Understanding Clouds and Its Derivatives

The Clouds module, from Mutable Instruments, has become one of the most well known Eurorack modules of our time. While it was still in production it often made top 10 and best sellers lists. It was then quite the surprise when it was discontinued, without a replacement in 2017. However, due to Emilie Gillet’s policy to open source all designs from Mutable Instruments, the ecosystem of Clouds modules has continued the thrive and grow. With both the hardware and software being open sourced the options have become a bit mind-numbing. Below I attempt to explain each of the options that are available today.

Software/Firmware

All derivatives of Clouds run some sort of firmware. Since Emilie made her code available via an MIT license others have been allowed to continue to innovate on top of the original released firmware. Updating the firmware is possible by both playing an MP3 into the input of the module and by a programmer. There’s no need to worry about being stuck with a firmware choice. I do recommend paying attention to the compatibility though. As people have continued their innovation, the firmware has grown too large and now some firmware requires a larger microcontroller, so be sure to watch for this detail.

Stock/Original (by Emilie Gillet):

After the original release of the firmware in 2015, Emilie had continued to make improvements up to 2017. There are four modes in this version. Emilie calls them undocumented and experimental but then documents them rather nicely. The four modes are:
1) Granular Processor (officially supported mode)
2) Pitch Shifter / Time Shifter
3) Looping Delay
4) Spectral Processor

Compatible with: Clouds, uBurst, and Monsoon

Parasites (by Mattias Peuch):

Parasites retains the functionality of the original firmware but then adds two new modes. It also expands on the range of some of the functionality in all modes. Some find that this expanded functionality comes at a cost of some audio quality. That being said, I have found that most folks prefer this firmware when we had to choose between the three firmware choices. The modes are:
1) Granular Processor
2) Pitch Shifter / Time Shifter
3) Looping Delay
4) Spectral Processor
5) NEW: OliverB – Reverb mode
6) NEW: Resonator

Compatible with: Clouds, uBurst, and Monsoon

Kammerl Beat Repeat (by Julius Kammerl):

Kammerl builds on the original firmware by creating a clock sync’d engine for real-time processing. It is based on a VST plug-in by the same author. In addition the spectral clouds mode is a different approach to spectral processing. With this firmware you end up with the following five modes:
1) Granular Processor
2) Pitch Shifter / Time Shifter
3) Looping Delay
4) NEW: Beat Repeat
5) NEW: Spectral Clouds (replacement for Spectral Processing)

Compatible with: Clouds, uBurst, and Monsoon

SuperParasites (by Patrick Dowling):

SuperParasites merges together all of the above firmwares into a combined new version. This enables access to all of the above modes without having to reload firmware. In order to accomplish this a new microcontroller had to be used. This makes this firmware incompatible with earlier hardware versions, including the original Clouds. So to summarize this newest version of firmware supports all of the below modes:
1) Granular Processor
2) Pitch Shifter / Time Shifter
3) Looping Delay
4) Spectral Madness
5) OliverB – Reverb mode
6) Resonator
7) Beat Repeat
8) Spectral Clouds

Compatible with: Storm, Typhoon, nanoCell, Microcell, and Supercell

Hardware:

The hardware covered here does not cover every version of hardware ever created. Below I aim to cover the major variants. If readers know of others, please feel free to mention in the comments.

Original (18HP by Mutable Instruments):

The original design was quite powerful and is what vaulted this module to the reputation that it has today. However, one of the downsides of the design was that four features were hidden behind one knob, the blend knob. In order to choose between controlling Dry/Wet mix, Reverb, Feedback, and Panning you had to use a button to change the mode of the blend knob. This also meant that the one blend CV input was shared between these four blend options.

Firmware compatibility: Stock, Parasites, and Kammerl Beat Repeat

uBurst (8HP – by Jakplugg):

uBurst simply shrunk down the functionality of Clouds into 8HP. There were no other changes. The smaller layout can feel cramped to some and often uses trimmer style pots. However, if space is of the highest concern, this module is the smallest option. 

Firmware compatibility: Stock, Parasites, and Kammerl Beat Repeat

Supercell (34HP by Grayscale)

Supercell took the opposite approach of uBurst and greatly expanded on the Clouds module. It added a ton of features including dedicated knobs and CV inputs for the four blend options, attenuverters, VCAs, and many others. You can read the full set of options on the Grayscale website. Most notably this version used a different microcontroller to run SuperParasites firmware (combined Parasites and Beat Repeat).

Firmware compatibility: SuperParasites, Supercell Core (stock firmware for Supercell)

Monsoon (12HP – by Jakplugg):

Monsoon expanded upon the uBurst design with dedicated knobs and CV inputs for the four blend options. The layout of the controls were also rethought to include four sliders with CV indicating lights in the handle of the sliders. Because of the change in functionality the firmware also needed to be changed. This required special versions of the stock, parasites, and beat repeat firmware to be used with Monsoon.

Firmware compatibility: Monsoon Stock, Monsoon Parasites, Monsoon Beat Repeat

Storm/nanoCell/Microcell (14HP)

These modules took all of the functionality of Supercell (minus the attenuverters) and shrunk it down to 14HP. It also continues to run the same firmware as Supercell. Due to copyright restrictions put in place on the Microcell name, you will see this product listed under many different names, including Storm (from After Later Audio), and nanoCell (from Momo Modular).

Firmware compatibility: SuperParasites, Supercell Core

Typhoon (16HP by JakPlugg)

Typhoon merges together all of the features from Microcell with the friendly layout of Monsoon. So this version also only supports the SuperParasites and Supercell Core firmware options.

Firmware compatibility: SuperParasites, Supercell Core

Conclusion

It is pretty remarkable that all of this came from a module that Emilie was quite frustrated with when it was released. I believe this is a tribute to the level of quality that Emilie holds for each of her modules. I think this quote from her 2017 retirement announcement best summarizes what she thought of Clouds when it was released:
“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,”

I think we are all glad that she marched forward with the release as it has become cemented in music synthesis history.


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