titanic madness

We’ve been rewatching all the MCU movies in chronological order. From the start, I semi-dreaded getting to Infinity War and its stupid, ridiculous villain and its bumbling, completely-off-their-game heroes, and ultimately, a crushing and emotionally devastating defeat that we all knew had to be reversed somehow in the sequel. And stupid Vormir (with its stupid ghost of stupid Red Skull) and its stupid “sacrifice” which was not all credible in this movie and deeply unfair and painful in the next. Overall, most of the MCU movies are thrilling, entertaining, and sometimes hilarious, but aside from a few laughs and a few small triumphs (which then feel like they didn’t matter…) this one just pissed me off overall.

In the comics, Thanos wanted to kill half the universe to impress Death because he was in love with her. (This storyline was even hinted at in one of the end-credits scenes, where a Chitauri said “to attack Earth is to court death” and Thanos’ eyes lit up.) It’s crazy, and kind of dumb, but here’s the thing: it was acknowledged as crazy and dumb.

In the movie, he wants to kill half the universe so that the other half has enough resources not to starve. People just sort of accept that and even relate to it as if it were good intentions gone very wrong, as if it somehow compares to Killmonger’s rage over racial injustice and oppression in Black Panther.

Here’s why it’s stupid.

  • If you have all those infinity stones, you could solve the problem so many other ways. Create more resources! Change life so that it requires less! Whatever!
  • It’s not even a universal problem. There are, presumably, planets where nobody is starving or struggling. There are, no doubt, planets and colonies where killing half the population would cause collapse and probable starvation.
  • Starvation on a civilized world is almost certainly not a simple “too many consumers, not enough resources” problem, but one of inequitable distribution and poor resource management. (On a more primitive one it’s probably more a matter of ability to extract those resources.)
  • Killing half the population without regard to economic status seems like it would be far less effective than specifically targeting the rich, who consume more than their share.
  • Population is not a static number. On Earth, the human population doubled from about 1925 to 1971, and doubled again from 1971 to 2020. Thanos is something like 1100 years old, right? You’d think he would have some perspective here.
  • Which species get killed and which ones are “resources” themselves? Often the movie states it as “half of all life” and yet we don’t see trees, shrubs, grass, or any animals getting dusted, only humans. What of other apex predators? What about invasive species? What about the sort of livestock that put a strain on other resources while being resources themselves?

There are no doubt more, but this is what I came up with in half an hour or so this morning. The writers really should have stuck with the original motivation for Thanos — with no actual personification of Death for him to impress, just his own belief. (Or maybe he confused Hela with Death, and Thor could catch him up on events from the Ragnarok movie…)

under the influence

As it does every so often, the topic of “influencers” or “synthfluencers” has come up on forums again.

I’m not interested in ranting about the unbalanced level of resentment that some people have over it — instead I want to consider actual influence. And that’s personal.

When I was a child, my dad had eclectic tastes in music and I picked up on them. Isao Tomita, Wendy Carlos, Synergy, the Beach Boys with that sweet Tannerin solo on “Good Vibrations,” Pink Floyd, the Alan Parsons Project with some very clever production tricks (and solid funk, and of course vocoders were awesome to a kid who loved robots and space). Really Tomita was the big one for me though, and I appreciated his sound design and aesthetic sense more and more as I grew up and started to find my own favorite musics. Dad has never been a musician, but Mom played the piano a bit, and both encouraged me.

I should also add that Dad encouraged an interest in electronics and how things worked, and also his job with a chain of video arcades exposed me to a lot of games and some sense of how they worked on the inside. Mom as a computer programmer did all kinds of mysterious magic with big cool machines. So it’s not really a surprise that I wound up as a programmer, in the video game industry for quite a while, and of course computers are a little bit important in electronic music.

Some credit to my brother too: though much more of a visual artist, he had some interest in synths too and is the one who introduced me to FL Studio and VST plugins originally. And while I’m on family and out of chronological order, my spouse has been supportive and tolerant of my weird noises and weirder devices. 🙂

I had a fantastic music teacher in elementary school, Helene Malpede, who later was my violin teacher. I strongly suspect that the joy she shared in music and the emphasis that everyone can be involved in music in some way, really made a difference.

In middle school, as a science project I tried to build a TI talking clock chip-based speech synthesizer and interface it with a Commodore 64. It was only partially successful, and unstable in fun ways and I wish I still had it (“elevennn.nn.nn.nn.nn.nn.nn.nn.nn EIGHT oh”). My science teacher at the time gave me an old oscilloscope of his, hoping it would inspire me further. I hooked it up to the 8-track tape player and watched Tomita’s waveforms dancing across the old round tube, in rapt fascination. So I think it inspired me more musically than to go further in electronics.

