Will this new con­tender in the sparsely pop­u­lated soft­ware mod­u­lar syn­the­sis mar­ket leave us elec­tri­fied or fail to spark our imag­i­na­tion?

Computer Music - - Contents -

Hav­ing been through a lengthy re­nais­sance pe­riod, mod­u­lar syn­the­sis is now very much a part of the mu­sic tech­nol­ogy land­scape. Driven by Doepfer’s hard­ware Euro­rack sys­tem, and the mini-in­dus­try of mo­d­ule builders that’s grown up around it, mod­u­lar has cap­tured the imag­i­na­tions of mu­si­cians the world over, from hob­by­ists and dab­blers to high-brow elec­tron­ica artists and dance mu­sic pro­duc­ers.

It’s sur­pris­ing, then, that there aren’t more Euro­rack-style soft­ware mod­u­lars on the scene. While Sof­tube Mod­u­lar, Na­tive In­stru­ments Reak­tor 6 Blocks and the free VCV Rack cer­tainly scratch that itch, there’s clearly room in the mar­ket for an­other en­trant or two; so the ar­rival of Cherry Au­dio’s Volt­age Mod­u­lar (VST/ AU/AAX/Stand­alone) is a big deal. This am­bi­tious new in­stru­ment/ef­fect not only hopes to set the stan­dard for soft­ware-based mod­u­lar syn­the­sis in terms of sound and func­tion­al­ity, but also al­lows any­one – es­tab­lished de­vel­op­ers and Joe Pub­lic – to build and even com­mer­cially re­lease their own mod­ules.

Hard boiled

With its skeuo­mor­phic de­sign and drag­gable patch ca­bles, Volt­age Mod­u­lar looks and op­er­ates just like a hard­ware mod­u­lar setup – for bet­ter and/or worse! At the top is the ev­er­p­re­sent I/O Panel, where all in­ter­fac­ing be­tween Volt­age Mod­u­lar and the host sys­tem – be that a DAW or your au­dio/MIDI in­ter­face in stand­alone mode – is han­dled. Like the real thing, Volt­age Mod­u­lar works with (vir­tual) con­trol volt­age (CV) sig­nals, ad­her­ing to the usual 1V/oc­tave stan­dard, and the I/O Panel con­tains all the ex­pected in­puts and out­puts: CV outs for Pitch, Gate, Trig­ger, Ve­loc­ity, After­touch, Sus­tain, Bend and Mod Wheel, as well as Trans­port outs for slav­ing se­quencers and other mod­ules to the host DAW’s trans­port con­trols. Four Au­dio Ins en­able ex­ter­nal sig­nals to be fed into Volt­age Mod­u­lar’s fil­ters and other pro­ces­sors for ef­fects treat­ment, or de­ployed as CV and mod­u­la­tion source sig­nals; and six ex­tra Au­dio Outs can be routed to sep­a­rate DAW mixer in­puts. The big MIDI jack al­lows poly­phonic note data to be routed to com­pat­i­ble mod­ules – see be­low.

The row of knobs and but­tons in the Per­form strip are as­sign­a­ble macros, for ready-ac­cess con­trol of any num­ber of pa­ram­e­ters within the patch con­structed in the rack space be­low. Patch­ing is done by pulling any num­ber of

“Volt­age Mod­u­lar looks and op­er­ates just like a hard­ware mod­u­lar – for bet­ter and/or worse!”

mod­ules into the rack from the (search­able and fil­ter-able) Li­brary on the right, then drag­ging patch ca­bles be­tween CV and au­dio patch points, just as you would with a hard­ware mod­u­lar. Click-hold­ing a patch point high­lights all vi­able rout­ing tar­gets for it in the rack, and ev­ery patch point can re­ceive up to six ca­bles at once, via the pop-out ‘six-way mult’.

Each cable can be set to any colour you like, and the an­i­mated dots that travel along them to in­di­cate au­dio or CV sig­nal flow are a lovely touch. How­ever, al­though the cable vi­su­als can be tweaked for clar­ity and graph­i­cal sim­plic­ity, on our Retina dis­play test Mac, the an­i­ma­tion lag was pretty in­tru­sive, even with ev­ery­thing set as low as pos­si­ble. Cherry Au­dio are ad­dress­ing this, but it’s worth not­ing at this point.

Bits and pieces

The 70 mod­ules that ship with the Volt­age Mod­u­lar Core pack­age cover the es­sen­tials and then some. For sig­nal gen­er­a­tion, there’s the stan­dard Os­cil­la­tor, the sim­ple Drum Os­cil­la­tor, the pitch-track­ing Sub Oc­tave gen­er­a­tor, Noise Gen­er­a­tor and Poly Os­cil­la­tor. The last works with the afore­men­tioned MIDI Jack and is quite un­usual, with sep­a­rate level con­trols and out­puts for four si­mul­ta­ne­ously out­put oc­taves, and a built-in amp and AR en­ve­lope. Its in­clu­sion is very wel­come, mak­ing it a snap to get poly­phonic patches up and run­ning.

There are four fil­ters, too: 12/24dB mul­ti­mode (low-, high- and band-pass), Band­pass, Notch and the very ba­sic Drum HP/LP. It’s not a huge se­lec­tion, but enough to get most jobs done.

Mod­u­la­tion and con­trol sources in­clude three ex­cel­lent LFOs, an ADSR en­ve­lope, an en­ve­lope fol­lower, S+H, an eight-step se­quencer, an ar­peg­gia­tor and a burst gen­er­a­tor; while the ef­fects take in reverb, de­lay, cho­rus, EQ, com­pres­sion, dis­tor­tion and phas­ing. Last but not least, the Util­i­ties cat­e­gory is home to all man­ner of MIDI, au­dio and CV ma­nip­u­la­tors, mix­ers, con­vert­ers, split­ters, etc. Fun!

Along­side the Cherry Au­dio mod­ules, you also get Mis­fit Au­dio’s Elec­tro Drums col­lec­tion, adding a fur­ther 15 mod­ules. These in­clude a bank of tasty 808 em­u­la­tion os­cil­la­tors, a 909 kick drum and a very us­able drum se­quencer.

All of this is put to good use in a pre­set li­brary stuffed to the gills with ex­em­plary basses, leads, polysynths, se­quences, strings, FX and more. It’s not just a fab­u­lous col­lec­tion of sounds in its own right, but also a fas­ci­nat­ing re­source for learn­ing the mod­u­lar syn­the­sis ropes.

When you want to move be­yond that lot, the Volt­age Mod­u­lar Store awaits, and you can even make your own mod­ules – see Re­tail ther­apy.

High Volt­age

Volt­age Mod­u­lar con­fi­dently meets its own am­bi­tion, and even with min­i­mal third-party de­vel­oper in­volve­ment at this point, it feels like a sys­tem with a real fu­ture. Cherry Au­dio speak of 64-bit dou­ble pre­ci­sion maths, and mod­ules op­er­at­ing on in­di­vid­ual sam­ples at zero la­tency, but all you re­ally need to know in that re­gard is that Volt­age Mod­u­lar sounds fan­tas­tic and de­liv­ers the ‘full on­screen mod­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ence’, as it were. We’d like to see more se­quenc­ing tools added to the Core set, the lack of mo­d­ule doc­u­men­ta­tion irks, and the graph­ics en­gine needs sort­ing, but all in all, Cherry Au­dio’s colour­ful mod­u­lar is hugely im­pres­sive.

Web www.cher­ryau­

“The dots that travel along the ca­bles to in­di­cate sig­nal flow are a lovely touch”

The Poly Os­cil­la­tor makes for a great start­ing point when build­ing poly­phonic patches

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