Hi everyone

I'm new to modular and having a ton of fun playing around and learning on VCVrack. I also have a Microbrute and a Volca Modular. I'd like to get into generative patches but have very little knowledge so far – maybe a grasp of the most basic principles.

I’ve made a big rack in the hope of stimulating some guidance from some veterans here:
- What would you cut/replace to cut this down to two rows?
- What’s redundant and what's overlooked?
- Is it lacking in utilities?
- Does it help to think in groups of clocks/sequencers, voices, modulators, effects? I tried to organize the rows like a cascading workflow but I’ve probably gotten myself mixed up!
- What modules (in the rack or not) would you recommend getting started with, to maximize generative options and hands-on fun? - Would patching in the Microbrute help fill the gaps?

I’d like the eventual setup to be as hands-on as possible but totally fine with combining virtual and physical modules until I get there - and I expect this journey to last for years…

Thanks in advance!

Wow, this brings back memories of my first planned case. My first plan had many of these modules included. Let me just start by saying that you will almost certainly end up with a MUCH different collection and arrangement of modules than you have assembled here.
You are on the right track as far as case size if you really are committed long-term to putting a versatile rack together, but many of your modules have overlap (Shifty and uO_C, Branches and Marbles, for example), and some you have probably chosen because you see them in a lot of other racks. Maths is cool for its versatility and as a learning tool, but it's not always intuitive, and the same goes for Rampage. Could you get dedicated modules that achieve the specific functions you want? Or is the exploration more fun for you? You will probably want modules that have a wide range of patch points so you can modulate as many parameters as possible (i.e. "modulate the modulators").
You'll probably want to invest in Pamela's New Workout and the upcoming Clouds update instead of the older discontinued versions. Mults will be mega-useful, but try to keep them outside of the rack with those little in-line star-shaped splitter thingies so you don't take up limited rack space.
First and foremost, invest in a big case but only a few must-have modules. As soon as you start patching those first few modules, you will quickly realize what is missing for the sound you are trying to create. If you find yourself reaching for something that isn't there, that's the next module you should invest in. Do a LOT of research to avoid buying something that isn't going to do what you want. Wishful thinking will not make it fit into your sound and workflow. The more research you do, the fewer duds you will waste money and time on.
All of us here would likely recommend very different modules for generative patching, but the concepts of generative patching transcend specific modules or manufacturers. Check out mylarmelodies excellent video about generative patching ideas:

Go slow. This is a big investment, but above all, have fun!

Awesome - thanks for the tips!

Good luck!
(Also, you're probably going to want a bunch of VCAs)

Not bad...but the signal flow is all over the place, and with generative work, that's BAD. You need a much more coherent arrangement so that, once it's all up and flying, you can easily deal with any subsystems that aren't functioning as expected. Also, the 4 x 84 arrangement makes things pretty dense; shifting to something considerably larger will make the build much easier to sort out and program. farkas also makes a good point, in that VCAs + free-running modulation sources are one of the keys to making the generative process work.

Instead of 4 x 84, a better choice might be 4 x 140 via two of those Behringer powered cabs (provided we get some verification of the P/S stability and reliability of those power supplies). Another idea might be 3 x 168, using a three row Doepfer Monster case, where we know the power situation is already tried and tested. In fact...
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OK...now THIS is a serious generative build!

You'll notice what seems to be a disproportionately-large section of clock-based modules. These are there to extract timing info from a large amount of different internal (and external, hence the ES-8 in the bottom left) modulation sources, and then to process these via a Boolean logic module + a Xaoc Warna trigger/gate combiner/distributor to create composite clocking signals. Plus, these also work in tandem with the two sequencers; one of these is a Time's Arrow, which is a purely generative CV/gate sequencer, and the other more "determinate" one being a Tiptop Z8000. A quad quantizer deals with the CVs from this array, plus a sequential switch steps through the four CV outputs from the Z8000. The Derivator next to the Time's Arrow outputs gates based on CV movement, and the VC Trigger Source is a "pick-off" for trigger pulses when CV thresholds are passed. Next to the Logic 202 is a dual-channel probabilistic skipper for gate pulses, and the Fractio Solum is a CVable clock divider/multiplier for further manipulation of the Pam's signals. Above that group is another set of timing and randomization modules, plus more CV manipulation.

