Getting started with VCV Rack [updated 2/28]

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davephillips
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Getting started with VCV Rack [updated 2/28]

Postby davephillips » Wed Feb 27, 2019 2:33 pm

Greetings !

VCV Rack has become a very popular virtual modular synthesizer. It's available for Linux, Mac, and Windows operating systems, and it requires no uncommon resources. However, there are some required dependencies, the most important of which is support for OpenGL 2.0 with the GL_EXT_framebuffer_object extension.

First things first: Read the manual at https://vcvrack.com/manual/index.html, it includes installation instructions for all platforms. It also includes instructions for downloading and installing plugins.

Next, I must emphasize that there's a great difference between working with a CV (control voltage) data path and one made from a MIDI stream. If you come to the Rack with the expectation that it's somehow just another kind of MIDI synth you may be severely disappointed. CV is more subtle, offering much finer granularity in the production and control of your signal paths. If you're brand new to the CV world you might want to brush up your reading skills and look into books like Hal Chamberlin's classic Musical Applications of Microprocessors or the more recent Patch & Tweak by Kim Bjørn and Chris Meyer.

Now for a few more handy definitions. A plugin is a single shared object file (plugin.so) created by its developer to contain any number of modules. A module is a task-specific component such as an oscillator or filter. You'll install plugins in order to access the modules you'll need to make patches in VCV Rack. A patch is a collection of modules connected (patched) in specific ways to create a signal path that eventually outputs an audio stream. Finally, a preset is a file that contains parameter settings for a specific module, e.g. settings to define a small room reverb for a specific reverb module.

The matter of presets reveals a basic aspect of VCV Rack. Unlike a VST plugin, the modules for VCV Rack do not usually appear with any presets at all. As with a hardware modular synthesizer, you are responsible for the sound design of your patches.

There are a lot of plugins available for VCV Rack. Most are free, and most of the free plugins are open-source. However, closed-but-free plugins exist, as do commercially available plugins. The quality of the work varies, and there are modules that repeat functions found in other collections. The following recommendations are strictly personal, though they do represent favorites chosen after a year and a half on the Rack:

Fundamental The essential collection of basic modules, includes VCOs, VCAs, VCFs, and many other synthesis and control modules. This set remains the best starting point for the absolute beginner. Learn how these modules work, and you'll have the keys to the kingdom.

Squinky Labs Refinements of some basic modules from other collections, along with some great original modules for more advanced users.

Vult The best collection of filters for VCV Rack. Very well-designed, with attractive GUIs and excellent audio quality.

NYSTHI The largest collection of modules in a single plugin, and certainly one of the most unique. A great variety of module types can be found in this plugin, including sample playback modules, many interesting control units, emulations of Buchla synthesis and sequencer components, and many others not found elsewhere in the Rack plugin ecology.

ML_Modules Excellent collection of modules for routing, buffering, switching, and otherwise controlling signals.

JW-Modules Inventive sequencer designs, cool display hacks, a handy simple clock, a handy simple quantizer, and more.

Impromptu Sequencers, a great clock, very cool control modules, and much more, with some of the best UI work on the Rack.

ValleyAudio A superb plugin that includes a 1st-class plate reverb, an incredibly detailed 4-operator FM synthesizer, and two ports of the Grids rhythm sequencer from Mutable Instruments. And that's not all.

hetrickCV Boolean math, random trigger/gate creation, unique noise generators. Maybe an advanced set, but one of my favorites.

I know, that's a lot to recommend, so I'll emphasize the importance of starting with small steps. If you're just beginning with modular synthesis, learn to use the Fundamental modules, learn what they do and how they can be connected for common tasks. Make simple patches with only a few modules, without effects processing. Build more complex patches gradually.

Btw, there's a nice collection of VCV Rack patches at patchstorage.com, freely available for studying at your leisure. Some patches are fully developed compositions, some are demonstrations to show off the capabilities of a particular module, and others are tutorial patches for basic and advanced synthesis techniques.

The VCV Rack community is very active. The following list should get you started with your connections. (And yes, I already know that some of you don't like Facebook, so no, you don't need to tell me.)

