Co-consuming a “fun addiction”
Buying, desiring, and using Eurorack together online
Once considered an obsolete technology, modular synthesizers have experienced an unanticipated renaissance since the 1990s. While the reemergence of interest in modular synthesizers is attributable to a variety of factors, the internet has played an especially important role in facilitating the growth of a distributed, virtual scene around these instruments. Though several formats exist, Eurorack’s commercial and cultural growth has been the most dramatic. Once the province solely of specialists, Eurorack modules are now manufactured by large firms like Roland and Behringer and sold by mainstream music retailers like Guitar Center and Sweetwater.
For many users, a Eurorack system is a physical manifestation of their musical tastes and aspirations. The planning, purchasing, and realization of a system is thus a constitutive element of self-identification and belonging within the scene. But while Eurorack users privilege customization to an intense degree, the modality of their choice is strongly mediated by communal wisdom and the personal testimony of distant others. How do scene members negotiate these tensions? In order to explicate these dynamics, I analyze two interrelated phenomena that are characteristic of the milieu: (1) personal narratives of an individual’s journey through modular synthesis and Eurorack; and (2) the instructional and promotional roles played by user-made demonstration videos of Eurorack modules. Both reveal a gap between the imagined and actual affordances of a system and its user, a discrepancy that I address by introducing the notion of “drift.”
The marked heterogeneity of Eurorack and the potential of a system for future modification strongly distinguishes it from other formats, and I conclude by discussing Eurorack as an instrument that is never “finished.” As such, Eurorack invites us to consider a musical instrument not just as a bounded object or assemblage, but as an ongoing process of individuation rooted in practices of co-consumption.
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