Small hybrid systems, or "What can software not do?"

I’ve been forced to (mostly) get out of modular recently due to impending student loans and I’m entering the software world for pretty much the first time. I still have a Digitakt, guitars, pedals, and a Minibrute, so not totally out of hardware, but 9U of Euro just isn’t feasible on this new budget.

I’ve been having a good time recently with VCV Rack and Audiomulch along with a MIDI controller, and plan to start digging into Max while I can still get a student discount. This is a good thing, but I still fear leaving behind the interface of modular and would like to maintain something of it in the form of a hybrid system. So, my question is this: what can software not do? Or, rather, what can software not do well? Or, rather, what a would small (<60 hp) hybrid Euro/software system look like for you?

I immediately jump to interface, so maybe keep a small system of touch controllers, Teletype (computer > Euro > computer :upside_down_face:), and the like. I’m also hoping to get my first Grid soon.

My next jump is to cohesiveness. The joy of playing a Double Knot or Ciat-Lonbarde (or IFM euro modules) doesn’t seem easily matched in software, so maybe a small Euro of IFM stuff should stick around, or a Euro Benjolin with a Wogglebug or Maths. This also allows for something standalone, outside of the computer.

There’s certainly arguments to be made for analog filters and VCOs, but I don’t really care about those arguments. Effects (using that term loosely) seem superior ITB, though that does leave aside issues of interface of course.

I suppose the best route forward would be to entrench myself in software for a while and think about what’s missing in the moment and not try and predict what I will miss, but what’s the fun in that?

Feel free to simply share your hybrid system. I’m not just trying to solicit advice.

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There’s a lot of possibilities here, but the first question would be: what music do you want to make?

The danger with hardware is that we can easily get distracted by “how we make music”, but there’s a lot of other important questions like “in what context are we making music?” or for playing live “how do we want our performance to flow?”

If you can answer these questions, picking your setup will be simpler.

In my case, I really enjoy using the modular but it doesn’t really fit what music I want to play live. It ends up being used as a sample generator in the studio and a nice way to take a break between ITB sessions.

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Fair question!

I tend to make bloops-and-bleeps stuff; moving, droning textures; weird forays into structured rhythm; weirder forays into singer-songwriter over bleeps-and-bloops and structured/unstructured rhythm. Thus, I tend to really dig “playful” interfaces that are immediate and encourage experimentation (Double Knot!), but I also appreciate something structured and clear, like the Digitakt, when the piece calls for it.

As someone who has recently entered into modular from computer based workflow, for me it is all about restrictions and forms of interaction. Modular is more restrictive than Max, and that has been productive for me. My workflow is often recording stems form the modular - like 10min sections, then sequencing those recordings in Max or a DAW.

Probably a good call to keep some more unusual stuff like Double-Knot etc. You can always find ways of interacting with them through the computer too. I like the hybrid computer / cv hardware setup that lends itself to expanding hardware with software or funneling software output to hardware.

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For me I think it’s feedback connections and how much easier it is to push a module off its beaten track than it is to do the same to a Max object. Not that Max can’t handle feedback, but in most of my experiments so far it makes my patches way more prone to crashing.

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That’s a great point and also gives me the realization that a matrix mixer would certainly be preferable in hardware.

And crashing in software is certainly less aurally engaging…

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i feel like, if i were really smart, maybe i could come up with something programmatically that’s as useful and musical as some of the best euro modules. turns out, i’m not.

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For that, I’m very interested in ways I might merge VCV rack with Max

A musician doesn’t need to be a luthier to make music — if what interests you is algorithmic composition, and you happen to use Ableton, there are many Max for Live patches made by the community that will allow you to play around with euclidian rhythms and various other sequencers. As @rycolos said, there’s also VCV racks, and I’m sure there are many other options I am omitting.

And more on the topic of feeling the need to be both musician and luthier — creating your own tools can be empowering, but it can also easily take over the music making. Balancing the two is a challenge.

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hear hear! this point could use a whole thread’s worth of discussion!

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Maybe not as fun, but that seems like a solid plan. I’d suggest maybe thinking about musical and sonic goals first, and see if you run into any major roadblocks on your way to them.

I like to start in a notebook before I write any software, to jot down sketchy ideas in plain language, and mock up the design of the system in pseudo-patches first.

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lololololololololololol

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In my case balancing the two IS the challenge.

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The only thing that I’ve found of any consequence is analog feedback (analog feedback is something software cannot do). And all I’m talking about here is plugging the output back into the input and turning the gain way up. Software will just blow up and go silent.

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I’m considering a similar course of action, selling off a bunch of modular to improve my recording setup and only keeping the essentials.

As Andrew and Alanza point out, feedback is the main thing that digital can’t do, by it’s nature. There’s also the non-linearities that give analog circuitry their warmth, but emulations are catching up to that.

But putting those aside, the difference I notice is often in the design approach: eurorack is full of modules with unique functionalities that could exist in software (they’re often digital to begin with) but don’t, and the flexibility of plugging anything into anything isn’t at the same level. Software is slowly catching up there as well, but that’s the main thing I would miss.

So for a small euro system, I would focus either on a complete synth voice, something that could be used to perform with standalone, or a signal processing case with a matrix mixer and a bunch of oddball filters, distortions and effects.

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But putting those aside, the difference I notice is often in the design approach: eurorack is full of modules with unique functionalities that could exist in software (they’re often digital to begin with) but don’t, and the flexibility of plugging anything into anything isn’t at the same level. Software is slowly catching up there as well, but that’s the main thing I would miss.

This in particular stands out to me. I’ve been having a lot of fun in Audiomulch to chop up samples, but it’s not quite as fun or ergonomic as a Phonogene.

I’m really thinking that a case of IFM modules, some utilities, and a matrix mixer would make for a fun standalone time, as well as a nice pairing with software.

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What’s IFM?

I have too much MIDI hardware, but ditching it for a small skiff of mostly control modules sounds better every day. Theoretically infinite resolution and being able to turn off the computer and treat it like the auxiliary thing appeal to me the most, but analog feedback is a good time too.

The thing about balancing building tools and making music rings truer for me now more than it ever did.

For me hybrid means 6U of eurorack, with effects, sampling and recording on iPad (Aum +).
I use the expert sleepers FH-2 to get midi control of the synth from the iPad (LFOs, clocks etc) and controllers.
I’m tempted by ES-8, but for now have a normal audio interface.
The euro is mostly analog-- I don’t have lots of modules with screens and menus and stuff (FH-2 and disting).
This works for me; lots of really great effects are digital anyway and they’re much cheaper on iPad.

Were I more constrained by finances, I’d use the iPad with a smaller euro skiff. I really like the hands on control and physical patching.

I tend not to use the computer for this stuff-- I haven’t even used VCV rack much. The potential is amazing, but it’s a turn off for me.

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It’s short for " Ieaskul F. Mobenthey", the name of the eurorack modules line by Peter Blasser. Weird and idiosyncratic like his other instruments but quite appreciated by people who like weird, chaotic, confusing and apparently brilliant modules :slight_smile:.

Disclaimer : I’ve never tried his modules but I talked with Peter Blasser a bit once and he was very nice and not confusing at all…

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A few thoughts:

Less tools for sound generation = more time to think compositionally

There has never been a better time to be all software. Even a few years ago the only modular environments either were 1 to 1 recreations of old modular synths (moog, arp, etc) or highly idiosyncratic lower level environments like max, supercollider, etc. Now you have infinitely large euro systems for free (VCV rack).

Don’t think about what software can’t do, think about what hardware can’t do.

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