The Official Users Group on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/groups/vcvrack/

VCV Rack on github (source code repo)
https://github.com/VCVRack/Rack

The VCV Rack home page
https://vcvrack.com/

Omar Brown's VCV Rack Users Group
https://www.facebook.com/groups/702841653234900/

VCV Rack French Users Group
https://www.facebook.com/groups/2069785583250645/

VCV Rack Italian Users Group
https://www.facebook.com/groups/vcvitalia/

Official VCV Rack Community Forum
https://community.vcvrack.com/

YouTube hosts some excellent channels for Rack-related music, news, and tutorials. Here are three favorite links, but there are many others:

Omri Cohen's superb tutorials
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuWKHS ... VSeNH4gYAg

Artem Leonov's tutorials
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc0cXl ... iyW30NQ7Sg

Ben De Groot's original work, tutorials, and live streams
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCasNEY ... PoA/videos

But wait, that's not all ! In typical open-source fashion, VCV Rack has spawned a mini-ecology of related work. Jim Tupper has developed a multi-threaded version of VCV Rack 0.6.2b - soon to be obsoleted by the impending VCV Rack v1 release - and developer bsp2 has created VeeSeeVSTRack, an unofficial VST plugin version of the Rack. An official VST version has been announced for Rack v2. In the meanwhile, the unofficial plugin works very well in Linux DAWs such as Ardour and Bitwig.

The current version of VCV Rack is at 0.6.2c, and v1 has been announced for release in a month or so. Version 1 will bring support for multicore CPUs, polyphonic cabling, MPE, CV-to-MIDI output, and much more. But don't wait, there's plenty of fun left in 0.6.2c, and there's no time like the present to get started on the voyage.

Best regards,

Dave Phillips
Last edited by davephillips on Thu Feb 28, 2019 2:46 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack

Postby sysrqer » Wed Feb 27, 2019 2:50 pm

Nice, thanks for doing this. I downloaded and started with it yesterday actually. I think I made a bit of a mistake by installing every plugin available - think I'll have to strip that down a bit.

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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack

Postby GMaq » Wed Feb 27, 2019 4:51 pm

@davephillips

A thousand thank yous for such a detailed and comprehensive response, will have a good look this coming weekend!

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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack

Postby bluebell » Wed Feb 27, 2019 8:02 pm

I am impressed.
Linux – MOTU UltraLite AVB – Qtractor – https://soundcloud.com/suedwestlicht

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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack

Postby jonetsu » Wed Feb 27, 2019 11:16 pm

I haven't had the chance to listen to the recent songs - or pieces - posted around here, been way too busy with my own stuff but I've quickly tried VCV Rack as a VST plugin in Linux in Bitwig and it works all right.

So I thought to mention this possibility for anyone interested and perhaps also as a possible additional VCV Rack offering for AV Linux users.

The Linux 64-bit VCV Rack VST version comes pre-packaged with some modules and its called veeseevstrack, is downloadable from:

https://github.com/bsp2/releases/raw/ma ... Oct2018.7z

Also said to be running fine in Renoise and QTractor. Will someone try in Ardour/Mixbus ?

Project page at:

https://github.com/bsp2/VeeSeeVSTRack#downloads

Here running alongside the free u-he synth Beatzille in Bitwig 2.4.3, Xubuntu 18.04 LTS:

vcvracklinuxbitwigbeatzille.jpg
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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack

Postby davephillips » Thu Feb 28, 2019 2:49 pm

jonetsu wrote:I haven't had the chance to listen to the recent songs - or pieces - posted around here, been way too busy with my own stuff but I've quickly tried VCV Rack as a VST plugin in Linux in Bitwig and it works all right.

So I thought to mention this possibility for anyone interested ...


I did refer to this item in my original text but didn't make it clear. Clarified now, thanks.

And yep, it works very nicely, it's a great way to get familiar with Rack in the more familiar environment of a DAW.

Best regards,

dp

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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack [updated 2/28]

Postby lilith » Thu Feb 28, 2019 3:37 pm

Thanks for that summary. I definitely will look into that. On my system there's something wrong with the graphic. Some modules look strange, maybe I'm missing the openGL thing?

Here's a screenshot:

Image

found this and replied: https://github.com/VCVRack/Rack/issues/461
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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack [updated 2/28]

Postby davephillips » Thu Feb 28, 2019 4:25 pm

lilith wrote:...found this and replied: https://github.com/VCVRack/Rack/issues/461


I saw your exchange there. Did the locale fix work for you ?

dp

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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack [updated 2/28]

Postby lilith » Thu Feb 28, 2019 4:28 pm

I'm trying figuring out how to change it :)
It's a bit complicated in Debian and explained here:

https://unix.stackexchange.com/question ... f-8-locale

I didn't test it yet.
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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack

Postby jonetsu » Thu Feb 28, 2019 5:14 pm

davephillips wrote:I did refer to this item in my original text but didn't make it clear. Clarified now, thanks.

It's a question of emphasis. For me - and undoubtedly for others as well - the VST port is such a great thing that it deserved its own special 'detailed' mention. And so did I. I forgot to mention that the VST port comes with quite a good number of Rack modules. It's basically plug-and-play inside your favorite Linux DAW. So one can still have the nice basses, the pads and the leads, if not the (acoustic) guitars, and introduce VCV Rack specifics. Or they other way around.

davephillips wrote:And yep, it works very nicely, it's a great way to get familiar with Rack in the more familiar environment of a DAW.

