Modular synthesis is akin to musical gardening: modules can spring to life and their interconnections suggest the formation of a sonic ecosystem. The act of patching is no different to playing any other instrument: it affords the opportunity to express oneself and directly engage with other people.
Automatonism is the name of both the modular synthesiser in Pure Data and the creative output of its developer, Johan Eriksson. A PhD student at Birmingham Conservatoire, UK, Eriksson works at the intersection of composition, performance and instrument design.
His research explores new ways of making music with modular synths by highlighting the partnership between human and the automaton.
His first modular project, Xodular, arrived during a new wave of interest in modular synthesis and gained notable popularity for a freeware instrument.
Automatonism builds on Xodular, adding more modules and features for greater performability and expressiveness, while also encouraging players to delve into the making of generative algorithms.
"Pd is a visual programming language created by Miller Puckette, who was the original developer of Max when he was at IRCAM. Over the years, Max has grown into a rich ecosystem of libraries and external objects, with its core program and API maintained by Cycling ‘74, a company recently purchased by Ableton. Pd is superficially similar to Max, but Pd is an open source project, so there are now tons of extensions available beyond its original code. It’s also really cool in that it runs on just about any platform — Windows, GNU/Linux, Android, iOS, and of course macOS. The downside of Pd is that it is deep and a bit intimidating — and that’s why Automatonism is so great. It’s like a starter course in Pd, with 67 modules that emulate modular synth functions that are ready to go, with no programming needed. It’s super easy and intuitive to use — easier than some commercial soft synths I’ve tried. And it’s free! Installation is super easy, and the program is very lean in terms of size and CPU usage. What’s not to like? Well, my only slight complaint is that Automatonism has no baked-in method to process external audio. I emailed the support contact, and one day later, developer Johan Ericksson got back to me and explained how easy it is to add an external audio input in Pure Data. “It is really really simple to implement in Pd, in case you want to try some stuff out. Just create a new object called [adc~ 1], and that is the audio input from channel one on your soundcard, which you can connect anywhere in the system.” I tried it, and it worked perfectly! This is a great introduction to visual, musical programming languages, and it’s a lot of fun."
- John Baccigaluppi