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Article from Issue 205/2017
Author(s):

Graham Morrison looks at VCV Rack, Audible Instruments, TripleA, Neofetch 3.3.0, TripleA, Eolie 0.9, and more!

Modular synth studio

VCV Rack

Before audio synthesizers were neatly packaged into boxes that contained a keyboard and all the components necessary to make a sound, they were modular. This meant you needed to link each component together with patch cables in a way that created the kind of sounds you wanted. Voltages would modulate parameters to produce audio, which could then be routed into different processing modules. After recording or playing the sound, you'd deconstruct the patchwork of interconnections and start again. This is how Delia Derbyshire worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, for example, or how anyone made a sound before Bob Moog came along and changed everything.

Integrated circuits (ICs) eventually pushed these behemoths aside, much as ICs and microprocessors did vacuum tubes. Programmable, neatly packaged synthesizers have now dominated for the last 30 years. But modular synthesizers are coming back, thanks to the combination of a smaller packaging format (called Eurorack), ARM processors, cheap home brew electronics, and a backlash against screens and workstations. Constructing your own sound sources from a mess of patch cables is cool again; sounds are often generative and experimental, with users meeting up to share setups and making the entire scene feel a little like a modular maker community.

The only problem is that this is an expensive hobby. Each module is often constructed by a few individuals and produced in small batches. They need specific power supplies and interfaces to get them talking to your computer. And that's why VCV Rack is one of the most brilliant pieces of audio software I've come across in a while. It's a software emulation of the infrastructure needed to host these modules, connect cables, edit parameters, and save patches. It even includes a batch of modules to get you started. There's a VCO for sound generation, a VCF for filtering sound, and both a VCA and an ADSR envelope generator for changing volume over time. There's also a delay effect, a mixer, an oscilloscope, and a sequencer – a batch of modules that would cost you a small fortune if you happened to be building your first physical modular system.

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