Interview: Richard Nicol, Pittsburgh Modular Synthesizers (English Version)

14. September 2018

Lifestyle & Lifeform

Already the first modules and synthesizers from Pittsburgh Modular impressed me. At first it was just the look and feel of the modules, but above all of the cases. Every time we were given a case from Pittsburgh here in the editorial office, the enthusiasm was great. But with the Lifeforms range, Pittsburgh Modular Synthesizers has taken a path that, contrary to the pure Modular philosophy, has brought to market completely pre-wired systems that are perfectly matched in size, design and function. And also with our authors and readers the Lifeforms were obviously outstanding.

I was all the more curious when I had the opportunity to meet the mastermind and founder of Pittsburgh Modular Synthesizers at Superbooth 2018 – Richard Nicol. Full of commitment and enthusiasm, he personally presented his creations in individual sessions to interested musicians.  Actually, these sessions could confidently be called workshops, with a high learning factor.

The extremely sympathetic Englishman had therefore little time for an interview during the Superbooth, which is why we postponed it a little and finally led mostly by email.

Peter:
Hi Richard!

Richard:
Hello, thank you for talking with me.

Peter:
How did everything start with you with synthesizers? When was the first time you got interested in synthesizer?

Richard:
When I was a teenager, a friend of mine played me Front 242 Front by Front. That album changed my view on music and sound. I have been searching for strange and unique sounds ever since.

Entry to Pittsburgh Modular

Peter:
How did PITTSBURGH MODULAR come into existence?

Richard:
Pittsburgh Modular started as hobby to support my Eurorack obsession. I designed a simple but quirky LFO called the VILFO and built a few in my basement on the weekends. I figured if I could sell three VILFO modules a month, I could buy a new module for my system. The business grew pretty quickly from there.

Peter:
How big should I imagine today PITTSBURGH MODULAR?

Richard:
We are smaller than you think. Pittsburgh Modular was a larger company a few years ago, but we made a decision to scale down to a more manageable size and focus on designing and building unique instruments. The size and goals of our company allow Michael Johnsen and I to concentrate on pushing analog technology forward.

Richard Nicol from Pittsburgh Modular during Superbooth 2018

Peter:
How many people are employed at PM and how many are working in the PM Development?

Richard:
We have 7 employees. Michael Johnsen and I handle development, and the rest of our team handle production, sales, customer service, and operations. We are a very happy crew.

Peter:
I first noticed PITTSBURGH MODULAR through its design – both from the modules, but above all because of the dark wood cases which are really beautiful. Who is your designer?

Assembled Cases

Richard:
The cases are a team effort. I am lucky to work with Michael Importico (a different Michael) and some very talented local wood workers, who sculpt our designs into beautiful synthesizer enclosures with rock solid power.

Case Assembly Area

Peter:
From the beginning PM has developed modules for Eurorack. Now it seems that you also develop stand alone Units. Is there a fundamental change in direction?

Richard:
It is more of an evolution. Designing standalone synthesizers allows Michael and I to curate a complete experience for artists. Standalone synthesizers also allow us to offer some of the work and innovation we have created for eurorack to the larger analog synthesizer community.

Peter:
Do you have the impression that the Eurorack market could be slowly saturated?

Richards Engineering Desk

Richard:
Possibly, but Eurorack is full of designers creating interesting analog and digital modules that are expanding the boundries of synthesis. This forces Eurorack to evolve and that is great. Michael Johnsen and I are interested in exploring analog synthesis and the eurorack format continues to be the best platform for our ideas.

Peter:
How is the business developing for you? Are there core markets that are particularly strong?

Richard:
Business is good, and we have global distribution of our products. We have been able to turn Pittsburgh Modular into a sustainable platform to share our ideas. On the production side, we are small and can only build so many instruments at a time, so we tend to be backordered.

Peter:
How can one stand out from the immense amount of competitors in the Eurorack market?

Richard:
We are not trying to compete with other eurorack companies. Instead, we are focused on pushing analog synthesizer design forward and letting our instruments speak for themselves.

Demo Area

Peter:
With your Lifeforms line, you have also developed Eurorack modules that are already integrated, complete system. Does this not that contradict a little the Eurorack idea, any modules of to assemble different providers?

Richard:
Euroack does not have any preconceived rules on what is modular. That allows us to have a different set of expectations for each of our modules. Most of our Lifeforms modules focus on a single function, but we do offer the SV-1 which is a fully modular synthesizer voice. Different artists will gravitate to the instruments that best fit their musical needs.

Peter:
Is the Lifeforms concept going? How are the sales figures here?

Richard:
Lifeforms sales have exceeded our expectations and the Lifeforms line was a turning point for us. It was the beginning of our shift to more complex, innovative design. The Double Helix Oscillator and Dynamic Impulse Filter are examples of this philosopy.

Peter:
You are one of the few manufacturers who are still committed to dogma, to realize “analog” as much as possible (apart from Midi etc.). But more and more manufacturers are now integrating small processors and DSPs in the modules for sampling, effects, waveforms, etc. How do you feel about that?

Richard:
We design analog instruments because we are fascinated by the possibilities of analog circuitry. Analog has so much to offer. We have only begun to scratch the surface.

Tested Modules

Peter:
Where should the journey lead, Richard? How big should Pittsburgh Modular be and in which technical area do you want to push forward?

Richard:
I do not want Pittsburgh Modular the company to grow any larger. I would love to partner with a larger synthesizer manufacturer to expand the availability of our innovative circuits outside of the boutique synthesizer community. My goal for Pittsburgh Modular is very clearly defined. I need Michael Johnsen and I to continue pushing the possibilities of analog circuitry forward. All of our efforts are focused on designing products that feature new, unique analog technologies.

Test Rig

Peter:
Can Pittsburgh Modular imagine to develop eventually even synthesizers with real keyboards, maybe even polyphonic?

Richard:
We have never discussed designing a polyphonic synthesizer, but we would love to build a synthesizer with an integrated keyboard at some point down the road.

Assembly Station

Peter:
Dear Richard, we thank you very much for the interview and wish you a successful future !!!

Forum

Es sind momentan noch keine Kommentare für diesen Artikel vorhanden.

Kommentar erstellen

Die AMAZONA.de-Kommentarfunktion ist Ihr Forum um sich persönlich zu den Inhalten der Artikel auszutauschen. Sich daraus ergebende Diskussionen sollten höflich und sachlich geführt werden. Haben Sie eigene Erfahrungen mit einem Produkt gemacht, stellen Sie diese bitte über die Funktion Leser-Story erstellen ein. Für persönliche Nachrichten verwenden Sie bitte die Nachrichtenfunktion im Profil.