Here’s a video featuring the classic modular Serge: Of the tiny handful of analog modulars out today you can buy as new, Serge stands out in a variety of ways. The modules are of extremely high quality, have wide parameter range, excellent tracking/stability, and low noise (except for the noise module). There are a lot of modules, over 65. Patching is done with rugged banana plugs; a little bit of a pain to interface with other gear, but once you’ve gotten used to stacking multiple bananas, you’ll never want to patch any other way again. Many control voltage inputs on Serge modules have clever inverting attenuators – at the twelve o’ clock position, you have zero gain, turn clockwise, you have increasing positive gain, turn counterclockwise, you have increasing invertedgain. There are many unique modules in the lineup, some obvious, some very strange. You can spend months and years exploring a Serge system and still discover new ways of using the modules. If you’re looking to get a few snappy ‘synth sounds’ with a press of a button, forget it. Go to the Best Buy and pick up a nice Yamaha MIDI keyboard. But if you’re looking for something unique and challenging, and if you’re crazy enough to spend thousands of dollars and wait months to have the system built and delivered, this is the one.
On a Serge, audio signals, control voltages, and trigger signals are fairly interchangeable and the system uses only one kind of patch cord. Audio signals can be accepted by trigger inputs, control voltage generators can be used for audio. Use control voltage mixers for audio, or run your sequencer at audio rates for wild, squealy, rippy noises.
Many Serge modules can be internally patched. What’s that mean? The modules themselves can be patch-programmed to do different things. For example, patching the GATE output to the TRIGGER input of a Dual Transient Generator turns the DTG into a voltage-controlled clock, LFO, or audio oscillator.
Which leads us to the extreme flexibility of the designs. You have to do a lot of thinking and experimenting on these things to really appreciate them. For someone used to the more conventional approaches out there, this can be a little intimidating.
Serge modules have a very high density of functionality. Every square inch of panel space is useful. You can put a pretty impressive system together in one or two suitcase-size boxes.
Serges are handbuilt to customer specification, and by handbuilt I mean that they’re put together by people who have spent years mastering the build process. I’ve heard people complain about the price of modules versus the cost of parts, and why should an oscillator cost ‘X’ when the parts cost ‘Y’. But the truth is, the nice juicy modules use a lot of discrete components, some laboriously hand-matched. Once the components are assembled, the module has to be calibrated, burned-in, and checked. A lot of skilled labor is involved, and expensive test gear.
The Serge synthesizers are the creation of French electronic/synth designer Serge Tcherepnin. They are analog modular systems that began production in 1974, and continue to be produced to this day. The Serge concept was that a powerful, musical and great sounding analog modular system could, unlike the Buchlas, Moogs and ARPs of the time, be smaller, more compact and most importantly: cost less, making them far more accessible to musicians looking to jump into the bold new world of electronic music and sound design.
Although Serge was French, the modular systems that bore his name were orignally designed and produced in Los Angeles, CA. Initially designed in 1974 (in Serge’s home), mass production of the systems began in 1975 and continued until 1986. There was a rough period between 1986 to 1993 where modules were still produced to special order (slowly), but full production resumed again in 1993 after Serge’s circuit designs were sold to Rex Probe (an early collaborator) who went on to found Sound Transform Systems, who continue to produce many of the original Serge modules, plus a few new one’s of their own design.
Influences of the Buchla can be seen in Serge systems, such as touch sensitive keyboards & sequencers, random voltage generators, function generators, and matrix mixers. Yet the Serge has many unique designs of its own such as the Wave Multiplier module and the use of banana plugs in lieu of traditional patch cords. Its filters are unqiue sounding but it may be the Wave Multiplier module that truly sets a Serge apart as it is a totally unique synthesizer section that sits between the Oscillator and Filter sections and allowed for external audio or control voltage signals to be used to modulate the timbre of the oscillator’s tones.
Originally, Serge systems were custom built to order. Like any modular system a buyer would pick and choose individual modules they want and assemble them into a cabinet. However, to reduce the price tag and make them more accessible to musicians not interested in building a modular synth from scratch, Sound Transform Systems sells Serge systems in pre-configured systems: Shop Panels and the M-Class.
The Serge lovers at Quadslope.com have announced another free album of electronic music that features a heavy dose of Serge Modular goodness, Probe:2 The Quadslope Compilation.
Here’s what they have to say about the new album:
We are proud to report word of a new transmission received from the Quadslope Probe as it slides effortlessly through the abyss. This one comes from an unorganized thought void of time or light. The Probe and it’s sensors have been re-calibrated to listen only mode. These are the raw, unmixed, and unedited sounds that are captured in real time therein. The trained ear can isolate Punch and Judy, flowing Banana Beards, and an excitable T-Rex, chomping on rocks amidst the jungles and woodlands of an indescribable origin.
Download Probe:2 The Quadslope Compilation at the Quadslope site.
Weird blips from just the Serge Creature & Sequencer-A modular synth. I recorded this video as a reference or guide so *maybe* I can remember how to find this patch again in the future.
Serge-flavored modular synthesis provides the musician/programmer with an absolutely blank canvas and a huge rainbow palette of colors as opposed to the limited hues of a hardwired synth or even many other modulars. A lot of people seem to use the Serge solely for ambient and experimental music but, can definately be used in the traditional manner as well.
The Serge, like most modulars, is monophonic unless you have enough panels/oscillators to build multiple voicings. The Serge system has only one “native” keyboard – the TKB which is a combination sequencer and capacitance touchplate controller. Maybe I’ll add one in the future but, for now, I’m using a simple MIDI controller keyboard connected to a Kenton Pro-Solo MIDI/CV converter giving me Pitch-CV, Gate and Trigger outs. There are many unusual modules (and many “usual” ones as well) in the Serge system that can create a myriad of effects. So many in fact that they are hard to cover in a simple introduction like this one.
|MP3 files from the 1983 Serge Musician’s Tape|
|“Now – The 2nd Millennium” – a new CD put together by Serge Owners!
Now available at CD BABY!
|Serge Users and Recordings|
|“Features of the Serge Modular Music System” (1981 Brochure)|
|Review in “Keyboard” magazine, by Dominic Milano, July 1981|
|150 dpi module and panel graphics|