Sunday, March 10, 2019

My Favorite Modules: Quantizers

When it comes to 'fave' modules, quantizers always end up at the top of my list. This is especially true when we talk about 'playable' quantizers, like the Penrose shown above (from my work mini-system). These quantizers allow you to select the notes that you will 'snag' from all available pitches, allowing you to work within scales - but also to select interesting combinations of notes to build semi-determinate melodies.

I've tried just about every quantizer out there, and this little Penrose quant hits all the marks: selectable notes, triggered quantization (so you can determine when the quantization snags its next note - if that's what you want), and a highly-visible setup. This is really similar to my first favorite quantizer, which I was using back in the good ol' 5U days. That quantizer - the Moon Modular 565 quad quantizer - had a companion module (the 565D) that provided this keyboard-like interface:

One of my favorite performances was based on this thing. At the end of our Spark Festival performance, Tom Hamer was doing a little percussion bit, and I was feeding random voltages into this thing. I started reducing the notes until I was left with just a few notes. The Voltage Gods fed me the right value/octave combinations to do a sweet figure, and it ended perfectly. The audience loved it, and I looked like a hero.

In a way, a quantizer limits a modular to typically 'musical' results - in a way, returning to the tyranny of the keyboard. But it also allows me to experiment freely with voltage generation while providing a note-based constraint on the result, which is something that I find a neat combo. So I'm willing to live within pitch norms in exchange for the freedom to stretch out in other areas.

When I look at other people's systems, I see far fewer quantizers (or quant-like tools) that I would expect. Maybe that's why a lot of modular music sounds a bit like a woodworking shop; people are throwing out the pitch-baby with the keyboard-bathwater.

Too bad.



  1. The Moon Quad Quantizer and Controller have always looked like they'd be useful and fun to use.

    I've got the equivalent and, while it doesn't have the cool push-button note selector, it has panel-selectable quantizing options.

    Often, though, I find myself using the quantizer as a bank of sample and holds. Maybe I should modify the quantizer so the top gate is normalized to the others for this type of use.

    Other modules are more glamorous - but quantizers are pretty handy.

  2. That's a great point - they could easily double as S&H for non-pitched purposes. The S&H is another unsung hero in a lot of my patches, but I'd never quite thought of it this way. Thanks, Synthtopia!