Monday, December 29, 2008

The Serge

I tried really hard to come up with some kind of McCain "the surge is working" joke, but just couldn't. :( So anyway, this is the big Serge post, hopefully it does not disappoint.

As I mentioned in my recent post, over the course of researching the Buchla I started to see things that I did not like in my current system, or put maybe a more accurate way, advantages that I saw in other formats. Let's start with the most simple, and obvious, one. Banana jacks.

Using multiples in 1/4" or 1/8" is annoying as hell. I know it seems trivial, but *every time* I find myself wanting to use a multiple, it requires breaking half a patch down, exchanging cables and then retracing my steps so that I put it back together properly. With banana jacks, it's much more elegant. Need a mult? Just poke a jack in there and that's it. Seems like a small thing, but while it would be nice to have in Euro (really nice to have) it is almost required due to the level of functional density of each Serge module (not panel, but individual module - which is referred to as a "function block" in Serge-land). That brings me to my next advantage of the Serge. Functional density.

In Serge-land, they call this "patch programmability". Depending on how you patch a particular function block, you can achieve different results. The "Smooth / Stepped Generator" (SSG) for example, can not only be a S+H, but also a VC slew limiter, VC LFO (triangle and square), clock, LPF/LPG, lo-fi VCO, zero-crossing detector, and more with any combinations of these (that's right, most of those functions only require one half of the module!). This module is even one-upped by the "Dual Slope Generator" (DSG) which has an unprecedented number of patch programmable functions, yet on the surface, it's just an AD envelope generator. It's this "patch programmability" that really attracts me to the Serge system. The flexibility and range of sounds possible in even a single panel (or even M-odule) is rather astounding. Exhibit A is this fantastic demo from kkonkkrete which surfaced a few weeks ago.

Note that this video features only 2 M-odules, and throughout the video, some portions of the Sequencer A M-odule are not even used. It's quite amazing that the Creature M-odule (the one on the right side) is essentially a fully featured Serge system on it's own! This brings me to my next perceived advantage. Portability.

This is one of the advantages that I found in the Buchla which I think is very apparent here as well. A 3 panel Serge system would more or less be similar in size to a 12ws Buchla case and definitely give it a run for it's money, if not certainly beat it out feature-wise (but this isn't purely about features). My system, as it is now, is almost too large. I haven't even filled the case and I find that on many patches, some modules are just "in the way" and I end up having to work around them. A small detail, but to me it screams "you have to much shit that you don't use", and if I don't use it, it isn't that necessary. Maybe this just one of those "ebb and flow" things, but I like to have an efficient use of space, and when I find myself always turning to the same dozen or so modules, it's hard to fight off the urge to trim the fat, so to speak.

The final advantage is another one taken from my Buchla research and this is the dynamic control/interaction with the instrument. While it's no 222e Kinetic Input, the Serge TKB Touch Keyboard Sequencer is a very dynamic and expressive controller.

The sequencer is not unlike the mythical Milton (or maybe that should be the other way around). There are 4 "rows" of 16 steps. A standard clock steps through each of 16 stages, while a separate vertical clock with step through the 4 rows, allowing for 64 step patterns. Either the combined row output is available, or each row output separately, allowing for control of 4 separate modules for each stage. The direction of the sequencer can also change based on either a manual switch, or a trigger input. There is also a "random stage select" trigger input. When pulsed, it will select a random stage. And, speaking of stage selection, when the keyboard is linked with the sequencer, touching a key touchplate will immediately select that stage. It can be patched so that when pressing the key touchplate, the stage will be held and the sequencer will not advance. There is also key pressure voltage available, for more expression. Basically, it's the perfect combination of a keyboard controller and an analog sequencer.

So, until I've had some one-on-one face time with a Serge system and can make my final decision, I see some Serge in my future. My best assessment at this point would be to start with a Gator and Creature and add a TKB as early as financially possible. After using that system for a while, I'll have a better idea of what else I might need (if anything at all). That's another advantage of the Serge, not only can so much be achieved with only a couple panels, but it's pricey enough that you just don't go off buying more on a whim, something that happens with me constantly with euro. I just lack that willpower I guess.

