VCV Rack is the ish

The title says it all – Simply put, VCV Rack is.. The .. S**t. We’ve all dabbled, researched or explored modular synthesis in one way or another. I’d imagine if you’re reading this article you’ve had your interest piqued by the versatility modular promises. The problem is that it’s confusing as all hell! When you start, you know nothing. Slowly you realize you need power. Okay, easy enough. Now, I need a sound source. Okay, this is getting costly… Wait, and how do I even output this thing???

Modular broken down

In the end, your research will show you that, to even get started, you’ll need modules such as an lfo/vco, a vcf, a vca. JUST TO GET STARTED!! So, even when trying to go cheap, you’re probably going to be looking at spending a grand on your rack. This is not the hobby for the faint of heart or wallet. That is, unless, you are very good at soldering and can manufacture your own modules.

There’s soooo many options, though. For each segment too (vco, vcf, vca)?! Yup. Where in God’s name do I begin then??

Picking modules

This is where VCV Rack becomes such an important tool. This application is free. Let me repeat that, FREE. In a space where everything costs an arm and a leg, VCV has your back covered by being open source.

Some of the heaviest hitters in module openly share their hardware emulations in this software. I’m talking Mutable Instruments, Befaco, Doepfer, etc. Before ever laying your hand on a credit card you can lay it on these virtual knobs and manual tweaks.

Learning CV

I have a majority of my CV knowledge via a course taken in college. With that said, I needed brushing up since that was forever ago. I learned that the modular community is a very kind one. There’s loads of resources and discord servers chock full of knowledgeable people who don’t mind guiding a total noob.

Aside from learning directly from someone, VCV Rack opens the door to experimentation. I didn’t know that trig out went to the next modules gate until I watched a YouTube video. Sequencing was a mystery until I just gave it a go. Patching was a total brain buster until I eventually drag and dropped virtual cords in spots that produced sounds. Modular is perfect for the musician who can’t sit still, always needs to be tweaking something, has ADD and is probably prescribed Adderall. To lessen frustration though, acclimate yourself first to these modules in this totally virtual environment.

“What’re you trying to do?”

Whenever I seek advice from modular-heads the answer I always get is, “It depends on what you’re trying to do.” While this answer can be frustrating, it’s true. The spectrum of achievable sounds is infinite, so asking this question is like asking an audiophile their favorite band. To answer any question in modular is to do it. That will show you what you’re trying to do. And take a wild guess where I’d recommend you perform this ‘trial’ run of modules – VCV Rack. Try it before you buy it.

 

Not just a purchasing aid

While there’s no direct way to record within VCV Rack(? correct me if I’m wrong here), you can always use SoundFlower to capture the audio directly from the sound card within QuickTime. This obviously opens up a whole host of possibilities; Import the file to your DAW, use a drone as a backing track, hell, sing over the damn patch. VCV Rack takes away the complication of recording/exporting/saving your modular patches. A major pro to a frequently seen modular con.

Once you’ve uncovered your favorite modules you can create songs in a flash. With a few clicks, you can establish a fresh new track in minutes. The fun part is that it will never be the same tune twice, like modular itself. You’ll always have room for expansion and quirky tweaking.

Speaking of expansion, the folks who programmed Rack built themselves a hell of an intelligent business model. The free version is badass and I can’t really speak for any of the paid tools, since I have none, but this idea is genius. They get to make money for themselves and for further development of Rack directly through the platform itself. *high fives to the Rack team for dreaming big and delivering hard.

VCV Rack now Vs. going forward

Recently, the makers of VCV Rack announced a massive update to their already fascinating platform. With VCV Rack 1.0, they have advised that they will have a “refined interface,” “more integration with conventional DAWs,” and “virtual CV to MIDI and direct MIDI mapping.” Personally, I cannot wait for the ability to have polyphonic capabilities via virtual ‘polyphonic’ patch cords. Sometimes it’s about the small things too. V1.0 will allow for manual value entry. No more guessing games. Obtain precision over and over and over again. Aside from all these astounding updates, V2.0 isn’t far behind and promises further DAW integration.

In short, in case I’ve lost your attention, shit’s about to get crazy very soon for Rack users. It’s already somewhat of a niche tool. I foresee this update really shoving this VST into the limelight, forcing us all to reconsider how we approach music and computers as powerful combination tools, instead of the 2 being at war with one another.

Resources

Again, like modular itself VCV Rack has a fair amount of a learning curve tied to it. Essentially, it’s hard as hell! I had no idea what I was doing with it for probably a good year before I took to YouTube to become self-taught. I know I touched on this before but it warrants repeating. Don’t be shy with this software. There’s someone out there willing to help you. Too cool for YouTube tutorials? There’s Discord servers, Instagram profiles and the VCV site itself, to name a few places where you can express your questions openly and not feel silly.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Hopefully it was helpful. As always, feel free to comment on this page and never stop rockin’ and rollin’!