Noise Engineering

Get out of the box -- and back in

Noise Engineering is a Eurorack and 5U modular synthesizer manufacturer based in Los Angeles, California. 

A modular foiré with Giordan Postorino

This is part of a 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.

Have someone you think would be great to write a guest post on modular? Have a modular tip you want to submit for us to create a video around? Please submit ideas here.

This week, we have a post from one of our producer friends. We met Giordan Postorino when he emailed us to tell us how much he liked the BIA.  The email included a statement about how the module had given him “a feeling of self-worth and inclusion that's actually way better than having friends.” We quickly recognized a similar sense of humor (more on that later), shared Italian heritage (leading to all emails starting off with stereotypical EEEYYYYYYYYY, and a vat of baked ziti when he visited) and eventually a phenomenal blog post for you, dear readers. See, we do love hearing from people! Who knows where it can lead.

Kris Kaiser: Who are you and what do you do?

Giordan Postorino: My name is Giordan Postorino. I also sometimes (very rarely) perform under the name “Giordash”. [ed. note: say it out loud if you don’t get it]

I’m a producer, songwriter, mixer, and guitarist from Toronto, Canada. Although my main gig is production, I’m always writing music with other people, mixing, and playing live when I can. I’m a huge music nerd (and I have a crazy glasses prescription to go with so, very legit). I love playing with/manipulating/mangling sound in any way I can. I also work in tv and advertising doing everything from production and composition to sound design and scoring. I’ve done music for McDonald’s, Mazda, and Jeep to name a few. My background as a guitarist is sort of where everything began. I started playing pretty young, around age 7, and it very quickly took over my life. My summers as a kid were often spent in my room pretty much all day just learning songs. That carried me through junior high and high school where I played in bands as well as my high school’s senior band. Further honing of my guitar chops came after being accepted into Humber College’s Contemporary Jazz program in Toronto, which is pretty much game day every day for music nerds. After Humber, I really got into production. By chance, I was at a house party and reconnected with an old DJ friend from high school who introduced me to artists like Aphex Twin, Pendulum, Skrillex, a lot of really agro music. I had a major eureka moment – I could be as creative as I was inside the confines of an instrument as I could with arrangements of instruments and the way they interact. I bought my first laptop a few days after that party, sometime in the summer of 2010. I spent the next 5 years just deep diving and learning everything I could about modern music production. Then I actually started landing real gigs as a producer and things took off. I pretty much haven’t stopped working since 2015! As most are probably aware, you can’t really get out alive as a producer without nerding out on gear so, that’s where my modular rig comes in. It fills a huge nerd void for me.

KK: Nerdly brethren.  This is one of the many reasons we get along so well. You have a pretty good track record in production, but you haven’t mentioned modular other than the nerd streak….so how did you get to modular? What keeps you coming back to it? 

GP: I love modular for so many reasons but the main one is that it doesn’t lie. It’s literally sonic math. The voltages you create and hear are totally measureable yet there exists a myriad of seemingly unpredictable things that can happen when building a patch. I really look forward to that stuff. The “what’s going to happen next” thing is the same feeling I get when I listen to Hendrix, or Thelonious Monk. It puts you on the edge of your seat immediately. There’s an improvisational need that it satisfies for me too. The notion that you can have different conversations with modules that are all having conversations with each other is not unlike the communication between members of a band. I discovered modular years ago, maybe around the time I started producing, but I didn’t totally understand what was going on yet which made the price of admission too high at the time. Some messing around with Blocks in Reaktor helped it all make sense and when I (and my bank account) was ready, I went in head first. I bought my first case a little over a year ago and have slowly added modules. Other than the guitar, I can’t think of another instrument that has so quickly become an invaluable part of the way I express myself musically.

KK: Wow. I’ve never heard modular compared to Monk before (weirdo). And I love the idea of starting with Blocks – it’s such a great intro.

So how does a fancy producer like you use modular in your productions?

GP: The most common way I use modular in my productions is what I call “banking” and is probably the least glamorous way of using a modular synth ever. I’ll spend most of a day just recording stuff: drums and percussion, basslines, atonal/atmospheric things, melodies, you name it. Then I (try to) organize everything into little collections of sounds that live together, like little sample packs, for use later on in my productions. While it may not seem very cool on the surface, I really like working this way because it means I can audition lots of different sounds through Ableton’s browser and find things really fast. If I’m really on one, I’ll sync up to Ableton and build something into the track I’m working on. The patch I have going here is one such example.

