Modular synthesizers, with their profusion of knobs and switches and their seemingly insatiable appetite for patch cables, are wonderful examples of over-complexity — the best kind of complexity, in our view. Play with a synthesizer long enough and you start thinking that any kind of sound is possible, limited only by your imagination in hooking up the various oscillators, filters, and envelope generators. And the aforementioned patch cables, of course, which are always in short supply.
Luckily, though, patch cables and the modules they connect can be virtualized, and in his 2020 Remoticon workshop, Jonathan Foote showed us all the ways VCV Rack can emulate modular synthesizers right on your computer’s desktop. The workshop focused on VCV Rack, where Eurorack-style synthesizer modules are graphically presented in a configurable rack and patched together just like physical synth modules would be.
John started out with a simple example using the most basic of synth modules: a voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO), a voltage-controlled filter (VCF), and an envelope generator. Along with a few housekeeping modules to drive the computer’s soundcard and to use the keyboard as, well, a keyboard, participants were able to quickly assemble their virtual synthesizers. More complex instruments can be built up from literally thousands of available modules — some free, some open source, and some premium modules available for a reasonable price.
Hats off to Jonathan for a great workshop and handling my off-the-cuff question about reproducing the “Sound of the 80s” question with aplomb. It turned out not to be possible with the stock VCV Rack modules, but it still reminded us a bit of the gated reverb drum sound of “In the Air Tonight” and other classics. Make sure you check out not only the video of the workshop but the workshop page too, which has all the details you need to get started with your own virtual synthesizer.