Well, for the very quick test I did so far, there are no VST parameters exported to Bitwig and seen in the corresponding Bitwig device. I would think this is because it works through a VCV Rack 'Modulator' module/bridge whose outputs themselves are getting plugged to whichever modulation input of a module inside the VCV Rack and transmits the Bitwig modulation to the module via a modulated Bitwig device knob.

Does it work something akin to that ? Having Bitwig modulation input into the VCV Rack pushes further the integration.

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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack [updated 2/28]

Postby thebutant » Sat Mar 02, 2019 8:26 pm

I've been playing around with VCV rack quite a bit, and I enjoy it sooo much.

So I was very happy to read this thread and discover the vst. That's really what I've been dreaming of.
However I cannot find out how to get any sound from the vst in qtractor. Like where to start, how to make a midi trigger trig anything at all. This may be a stupid, but how do you start with the vst?

I experience the graphic issue (shown earlier in this thread) quite heavily, so that may be a reason I don't find the vst too easy to navigate.

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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack [updated 2/28]

Postby jonetsu » Sat Mar 02, 2019 8:45 pm

Look at the screenshot I posted above, upper left. There's a MIDI module. That module takes the MIDI input from the DAW and 'converts' it to a 'voltage' value related to a scale. But it will not stop the note that's played. For that you need the gate output from that MIDI module and connect it to an ADSR which in turn goes to a VCA and then to the AUDIO module.

For playing the VCV rack like a regular VST synth you need those modules to start with, before adding any sound-producing oscillators and waves and such. Everything goes between the MIDI (DAW in) and AUDIO (DAW out) modules. You can load the VCV Rack in that screen shot, it's one of the given examples.

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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack [updated 2/28]

Postby sysrqer » Sat Mar 02, 2019 8:50 pm

I'm starting to think that vcvrack is one of the most successful pieces of free software - there are loads of uses on all platforms, users are contributing a ton of modules, youtube is filled with tutorials. Is there any other opensource audio software that has been adopted so widely amongst other platforms?

I'm struggling a bit with one patch I've made. I have a simple melody triggered by SEQ-3 going in to Quantum and then in to the fundamental vco. I want to change the octave every bar or two but I can't find any way to do it. I saw a video on Omri's channel where he uses Constants in to Sequential Switch 2 in to the transpose input of Quantum to do this but when I try the changes only happen for 1-3 semitones of Constants, nothing changes at all if I use +/-12. Fundamental Octave works but it's manual triggering and has no input control. It surely can't be this difficult?

https://youtu.be/q584jjJgngI?t=748

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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack

Postby jonetsu » Sat Mar 02, 2019 9:00 pm

davephillips wrote: And yep, it works very nicely, it's a great way to get familiar with Rack in the more familiar environment of a DAW.


Well, loading a module (don't remember which one, although not one of the Fundamental or Core) ) in the VST version crashed the Rack.

One puzzling thing with this in general though, is that, could it be possible to spend some amount of time trying to get 'good sounds' from a module when that module by design is more or less doing crappy sounds ? With a regular synth there are presets so that it's easy to gauge the quality of sounds. With a VCVRack however, one can pull a FM module and think "how great this is" although it might turn out after 1.5 hours that the said module is really only outputting crappy sounds and a "so much for that" turns out to be result.

Are there overviews of modules, does each module comes with a complete set of documentation and more importantly audio examples ? Only a handful of pdfs are included while png files seems to also serve as documentation for some. While there are rules to interface software-wise to the rack, there's seemingly no structure for documenting and showing audio examples of what a module can do.

NB.: As sysrqer mentions below, the youtube videos - many of them - are certainly a good place to get info and audio examples.
Last edited by jonetsu on Sat Mar 02, 2019 9:08 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Getting started with VCV Rack [updated 2/28]

Postby jonetsu » Sat Mar 02, 2019 9:05 pm

sysrqer wrote:I'm starting to think that vcvrack is one of the most successful pieces of free software - there are loads of uses on all platforms, users are contributing a ton of modules, youtube is filled with tutorials. Is there any other opensource audio software that has been adopted so widely amongst other platforms?

The tutorials are certainly a good place to get both documentation and audio examples of what some modules can do. I'll try to watch some on generating ambient material. It's almost tempting to write a module just for fun.

As for playing melodies, why not use a DAW and its MIDI capabilities and use the Rack for what the Rack can excel at ? This is where I find that the VST version shines.


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