Frequently Asked Questions
What is a modular synthesizer?
Modular synthesizers are a type of electronic musical instrument developed by Don Buchla and Bob Moog in the early 1960s. They consist of various distinct electronic circuits—or “modules”—that generate and manipulate voltage. Modules typically contain physical controls such as dials and switches, as well as an array of input and output jacks for routing voltage to other modules. By connecting these jacks to one another with patch cords, the user determines the signal flow and functional relationships between the modules. The total machine state as determined by the interface controls and patch cord networks is commonly referred to as a “patch.” Patches may vary in complexity from individual sound synthesis to complete algorithmic musical compositions.
Having faced near extinction during the 1980s and 1990s, modular synthesizers are currently experiencing a bonafide renaissance, with more systems being produced and sold than ever before. Modulars are now available in a number of unique “formats” that standardize size, power requirements, mounting systems, and jack type, amongst other technical details. Of the various formats currently on the market, EuroRack is by far the most popular. Originally created by Doepfer for the A-100 synthesizer line, EuroRack has evolved into a hotbed of innovation with over 80 manufactures and hundreds of diverse modules to choose from.
What is Ming Mecca?
Ming Mecca is a suite of modules that conform to the EuroRack modular synthesizer standard. Unlike most synthesizer modules, Ming Mecca modules do not directly facilitate the creation of sound or music. Instead, Ming Mecca assists in the realtime synthesis of electronic videogame worlds.
Two modules are currently available: The World Core, which handles video synthesis, data recall, and world logic; and the Control Core, which converts NES gamepad output into voltage. Ming Mecca has been designed as an extendable platform, with many more modules planned for eventual release.
How can I buy Ming Mecca?
Special stage systems is working hard to bring Ming Mecca to market in 2014. As an extremely small startup, we are considering a variety of options for launching Ming Mecca’s first full-scale production run, including the possibility of crowd funding. To reserve a system and register for future updates regarding Ming Mecca’s production status, please visit our Pre-Order page.
How do I start building my modular?
Building a EuroRack modular synthesizer is similar to building a custom PC —every aspect of its construction is user configurable. In principle, the build process can be split into four steps:
—(1) Selecting a case
—(2) Selecting a power supply
—(3) Selecting modules
—(4) Assembling the synthesizer
In practice, steps 1 and 2 are often combined, since most modern EuroRack cases include a built-in power supply. It is also common to select modules one at a time or in small bundles, making assembly an ongoing process.
A good place to start is by reading The SOS Guide To Choosing A Modular Synth. It covers many common questions that modular newcomers may have, and serves as a wonderful introduction to the world of modular synthesis in general. Following this basic orientation, Doepfer’s Technical Details page provides an excellent introduction to both the paradigm of voltage control, as well as the mechanical and electrical standards of the EuroRack format specifically (don’t be confused by the use of the term A-100 —this is merely Doepfer’s name for their line of format-defining EuroRack modules). Finally, the more recent SOS piece The Secret World Of Modular Synthesizers offers an excellent survey of the manufactures, modules, and approaches that constitute the modern EuroRack scene.
The following resources may also be of assistance:
Muff Wiggler — The premier online community for modular synthesizers
Modular Grid — A web tool for visually planning and experimenting with system layout
Analogue Haven — The largest online distributor of EuroRack modules
What do I need to use Ming Mecca?
—A EuroRack format modular synthesizer
Ming Mecca does not include any hardware other than the modules designed and sold by special stage systems. To begin using Ming Mecca, a EuroRack format case, power supply, and patch cords are required. To achieve the complex results seen in our demonstration videos, you will also need various “third party” modules to generate additional control voltage, process boolean logic, and synthesize sound. If you are new to the world of EuroRack modulars, see How do I start building my modular and What modules play nice with Ming Mecca? for more detail.
—A Display compatible with NTSC composite video
Just like the retro gaming consoles it was inspired by, Ming Mecca generates analog composite video on a standard RCA jack. Most projectors and some modern HDTVs still support composite video, but we highly recommend the use of a vintage CRT monitor for best results. Old CRT TVs can often be found for pennies at garage sales, and higher quality units can be purchased on eBay at a variety of affordable price points.
—A computer capable of reading and writing SD Cards
In order to create Ming Mecca World Packs and access advanced settings, you will need a way to read and write .txt files to FAT16/32 format full-size SD cards. While not required for basic use, this capability greatly increases the depth of Ming Mecca’s possibility space.
What voltage standard does Ming Mecca use?
All inputs can accept 0-12 volts without sustaining damage regardless of their responsive range. All outputs are fully buffered.
