuals. Online forums, social media groups, and gatherings such as modular synth meetups provide opportunities for artists to connect, learn, and grow together, further enhancing the appeal of these unique instruments.

In conclusion, the continuing appeal of modular synths can be attributed to their flexibility, customization, limited production runs, artistic expression, emulation of classic synths, and collaborative aspects. These factors have combined to make modular synths an essential tool for many artists, driving their popularity and ensuring their enduring success in the world of music.

The Enduring Legacy of Modular Synths in Music

Despite the rise of digital technology and software-based music production, modular synthesizers continue to hold a significant place in the world of music. The enduring legacy of these versatile instruments can be seen in the ongoing popularity of modular synths among artists across various genres.

One reason for the enduring legacy of modular synths is their ability to provide a unique sonic character that cannot be replicated by software synthesizers. The sheer variety of modules and the potential for customization and experimentation means that modular synths can produce sounds that are both otherworldly and familiar. This sonic flexibility has made them a staple of electronic music, but they have also been embraced by rock, pop, and hip-hop artists who are looking for new ways to create distinctive sounds.

Another reason for the enduring legacy of modular synths is their role in shaping the development of electronic music. As mentioned earlier, the first modular synths were developed in the 1960s, and they played a key role in the development of electronic music as a genre. Artists like Wendy Carlos, who used a modular synth to create the iconic soundtrack for the film A Clockwork Orange, and Isao Tomita, who used a modular synth to create electronic interpretations of classical music, helped to establish the modular synth as a legitimate instrument in the world of music.

Furthermore, the enduring legacy of modular synths can be seen in the ongoing popularity of DIY synth building. Many artists and enthusiasts have taken to building their own modular synths, either from kits or from scratch, as a way to create unique sounds and to connect with the history of electronic music. This trend has also led to the development of new communities and networks of artists and musicians who share a passion for modular synths and electronic music.

In conclusion, the enduring legacy of modular synths in music can be attributed to their ability to produce unique and versatile sounds, their role in shaping the development of electronic music, and their continued popularity among artists and musicians. As technology continues to evolve, it is likely that modular synths will continue to play an important role in the world of music, inspiring new generations of artists to push the boundaries of sound and creativity.

The Exciting Possibilities for the Future of Electronic Music

The future of modular synths in music is exciting, and there are many possibilities for the future of electronic music. With the ability to create new sounds and textures, modular synths open up a world of creative possibilities for musicians and producers.

One potential direction for the future of electronic music is the development of new sonic palettes and textures. With the ability to design and build custom synthesizers, musicians can create unique and experimental sounds that have never been heard before. This could lead to a new era of electronic music that pushes the boundaries of what is possible with sound.

Another possibility is the integration of modular synths with other technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. This could lead to the creation of new and innovative ways of producing and composing music, and could open up new avenues for experimentation and exploration.

In addition, the democratization of modular synths through affordable and accessible technology has made it possible for more people to explore and experiment with modular synthesis. This could lead to a new wave of electronic music creators, and could bring a fresh perspective to the genre.

Overall, the future of modular synths in music is full of exciting possibilities, and the potential for new and innovative sounds and technologies is limitless. As musicians and producers continue to explore the world of modular synthesis, the future of electronic music is sure to be an exciting and dynamic one.


1. What is a modular synth?

A modular synth is a type of synthesizer that consists of multiple interconnected modules, each of which performs a specific function such as generating a specific type of sound or controlling a parameter of the synth. Unlike a traditional synth, where all the components are integrated into a single device, a modular synth allows for greater flexibility and customization by allowing the user to connect different modules in different configurations.

2. Why do artists use modular synths?

Artists use modular synths for their ability to create unique and complex sounds that cannot be achieved with traditional synthesizers. The modular nature of these synths allows for endless possibilities for sound design and experimentation, making them a popular choice among electronic music producers and musicians. Additionally, modular synths often come with a high degree of control over the sound, allowing for a more hands-on approach to sound creation.

3. Who are some famous artists that use modular synths?

Many well-known electronic music artists use modular synths, including Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, Depeche Mode, Daft Punk, and more. In addition, many producers and musicians in the experimental and ambient genres also use modular synths, such as Tim Hecker, Grouper, and William Basinski.

4. How do modular synths differ from traditional synths?

Traditional synthesizers typically have a fixed set of parameters and a limited number of modules, while modular synths offer a high degree of customization and flexibility. With a traditional synth, the user has little control over the sound generation process, while with a modular synth, the user can create their own unique sound generation processes by connecting different modules in different configurations. Additionally, modular synths often offer a higher degree of control over the sound, such as the ability to manipulate individual waveforms or control the envelope of a sound.

5. What are some popular brands of modular synths?

There are many brands of modular synths available, each with their own unique features and capabilities. Some popular brands include Moog, Buchla, Eurorack, and Make Noise. Each brand offers a different approach to modular synthesis, so it’s important to research and try out different options to find the one that best suits your needs.

Modular synth scares me, so I learned how to use it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *