Open Lab Time | September 2019 | Playing with Vactrols, Hexinverters, and Tape Loops

North Coast Modular Collective’s first ever open lab time was an enjoyable success! A goal with open lab time was to open up the design process of instruments to the community. We try to follow a not for profit, open source approach to hardware and software, so we figured that applying that approach to the process, not just the output, might work well.

A group (foreground) works on a low pass gate, while another group (background) investigates hexinverter oscillators.

Over the past year we’ve been trying to get better at involving more community members in “music” and “instruments”. Summer Camp saw much more community involvement with “music” as we hosted live streaming, studio time, and a culminating concert. Open lab time is an effort to bring community into the Collective’s design process. Our goals are multifaceted: Lower the barriers of entry into synths and DIY; Facilitate open learning between people in a judgement free and inclusive environment; Design instruments that can be used for basic electronics learning, basic DIY learning, and basic synthesis learning, in a low-cost and low-risk fashion.

Hexinverter chip-based oscillator breadboard prototyping
Hexinverter-based oscillator testing
Splicing Tapes and Experimenting with Loops
The Low Pass Gate Group Learned Much about Vactrols and Multimeters

October 5: Open Lab Time at A2 STEAM, + Suzanne Ciani

Come design with us! We’ll be hosting an open lab time where anyone with any types and levels of skill can drop in and collaborate on future NCMC modules. Then, catch a masterclass and concert by synth legend, Suzanne Ciani (organized and hosted by U-M).

When: October 5th;
10am-noon Open Lab Time,
2pm Suzanne Ciani Masterclass,
8pm Suzanne Ciani Performance

Open Lab Time: A2 STEAM School Lab, 912 Barton Dr, Ann Arbor, MI 48105;

Suzanne Ciani Masterclass and Performance: Hankinson Hall, Moore Building, 1100 Baits, Dr., Ann Arbor, MI

What: A full day of synthesizer fun!

Open Lab Time is an NCMC organized event that aims to open up the instrument design process to be more inclusive. In this informal session, we’ll be experimenting with vactrols for a low pass gate design. No idea what any of that means? No problem – we’ll all learn from each other! We’ll have parts and breadboards and whiteboards. You supply the curiosity, questions, and ideas. Together, we’ll see if we can design some instruments, or at least learn more about how they’re designed!

Later that same day, the University of Michigan’s Department of Performing Arts Technology is hosting synth legend Suzanne Ciani for a free masterclass and performance (free, but seats are limited). See the flyer below for more details. We’re planning to get a group together to attend the class & performance.

Summer Camp 2019: July 13th

Want to get away and dedicate some time to Synth DIY, talking electronic music craft, and electronic music shows? North Coast Modular Collective is partnering with TinkerTech and Riverside Arts Center to bring you a full day of making and music! We’ll even have three evenings of online discussion and performances as part of “virtual summer camp”!

Virtual Summer Camp

July 10th, starting 7pm EST
Discussion with (TBA)
Performances by: Scüter and Joo Won Park
Streaming Links: Coming Soon

July 11th, starting 7pm EST
Discussion with (TBA)
Performances by: Swartz et and Decibel Etcher
Streaming Links: Coming Soon

July 12th, starting 7pm EST
Discussion about Modbap with Aaron Guice of AFRORACK, Ali the Architect, BBoy Tech Report

Aaron Guice of AFRORACK
Ali The Architect
BBoy Tech Report


When: July 13th, 1-5pm
Where: TinkerTech in Ypsilanti, MI
Free to come hang out and chat, registration required to build something

Down for some Sumer Camp Synth DIY? Drop by the TinkerTech maker space from 1 to 5 pm. You can be one of the first to solder up the new 2hp Flint Fader or make a Lodi Mult.

Workstations and kits are included in the registration, so just bring yourself! Even if you’ve never made a module, but have been interested in getting started, this is the perfect low-pressure learning environment to do it! We’ll have live and DJ’d electronic music and plenty of time and space to hang out and chat.

