Virtual Eurorack Modules for VCV Rack

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Portable sequence format

(by Bruce Frazer of SquinkyLabs)

Entrian, Impromptu Modular, and SquinkyLabs have developed a proposed standard for representing note sequences on VCV’s clipboard. This allows moving a common subset of sequence data between modules. The format is biased towards data that is similar to what might be in a MIDI file – a series of notes with pitches, start times, and durations. Possibly polyphonic. It can be used usefully in modules that don’t use that model, however.

At the highest level, the data is a UTF-8 string containing JSON encoded data. VCV is already using this encoding, so the new proposal will not conflict with VCV’s existing clipboard code.

Before diving into details, here is a simple example:

  "vcvrack-sequence": {
    "length": 4.0,
    "notes": [
        "type": "note",
        "start": 0.5,
        "pitch": 0,
        "length": 0.85
        "type": "note",
        "start": 1.5,
        "pitch": 0.166666667,
        "length": 0.85

The top level entity is an object. The property names on that object are the names of different clipboard formats. This document describes the contents of the object named vcvrack-sequence, but other interchange formats may be defined, and an application may put an object on the clipboard with more than one top-level format property. This is similar to the way clipboards work in other applications. For example, a word processor will typically put its native format on the system clipboard, as well as HTML and plain text.

The vcvrack-sequence has two properties: notes, and length. Both of these are required.

length is a number representing the entire time duration of the sequence. In vcvrack-sequence time is always representing with metric time, where 1.0 is the duration of a quarter note. Real numbers are used, so time can be finer than just quarter notes. length is the duration of the whole clip.

length must be large enough to contain the notes in the notes section, but may be longer if the sequencer wishes to represent a clip that is “bigger” than just the notes contained in it. For example, an entire sequence might be exactly 16 quarter notes long, but the last note won’t necessarily extend all the way to the end.

notes is an array of note objects. The note objects in the array must be listed in time order. More on this later.

note objects have four required properties, and two optional ones. type is required. It is a string property, and the value is always note. start is the start time of the note. Like all time properties it is a real number, where 1.0 is one quarter note. pitch is a real number, and uses the VCV rack standard of one volt per octave, with 0 being C4. length is the note length or duration, where again 1.0 is the length of a quarter-note.

In many cases the first note will have a start of 0.0. But this need not be the case. For example, in some sequencers a user is able to select a whole bar and copy it. In this case, the start of the first note will be its start time relative to the start of the bar. In other words, the duration of the entire clipboard will usually be the duration of the source selection, and all start properties will be relative to the start of the selection.

note objects also have two optional properties: velocity and playProbability. These properties may be set on note objects, or they may not. Parsers should be prepared to handle either case. velocity has a range of 0 to 10. velocity might be patched to a VCA to control volume, but it could be used for anything. Think of it as a unipolar CV that has a constant value for the duration of a note.

playProbability has a value of 0 to 1, and represents the probability that the note in question will play.

A note on polyphony

It is possible that a module will put a polyphonic sequence clip on the clipboard. This will produce notes that overlap. A consuming module might not be polyphonic, and will have to decide how to interpret these notes.

Putting other data on the clipboard

While this document specifies a schema value of the vcvrack-sequence property, the proposal allows for other top-level properties besides vcvrack-sequence. We expect that it will be common for some modules to put vcvrack-sequence information on the clipboard, but also put their own format on the clipboard as well. The reader of this clipboard may then pick what data to parse.

Modules are free to write extra formats like this, however it would be bad for two modules to use the same property name but have different meanings. For this reason we suggest that you use your developer name as a prefix, or even your module slug. For example:

    "squinkylabs-stuff": "hello",
    "vcvrack-sequence": {
        "notes": [ ],
        "length": 1

A module may put anything it likes on the clipboard this way. With the obvious restriction that it must be well formed JSON in a UTF-8 string.

Best practices for implementations

Writing to the clipboard

Write all the required properties, even if your module may not use them. For example, you are required to set a length on each note. If your sequencer doesn’t have a length for a note, put in some plausible value like 1.

Don’t write optional properties if your module can’t provide a valid value. For example if your sequencer doesn’t have a concept of velocity, don’t write out 5.0. Just omit it and hope the reader knows a reasonable default.

If you write your own proprietary format to the clipboard try to also write a standard format so that other modules that don’t know about your format can get some useful information.

Reading from the clipboard

There are at least two issues every developer will need to consider. The first is making sure to correctly parse a well-formed vcvrack-sequence when optional properties are present and when they are not.

The other is what to do if there is malformed data on the clipboard. Most developers will probably not want their module to crash if bad data is pasted into it. Luckily the JSON parser in VCV is pretty robust and difficult to crash. A few ideas are:


It would be a nice courtesy to users and other developers if modules would document how they interoperate with the portable sequence format. Especially for modules where it might not be obvious how the notes in this format might map to the data structures of other modules.

Sample code for writing a note

Here is a working code fragment that creates a note object:

json_t* Note::toInteropJson() {
    json_t* rootJ = json_object();
    json_object_set_new(rootJ, "type", json_string("note"));
    json_object_set_new(rootJ, "pitch", json_real(vOct);
    json_object_set_new(rootJ, "length", json_real(lengthInBeats);
    return rootJ;

VCV Modules that support the portable sequence format

Entrian: Entrian Timeline and Entrian Melody.

Impromptu Modular: ChordKey, Foundry, FourView, PhraseSeq16/32, SMS16, and BigButtonSeq2.

SquinkyLabs: Seq++.

Slime Child Audio: Substation PolySequencer