In that section, you have a buffered mult, then the Triple Sloths. After that is a Verbos Random Sampling source, which contains your noise sources as well as Buchla 265-esque random weighting for random signals (VERY necessary!), plus a 4-out analog shift register which replaces the Intellijel module. Then the Wogglebug, and after that a Min/Max derivator for CV manipulation based on arithmetical values. The Compare 2 contains two window comparators, which are special comparators that can output a pulse based on crossing two different thresholds, also containing some logic. These can also be CV controlled so that the generative processes can change the various thresholds while running. The Tool-Box has some more utilities, plus another "normal" comparator. The SISM is next; this is a fully-CVable mixer for CV and modulation sources that can also perform inversion plus 4ms's "shifting" methodology for gradual changes. After that, Branches serves as a pair of probabilistic switches, and then you have a Zlob hex VCA for amplitude control of modulation signals.

Top row above this contains a few more modulation sources. The Pachinko is a 12 hp clone of Marbles, then there's a pair of Befaco Rampages to serve as complex CV-controlled modulation sources/modifiers. After that, we get into the voicing...first up is a pair of quantized dual VCOs from Klavis, then a quartet of Noise Reap VCOs in dual modules, which have the ability to cross-modulate and use VCO sync on each other. Last up is a pair of Plaits clones. Each of these oscillator sets has four VCAs for summing, so that you can use the generative processes to sort of "strum" through each set of oscillator outputs. The VCA groups (all Veils clones by Codex Modulex) sum at a manual stereo mixer, then we get to the filters, both of which have stereo I/O, and there's a Happy Nerding CV crossfader to sweep between the two stereo VCFs. The last thing there is a Xaoc Katowice, which is a stereo frequency-dependent signal divider (sort of like a crossover, but with CV control), with the idea being that you can "Y" between it and a direct feed to the Performance Mixer so that the generative processes can be made to exclude bandwidths from the summed voice signal at times, and at others you can have the full feed via its mixer strip pair.

Below the voicing section are envelopes and LFOs...there are eight free-running LFOs, the Batumi + Poti for CV controlled LFOs, then what really should be termed an "envelope sequencer" via the incredible Erogenous Tones Radar/Blip pair, which gives you eight basic envelopes...but given the way this works, it's possible to also generate sequentially-chained envelopes for composite modulation signals. Next is effects...the dual frequency shifter, then a 12-tap stereo delay, and finally a Stasis Leak, which gives you CVable stereo chorusing, tap delay, and reverb. The little white thing at the end is a Konstant Lab PWRchekr, which is useful for keeping an eye on your power bus performance.

Last up, mixing. I went with WMD's Performance Mixer here to allow some very complex automated mixing which also included dual FX sends for the delay and Stasis Leak. The Happy Nerding OUT gives you transformer-isolated 1/4" outs, plus a second stereo input that can be used for parallel mixing of another stereo source in with the mix from the Performance Mixer. It also has a headphone preamp for convenience, as does the Performance Mixer where you can also send signals to the CUE bus for tuning and adjustment without affecting the overall mix.

This thing ain't no joke! There might seem to some to be way too much going on with timing and modulation, but you have to keep in mind that all of that is the build's CONTROLLER...while you can certainly patch this up "normally" and use a MIDI source from your DAW or, as long as it's class-compliant, a MIDI controller, the main intent here is to set up complex patches that are basically self-regulating and self-adjusting so that the build can "free-run" and...well, generate audio from a large amount of interlinked parameters. And THAT is what generative is all about.

And yeah, it's spendy as hell...but then, when you do generative RIGHT, it tends to cost quite a chunk of change due to the necessary amount of specialized control modules needed to act as the generative system's "brain".

Ok wow, that's a major amount of feedback – much more than I was hoping for. You've given me a comprehensive research plan and what an ideal state looks like, to work back from so thank you very, very much!

What would be your suggestion for a basic roadmap? Start with the ability to bring in voices from outside the rig, in order to focus on building out (and learning how to use) the brain/control within the rack?

start with a single voice and all the support modules that are needed for that - but instead of buying a single vca, buy a quad etc etc etc get to know them inside out and then add as needed as slowly as possible

"some of the best base-level info to remember can be found in Jim's sigfile" @Lugia

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

sound sources < sound modifiers < modulation sources < utilities

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Some good modulation and support tools:

Intellijel Quad VCA
Mutable Instruments Shades
Mutable Instruments Kinks and Links

For modulation, I really like using Mutable Instruments Marbles and Acid Rain Labs Maestro. These give me tons of ways to split and generate patterns at various tempos and clock speeds and randomness as well. Pamela New Workout is a great clock module that also has euclidian pattern sequencer and logic options plus modulation tools.