Lodi Mult

The options:
Lodi Mult – This is the perfect module to start with if you’re just getting into synth DIY. It just has eight parts to solder! Lodi Mult is a passive multiple, which allows you to take one signal and “multiply” it to seven copies. 

Flint Fader

Flint Fader – This is a medium-level DIY project that can be a great introduction to SMD soldering (only 2 parts are SMD). This project is perfect for people who have completed a few DIY soldering projects already, but have never soldered surface mount (SMD) components before. We’ll be there to help! $5 from each sale will go toward the United Way of Genesee County Flint Water Fund 
( ). Flint Fader is a simple 2hp fader-based utility, where the position of the fader controls how much CV (between 0 and +5 volts) comes out the output. 


July 13th, 7-10pm at Riverside Arts Center (Free!)
After a day of building, walk down to Riverside Arts Center and grab a show with plenty of electronic music. You’ll have a chance to meet and chat with the artists.

  • Michael Collins (Austin, TX)
  • _M__R_T__K_™ (Chicago, IL)
  • North Coast Modular Collective (SE Michigan)
  • Swartz Et

Michael Collins (Austin) – Dark cinematic techno
Austin based orchestrator of sound, Michael Collins, doesn’t fit the typical mold for most things. A misfit whose journey into creating electronic music didn’t begin until age 35, felt there was a void that needed to be explored. Collins has slowly begun crafting a wall of dark cinematic techno, primarily through the use of modular synths.
While still relatively new and unknown in the music community, he has a deep passion for helping those attempting to fulfill their own dreams of creating art. His influences are everywhere, be it rock, classical, other electronic artists or even the rhythmical patterns you hear every day.
He is currently working towards the completion of his first album, which should be finished by the end of 2019.

_M__R_T__K_™ (Chicago) – Modbap
M__R_T__K™ is an artist and musician from Chicago, United States best known for his work as a modular performer. Creating music with an exciting genre-bending sonic style that fuses classic modular synthesis techniques and the beat driven textures of 90s era Hip-Hop, Boom Bap. Live performances are structured around minimalist compositions using both analog and digital tools, including tape loops, custom made vinyl and modular synthesizers.
Rooted in DIY music culture, M__R_T__K™ is always pushing the boundaries across the ever-evolving visual and sonic landscape, giving us a sneak peak into his unique take on what it means to be a Hip-Hop artist in 2019.
A composite style that bridges the gap between Hip-Hop’s underground and the Eurorack scene. M__R_T__K™ represents the new and defining sound of modular music.

North Coast Modular Collective (SE Michigan) – Techno, Ambient, Experimental
North Coast Modular Collective is a group of musicians, makers, artists, and community organizers. During the Summer Camp event, a set of the North Coast Modular Collective core organizers will debut a group performance for the first time ever, working as a larger cohesive group instead of the solo or duo performances the members had done in the past.

Swartz Et (Detroit, MI) – Ambient
Steve Swartz is an artist and musician from Detroit, MI. As a member of the bands Au Revoir Borealis and For Wishes, his musical output was focused on more overtly structured songs. But his solo work shows a different creative approach that is more ambient, fluid and immersive in density and texture. Much of Steve’s work is inspired by a wide range of human experiences and the natural world which are then interpreted musically by whatever means seem most appropriate. Sometimes it’s with guitar as heard on his album Nighttide. Or maybe rhythmic meditative breathing as heard on his Respire album. And most recently, a modular synth on his album A Living Thing. But no matter what medium is used, Steve’s aim is to musically draw the listener into a place of contemplation about what it means to be alive.

May 4, 2019 Meetup: Show & Tell

Our next meetup is Saturday, May 4, 2019, from 2 pm – 5 pm at the Westgate Branch of the Ann Arbor Public Library.

Want to share what you’ve been working on? Been working on something in Ableton Live? Got a computer program, or a synth patch, or a special electronic instrument? Or, just want to see what a lot of other people are doing and have a chance to learn from them? Come on out! We’ll have a table for you to set up on. Bring your headphones for maximum enjoyment!

