One of the best things about being Editor-in-Chief is meeting the people who develop products for music making. Whether they’re part of a large corporation or work on their own, these men and women are passionate about translating their wild ideas into something you and I can use creatively. And one of the best places to find such intrepid folks is at Superbooth (superbooth.com), held each year in Berlin.
Staged in FEZ, a sprawling venue with a space-and-science-center vibe, Superbooth18 surrounded its trade show with a wide variety of workshops, lectures, and concerts. The number of manufacturer’s exhibiting was significantly larger than last year, allowing visitors to get their hands on a broader range of products, from the mainstream to the highly esoteric.
Despite the inclusion of major brands such as Roland, Yamaha, and Korg, the three-day event showcases boutique-level companies that could never afford to attend NAMM, AES or Musikmesse because of the expense.
It should also come as no surprise that the most innovative items at Superbooth18 were from these smaller companies (many of which are featured in this month’s New Gear column).
Modular: Boom or Bust?
After an event such as this, one of the questions I am most frequently asked is, “Has the modular synth hit its peak and begun to decline in popularity?” Many people still believe the format is simply a fad; or that there is an economic bubble about to burst that will leave those holding the patch cords subject to shame and ridicule for failing to recognize they’d fallen for some hipster trend.
No doubt there is a fair amount of gear fetishism that keeps Eurorack companies busy as fans buy and trade the latest module, just as there is in the effects-pedal market. But in reality, a synth module is just another tool we use for exploring sound, whether we do it for ourselves or make a career out of it.
Based on my experiences in Berlin this May (and in Anaheim at NAMM last January), I don’t see any signs of hardware modular synths becoming passé. Instead, there continues to be a lot of excitement in that world, and synths and effects of all types continue to be popular. Could it be that, because it’s easier than ever to integrate hardware and software in the studio and onstage, up-and-coming musicians don’t have to choose one over the other?
A comment I often hear is that there are too many people making modules, and many of the products are based on the same old designs we’ve seen for decades. While it might seem like there’s a lot of sameness, particularly in Eurorack, I don’t think the problem is that there is a glut of modules. While anyone who has soldering chops can start their own company, ultimately, the most innovative and useful products will rise above the noise.
The truly inspiring thing about an event such as Superbooth18 is seeing that there are so many people designing music-related products, no matter how narrowly focused their potential market may be. And it was particularly exciting to see the number of young folks among those developing the most interesting gear.
Engaging in the creative act (designing gear, coding software, making music) is one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves, whether or not we share the results with the world. As you find and explore your own creative outlet, remember to focus on the process. Although it is always satisfying to reach a goal, you’ll notice that reflecting on your journey will make the overall experience even richer.