Many of you know my personal journey more or less. I’m not a musician, but an audio dabbler, and somebody endlessly fascinated with messing about with sound.
VCV opened a door for me, and turned out to be a gateway drug. After years of messing around in DAWs and with VSTs, on and off and never finishing or sharing anything, I discovered a tool that satisfied my aural desires, and loved the fantastic community grew around it.
I loved (and still love) building generative patches in it, but I became frustrated about not being able to touch it. I wanted to play with the knobs. I have never learnt an instrument but I wanted to ‘play’ with this incredible thing. I mapped my trusty old BCR2K a few times, but I found it a faff, and lost my way with complex mappings.
There are many reasons why I went to hardware and the final decision was heavily affected by difficult (and non audio related) personal circumstances. It started with ‘just’ an ES-9 and a limited intended focus on the processing of found sound, but a couple of years later it has bloomed into an embarrassingly large rack.
Very quickly I realised that I did not want to build hybrid patches with VCV (sorry!). Any ideas that I may have had of flinging CV and audio back and forth between the two foundered very quickly on a combination of latency issues and that I developed an intense aesthetic dislike of having the computer anywhere near the hardware rack. Once I moved into another room the only time the computer was allowed in was as a glorified tape recorder. I now have a Tascam Model 12 and the computer is otiose to requirements.
However, all is not lost on the VCV front, because I still fire it up daily. I’ve not completed anything in it for a long time but I use it to test ideas. Testing ideas is necessarily limited when you have a decent sized hardware patch that you don’t want to disrupt. When I started on the hardware I thought that I would never want to duplicate anything that I could get in VCV in hardware, now that is an active purchasing decision - I want the same or similar modules to facilitate mentally switching between the two environments.
What I have gained is immeasurable for me. On hardware I patch differently. Far more thoughtfully and with endless knob tweaking to winkle out the things I love, the non-linearities, discontinuities, the fragile edges of things. With no computer in the room I get meditative focus on what I am doing, don’t get distracted and the minutes become hours.
Doing things in hardware is a massive learning experience if you have always been ITB like I had. Gain staging and noise is an endlessly variable thing adjustable at multiple places in your signal flow. Connecting things together can be painful. You can always do it but I have a growing collection of I/O modules to manage it. In VCV there is a voltage standard. In Eurorack there are two(ish). You may need 5v to open a filter or VCA, or you may need 8 or 10v to do so. In VCV there is polyphony; in Eurorack it is doable it is a serious rackspace investment. Even doing things in stereo can be challenging; the difference between dual mono and stereo impresses itself on you.
The ephemerality of hardware is a mixed experience. Sounds are generally pretty transient - you will move a knob and then not be able to recover the sound you were hearing. Tearing down a patch that you have enjoyed playing with is a genuine regret. However, there is something very Buddhist about the impermanence.
I have discovered that I love analog modules, both ergonomically and sonically. Analog modules require a lot of space. Space is an underestimated requirement. It is no less challenging than the cost and should very much be borne in mind if considering a move to hardware.
I also discovered DIY which is an addiction in itself. It is unbelievably satisfying to solder a module together and get it working. There are so many people out there with interesting little projects to get into. This, however, becomes another space investment!
Do I regret it? Not so far. I have invested a lot of money that I may need in the future for health care etc, but I will be able to recover most of it. I may lose a few thousand if/when I sell up (not sold a single thing yet) but that money will have been money well spent for the joy it has given me.
I have some purchasing regrets. They all concern digital modules that require a greater learning investment than I want to give them and definitely not because there is anything wrong with them.
All in all though, no regrets at all. If I move on from it one day and lose a little money then so be it. It will have been worth it for many reasons, mostly related to its role in seeing me through a difficult period in my life.