How to learn the 301

I’ve had my 301 for a couple of years now but I’m just now getting into it at more than surface level. I’m realizing that I’ve not really used it for much more than adding a simple sub OSC to a sound or as a sample player. I recently updated to the new firmware and while I had the card out, I added some custom and bespoke units to it out of curiosity. I’m just now realizing how powerful this module is!

Unfortunately, I have no idea where to start with it. I see the oscillators and other units are extremely simple, which makes me believe the intention is for us to creatively chain them together to build whatever we want. Like Legos. But what’s the best way to start learning how to make something intet and useful? I’m specifically interested in complex oscillators or additive oscillators at the moment. Do I just drop in a few units and hope for the best? Is there a resource for simple building blocks or anything? I’d love to start designing my own take on units, I just don’t know where to start.

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In general terms, I would say yes drop some units in a chain and hope for the best, you will see that with practice your choices will start to make sense from experience. Follow your intuition! For me, it took a long time to get to a point of satisfactory expertise, mainly because I didn’t have a lot of time to spend with it. Now it’s second nature. I’m interested in this question though, so I think I will take the time to answer this question more in depth later. Let’s see what other have to say.

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We all learn differently so it’s hard to say what will work best for you. Here’s a few ideas.

  1. Just treat it like a digital version of a modular synth. Figure out a patch you like on the rest of your modular and try to recreate it in the 301.

  2. If you prefer a more guided approach, @NeilParfitt has a ton of walkthrough videos, as do I. They are older but I think for the most part they’re still relevant, even if there might be a simpler way to do some of the things now.

  1. There are a few written tutorials down at the bottom of this page.

  2. Ask questions here. Hopefully they’ll get answered. :slight_smile:

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Thanks, those are definitely some good starting points. I did watch a handful of neil’s videos and some others a while ago, but seeing as it’s been a while… I should go back to them for sure!

In the meantime, I’ll keep messing around and trying to recreate simple patches within the 301. Great suggestions. I also had no idea about those tutorials you linked, headed there now!

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Couple other resources. New version of the docs are here. I think those are still in progress though, so you might find a little more here for now (same page the written tutorials are on). In particular you might want to make sure you understand “Signal Flow” really well.

There’s also an ER-301 discord you can join up to maybe get some more real time discussion.

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I would also try to identify whether the biggest obstacle is understanding the principles of sound synthesis (POSS) vs understanding the ER-301 (which is really just an environment for playing around with POSS).

If you know POSS then you just need to understand a few basic things about the ER-301 and most things will just click. That is the idea at least. It is also how I approach the documentation that I write. I consider my audience to be familiar with POSS and just focus on how the ER-301 addresses the operations needed for POSS.

So building on this and connecting back to this thread…

The hallmark of someone who understands POSS but not the mechanics of the ER-301 is that he/she will ask questions about how do accomplish certain fundamental POSS operations on the ER-301, such as:

  • How to add 2 or more signals?
  • How to multiply 2 or more signals?
  • How to trigger a sample?
  • And so on.

This person knows that if they understand how to do these basic operations on the ER-301 then he/she can use POSS to figure out almost everything else.

The hallmark of someone who still needs to work on POSS is that he/she asks questions like:

How can I do (insert complex idea) on the ER-301?

I’m not making a judgement (no one is born with POSS baked in) but awareness here will greatly inform how to direct the adventurer in question. The learning resources around the ER-301 are not really optimized for learning POSS after all.

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This is a valuable observation, and probably a big blind spot for many new users, like I was. I mentioned I took quite a while to get the hang of it with the ER-301, but I remember one of my first questions on this very forum was “WHY IS MY SIGNAL CLIPPING??” :flushed: :laughing: Obviously, that put me straight into the category of sound synthesis uninitiates and I was treated accordingly. Lucky for me and my fellow newbies, people on this forum are gentle souls, and I stuck with it. So part of learning the ER-301 was learning sound in general, mixing, frequencies, filtering and all of it. I think the ER-301 is an especially great tool to use as a learning instrument because it has little to no conceptual restrictions and it will never make assumptions about the way anyone will use it. These days, there are so many electronic instruments on the market that treat you like an imbecile: “just press play” and it will always sound fine. Boring, but no clipping :wink:

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Huh, that is a great answer. I’ve been making electronic music for a number of years now, so I always assume I know a fair bit about synthesis and sound design. However, I tend to overestimate my knowledge, and take a lot of things for granted. If someone handed me a synth, I’d probably be fine and figure it out pretty quickly and be on my way, but the problem for me currently is building that synth. I’ve never had to dissect a synth and determine the base building blocks that make it, so that’s what I’m struggling with at the moment. I suppose I should go read up about what makes an additive synth or complex synth or whatever. I can make a subtractive synth all day long but that can get boring after a while:)

After checking out some of Neil’s and Joe’s videos, I feel like I’m on the right track with how to use the 301 at a beginner level now, so I just need to figure out what it is that I want to do. The 301 isn’t the roadblock at this point, it’s my understanding! thanks for the responses all!

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I think you’re in for a treat because it’s a very rewarding journey. I think you are in a perfect position to make great headway, since you probably have way more experience than I had. Have fun!

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This was definitely the case for me. I had a lot of background with Max, Supercollider and modular synthesis in general when I bought the ER-301. I watched a bunch of Neils fantastic videos before my ER-301 was delivered in order to learn about the ideas behind the interface and when it arrived, I could immediately get started building things without nearly any hiccups. It was a very satisfying experience and the reason why I still think that the ER-301 is a marvel in interface design.

You do have to understand a few things like the idea of each parameter having its own sub-chain. Also, some things like the local routing may be a little mind-bending at first, but I do agree that when people struggle with the ER-301, it’s most likely because they struggle with the concepts that go beyond the ER-301 itself.

If you’re into books, my recommendation would be to pick up Curtis Roads’ “Computer Music Tutorial”. It doesn’t require all that much preexisting knowledge (maybe a certain inclination towards Maths? but only enough so you don’t want to close a book if it contains a formula - you don’t really need lots of mathematical knowledge to understand the important parts) and it does a very wide sweep over musical applications for signal processing on a level of abstraction that is very similar to the level of abstraction on the ER-301 in many ways. I think it’s one of the best resources for getting a bit deeper into “sound computing” without going all the way into writing code yourself. There’s definitely parts one might want to skip if one is only interested in a better understanding of how to use a Sound Computer like the ER-301, but I think it’s a very valuable resource nonetheless.

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I guess I’ll be the one to post the obligatory link to Sound On Sound’s Synth Secrets: https://drive.google.com/file/d/12SM0SAOvMq166gc8B1b81Y_S7HPym3Iy/view

Put it on your phone. Read it during your lunch breaks.

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Thanks for this. Have been reading this online recently and was thinking how great it would be to have a copy of the entire series in PDF. Cheers!

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