Modular Tips and Tricks Guest Post: Patrick O'Brien, aka POB, on modular composition
This week we continue our series of guest-post tutorials from Noise Engineering users showing off various tips for NE modules, modular use in general, or how they integrate modular into their workflow. A short video will be accompanied by some text about who the person is and what’s happening in the patch. Have someone you think would be great to write a guest post? Have a modular tip you want to submit for us to create a video around? Please submit ideas for this occasional column here.
This week, Noise Engineering is happy to present a tip from Patrick O’Brien, known in the modular world as POB or OBrienMedia. Patrick has become one of the most well-loved LA-based modular (and occasional trumpet) performers, weaving beautiful melodies and complicated patches together into some of our favorite compositions. It was a no-brainer to ask him to contribute, and we were thrilled when he agreed.
Here, Patrick was kind enough to compose a piece just for us, and, like last week’s piece from Anthony Baldino, breakdown what’s going on: what he’s using, why, and how it all comes together.
First, here's the lovely piece Patrick put together for us:
Kris: Hi Patrick! Thanks so much for doing this! First, please tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
POB: I'm a modular synth performer in and around the Los Angeles area. When I'm not in the studio, I'm working on digital and social media initiatives for television and news broadcasts.
KK: Digital and social media? Modular synth seems like a bit of a leap from your day job! What brought you to this world?
POB: Growing up in St. Louis, I listened to my older brother bang out Iron Maiden and Judas Priest songs on the drums every day after school. I always credit him for my love of synths, though--that’s because one day he showed me his Korg MS-10 and played a live synth track to “Frankenstein” by the Edward Winter Group. As a kid, MIND BLOWN.
I was classically trained in piano and trumpet at that time, and I thought I was going to pursue a career as a jingle writer. Oh, did I mention I was in a rap group where I played a Roland TR-505 drum machine and wore a Davey Crocket raccoon hat? Ok good. [ed note: Actually, in the few years we've known POB, that had never, ever come up. We did try to get pictures but were unsuccessful.] My first synth was a Roland D-20 and used it throughout college, pursuing an audio production degree with a minor in music.
I got the media bug with my first job in radio, producing a morning show and creating funny audio bits for a few years. I left that gig to be a chief audio engineer, only to pop back into media shortly afterwards as a TV web producer when this internet fad got hot (TV stations were all concerned about “Y2K” at the time). Sadly, I got away from working in the music biz for a while, but always yearned to come back in some capacity. I did have a short run as a DJ in the early 2000s, and a few years after that slowly started building my home studio when I lived in Washington, DC.
When my wife and I moved to LA in 2012, I really focused on my passion for music (living in Hollywood and all). One night, after we got a little too tipsy from eating Carney’s on the Sunset Strip, I bought the Moog Sub Phatty...my first taste of analog. During the summer of 2014, after I saw a few videos from Celldweller and drooled over his modular synth collection, I had to find out more about them. This was around the same time my wife picked up a gig on the east coast. So, rather than mope around or drown my sorrows at the local pub, I went straight to Big City Music in Studio City, completely clueless about modular synths. After a couple weeks, I bought my first case with 6 modules, recorded my first patch and have never looked back. (The 6 were Pittsburgh Oscillator, Pittsburgh LFO2 and Pittsburgh Outs, [Mutable Instruments] Ripples Filter, 4ms’s VCA Matrix, and Kilpatrick Audio’s K4815 Pattern Generator.)
KK: Haha yeah, down the rabbit hole...And we've seen that those 6 quickly begot far more, much to my own auditory pleasure. So can you tell us a bit about the patch? What are you using, why does it work, and why do you think about putting these modules together in a patch?
POB: This patch ended up being a full song using only modular synths, and it features several Noise Engineering modules (Loquelic Iteritas, Sinc Iter, Basimilus Iteritas, and Cursus Iteritas). I'm known to be a melodic modular-synth performer, and I love using the Loquelic for gritty and nasty bass lines. So, I'm focusing on that mostly here, but then I also throw in some harmonies with the Sinc Iter and wild percussion hits with Cursus and Basimilus.
My goal in putting it all together was to make a patch that could be entertaining to listen to, fun to watch, and make it a challenge to record the videos in one take. I did make some additional video inserts to show the Noise Engineering modules in action, though.
But more details on the patch itself...First of all, being so melodic, I tuned the shit out of this patch with the L-1 Digital Tuner and referenced it frequently while patching this together! Throughout the song, the upper left Make Noise Pressure Points moves the bass line along. I could've easily sequenced this part, but I like to add the human touch to my patches, and it's more fun to play that way. You'll also notice I'm manually adjusting the modulate knob on the Loquelic to create the rise and fall of grit on the bass line. In the beginning, [Make Noise] René is sequencing the Erica Synths Wavetable with an echoed sequence after that from Mutable's Braids. The melody line comes from a triangle wave from the Intellijel Dixie, sequenced by the two Pressure Points side-by-side + Brains (although the 2nd PP isn't used till near the end).
The drums are controlled by the Synthrotek mixer on bottom right (I trigger the Mutable Peaks kick, Hexinverter Clap, Hexinverter Snare, and Basimilus Iteritas' nasty scream manually with the four switches). The WMD Overseer comes in handy a couple times with very sudden low pass filter sweeps, silencing the piece ever so briefly.
In the middle of the piece, a harmony line is added to the melody line, which comes from the Sinc Iter. I used Cursus Iteritas for a rhythmic pulsing sound effect, being filtered by the Intellijel Korgasmatron.
When the piece breaks down with just the Loquelic droning, I add 3 patch cables from Malekko's Voltage Block. Those cables CV Loquelic's modulate, fold, and morph. After the second moment of silence (thanks again Overseer), I let all channels run freely, only to remove channel by channel at the end, leaving nothing but that nasty scream from the Basimilus Iteritas.
KK: Wow, man. That is gorgeous. And complicated. I love it. I assume you played with a lot of ideas in putting this together. What other modules do you think would go well with this patch, or, if someone didn’t have some of these, could be subbed in to achieve a similar effect?
POB: Without a Loquelic, the bass line would have to be something else that can do some heavy lifting, like Make Noise’s DPO or Hertz Donut by The Harvestman. The melody and harmony lines could be created by just about any oscillator that can produce a triangle wave. For percussion , I’m using Mutable Instruments Peaks for the kick, and Hexinverter for the clap and snare. Any other drum modules could produce similar results, like the Audio Damage BoomTschak, Hexinverter Bassdrum and HiHat, or the Tip Top drum modules. Finally, for the "drop" on a couple places, I used WMD's Overseer filter, but any filter with some resonance tweaking could work for that effect, or create slightly different and interesting effects.
Check the Noise Engineering blog often for more tips and tricks by and for modular users. And if you have tips you’d like to contribute or questions you'd like to see answered here, please drop us a line.
For more info on POB, go to
Or follow POB on YouTube at http://youtube.com/obrienmedia