What would be your suggestion for a basic roadmap? Start with the ability to bring in voices from outside the rig, in order to focus on building out (and learning how to use) the brain/control within the rack?
-- Manbearpignick

Right...Jim's got the right idea, actually. Start with one of the basic oscillator "voice" sections (the Noise Reap one, actually...get used to all of the crossmod and sync possibilities there), plus the stereo submixer and probably the Linnaeus, as it'll have the steeper learning curve. But the problem with the timing "brain" section is that ALL of those modules are intended to work as a unified subsystem, so it's difficult to take it apart. In fact, there's a lot of that going on...for example, the Blip and the Branches can function together to switch between pairs of different envelope contours. And then there's all of the comparators, discriminators, etc that read modulation curves and then output timing pulses based on the Befacos, the free-run LFOs, etc etc. which get combined via the Logic 202 and Bytom modules to create more complex composite gate signals. But then, that's the difference between a pile of random modules in a box and something crafted as an intentional instrument. With random modules, you can just toss 'em in the cab as you like...but taking something like that build apart is sort of like ordering a Steinway, but insisting that you can add the bottom two octaves worth of keys, action, and strings later. Doable...but inadvisable.

Again, thank you all so much for the insights.

I think I’ll begin in the VCV zone - put together a Noise Reap style sandbox. Then maybe go for the ES-8 + Linnaeus for the first two modules and spend some weeks/months noodling around.


Start with one of the basic oscillator "voice" sections (the Noise Reap one, actually...get used to all of the crossmod and sync possibilities there), plus the stereo submixer and probably the Linnaeus, as it'll have the steeper learning curve.

-- Lugia


I've taken your advice and gone with the Paradox, Linnaeus, and the Sub-Mixer as my first modules (along with an ES-9). The Linnaeus is certainly capable of so many things – just messing around with it is producing crazy stuff.

Would you happen to have any advice on particular techniques for coaxing out some beautiful sounds from this beast? Here's some sounds I got from Paradox + Linneaus (seq, env, reverb via VCVrack)

Would you happen to have any advice on particular techniques for coaxing out some beautiful sounds from this beast? Here's some sounds I got from Paradox + Linneaus (seq, env, reverb via VCVrack)

-- Manbearpignick

modulate, modulate, modulate - modulate your modulation, mix your modulation, modify your modulation

and then just mess around... seems like you get the idea!

"some of the best base-level info to remember can be found in Jim's sigfile" @Lugia

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

sound sources < sound modifiers < modulation sources < utilities

Yep...you're on track. Now, it's just a matter of experimentation...

The process actually reminds me of how I first learned piano, over 55 years back. You'd start with "middle C", get used to where it is, how the piano action affects how your playing sounds...then you'd move on to adding a "D", a "B", etc. Eventually, the primary book would end, but you had the location of the notes on the keyboard relative to the dots-n-lines of the music DOWN by the time you got there. Learning modular is kinda the same...start basic, add stuff, take notes about what does what, what you like, what you don't, etc. Even in my undergrad, my electronic music (and composition) prof taught us that the only thing you don't do is to connect outputs to outputs and inputs to inputs...otherwise, it's solvitur ambulando turf.

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Ok, here’s the how it’s looking so far. To recap my original post: newbie interested in generative, ‘plays itself while I sort of steer’ compositions. The setup is designed to leverage VCVrack, which is why the ES-9 was the very first purchase.

Still using Lugia’s ideal state as my guide, along with some learning courses by Chris Meyer, his Patch & Tweak book (my bible) and Omri Cohen’s videos for great ideas that make the most of the VCV side.

The focus at the start was VCO + VCF. I added the Disting 4 which has been such an amazing tool to get hands on with so many functions - it’s brilliant. Diverged a little from Lugia’s setup and went with the Voltage Block for CV modulation source. I’m having so much fun plugging it into the Linnaeus every which way. Added some VCAs and the A*B+C, which I don’t fully understand but I know I can use it for more VCAs, mixer, and it gives me a degree of hands-on control over some of the VCV modules.

The new additions are the Rampage and Pam’s New Workout – I think I can also have quite a bit of fun in standalone mode, without the computer. I’m not going to buy any more modules (famous last words) until I fully understand what I have, explore in conjunction with VCV, get an idea of which aspects I want to have hands-on fun with, versus what VCV can take care of. The general approach has been to generate signals in the rack and complete their paths in VCV.

I think the next phase would be to learn how to program generative. The bottom half of Lugia’s layout I do not understand whatsoever, so I want to learn the principles/techniques behind them in VCV and eventually start building some of that into the rack (at which point it’ll surely bust out beyond the 6u case). I love the concept of creating a sequencer by connecting a few modules instead of buying one that does it all for me. The music-friendly generative modules like Marbles and Bloom sound intriguing but I wonder if it removes some of the potential learning if I get anything like that too soon… I expect it’ll take at least a year to get my head around the basics of how the brain works, how to use clocks to spawn a complex sequence etc.

Feedback/Guidance most welcome!

