Visualists are no longer safe from the addiction of modular racks. LZX Industries is bringing the Eurorack modular system, popular with a new generation of modular synthesists, to video. And in abstract, acidic washes of color and light, the results are mesmerizing.

Modular systems remain a significant investment. LZX’s “minimal” systems run over a grand, with a properly balanced rack of modular units running you some US$2675. That’s not to say that’s not a value, if you can afford it: in contrast to the tricky-to-repair, largely disposable high-end laptops a lot of digital visualists buy, this is a set of units you can repair yourself, that produces a workflow and output that’s truly unique, which you could cherish for some time to come.

Happily, though, if your budget isn’t in the four digits at the moment and you want to play around, LZX has a fantastic little synthesis kit – the output of which is featured in the video at top – for just US$80. (I like cheap. There’s something psychological about cheap, too, that gives you permission to experiment, I find.)

The $80 device isn’t just affordable; it’s ingeniously-conceived in its simplicity and efficiency. From the creators’ description:

  • A frame buffer which can display internal shapes and images in many colorization modes.
  • 8-bit color palette, although thousands more can be revealed from the analog color phase shifter.
  • An analog envelope follower/generator that responds to an external audio or clock signal, with gain and decay controls to modulate video.
  • A frequency counter also derived from the audio input, which can modulate video based on the frequency of the input signal.
  • Program and mode selection pushbuttons, as well as two arbitrary knobs and one pushbutton to control parameters dependent on the currently selected display program and mode.
  • Integrating programming header allows savvy users to upload their own images and animation routines.
  • 1/8″ jack audio input.
  • Composite video RCA output.

If you’re in the Austin, Texas area, you can catch the kit in a workshop at the Austin edition of Handmade Music and leave with one of your very own. If you go, do take some photos and video!
Austin #13 – BitVision video synthesizer [handmademusic.noisepages.com] (Handmade Motion, anyone?)

It is worth having a look at the output of the modulars, too; this kind of video loses something in the conversion to online digital, but you can still get an idea. See also the photos of a recent workshop. Modular samples below:

Lots, lots more details, and links to their Vimeo and Flikcr and YouTube and whatnot:
http://www.lzxindustries.net/

  • vade

    Ohhh. Nice.

  • http://radek.koshimazaki.com Radek

    wow this is awesome!

    i wonder if there is a device that lets you run video through audio chain and outputs video after, with sort of vga to stereo jack connection, that would be even cooler. I heard someone did similar thing with serge modular but can't find it now.

  • http://www.lzxindustries.net Lars Larsen

    Hey Peter, thanks for the writeup!

    Radek: Audio devices destroy the bandwidth necessary to create a full resolution video image, hence the need for custom modules. How this works best is in the modular synth environment, where you can distort lower-frequency signals however you like, through any signal processing device, before using them to modulate higher frequency content. Then you can find out what your spring reverb looks like. :) The two core modules for my modular system (Color Video Encoder and Video Sync Generator) are designed to make sure that no matter what you plug into them, valid video comes out. Stephen Jones/Severed Heads used a Serge Modular system to supply control signals for some custom video synthesis circuitry.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/mick/ Michele Coletti

    any image of the unit?

  • http://www.lzxindustries.net Lars Larsen

    I posted a graphic of the PCB layout (which is about 2.5 x 3.5 inches) on the Facebook event page:
    http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=15087841829
    Actual photos by the weekend.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/mick/ m:ck

    thanks :)

  • dn

    Where can you acquire one of the $80 kits?

  • prevolt

    Radek-

    You can convert composite SD from RCA to 1/4" and get some things going running that signal thru reverb & delay units. Distortion and the like are too harsh, they destroy the output, but higher-end more transparent effects can give interesting results. If I can remember back that far, color is the 1st thing to go (I guess it knocks off the colorburst?), but you get ghosting and rolling images and some cool stuff. Nothing this advanced, though.

  • http://www.lzxindustries.net Lars Larsen

    re: dn, the kits will be available for sale outside this Sunday's workshop within a couple weeks at Switched On (switchedonaustin.com)

    re: Prevolt & Radek — yes, the trick is maintaining color and sync information — if you have a system to strip those out, and then reinsert them, then you can do whatever you want to the signal between those two points and still get viewable results. the articles on my website http://www.lzxindustries.net for the Video Sync Generator & Color Video Encoder modules can help explain how that's achieved in my system. i may do some more kits at this price point for applying audio-modulated effects to external video signals if there is a lot of interest.

  • http://radek.koshimazaki.com Radek

    Thanks Lars and prevolt for the info.

    Lars I would be well up for a kit!

  • Greg

    Wow, those reds and yellows *hurt.*