In this post I want to explain how to use VCV Rack with Ableton Live. With “together” I mean being able to sync it, receive MIDI from and send audio to Ableton Live.
If you are here through Google search, my name is Francesco (a.k.a. Distilled Noise), I make minimal and micro house music and I have a You Tube channel called Distilled Noise about this topic (check it out here!).
Back to business now, what is VCV Rack? It’s a virtual Eurorack, so a simulation of a modular synthesizer. You sign up on VCV Rack website, you download the software. Then you can download any module you want from their Library! And guess what, it’s FREE! Yes, most of the modules are free for download. Only a few, about 200 out of more than 2000 free, are premium.
Many modules are emulation of real ones others are original. It’s a very easy and cheap way to start understanding how modular synths work, before spending money on a real set up.
But if you are here, you probably know these things. What you may be struggling with instead, is how to use VCV Rack with Ableton Live, how you can integrate these two software to make music. You could play VCV Rack as a standalone software using an external keyboard or your computer keyboard, but this is not very helpful, unless all you want to do is just jamming without recording or arranging the track on Ableton.
So let’s see the 4 steps to get everything working, both on VCV Rack and on Ableton Live.
Step 1: download VCV Bridge VST
To make Ableton Live communicate with VCV Rack and vice-versa, you need a plug-in called VCV-Bridge. The problem is this plug-in is no more included in the latest version of VCV Rack (the one you download from their home page), so we need to look for it in the older version. Click on this link to go the VCV Rack downloads page.
Once there you need to look for the version Rack-0.6.2c followed by -mac.dmg, if you are a Mac user, or -win.zip if you are a Windows user (even Linux option is available).
Important note: we download the older version just for the plug-in files, don’t install the older VCV Rack software!
Step 2: install it in the right path
After downloading the dmg/zip file, open it. You’ll find inside the plug-in files. The procedure is different if you are on OSX or on Windows. Let’s see them both.
Other than all the other installation files, there are 2 files which are what we are looking for: VCV-Bridge.component and VCV-Bridge.vst. The first one is to use the plug-in as Audio Unit, the second is to use it as VST. I suggest the second option, you don’t need both of them. Also, the interface of the plug-in is a bit different in the two versions. Anyway, if you want to install both of them, here are the paths where you need to drag and drop the 2 files.
- VCV-Bridge.component: Macintosh HD/Library/Audio/Plug-ins/Components
- VCV-Bridge.vst: Macintosh HD/Library/Audio/Plug-ins/VST
Open the folder named “Rack”. You’ll find a folder named “Bridge”. Just copy that folder in C:/Program Files/Plug-Ins/VST.
Step 3: setting up Ableton Live
The procedure is the same for both OSX and Windows. Be aware that the plug-in we just installed works only on MIDI tracks. So create a MIDI track and load inside the VCV-Bridge VST. The only thing we have to do on the plug-in is setting the “port”. Port is the channel through which Ableton Live communicates with VCV.
Select PORT 1.
Every port is basically a different channel. If on VCV-Rack you have different patches at the same time, and you want to manage different sounds on different tracks on Ableton Live, on every track you will a VCV-Bridge plug-in with a different port selected.
Step 4: setting up VCV-Rack
On VCV-Rack everything is managed through modules.
At the beginning of the chain (patch) we need a module that converts MIDI from Live to CV (“virtual” control voltage). Just to be clear, control voltage is the way modules in real eurorack synthesizers are controlled. You can find this module among the native VCV modules, it’s callet MIDI-CV. On the module, select Bridge and the number of the Port that you have selected on the Bridge plug-in on Live. See the picture below.
At the end of the chain you need a module that send the audio back to Live. That module, still included in VCV stock modules, is called Audio-8. Again, select Bridge and the number of the Port you picked on Live.
And that’s it!
If you write a midi sequence on Ableton Live, on the track where you put the VCV-Bridge, when you press PLAY you should receive the audio back to Ableton, on the same MIDI track.
To test if everything is ok, i suggest to use the startup patch that you have on VCV-Rack. Infact, this patch is ready to go and all you have to do is be sure that you set MIDI-CV and AUDIO-8 modules as I told you.
This conclude the guide, which was just on how to get Ableton Live and VCV-Rack working together. This of course doesn’t cover how to make patches and connect modules. As you can see on Midi-CV and on Audio-8 there are many inputs and outputs that you need to learn how to patch. But that is for another blog post 🙂
If you want to check a video about how to do this, you can check my Twitch Live Stream here, where I explained the procedure.
Or you can check Alexis Cabrera video on You Tube.
For any questions, hit me on Instagram or comment here 🙂