hi everyone!
I would like to build a rack for around 2k mostly for sound design purposes (but also for jamming a bit). I'd like it to be centered around granular synthesis, have decent audio quality and as many possibilities for a kind of 'controlled chaos' as possible.

I'm completely new to this and just been browsing, so naturally I don't know the best modules for this kind of thing ...

here's my first attempt: ModularGrid Rack

Pretty sure I missed about half of what I'd really need. Happy about suggestions for modules/alternatives, etc.


Well, $2k won't cut it. For one thing, granular oscillators ain't cheap. Secondly, in order to get the modulation section to have "as many possibilities for a kind of 'controlled chaos' as possible", that required quite a bit of beef-up and some interesting modules that you don't normally encounter. And lastly, the 2 x 84 cab just wasn't cutting it as far as fulfilling either of those two points. So, I expanded the hell out of this by sticking the build into an Intellijel 7U x 104 cab, which then ALSO gave me a tile row for handling the end of the audio chain and putting in some extra attenuverters/mixing, their Noise Tools, plus a stereo audio in. The results:
ModularGrid Rack
OK, this thing kicks MASSIVE ass as far as stochastic-based work is concerned. And the audio chain...magnificent. Here's what's there...

Tiles: Stereo audio input (the jacks are on the case), Noise Tools, QuadrATT, two pair of VCAs, stereo submixer (allows you to fly the Beads or the Morphagene in over your stereo mix...very effective way to control that), then the stereo output.

Row 2: TWO Dust of Time oscillators, each paired with a dual VCA cloned from the Veils VCAs for their level control. 2xSAM then allows you to mix these two stereo feeds, or to control their levels manually without mixing. Then a Rossum Linnaeus stereo filter gives you thru-zero FM over your filter, plus loads of other modulation possibilities over the timbre. Beads is next, then a Morphagene allows you to loop segments of the audio at will, or under the stochastic control from the next row. The X-Pan then lets you mix all of your stereo sources in various ways, with CV over crossfading on the two stereo main inputs and CV over panning.

Row 3: This is where the magic happens. The Clank Chaos is at left for ease of access. Then a Modbox dual LFO gives you some basic modulation curves. Maths is next...then one key module, the 4ms SISM, which lets you reprocess and mix all of your modulation signals while having CV control over mixing, offsets, etc etc. After that is a Happy Nerding 3xVCA...DC-coupled VCAs for modulation level control. A Quadrax + Qx gives you four loopable envelope generators, with the Qx letting you cascade the entire EG complement if desired. The EOR/EOF trigger outs can also be used to trigger other modules. After that, a Dovemans Dual Window Comparator can pick off several gates from modulation curves as desired. Then a Klavis Caltrans quad quantizer lets you take modulation sources and, by using the various trigger/gate functions, pick off four different CVs from this. Lastly, there's a Greyscale Permutation stochastic sequencer with its Variant expander to allow the Permutation to generate two channels of CV along with its other duties.

So, no...it doesn't cost $2k. More like about $6k with the case. BUT...this is a super-comprehensive stochastic composition system with the granular synthesis you want, plus some audio extras to make the possibilities there go thru the roof! You won't (actually "can't") exhaust this, as there's so much potential in the modulation row to create endless variation and chaos-based activity that there's not really any way to create quite the same thing twice. And once patched, it'll roll right along with as much or as little input you want to utilize. More spendy...but with this, you 100% get what you're paying for.

Wow, thanks so much for getting back about this so quickly and in such depth!
tbh this is a lot to take in... I'm trying to get a grip on row 3 but it's a bit hard to clearly see what's doing what since I lack the experience to really be able to tell what these modules will do in practice. (I'm digging through them right now, just to figure out what they do ... bear with me ...)
Because atm I really have to limit my spending to 3k but also because it might be better to start off smaller and see what I will actually use in practice, is there a way to boil this down into a 'light' version that costs around 3k...? what would be the essential modules?
thanks again!

Hi Gabe

you could try copying the rack Lugia made and then making a bare bones version that you think might work and post it back to check it will at least make sounds - possibly start with only 1 voice maybe a slightly less expensive case...

mantis case

a sound source (dust of time), 1 modulation source (Maths), 1 sound modifier (beads), a way to play (I'd go for marbles over permutation and expander), and a way to listen (the 4ms thing)

add in a bunch of almost essential utilities - not necessarily these modules, but covering the same functionality - links, kinks, shades, veils (I'd get a real one though not the clones)

play with that for a while and then think about how you want to move forwards - do you want to move towards a more complex voice, or a second voice

if by 3rd row you mean the bottom one - it is mostly modulation sources and utilities - modulation sources are needed so that you don't need to constantly tweak the knobs yourself like a deranged crackhead - you can patch these modules to do this for you - utilities increase the ways of patching so instead of patching modulation source to modulation input you patch via utilitiy modules which enable you to multiply, modify and merge them into more interesting waveforms - for example as an envelope closes an lfo is mixed into the signal to produce tremolo this is fed to the cv in of a vca and the effect is applied to the audio being sent through the vca

Utility modules are the inexpensive, dull polish that makes the expensive, shiny modules actually shine!!!

Hi Jim,
Thanks for getting back about this!

Ok, so here’s my scaled-down version: ModularGrid Rack

I kept the Dust of Time, Beads, Maths and Chaos modules and added the Marbles instead of permutation, because I think it does actually look more interesting (knowing that I won't know until I really touched it).

I also exchanged the veils etc. clones for the real thing - could you explain what exactly makes them better? Is it the build or sound quality?