My dilemma though is that I can't bear to part with a good chunk of my Euro system. Out of the modules that I use in practically every patch, I plan on keeping the following:

Livewire AFG (x2)
Livewire Vulcan Modulator
Livewire Dalek Modulator
Livewire Frequensteiner
Livewire Dual Cyclotron
Plan B M13 LPG
Plan B M14 Voltage Proc
Harvestman Stilton
Harvestman Evin (forthcoming)
Harvestman Tyme Sefari
Doepfer A-132-3

The Plan B M10s and M24 would be in there since those are used in every patch, but they have direct functional equivalents on the Serge. In fact, there's practically the same as the Serge DTG and SSG modules. As time goes on, I would consider loosing the Dual Cyclotron (which will be a hard one) and the Plan B M14 since both could be had in the Serge domain without too much trouble. As I said, I haven't had face time with the Serge VCO and Filters yet, so until I do, I can't imagine giving up the AFG+Frequensteiner sound. Even so, I can't imagine giving it up.

All of this Euro, plus some more, would fit rather nicely in one of the upcoming 9U A-100P portable cases that Doepfer has announced, which is what I would plan on transitioning the euro system into once they are available.

So, I'm not decided 100%, but this definitely feels like the direction that I want to move. Only time will tell.

I've linked to it where appropriate, but the "Ergres - Serge Fans" site has an extensive amount of info on Serge systems, as does Carbon111. They have been extremely helpful in the journey and if you are at all curious, I would suggest checking them out.


cebec said...

Good post, felix. I think you're right to hold on to what's in your list, too. You'll have a different voice to compare and contrast with the Serge and I think the Plan B and Livewire modules are a good complement.
Regarding face-time with a Serge -- maybe consider trying to meet up with someone within driving distance, if possible. I'm in Virginia and you're welcome any time but I think that's a bit far for you!

Carbon111 said...

I think the items you've chosen to keep are well-considered! The Plan-B and Harvestman stuff especially has functionality you won't find anywhere else.

The Serge is an amazing system! I sold an entire cabinet of Dotcom modules to fund my first Serge panel. Completely worth it!

VICMOD said...

As you may know I have a Buchla 200e (which I cant keep my fingers off of) a 4 panel Serge , a smaller euro system, and EMS Synthi.......

You will have so much fun with the Serge system, and then I suggest doing what I did and banana what you can of the euro. Some things like the Livewire AFG wont be bananafied. I have kept similar euro modules and they really compliment the Serge.

If the guy on the Serge forum who made the Buchla 12wls case I am def going to get one as portability is the key issue.

I think of my Serge/Euro as a Buchla 200 and the 200e is the 200e :-)

The biggest problem for euro is that now there are way too many choices and as you say a large system ends up being too much


felix said...

Thanks for the comments guys!

@cebec - I'm setting up arrangements to play with a local system, sometime after the new year, so not too long away! If I'm ever in Virginia though, I'll be stopping by! ;)

@Carbon111 - Thanks, and no doubt some others will stick around too, until I decide that I don't really need them, or their functions are replaced by more Serge! ;D

@VICMOD - Yeah you are the banana king! When is the modcan rack coming? ;) Bananfying the euro modules will definitely be an option, it will depend how much modification is necessary to the module. Otherwise, I might just make a long strip with a bunch of 1/8" to Banana jacks along the bottom of the Doepfer case. They have these blank wood spaces on the top and bottom and those could be replaced with such a utility strip for converting back and forth.

That Buchla-style case for Serge is awesome! If he ends up making those, I will be all over that!!! Especially if wood sides are a possibility.

xpander said...

get a serge- then you can bring it over to compare to my 200e on order. the serge sequencer is awesome, i can't wait to rob james' place next time i visit washington.

surachai said...

I had a chance to spend some hours with a serge system and I must say that its a different experience. You nail it when you say you don't have to stop and look for multiples - you just cram signals in wherever you please. With nuances like that I feel like the flow is encouraged and it becomes less logical. Good luck with the pursuit to your perfect modular setup!

deastman said...

I guess I'm a little late reading this entry, but anyway, I can assure you that you'll LOVE a Serge. About 12 years ago, I had the honor of getting a tour of their old offices in Oakland, by Rex Probe himself. These things are built like tanks, and really deliver the goods. The only potentially negative thing is that I and some others find it has a rather "clinical" sound, which in some ways reminds me of a Nord Modular.

I'm not sure who you've arranged to get a local demo from, but Cary Roberts has a huge system, and Doug Terrebonne still has part of what used to be a fairly large one. The one part of Doug's system that I've always envied is the TKB- if nothing else, I would love to add one to my Euro system someday. Perhaps the Milton will eventually fill that void, but I have my doubts.

If only they weren't so damn expensive... Unless I suddenly win the lottery, I'm just going to stick with Euro and be happy with what I've got.

willson said...

love to see this discussion! It’s great to see you all working through the issues and also, it’s great to see recommendations for testing. In the end, it’s what your actual users do and prefer that should be your biggest driver in making these decisions.
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