Want to try out playing or demonstrating in front of a live audience? There will also be a round of “open PA” time, where you can take the stage during a 5 minute time slot to demo or play what you brought. (Be sure you have a 1/4″ or XLR output)

Sign up for a 5-minute time to reserve a spot; additional slots will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis.

March 15th Meetup: Confluence

Part of the March Science Fiction exhibit at the Riverside Arts Center, Confluence brings together practitioners, artists, students, and scholars for engagement at the confluence of science fiction, technology, society, gender issues, and innovation.

Theme: What does science fiction have to do with technology, society, gender issues, or innovation?

When: March 15th, 6pm-9:30pm

Where: Riverside Arts Center, Ypsilanti, MI


  • 6pm-6:45pm DJ/Social Time/Poster presentations
    • Bill Van Loo DJing. Time for socializing and viewing the art in the gallery. Also, student poster presentations.
  • 6:45-7:15pm Panel Discussion
    • Local scholars and artists hold a discussion about how science fiction is related to technology, society, gender issues, and innovation.
  • 7:15-9pm Electronic music/art Performances

(Image by Aaron Graff)

January 5, 2019 Meetup: Getting Started

Save the date! The next North Coast Modular Collective meetup will be:

January 5th, 1-4pm

Ann Arbor District Library Westgate Branch: West Side Room
2503 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Theme: Getting started

The new year is a great time to get started with new things. Come to this meetup if you’re relatively new to electronic music, if you’re new to one of the topics listed below, or if you’re experienced and can support others who are just getting into electronic music! Topics for our presentations are listed below.

Presentation 1

Getting started with Ableton Live with Graham Franz

Presentation 2

Getting started with classic synthesis techniques with Bill Van Loo

Presentation 3

Getting started with modular synthesizers with Arthur Durkee


October 27th, 2018: 2nd Annual North Coast Modular Collective Showcase Show


Saturday October 27, 2018: 3:30pm to 6:30pm


Ann Arbor District Library Westgate Branch: West Side Room
2503 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48103


Members of North Coast Modular Collective will perform short musical sets. There will be some Q&A and discussion between sets.

Some clips from last year:


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September 29, 2018 Meetup: Turning Chaos Into Music


Chaos! How do you turn chaos into music?


Saturday September 29, 2018: 1:00pm to 4:00pm


Ann Arbor District Library Westgate Branch: West Side Room
2503 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48103


  1. Presenter #1: Nick Gaydos breaks down the Turing Machine eurorack module and pairs it with precision adders to show how to create melodies out of randomness.
  2. Presenter #2: Dan Blades will use white noise with sample and hold to produce signals that control and shape sounds.
  3. Around the room updates (shout out any opportunities, projects, etc.)
  4. Socializing time*


*Do you turn chaos into music? Bring a (small) example with you! Socializing time this is a great opportunity to show and talk with others about what you do!

June 23rd North Coast Modular Collective Meetup: Save the Date!

Save the date!

North Coast Modular Collective is hosting another meetup, where you can see what others are doing and share your interests, questions, curiosities, or ideas!

Who: Open to the public. If you’re into making sounds with electronic things, this is for you. If you’re into making electronic things that make sounds, this is for you. If you’re curious but have never done it before, this is for you.

Date/Time: Saturday June 23rd, 1pm – 4pm


Location: Menlo Innovations, 505 East Liberty, LL500 (downstairs), Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104

Theme: Programming


  • Presentation/performance #1 (TBA)
  • Presentation/performance #2 (TBA)
  • Around the room updates (shout out any opportunities, projects, etc.)
  • Socialize

Programming Theme

Our March Meetup generated some great ideas for upcoming topics. Since the June meetup will be held in a software factory, we thought it would be fitting to have the theme be “programming”. We’re applying some creative license to the interpretation of this theme, so you could see presentations or show-and-tells on anything from programming beats and melodies (sequencing) to DSP (Digital Signal Processing). Details will come soon, stay tuned! Comment below if you have other future topic suggestions, or ideas for presentations (including your own presentation or show-and-tell!).