Hi! Looking to get into modular stuff, been putting it off for years but some of the more recent Make Noise efforts and some other things have finally pushed me into starting to build a system. This is something that will be built up over a fairly long time, and as such things will probably change along the way, but this is the kind of system I'd be aiming for.

It's designed with the intent of running in 3 separate 4ms pod 48Xs, daisy-chained together, with each row representing an individual pod. The aim is to let me take 1 or 2 pods out with me during the day, without limiting my overall space at home. I'll build/buy a rack for them to sit on like a baby big system.

So with that out of the way, as you can see each row has a main "function" in mind. From the top we've got: modulation (2nd on purchase list), looping/granular stuff (this is going to be what I get first, with an intrfx to interface with my effects pedals and bass), and voices/tone generators for when I want to play 'music' and sequences and stuff (last, a KeyStep and VCV rack does me for now).

Just wondering if I've got the important stuff covered (enough modulation, enough VCAs, etc.) before I start buying things.
Lots of words I know, but any and all feedback is appreciated!

ModularGrid Rack

Pedalboard, just for reference: https://www.modulargrid.net/p/pedalboards/view/1030188

If I had the same requirements

interface with instrument
interface with pedals
interface with computer (vcvrack)

I would do this instead - minimum viable starting synth:

buy a tip top mantis (better hp/$ ratio and still portable)
get a rack mounted instrument interface (either doepfer or befaco)
get a rack mounted pedal interface (or 2) - possibly ALM SBGs, maybe doepfer or addac
get a rack mounted expression pedal interface (or 2) probably addac
get a disting mk4
get an es8 or es9
get mutable instruments links and kinks (a basic utility powerhouse, you will want something like these sooner or later)
get a quad vca (the one you have in the rack already seems ok, personally I'd go with veils)
get one of the effects modules from above - either the morphagene or the mimeophon

why get in the rack interfaces instead of the intrfx:

I just googled it - it seems ok for what it is but you'd probably want 2 or 3 anyway: 1 for bass in, and at least one or 2 for effects pedals and on top of that it didn't appear to have any more functionality than level and format swapping - don't you want envelope and pitch following and gate extraction?!? and using an expression pedal or 2 to control the modular whilst you are playing bass is also useful

after those I'd probably want to get maths, the other make noise effect and maybe a vco next

but, I'd want to go slowly and learn each module pretty well and how it interacts with other modules first and when selecting the next module to buy I'd like to think I'd consider if I have enough utilities to support my new module, and if not what I would need to add and then get it at the same time

Thus far, I think there's only been one synth manufacturer that's released a stompbox case, the Pittsburgh Modular Patch Box. And there is one specific, overriding reason for this:

Do you really want delicate module controls in the same enclosure that you're supposed to be poking at with your shoes? A single misstep can be awfully expensive.

Don't do this. Put the controls on the floor, sure...but NOT the modules!!!

Don't do this. Put the controls on the floor, sure...but NOT the modules!!!
-- Lugia

nothing is going on the floor, pedals go on the desk too.

get a quad vca (the one you have in the rack already seems ok, personally I'd go with veils)
-- JimHowell1970

Veils is big for a quad, I could get a Hexagram and have 6 VCAs for 2hp less. I was looking at the Malekko one which is 8hp, if I needed to squeeze something else in.

don't you want envelope and pitch following and gate extraction?!?

No, otherwise I'd get an Ears or something like that. I'm not looking to use the bass as something to control the system. I know you can set it up so you can do some really cool things, but for the type of stuff I do it's not relevant. Thank you for suggesting that though.

The intrfx has 3 channels, and I only have 4 pedals (2 of which are used together or not at all) so one will do me fine. It can do some fun feedback stuff as well. I'll only be using the bass at home, so permanently using up space for something that I can run outboard didnt seem like the way to go for me.

I'd want to go slowly and learn each module pretty well and how it interacts with other modules first
-- JimHowell1970

That's the plan, planning out a full system makes it easier for me to visualise and aim for something so I don't end up with random components.

I'll look into the Mantis for sure, I chose the mods because of the lower intial cost (about half the price of a Mantis) and because they'd be easier to carry around.

Oh it also doesnt need to interface with VCV Rack, I did look at an ES-8 but I make better stuff with my actual hands than on the computer. What I meant was for playing stuff, I'm fine with that being on the PC with a Keystep.

re: "veils is quite big for a quad"

saving space is not everything - playability is also inportant - I find larger modules easier to play

  • most vcas are not actually voltage controlled amplifiers, but voltage controlled attenuators - veils is an amplifier - has up to +20dB available - which can be useful

Oh for sure, I appreciate that the larger size has upsides, and I've heard many good things about Veils. Out of curiosity, how do you "play" a VCA? Other modules I get, but is it just manually changing the level?

Thanks for Links & Kinks btw, I use those in VCV all the time but forgot about them for this.

yeah to a large extent it is access to knobs - in the case of the veils it's a cascading quad vca - so in a lot of cases I use it as effectively a mixer that has vca on the inputs

but I was really being more generic (ie not just about vcas) - it seems a lot of people want to get more and more, smaller and smaller modules into the same space - I don't find small dense modules fun to use - and the few 2 hp modules that I have with knobs are always sandwiched between 2 larger modules with space around the edges near the knobs on the small modules, I even do the same with disting, as I find the knobs are difficult to get to with a lot of jacks/knobs around it

NP about links and kinks

Technically, you don't "play" the VCAs. But what does happen is that you work with the control and/or modulation sources connected to them in order to control either audio or CV/modulation levels. It's sort of like how you also don't "play" a sample and hold...the sample and hold is what "plays" other things instead.

The entire point of the voltage-controlled synthesizer is to put many different electronic music functions under a fairly minimal set of controls, and this goes back to both Buchla's and Moog's original concepts. The idea is that if you press a key (more typical in a Moog system), you can control pitch and duration, but also trigger other circuits such as envelope generators, etc with the same key-press gesture. So, if you wanted to create a neat lead sound with some VCO sync sweeping, a nice rubbery filter sound, and a slowly-building vibrato, you'd connect up the controller's CV output with the VCOs and VCF, then set up a few envelope generators...one to do the VCO2 sweep, one to get the filter contour, and a third for controlling the slow-rise on a linear, DC-coupled VCA that's passing an LFO to VCO1. Oh, and you'd probably also want to mult up the VCF envelope to yet another VCA (exponential in this case) to contour the sound's level. And this is all on one keypress.

And why? Well, prior to the development of this, electronic music was a massive PITA to work with, and Herb Deutsch (on the East coast) and the composers at the San Francisco Tape Music Center (West coast, natch) asked Bob Moog and Don Buchla (respectively) to come up with some sort of solution to simplify and power up these processes through some sort of technological solution. In short, they were trying to get to a point where it was possible to do less for more results, and both cases here were successful. But the thing they were trying to avoid was where you address every...single...frickin'...control...one...at...a...time in order to arrive at a result. So the point of a synthesizer's controls isn't that they're necessarily supposed to be performance controllers, but that when you can bring several aspects of control into play, you have the ability to make adjustments when needed, and let your controller systems do the heavy lifting.