Rack as a live performing instrument

First, I have to say that with Rack I was introduced to the world of modular synths. I was aware of modular since a while ago, but Rack made it real for me. I gained a new appretiation for modular and electronic music in general, the posibilities of modular fascinate me. But, I’m kind of broke, and as I’m only an undergraduate student in Mexico money is not something that I can spare. I have bought a few things like the Host module, a Beatstep Pro, and saved some money to buy Sylenth1 to use it along Rack, but my dream is to be able to buy some hardware and start an eurorack synth little by little. In the meantime, I’m happy with Rack.

So, I have been my whole life in love with music, but have never been confident enough to do my music live. With Rack I think I have gained that confidence needed to put something together to perform, but I have doubts about how well received would be a synth like Rack. It is not fancy gear as it is only my laptop, and the performance can only be appreciated by looking at my screen. Most people, I think, not only look for live perfomances for the music, but also for the visual stimulus that the musician puts when they play their instruments; a guitar, a piano, or a modular synth system.

My question is: What do you think of Rack as a preforming instrument? Not only to make a track or a song with it, but a whole live set that people can listen or even dance to. Is using only a laptop as valid as a whole modular system live? Maybe that one is a stupid question, but it’s been in my mind a lot.

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You could practice some techniques by streaming on Twitch/YT. Not the same as truly live, but you would get some experience of having to perform for your viewers. And get some feedback from them.


I think the question of validity is a matter of what you do with it… People make music with everything from rocks, sticks & shells to complex circuitry, doesn’t matter what you use if you can give your audience a moment of escape from their typical sensory experience.

I think rack could be very effective as a performance piece paired with something like a bcr2000 or novation sl, or just about anything with a bunch of knobs/sliders/buttons to interact with.

I do think having some hardware control makes for a better performance than simply clicking a mouse and staring at a screen, if only because it will encourage you to bounce around a little more, if you look like you’re really into it & having a blast, your audience will too. Somewhat harder to keep a mouse steady when dancin around and groovin.


I don’t recommend using Rack beta (v0.x) for important live shows (see the FAQ), but if it works and you don’t mind the possibility of an audio glitch or a crash on-stage, go for it. And post results!


Playing for an audience doesn’t necessarily mean you have to engage visually with them throughout the gig 100%
It all depends on whether they (or some of them) are touched/moved by your performance.
Then again it depends on which audience you are playing for.
For example you can take a look at one off Aphex Twin older gigs, where he is literally lying on the floor totally into his setup, but still having a crowd that is entertained.
In my old warehouse tekno sets (mid 90s) I remember playing once on a spot, where we climbed with a ladder, way up over 15 meters, with our gear, hooked it up, and performed half in the dark.
The people down there dancing, had no idea what we used or what we were doing.
But they danced.

In the end, just have fun with what you do, and learn from the mistakes and experiences.
Over time you will refine your setup to what works best for you! :+1:t3::control_knobs::level_slider::notes::control_knobs::headphones::loud_sound:


hell, even a touchscreen works.

(I mean something like TouchOSC, or any of the other software packages.)


I think, if you’ve managed to attain a stable setup with Rack on your computer and with your audio interface, and you know the limits of your computer with Rack patches, then I say - play some cool tunes and display a JW fullscope in Lissajous mode, and your good to go :slight_smile:


I used to perform a live set with only a laptop,. Back in the days when I used the software BUZZ exclusively for this. I would just plug into one channel of the DJ mixer always provided by the club, some times I would also put a portable sampler (su10) in the other deck input and could even load a new patch by looping a sample till ready…, many people performed this way at the time in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, etc. Some more live than others, personally I do improvised real-time manipulation of pre-patched setups, some patterns created live, some prepared. Others used the laptop as a way to add new or in progress tracks to a DJ set. All this was ten years ago, have not played out since, well it can be a great fun, it is a bunch of work as well. We used to joke at the time that for all the audience knew the ‘laptop performer’ could be looking at porn. But you can interact with the crowd and feedback the vibe quite easily, it is a legit live performance if done well IMHO.


Absolutely. Any MIDI controller with knobs, buttons and faders probably connects to the Host MIDI. I play around with a Behringer BCR2000 and KiwiTechnics Patch Editor an map to all sorts of parameters.

Can you take your laptop to a store, hook up a demo unit of whatever you’re thinking about buying, and see how it feels with some VCV Rack patches? That should answer your question.

  • Paul “Uncle Chrome” Artola
    Ellicott City, Maryland, USA
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