Chatting with Danjel van Tijn

Building Intellijel

Perfect Circuit · 08/05/20

In the rapidly expanding world of Eurorack synth manufacturers, Vancouver-based company Intellijel stands out by consistently producing modules that combine deep functionality and a clean, minimal design aesthetic. Intellijel is now something of a staple Eurorack company, and several modules they have produced over the years are already considered Eurorack classics. These include their Metropolis sequencer (an adaptation of RYK Modular's Roland System 100m format M-185), the Atlantis (Roland's iconic SH-101 packed into a module), the Planar mixer/panner/gestural controller, as well as the unfathomably deep Rainmaker and Shapeshifter modules, and much more. In fact, thinking about it, it seems that every major release from the brand is a straight hit.

In one of our recent livestreams, we got a chance to speak with Intellijel's founder Danjel van Tijn. The conversation went in many directions, and we managed to cover everything from how Intellijel got started, all the way to their collaborations with Cylonix and Applied Acoustic Systems, plans for new modules, and more. We'll sum up some of the key moments in the article below, so read on.

Intellijel Then

It is always interesting to hear somebody's story of becoming, as it provides a perspective on how choices, influences, and chance can lead to fantastic outcomes. In Danjel's case, the desire to be involved with music technology was there from the get go. It influenced his decision to get a degree in electrical engineering, and led him to work at the Victoria-based company IVL—a parent organization that branched out into Digitech, TC Helicon, and Electrix. During the same period of time, Danjel was also actively involved in the local electronic music scene as both DJ and music producer. While Danjel laughingly claims that the latter was a much more preferred and enjoyable activity at the time, he admits that both experiences served as a foundational core for his later work with Intellijel.

Like a few other Eurorack companies, such as The Harvestman (now Industrial Music Electronics) and Make Noise, Intellijel was started out of a need to fill the missing pieces in the then-limited Eurorack framework. Thus the first Intellijel modules was born—Mind Meld, an expander for the Livewire Vulcan Modulator dual LFO, which allowed users to switch some parameters on the main module, and added a sync function. Mind Meld also served as a great testing platform for Eurorack panel design, and Danjel admits that making that panel look and feel great was his primary focus. Once this mission was complete and a few dozen units were sold, Danjel set the course towards production of Intellijel's first original module—µStep, a 4HP-wide programmable gate sequencer.

Intellijel Now

Many things have changed since those early days for Intellijel, and today it is operated by four people, each of whom have different responsibilities, but share a singular vision for uncompromising quality in both sound and design. Over the last decade, the brand carved such a unique spot for itself in the Eurorack world, that it is now difficult to imagine the format without Intellijel.

There are many landmark things worth noting about Intellijel's history and their approach to making synthesizers. Their collaboration with Cylonix gave the synth world Shapeshifter and Rainmaker—two of the most deep and feature-packed modules in Eurorack. Another collaboration with sonic physicists at Applied Acoustics Systems resulted in the unique physical modeling voice Plonk, which has been racked in countless systems since its release.

During the chat, Danjel mentioned that he would be as happy developing MIDI controllers as he does making modular synthesizers, as this field has plenty of untapped territory and thus is open to all kinds of innovation. This interest translated to Intellijel creating some of the most exciting controller modules in Eurorack—namely, the Planar and Tetrapad + Tete combo. Collectively taking up mere 42 HP, this combo is capable of providing full control over a decently large-sized modular setup with functionality ranging from hand-drawn modulation, to sequencing, to multitouch keyboard, to fader bank, and more.

On top of their excellent module selection, Intellijel also managed to create some of the best Eurorack cases on the market. There are currently three sizes to choose from: 7Ux104HP, 7Ux84HP Performance Cases, and the compact 4Ux62HP Palette case. All cases are made using light weight aluminum, which not only ensures a great industrial look, but also makes them easy to transport. And of course, the addition of 1U row provides dedicated space for handy utility modules.

Intellijel Later

Considering how much the company has grown since its inception, we are very curious to see its future development. There are a few new 1U modules in development, including a passive Low Pass Gate. Additionally, as Danjel points points out, the company has accumulated a large custom code library which they plan to put to action in the near future, thus we can hope for some novel digital modules exploring various synthesis methods. Furthermore, Intellijel have been working for a few years on non-Eurorack devices. This sounds incredibly exciting, as it will open up the brand to a completely new audience.

Whatever the future holds for Intellijel, it surely looks pretty bright, and we can't wait to see and hear anything new their crew comes up with.