Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Serge "Animal" - A massive modular in 4U

The Serge Modular system is one of the most revered out there but can be a bit daunting for prospective users/buyers partly due to unfamiliarity and partly due to the fact that one must buy a "full panel" at a time. Rex Probe, the proprietor of Sound Transform Systems, has addressed that by offering some "shop panels" so one can have a complete system with just two or three panels (voice, CV, sequencing, etc...) - the problem with that is after three panels, you're halfway into Buchla price territory!
Enter the Animal - click the picture for the big version. A complete Serge Modular in just one 4U rack panel with a price comparable to what you'd pay for a Cwejman S1 or a used Arp 2600! You're probably thinking "that dosen't look like it can do much." but as you'll see, the Animal is an extremely flexible modular system that is more powerfull than you would expect, even just by itself!

First, it has two oscillators, one is the New Timbral Oscillator which offers voltage controllable waveform morphing in addition to the standard Saw, Triangle and Sine. Also on hand are linear FM, exponential FM and soft sync. The second VCO is the Precision VCO which loses the variable wave out but gains a dedicated low frequency mode if you want a quick LFO. All waveforms are available simultaneously on these babies.

Next, unique to the Serge system, are the Wave Multipliers. This module is actually 3 sub-modules:
1) The upper section can operate two ways. With the switch in the HI position this module will "square up" an incoming signal, similar to a comparator but more like the soft clipping you might get from an old tube amp. Put a sinewave through here, apply a CV and you have a variable pulse waveform. With the switch in the LO position, it becomes a VCA useful for amplitude modulation and gating.
2) The middle section is pure magick! It provides a voltage-controllable sweep of odd harmonics in a signal. If you put a sinewave through the input, you get weird windsynth type timbres. Reminiscent of a ring modulator on more complex waveforms but much weirder in effect!
3) The bottom section is 3 full-wave rectifiers in series - fully voltage controllable. You can really dirty up the sound with this section. Not for the faint-of-heart ;)

A very handy 3 x 1 audio Mixer is next. This has switchable phase inversion on the first channel to aid in feedback experimentation.

The Smooth/Stepped Generator is another fascinating module and is made up from two sub-modules:
1) The Smooth section is a VC lag processor (portamento) with some extra features:
Hold input - When this goes high the output no longer tracks the input but is held at the same level until the voltage drops to zero.
Cycle - with this jack patched to the input this module becomes a voltage-controlled triangle wave LFO.
2) The Stepped section is a Sample-And-Hold, with some unique extras as well:
The rate knob determines how big each step is at the Stepped output. With the Cycle jack patched to the input, this submodule becomes a complex staircase generator!

Next is a Pink and White Noise source that can be used as audio or patched into the S&H to provide random voltages by means of a handy switch.

The Dual Transient Generator can be used as two simple EGs but can be so much more. Depending on how it is patched, it can be any of the following things: Non-linear lowpass filter, Envelope follower, Sub-harmonic generator, Linear portamento, Exponential portamento, Linear AR envelope generator, Exponential AR envelope generator, Linear ASR envelope generator, Exponential ASR envelope generator, Voltage controlled LFO with either triangular or pulse waveforms and more...

The Variable Q VCF is a 12db/oct filter with voltage controllable cutoff and resonance! Lowpass, Highpass, Bandpass and Notch filter outputs are all available simultaneously. This filter also has a "LO" range switch that allows it to process control voltages! Hit the Trig input with a pulse to "ring" the filter.

The Universal Audio Processor rounds out the Animal's modules and is a convenient connector to the outside world as it has two 1/4" jacks on it. This module is also ultra-flexible - it can be a Dual VCA, a Panner or a Crossfader. You can also do amplitude modulation for cool side-band effects.

The learning curve on this little modular synth is a bit steeper than some modular systems, but its flexibility/space ratio is unmatched!

As you can see, all the sections of this little synth are very flexible and, as with many things, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts! If you're asking "where are the multiples?", there are none - the Serge Modular uses bananna plugs which are stackable. One thing that adds to the flexibility of the Animal is that there is no differentiation between Audio and Voltage signals - you can patch just about anything anywhere. Another thing to note is that just about everything on the Animal is voltage controllable!

The sounds you can coax out of this beast are phenomenal and extremely varied! Sure, with a MIDI/CV converter you can play cool bass and lead lines but you can also do "alien lifeforms mating under a molten-sulpher sea" sounds too - just start routing control voltages around and drive your cat under the couch for a week! Patchcords are power!

Based on a number of emails I've recieved since I did this little overview, aparently a lot of people don't realise that Serge Modulars are still being made.

Serge Modular panels (including the "Animal") are currently manufactured by Sound Transform Systems (262) 367-3030.

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