KK: What an excellent lead in… Do tell us about the patch you made.

GP: In Ableton, I have a Drum & Bass track ready for some kind of bass sound. I’m going for a really percussive, machinegun-y bass with lots of timbral movement. I’ve chosen my trusty Basimilus Iteritas Alter (BIA) for the job along with a few companions. To start, sync from Ableton hits an Intellijel uMidi module that distributes 1/16 and 1/4 note clocks for the patch. The 1/16 and 1/4 clocks first go to channels 1 and 4 of an Extra Mullet (EM) respectively. The EM mults the 1/16 clock to the Trig input on the BIA as well as the clock input on the Malekko Voltage Block (VB). The EM sends the 1/4 clock to trigger channel 1 of a Make Noise Maths with its channel 1 output being fed back into the EM’s channel 2. A similar thing is happening with channel 4 of Maths. It’s set to cycle with the channel out going to channel 3 of the EM. I’ve got a midi clip in Ableton sending pitch to the BIA as well as a reset message to the VB every 4 bars, again via the uMidi. From there, 5 CV outs on the VB are sent to modulate the Attack, Decay, Morph, Harm, and Spread parameters on the BIA and two of the combined mults on the EM, 341 and 123, are modulating the Mode switch and the Fold. The audio path goes from the BIA into a crappy old MXR Distortion+ via the Intellijel Pedal I/O to grime it up, then into the Intellijel Polaris filter for some lowpassing. The audio leaving my case hits a preamp on my Apollo, a touch of EQ, and is recorded into an audio track in my Ableton session.

With everything patched up and the track and clock running, I’ll start wrenching around on various knobs looking for something interesting (as you do). I’ll get something going with the sliders on the VB, maybe mash on its buttons to create odd repetitions in the modulation, or start with a saved preset of voltages. It’s fun to mess with the channel 1 and 4 attenuverters on Maths as they’ll influence the combined outs on the EM, in turn varying the Mode switch and Fold on the BIA. Having a twist on the BIA’s knobs with all kinds of crazy modulation already going to them can be pretty rad too. If I’m stuck or I feel the patch isn’t living up to my expectations, a quick dive into the Shift menu on the VB to randomize every output and a whole new set of modulation gets sent to the BIA making the patch feel fresh again. Conversely, if I land on something I want to try and maintain or develop further, I’ll save it into a memory location on the VB. The modulation coming from Maths can’t really be saved so, I treat that component of the patch as a chaotic or slightly random factor to blend with the other modulation.

KK: Well, that’s pretty nifty! It’s so cool to see a modular voice inside a produced track. What other modules would you see working in a setup like this?

GP: I think so too! While the BIA is the focal point here, pairing any complex oscillator with something that can spit out clock plus a bunch of modulation and a distortion unit should get you some interesting results. You could try something like this with an Abstract Data Octocontroller or ALM Busy Circuits Pamela’s New Workout. I do a lot of this sort of patch architecture with the Intellijel Cylonix Shapeshifter too. And of course, experiment with different distortion units. That’s why I love the Pedal I/O. I tried 5 different distortion/fuzz pedals before I landed on the Distortion+. It just did something cool, which is interesting because I normally hate how it sounds on guitar. You could also elect one of Noise Engineering’s fabulous new distortion units for the job! I still haven’t bought mine yet and it makes me very sad :(

KK: Tsk tsk… What are you waiting for, man? Get those distortions!

Well, thank you for your post, Giordan. It’s been fun and informative. Any parting words for our readers?

GP: Thanks, Kris! Yes, I do have some parting words for the NE hive. I had the pleasure of meeting Kris and Stephen this past May on a trip to LA and we bonded over some fantastic wine and a delicious ziti that Kris made, as well as my terrible synth/eurorack puns. I’d like to share some of them with you fine people.

Did you hear about the ladder filter that broke down crying after watching the Moog documentary? It really resonated with them.

How do deaf synths speak to each other? Sine language.

Some people say you can’t have too many knobs on a synth but there has to be a cutoff.

My friend ADSR just moved to a gated community.

What do you call a conference call between three telephone operators? FM.

Big thanks to NE for having me on for a guest post! I feel I may have rivaled Markus for the Wall of Text Award™ 

Find more of Giordan in the usual spots.

Instagram: @giordash

Twitter: @giordash

Noise Engineering is proudly located in Los Angeles, CA