Modular Santa Claus is here, just in the Nick of time. Boutique Scottish Eurorack maker Instruo is dropping a big range of modules in virtual form on VCV Rack – for free. Here’s what’s inside and where to get started.
I’ve been messing with a final build here for a bit, and this collection is simply wonderful. It’s got just enough of the sorts of tools that let you get adventurous with sound design, while remaining accessible and balanced. But crucially, everything from your wishlist is there – Buchla-/West Coast-inspired necessities like a complex oscillator and waveshaper, harmonic shaping and filtering options for sculpting frequency spectrum, and plenty of patching and mixing and modulation options to tie it all together.
Now the only thing missing is the excellent granular audio and looping stuff from Instruo, but – well, now they get us hooked on their stuff. (This is free as in beer – it’s under a proprietary license. But it’s still a fantastic gift!)
I think a great way to work in VCV Rack is to indulge your “let’s play with new toys” impulse and stay focused all at once. So why not pick one collection of patches and mess with just those. Some line between reading the manual and understanding how things work and losing discipline and screwing with knobs – each with their own happy accidents – is healthy enough good-natured play. The range of Instruo stuff here is perfect for that.
What’s inside, module by module – with links to product pages so you have a quick reference as you learn:
3 oscillators in one – here’s your go-to for bread and butter oscillators, but note the separate sync patch points and the ability to crossfade between waveforms with dedicated sliders.
You can also do pulse width modulation on the third oscillator.
Here’s the West Coast starting point – but with a broader, more modern array of options. So you get not only cross modulation, but also multiplication and amplitude modulation, there’s actually modulation routing on the module itself, a ton of different waveforms (“classic” and “contemporary”), and somehow it’s not too cluttered, especially with those nice big tuning knobs and wavefold sliders plus some clever patch point placement.
Also, while there are a handful of Rack modules that I really dearly love, the fact that this one is adapted from hardware means that those functions can’t be hidden in menus. And that may well give this an edge.
Basic oscillator with the addition of built-in West Coast-style wavefolding.
This oscillator maximizes features while minimizing space usage. So it also crams in a wavefolder, plus a complex Pulse Width Modulation waveshaper. You can also use it as a modulation source, which its size lends itself to nicely. I like the consistency with the other designs, too.
Quad oscillator with (Roland-style) super-saw – which you can use to layer thick parts or make whole chords/scales out of a single analog voltage source at pitch. That can be harmonic or very complex; see the associated controls. And there’s FM, too. I really like how this one is laid out; it’s really designed for easy paraphonic patching and you can pair or tune or arpeggiate in various ways with its mixing options.
(The quick start guide is musical and easy to follow.)
It’s also designed for easy pairing with the harmonàig quantiser.
This is about the most musical looking harmonizer I’ve seen, making chord progressions in various voicings really accessible. They’re quick to emphasize that you don’t need music theory, and I suppose you don’t, but… if you missed having some use for that music theory, this looks handy.
Again, you can work by harmony but also by mode.
What this is not is a tool for non-classical tunings – there are other microtonal/Scala tuning options for that for Rack, including VCV’s own Scalar. VCV also has the Chords module, which is worth checking out and really easy to use – though Instruo’s option has tons of extras.
Modulation and signal shaping
Hey, DivKid, the modular video personality, worked on this one!
Basically, 8 LFOs squeezed into a tiny space. They all have their own rate, but it’s relative to the master rate and it’s all “tuned by ear during development” so you get something with a personal character here. I love stuff like this, especially for rapid patching.
Three channel waveshaper, limiter, overdrive, and feedback controller. Patch stuff in, add some shaping. And yeah, Pd/Max folks know the joys of [tanh~].
Note that you do get a gain control for each, so you have some ability to dial in what you want.
Wavefolder on its own, with CV control of depth and a symmetry offset.
Sample and Hold aka random signal generator. There’s also an internal noise source so you can use this on your own, without patching an input. Or use your own input or clock in.
Mixing, amplitude, and utilities
Lion is a 6×6 matrix mixer with pins – so if you have some matrix-patching envy a la EMS Synthi and whatnot, here’s your moment!
This time VCV’s own option is much deeper, in the Router, another paid add-on. But lion has simple pin settings and, well, it’s pretty in black and gold, so I could easily see using both. Matrix tools are also really important in making modular setups useful in live performance. So please, join my revolution of convincing the world that “laptop performance” doesn’t have to mean triggering a bunch of simple stems in Ableton Live, and can in fact be every bit as involved as hardware modular, if not more so.
Two-channel bidirectional switch. The trick is that you can route in any kind of control signal you want – gates, contours, triggers, up to audio rate.
Oh plus there’s still a button when you need it.
Note the latch switch / momentary option, too.
Two-channel VCA with parallel and series routing and a lot of extras.
ADSR envelope – and with nice big vertical sliders! Each segment also has its own trigger and gate output, and note that shape control in the lower right.
I’d actually been missing something like this in Rack, so this is a godsend.
Two manual faders. Clearly.
Meanwhile, on the East Coast… yeah, this is a Moog-style transistor ladder filter, but the clever twist is throwing in a 3-channel mixer.
The filter scene has been active in VCV land lately – you might also check Valley’s Feline and Audible Instruments Liquid Filter – the latter adapted from Mutable Instruments’ Ripples.
But this is a perfect way of taming all the madness you might patch together with the rest, into something warm and pleasant.
Everything is now in the VCV Rack library, to be added automatically via the cloud:
And check out the specific collection:
Plus the hardware maker (with complete documentation):
Glasgow’s Jason H. J. Lim, creator of these modules, is on GitHub with a bunch of goodies if you want a little free as in freedom action, too: