Synthtopia

Mutable Instruments Retires Clouds Eurorack Module

Mutable Instruments’ Olivier Gillet today that he’s retiring Clouds – the company’s popular granular texture synthesizer module.

Clouds joins the recently-retired Braids macro oscillator as an incredibly popular design that Gillet, nevertheless, is axing as part of his ‘year with a negative number of module releases.’

Gillet is retiring Clouds and Braids because they are complex, menu-heavy designs, with many hidden functions. He wants his designs to be leaner, more sophisticated, better sounding and more fun to play with.

“Clouds has shown that live granular transformation is an important sound design tool in a modular system,” notes Gillet. “There ought to be a distraction-free device to perform it. I’m currently building it.”

While Clouds is being retired by Mutable, it’s an open design that is already available in variants, including other hardware and software formats.  

Here’s the text of Gillet’s announcement:

The last Clouds are being sent to dealers. The module is no longer in production.

To me, Clouds has always been a struggle, the ugly outcome of an entire year of inner battles during which nothing turned the way I expected.

Dyes started in January 2014 as a kind of phase vocoder/spectral freeze effect. Something really fun to play with in Pure Data, but which proved to be disastrous when put into a Eurorack case, because of latency and slow CV sampling rate issues. Throughout the year, my investigations followed two paths: How can we make things sound smudgy, frozen and weird without resorting to FFTs? And what on earth could we run on this bit of hardware with 7 knobs, stereo I/O, 6 CVs and 2 gate/triggers? These two tasks converged towards what is Clouds’ default granular processing mode. The enthusiasm of the beta testers confirmed that I was onto something and that I should absolutely release the module, but I was already getting way too conscious of its shortcomings to believe in its success.

One example: Originally the BLEND button controlled dry/wet balance and that was it. Feedback, pan randomization, reverb… had to be obtained through external modules. Then I tried adding those settings, and there was actually a point when these four parameters were still exclusive: if you wanted to use the reverb, then the output of the module was 100% wet and you had to use a mixer to do your dry/wet balance. But almost everybody requested independent, simultaneous control on all these parameters without resorting to external modules, and not in 24-HP please, so I compromised and we ended up with the current implementation of the BLEND knob, which I am not very proud of.

The testers got served a bunch of half-baked treats during the beta testing: delay and looper like functionality, a kind of SST-282 emulation, a reverb-based freeze effect, the original spectral freeze. And no matter how wonky this stuff was, no matter how arbitrary the chosen parameters were (after all everything had to fit in this 7-knob interface)… it still had a sentimental value to me and I could not totally let go of it. It ended up as hidden modes, the ultimate sin!

By the end of 2014 I was tired of the project, wanted to be over with it, so I decided to have 250 Clouds manufactured, which I hoped would simultaneously be the first and last batch. I predicted it would have the same destiny as Edges – something that a few people would totally get and love… and that would go unnoticed by the rest.

And then, in what could be seen as a very meta plot twist, the deity decided to use Clouds to process all the beliefs and perceptions surrounding the module, got confused with this damned BLEND knob, feedback and reverb got stuck to the maximum setting, resulting in a never-decaying smudgy howl of hype. And I felt awful about it.

Omens:

– Explaining at least once a day that Clouds won’t make clouds unless you patch attenuated random sources to its CV inputs (corollary: your Doepfer mini-case with Clouds and an Intellijel audio interface is not what I would call a good starter system).
– Clouds as a simple “end of chain effect” (one jack in, two jacks out), with the heavy lifting often done by the internal reverb and not much else.
– Richard Devine still running the December 2014 firmware.
– That the jokes were always about “Rings into Clouds”, but never “Clouds into Rings”.

Let’s take a break.

Clouds has shown that live granular transformation is an important sound design tool in a modular system. There ought to be a distraction-free device to perform it. I’m currently building it.