how do you deal with or like the "know before you go" mindset of modular synthesis?
The knowing before hand is something I have definitely experienced and so understand completely what you on about. This is pretty much the exact reason why I never used the Modular as much as I would have liked.
I have coincidentally just briefly mentioned about this very area in post 78 & 79. Basically, it has pretty much taken me 78 or so posts to begin to feel I am using a synth again and not some, as you say, sit down and think type machine.
I am the same with you, I really don't like assigning lots of dials, it is just to confusing and they are always different, and so only use them perhaps for the occasional parameter, or combinations, but generally only assign 2-4 tops, if I do at all, normally volumes.
The other point you mentioned about sounds tending to stand on their own as apposed to being the basis for a song, is also a constant balance for me. I have to say that generally my feeling towards what constitutes a track or song has perhaps moved more than my sound creating methods have. To explain, for me, generally I tend to present enough 'information' (as I like to call it) within the sound, to be able to take it apart again if needed. I have found though, that in most case when trying to reconstruct sections of sound into a more combinations of sounds, I tend to get results I don't like if using more traditional DAW.
I basically find it really hard working with big blocks of audio in Pro Tools using automation for example, and also feel the overall structure of the track is somehow clunky, to automated. I much prefer, or find more pleasing results, when thinking of it more as one sound, or can influence how it all comes together. If jamming with sounds, I feel the results are more to my taste, but then again, often the question of 'is it a finished track' is a hard one.
For the creating of sounds in the Modular, there is definitely a different feeling an way to create a patch, if it is to be used for its flexibility. Creating something that has the potential to create lot of varying textures, or tones for example, would perhaps be a better tool for creating more layered songs/tracks. I tend to create something more specific, or start from scratch than general synths. Things can get very specific, very quickly I find, and it takes a lot of focus and control to ensure the patch created is one for making something with, as apposed to strictly a one horse race (is that the saying?)
As for being able to quickly use the Modular, all I would suggest is just keep using it, kind of obvious I know, but that “know before you program” does eventually disappear, thankfully, and things just start to feel more easy.
It has started to feel now, more like an old piece of kit, like my old Juno or my Akai sampler, I can just go to it and quickly make something happen. Before I kinda felt worried, scared even, like I was sitting my exams…haha.