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Time for an update on the mostly generative journey. It’s been a blast so far and I’m eternally grateful for the detailed advice - especially yours @Lugia, I constantly return to it as I learn more. As you can see, I’ve deviated on module choice but I’d like to think I’m following the principles laid out earlier in the thread. I’m not at all worried about mis-steps as Covid/chip shortage is driving a thriving used module market - it’s so easy to sell things on at almost new prices.

The rack is an Arturia RackBrute joined 6U and 3U, with the 3U’s side panels reversed so the power modules line up to the left (thanks to Splendor’s excellent pro tip in another thread in this forum).

I’m still following Lugia’s excellent layout, at least in principle. Most mentions of other modules below are in reference to that guiding ‘mega rig’. I’m also using VCV heavily in my patches, especially for effects like the Vahalla Supermassive plugin.

I guess (or hope) the choices are somewhat self-explanatory but to highlight a few things:

The ALM Pip Slope Mk2 is there is a space saving way to get a Krell going with the Rampage should I fancy it, and an extra EOC.

The SSF Ultra-Random is the stand-in for the Wogglebug and Verbos Random Sampling (too big for me right now). I just wanted to try it out since it became discontinued, and Chris Meyer has a series of very in-depth videos on it to guide me.

Disting EX and Mk4 are there to stand in for many of the functions recommended, plus with the EX I can experiment with the SD Multisample, Granulation, 4-drone, Matrix Mixer etc

Been using the Voltage Block like a clocked LFO and plan to get the Ochd to compliment that with its 8 freeform LFOs. Though now I’m getting the hang of matrix sequencers in VCV, might instead replace the VB with ZX8000 Lugia had recommended.

As for modules coming next: I’m on the shortlist for the Sport Modulator 2, so that one is definitely going in at some point, which gives me quite a lot of S&H in the rack (as much as 9!) so I’m excited about that. I intend to add the Nin expander to the Zadar for more modulation. I’ve been using the Doepfer sub-mixer more for CV than audio, so I’m gonna go for the skinny version and get 4HP back. The Doepfer x2 quantizer will probably get replaced by the ADDAC x4 Intuitive for 2HP more at a later date. Also thinking of replacing the TikTok clock divider/multiplier with the Fraction Solum - the TikTok is there to free up more Pam’s outputs for smooth random and modulation, but the Solum’s CV control and flexibility is too tempting.

In terms of how I’m using the rack for patches, I usually use one of the AD loops as the core, or a clock from Pam’s. Also, playing around with rotating clock divisions for arrangement has been a lot of fun - example here (which ironically is not at all generative):

So… Would love to hear your thoughts on what to what to get next, get replaced etc for the eventual goal of a great rack for generative. After the Sport Mod there’s about 21HP left to fill. Of course another case is an option but would rather think about keeping it to the two Brutes for now (living in Brooklyn doesn’t exactly offer a whole lot of space for this stuff). Totally open to replacing anything with anything though.

One area I do find lacking in this rack is mixing/attenuating - not something that’s particularly handled well by using VCV because I don’t want to send signals back forth across the digital divide etc. I’m looking at the 4MS SISM (again, recommended by Lugia) but it doesn’t look CV controllable. Does anyone know of a more programmable way to mingle signals? Maybe I’m misunderstanding the module or maybe being able to CV control mixing is not the big a deal I think it might be…

Anyhow, thanks for reading all of this. I eagerly await some more advice!

Checking the 4ms site reveals some operation basics: https://4mscompany.com/p.php?p=679&c=5 The CV control here actually involves using an LFO with one or more channels to modulate the halfwaving process going on with the "slice" functions. Not like a VCA and how it deals with CVs, but there's some basic similarities there.

I love SISM, I don’t have an issue that it’s basically manual, I use it to constrain ranges. BTW Instruo Tanh3 is kind of the opposite for me, pushing more of the signal towards the min&max values; Klavis Flexshaper is something I might try for similar purposes.

If you’re set on CV control for attenuation and mixing, 4ms VCA Matrix may fit your needs.

For new stuff I might suggest Tiptop Z8000 as an interesting CV / sequence source. I’m likely getting one of those soon. Other items that may be interesting adds for you would include the Joranalog Morph 4 (see esp. the Divkid Video on that one!) and NonLinear Circuits stuff (particularly Chaos and/or logic modules).

Thanks for the update, looking forward to hearing what's next for you!

Recorded a generative patch that I was pretty happy with, so I gave it a suitably esoteric name and popped it on Soundcloud. Put some detailed patched notes on it in the Patches section:

Here's my current rack (except for the Sport Mod 2 and Junction). It relies on VCV for all effects other than what the Distings offer.
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