It’s Modular Synth Day on FACT! We’re marking the first birthday of our Make Music section with a celebration of modular synths, the artists that patch with them and they music they make. Find it all here.
Enjoy a playlist made up of awesome music from 21 of our favorite modular synth artists from across the past 50 years, including Suzanne Ciani, Morton Subotnick, Caterina Barbieri and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe.
The ratio of modular synth gear sold to music made on it that’s actually released is probably lower than for any other method of making music. For good reason too; learning to use a modular synth takes time and practice, and given the endlessly expandable nature of them, you could spend a lifetime tinkering with one and still not master it.
Since the first modular synths were created by Bob Moog and Don Buchla in 1963 though, there’s been plenty of officially released music made with the technology. From Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon and the early music of pioneering composer Suzanne Ciani through to today’s crop of Eurorack techno artists, there’s a whole spectrum of strange and wonderful music created by electrical voltage passing through modular patch cables.
Below is a selection of tracks from some of the best and most prolific modular synth artists of the past 50 years, covering early Buchla experiments, ambient, IDM, and club-ready techno made with cutting-edge Eurorack gear. Listen to playlists of all the tracks on Apple Music or Spotify below.
Tangerine Dream – ‘Rubycon Pt. 1’ (Virgin, 1975)
A Moog modular-injected epic from the kosmische masters.
Popol Vuh – ‘In den Gärten Pharaos’ (Pilz, 1971)
Popol Vuh were one of Germany’s first adopters of the Moog modular, which featured alongside other instruments on their early records.
Tonto’s Expanding Head Band – ‘Cybernaut’ (Embryo, 1971)
While Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff were at the controls for this project, Tonto was the system that made it possible: two Moog Series III modulars chained together with synths from Oberhim and ARP.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – ‘First Flight’ (Western Vinyl, 2016)
Buchla synth meets vocals on a standout track from West Coast composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith.
James Holden – ‘Gone Feral’ (Border Community, 2013)
One of the highlights from Border Community boss James Holden’s album of “chaotic” modular systems, The Inheritors.
Luke Abbott – ‘Free Migration’ (Border Community, 2014)
Searing modular textures from another Border Community modular expert, Luke Abbott.
Logic System – ‘Unit’ (EMI, 1981)
Quirky synth-pop courtesy of Hideki Matsutake, modular synth operator for Yellow Magic Orchestra.
London Modular Alliance – ‘Hands & Brains’ (Dimensions, 2017)
The brains behind London’s premier modular synth store lay down a modern electro heater.
Russell E.L. Butler – ‘Without Fear’ (Black Opal, 2016)
Energetic, messy modular techno made by one of the Bay Area’s most promising new club talents.
Keith Fullerton Whitman – ‘Generator 5’ (Root Strata, 2010)
A musical exploration of algorithmic and generative processes from a prolific modular maestro.
Richard Devine – ‘Tiptopbd808’ (Detroit Underground, 2012)
Twitchy beats from one of the modular world’s most notable figures, named after one of Eurorack’s most famous brands.
Datach’i – ‘Monarchs’ (Timesig, 2016)
Haunting melodies and precision beats from an IDM veteran.
Benge – ‘1972 Serge modular’ (Expanding Records, 2008)
Benge’s 20 Systems album features 20 tracks from different vintage synths: this is a rare sighting of a Serge modular on record.
Dariush Dolat-Shahi – ‘Sama’ (Folkways, 1985)
Modular synthesis meets traditional Persian instrumentation on Dariush Dolat-Shahi’s 1985 debut.
Suzanne Ciani – ‘Princess With Orange Feet’ (Finders Keepers, 2012)
Kaleidoscopic music from pioneering composer Suzanne Ciani, taken from a compilation of archival music, corporate dents and TV spots.
Raica – ‘Makmba’ (Future Times, 2016)
Gentle, fourth-world ambient chimes from Seattle’s Raica.
Morton Subotnick – ‘Silver Apples of the Moon (Pt. 1)’ (Nonesuch, 1967)
The first piece of electronic music ever commissioned by a record company.
Pete Swanson – ‘Misery Beat’ (Type, 2012)
The former Yellow Swans artist makes rough, metallic tones anchored by a kick drum.
Anthony Child – ‘Mr Naturals’ (Editions Mego, 2016)
The artist better known as Surgeon swaps techno for ambient on the track made in the Maui jungle.
Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe – ‘Yawneb Pt. 1’ (More Than Human, 2016)
Haunting, abstract music from modular master Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe.
Caterina Barbieri – ‘Scratches on the Readable Surface’ (Important Records, 2017)
Trance-inducing minimalism courtesy of Italian composer Caterina Barbieri.