Digital inputs: 0.5 volt threshold
Digital outputs: 10 volts
Analog inputs: 0-5 volts (0-1 volt selectable via jumper)
Analog outputs: N/A
Digital inputs: 1.5 volt threshold
Digital outputs: 10 volts
Analog inputs: 0-5 volts
Analog outputs: 0-10 volts
Can I use Ming Mecca in a PAL territory?
Although Ming Mecca is currently NTSC only, the following workarounds are available to PAL users:
—Use a multi-format CRT (recommended)
Many higher-end CRTs are multi-format and will display both PAL and NTSC. The Sony Trinitron
series is particularly well regarded.
—Use a modern display
Most composite-compatible projectors and LCD displays are multi-format, but may introduce
minor lag and will have more difficulty displaying fast motion than a CRT.
—Use a video capture device
—Use an NTSC-to-PAL converter
Dedicated boxes can be bought to convert between NTSC and PAL. Depending on the quality of the unit, some image degradation may be apparent as a result of the lossy conversion process.
How does Ming Mecca relate to illucia?
illucia is a patchbay controller that connects computer programs. It doesn’t interface with modular synths —it is a USB device for connecting and controlling any computer software that speaks OSC. It was designed by Chris Novello, and comes with a suite of interconnectable games.
Ming Mecca directly generates videogames using voltage and connects to other EuroRack modules. It does not involve a computer or computer software in a conventional sense; rather Ming Mecca itself is a computer, albeit an unusual one that marries analog and digital technology in a new way.
Both illucia and Ming Mecca apply ideas from modular synthesis to videogames, and both were designed to push the boundaries of the medium into strange alien spaces. They were largely developed in parallel, over the course of many aimless walks and feverish conversations.
How does Ming Mecca relate to LZX Visionary? Are they compatible?
LZX Visionary is a line of EuroRack modules that directly synthesize and process analog video. Ming Mecca contains a digital video synthesizer (i.e., a sprite/tile frame buffer system), but also includes features like object collision and controller input to facilitate videogame world building. Both Ming Mecca and LZX Visionary respond to voltage control, and both conform to EuroRack standard specifications.
LZX Visionary also has some unique specifications regarding its control voltage scheme:
0-1 volt CV range for analog inputs
0.5 volt logic threshold for digital inputs
Ming Mecca’s World Core responds to 0.5 volt logic by default, and can be optionally configured to accept 0-1 volt CV through a simple jumper swap on the rear of the module. The Control Core is not natively compatible with LZX voltage standards, but the LZX Voltage Bridge can easily interface between them if necessary.
At launch the World Core will not be compatible with the LZX Color Time Base Corrector (TBC). The World Core outputs a 240p 60fps progressive image, while the LZX TBC currently accepts interlaced 480i 30fps video only. We’re working with LZX to add an interlaced video output option to the World Core, which will be available as a firmware update sometime after launch.
LZX and Special Stage Systems are also in talks to produce a collaborative World Core Expander module that would generate LZX RGB natively as well as provide a CYSNC input for directly gen-locking Ming Mecca to LZX Visionary.
Finally, Special Stage Systems is currently testing a variety of external 240p CVBX to 480i Component conversion boxes for connecting the World Core directly to the new LZX Visual Cortex. This FAQ will be updated once testing is complete.
What modules play nice with Ming Mecca?
Since Ming Mecca introduces the paradigm of voltage controlled videogames for the first time, it is hard to recommend exactly what sorts of modules you might want in your system; experimentation and divergent thinking are encouraged. However, certain fundamentals will most likely be useful for nearly all users:
—Function Generators (i.e., envelopes, slopes, LFOs, etc.)
In order to move sprites around, you will need a minimum of two function generators per sprite —one generator for each axis of movement. We highly recommend at least one Make Noise MATHS, which—due to its variable response curve—is extremely well-suited to generating logarithmic jumping arcs. Exciting alternatives include the Harvestman Double Andore, 4MS PEG, Richter Envelator, HEXINVERTER.NET Galilean Moons, intellijel Quadra, and many more.
Programming complex game logic and world rules is achieved by processing the World Core’s collision outputs via digital AND/OR/XOR gates and their inversions. Several Boolean Logic modules are currently available, including the highly configurable intellijel Plog, the videorate-capable LZX Video Logic, and the classic Doepfer A-166.
—Sound Sources / Processors
With the exception of the Control Core’s special CHAOTIX mode, Ming Mecca does not generate any sound on its own. A vast array of oscillators, filters, samplers, modulators, and esoteric audio generators/effects are available in EuroRack. The possibilities are far too numerous to recommend specific modules or manufacturers. Let your taste be your guide!