Modular synthesis … you know … these walls of complicated electronics with knobs, LEDs and cables makin’ science fiction sound effects. Too technical to be musical and too expensive to buy for a hobbyist.
But yeah, these monsters of complex circuits are having a comeback since Doepfer came along with the Eurorack system and since everyone realized the you don’t need to build your system as large as a complete wall of your room.
More and more do these videos popup in the internetz where you see a small Eurorack rig with just two rows and the room to build in ten to fifteen modules. Yes, minimalism conquers every part of our lives. And that’s a good thing, because we know now that limitations help us to be more creative.
And of course there is the software emulation. Our laptops and desktop computers are now able to handle realtime audio and emulate the graphics, sounds and behavior of real world instruments … no matter if acoustical or electronical nature.
This is where the VCV Rack comes into play. Designed, programmed and released in 2017 by Andrew Belt. For a few month now in Version 1.0. VCV Rack is a complete emulation of a Eurorack modular synthesizer system. It looks like a real one and maybe it also sounds like its real world counterpart. If not … who cares? It’s fun to play with it and learn with it. And hey, it’s free … did I mention that?
Where To start?
First of all go to the VCV Rack website, register an account, get the rack and start with a minimal setup of modules. The Core and Fundamental modules are included. All other modules could be scrolled through on the Library page of the website. And there are lots of stuff! I really don’t know how many modules are available at the moment, but the number increases every week. And there are modules for every need. I’m sure you can accomplish every sound you want from a synthesizer with these choice of modules.
As I mentioned above start small. Experiment with the fundamental stuff, build some classic setups, connect unusual stuff with each other and explore the possibilities. After that when you need something special search for the specific module and install it.
What are my favorites?
Next to the fundamental modules, there are a few things I always use again and again. First of all there are the modules of Bogaudio. These modules have a nice user interface and provides the user with oscillators, LFOs, mixers, sequencers, ADSRs and other tools that help accomplishing a specific task.
Next to an standard VCO they provide a XCO including a little mixer where you could mix the different waveforms an use some simple effects on them (saturation, FM feedback, sample and hold,…). There’s also an additive sine wave oscillator (Additator) where you could sum up to 100 sine waves (partials).
I especially like the mixers and the spectrum analyzers (Analyzer and Analyzer-XL) which are able to display 4 or 8 signals at the same time. All in all a very nice collection of well designed modules.
The next collection I really love are the software versions of the famous Mutable Instruments modules which are called Audible Instruments in the rack universe. Mutable Instruments is a french One-Person-Company and this one person is Emilie Gillet. She got tired of her day job and started developing digital Eurorack modules in 2009. Two years later and Mutable Instruments was born.
Audible Instruments are a really inspirational, creative and deep collection of rack modules. We have a granular synthesizer, a multi-oscillator module, a complex sampler and other effects and tools. I love to play around with these tools.
The last recommendation are the modules of NYSTHI, the company of Antonio Tuzzi from italy. Currently there are 125 modules by NYSTHI! That’s an enormous number of products. And the creativity they could provide is wide open. From Buchla style modules to samplers, tape echoes, different reverbs and sequencers. NYSTHI gives you a lot of stuff. The user interface is colorful and not my taste if I’m honest, but the tools are great.
I would also recommend the Vult modules, the stuff from Valley and the insane sequencers from Geodesics. But … please … if you are completely new to VCV Rack, start with the fundamentals and slowly evolve from there. Choice paralysis is a real thing.