I’m still somewhat confused about the utility modules… like, how many I’ll need for what. And I’m uncertain if I have enough VCAs and whether I need an envelope generator.

About case, I am planning to build my own, so that should come much cheaper.


ok I just finished building a case - they are not a lot cheaper - the expensive bits are the rails and the power - 9u/84hp costs me a bit more than 200€ (rails, threaded nuts and power) and a 9u/104hp costs about 100 more (needs extra power and I tend to use inserts not nuts) - of which the wood for the case is about 10€ - the bigger the case you build the more you save!

I would go for a 6u / 104hp case - the 1u row costs as much as a 3u row to install and can hold no where near the functionality

vcas are one of those things - you only know you have too few when you run out - depends entirely on how you patch - some people use no vcas - some use 10 per voice

you already have an envelope generator - Maths - although maybe a basic adsr one is a good idea if you are intending to use a keyboard

why is veils better than a cloned version - in this case it was cost - 1 veils is cheaper than 2 of the 2 channel clones

the mutable clones should sound the same and use the same (or extremely similar components) BOM and firmware are publically available as appropriate for all modules (probably not beads yet) - I can't comment on build quality (and it may differ wildly)

in general clones (and we're really just talking Mutable Instruments here) are less ergonomic - as they have been shrunk - this may be seen as an advantage if you are in the cram as much as possible into as small a case as possible crowd - or you only have a few hp left in your case (time to get a new one - you did start saving as soon as you got the previous case, didn't you?)

size is really the only excuse for buying clones - mostly they don't save that much money - maybe 50 €/$/£ or so - which in the big scheme of things is not a great deal - especially when looking at a case that costs 4k to fill - maybe it helps to think of it as - Hi Emilie, thanks for creating this fantastic module that i will use for many many hours and get great enjoyment from - here's a few glasses of chardonnay to celebrate - or whatever it is that she likes to drink

really if comes down to where you want your money, that you earned, to go:

do you want it to go to the original designer? - thanks for putting in the hard work

or to some guy who worked out how to make the pcb a bit smaller and order pcbas and panels from China

remember MI are built in France - a first world country - where wages and taxes are significantly higher than in China

utilities - I have no idea either - it really depends on you and how you patch - when planning a rack I usually try to think:

sound sources < sound modifiers < modulation sources < utilities

as a single sound source can be multed to multiple sound modifiers and used with different vcas and envelopes to create different timbres and rhythms which then need mixing

or it may have multiple outputs that can be mixed before being sent to a single filter/vca etc

or you may have more modulation inputs than outputs - mult the outputs, modify them and mix them using utility modules before sending them to the inputs - lots of related but different modulation - for relatively little cost

it must be noted that a sound source in this case could be multiple vcos, sound modifiers could be multi-channel and multi-purpose, modulation sources could be multi-channel etc etc etc

as a starter set of utilities - links, kinks, veils and shades cover a lot of territory in not that much space, you get:

2 buffered mults - useful for copying v/oct signals (anything else won't notice a bit of droop so use passives) one of which can also be used as a 2channel mixer or a precision adder (for transposition)
a 3 way mixer
a rectifier - this modifies a waveform by inverting all of it, inverting just the negative portion, or setting the negative portion to 0
basic logic - send 2 gates in get and and or out
sample and hold - send a trigger in to freeze the input at the output - send a copy of a sequence to this with a different gate pattern than the original to create a 2nd melody line - add these 2 together using a precision adder to get a 3rd, higher note
noise - a noise generator that is normalised to the sample and hold input
4 channels of vca - which are actually amplifiers and not attenuators! which can be mixed together - no idea what else - only got an original
a 3 channel attenuverting mixer that can be used as a precision adder and can generate an offset

that is hard to beat in 24hp - it is almost definite that you will need all these functions sooner or later

Utility modules are the inexpensive, dull polish that makes the expensive, shiny modules actually shine!!!

hi Jim, thanks so much for the in-depth reply! I'm letting everything sink in, doing some more research and will post the result here in a few days.

Ok this is my preliminary version:

ModularGrid Rack

I'm thinking if I need more sound sources, might get a morphagene as soon as I have the $$$ but it's 500$ so it would add a lot on top.

the simple answer is to go slowly - it is not a race to fill the rack - it is a journey
buy the absolute minimum of this that you think you need in order to make sounds
I think you will want filter(s) and other effects
2 sound sources is as many as I would want in this size case, Morphagene would take you up to 3
I would go up to a standard 84 hp or 104hp case to make more space

Utility modules are the inexpensive, dull polish that makes the expensive, shiny modules actually shine!!!

Yep, this is my intermediary goal but I will buy a few first and then see how I feel about them. Some are more important to me than others and some are simply not available atm (the Clank Chaos) ...

Thanks for all the advice, I found it very useful!

module unavailability is just something you get used to - it's worse thanks too covid, but it's still not unusual to have to wait for the module you want

Buy the important modules that you want
Work out what modules you need to support them and go from there

Might be an idea to post a starting rack to see if anything is missing

and remember there's nothing wrong with substituting module A with module B if you can't find module A and module B will do most (or all) of what module A does - either as a stop gap or permanently

there are no wrong paths in your modular journey - some are just more expensive than others

Utility modules are the inexpensive, dull polish that makes the expensive, shiny modules actually shine!!!

Hi, designer of "dust of time" here. It has a VCA built in, so you can use one of the 4 internal envelopes to control the output level. you also have 2 aux outs which can be connected to any of the internal modulators if you need extras. New firmware on github has randotron and other goodies.