I started on the violin in middle school, and while it can certainly be a frustrating and difficult instrument, there was joy when things came together. The sense of control and expression… I know electronic musicians often talk about a collaboration with the machine, but even with acoustic instruments there is a similar feeling. And playing in an ensemble, there’s also satisfaction when the group is tight and creates something greater than the sum of its parts. So, I might add the conductors and instructors who taught me, quirky as they each were (and in many cases, biased against electronic music or anything outside their own comfort zone).

I also joined the high school jazz ensemble — starting from a position of not really being able to play the piano, and ending in a position of barely being able to play it and not very well. But I learned some comfort with improvisation and rhythmic complexity, and had an amazing almost out-of-body experience at one show with a wild solo that stunned the rest of the band. As it happens, the group was directed by the same teacher who’d conducted the middle school orchestra, so he gets some extra credit.

The time I spent in the Society for Creative Anachronism, and then more so, the House of Netjer Kemetic Orthodox Church, led me to appreciate hand drums and get a bit into bellydance music. And I also enjoyed other folk music from around the world with “unusual” and complex rhythms. A lot of my own pre-Starthief music was heavily influenced by those rhythms and timbres, and even though I’m so much into drone and use very little of a percussive nature now, I still love an asymmetrical rhythm and they do creep in at times. I also think the trance-inducing nature of some rhythmic music has an influence.

The House was also the impetus for actually releasing music. I first decided to make some music to honor a few of the major gods for a holiday, and then just kept going, and shifted gears to other purposes, and then I was just making music for the love of making music. So, the encouragement I received through my religion was a very big deal.

And back to rhythm: there was St. Louis Osuwa Taiko. I loved seeing them perform, because it seemed so full of ferocious joy, and friends convinced me that I should go ahead and join their beginners’ group. I went on to audition for the performing group and did that as my primary musical (and physical!) activity for a couple of years. There’s perhaps not much of taiko in a Starthief album, but many public performances did give me more confidence. And one of my favorite (yet all too rare and brief) parts of playing taiko was improvisation, and that’s a key part of my music now.

At a time when I was spinning my wheels, Jonathan Coulton’s “Thing A Week” project encouraged me to try the same, and those habits are what really made Starthief happen.

What influenced me to get into Eurorack was playing the Arturia Microbrute, with those fascinating few patch points — and then Émilie Gillet of Mutable Instruments donated some modules to a charity auction I was watching, which really got the wheels turning. And while I’m on that subject, credit to instrument designers in general. The responsibility to create, and to choose the tools, lies with the musician — but building instruments is an art too and one does very much influence the other.

I could name a lot of musicians whose work I have enjoyed, and who opened my ears and mind to what was possible. The more obvious ones to me (aside from Tomita) have been Skinny Puppy, Nathan Moody, Belief Defect, and Caterina Barbieri. But there have been hundreds and I can’t rule out the influence and inspiration than any of them have given.

Inspiration comes from many other places though: many authors of novels and nonfiction books could be named, and many different life experiences. The list could start to get pretty absurd if it were entirely complete.

chaos and noise

It’s the little things… quite literally. I ordered a tin of Befaco Knurlies, specialized screws for Eurorack that have nylon washers built in to prevent scratches, and can be tightened with a flat or Philips screwdriver, a hex driver, or even by hand.

Honestly, I think for someone who doesn’t move modules often, M3 hex screws and separate washers (as I’ve been using, and you’ll see in the image here) are the way to go. They’re a lot cheaper! And low profile, good looking, and more secure if you go to trade shows or live gigs and don’t want individual modules to wander off in someone’s bag too easily. Knurlies are nice for quicker changes, or modules like Desmodus Versio where you need to get to the back to update firmware a little more often.

Also recently arrived: some new knobs to update the look and feel of my Mystic Circuits modules. They came with the sort of knobs that have shiny metallic tops, and the direction is indicated with a shaped bump on the side. Ana did have purple-sided knobs, and purple is sort of this company’s thing, and I think the colors work well here. The slightly larger Wrap knob is “MXR mini style” — pretty much the same as the Root knob on Ensemble Oscillator — and the others are Davies 1900h clones, a common type used in Eurorack.

I also have some Rogan soft-touch knobs on the way — the same kind that Make Noise and Mutable Instruments use, and I like them very much. Noise Engineering’s knobs are classy and have a solid feel, but they have glossy tops where glare obscures the pointer direction. In the past I’ve found they are very firmly mounted and can be challenging to remove, but the increase in visibility makes it worth replacing them.

Less little: I ordered a Xaoc Katowice “stereo variable-band isolator.” It splits the incoming signal into low, mid and high frequency bands. There is CV and manual control over the middle band’s center and width, and over the levels of each band — making it kind of a multiband VCA, or shelving/peaking EQ. There are stereo mix outputs and individual low, mid and high outputs, so you can route or process the bands separately. I also picked up a small, cheap After Later 3:1 mixer, so after such processing I can merge back to stereo without taking up 6 inputs on my audio interface.

It’s basically the hardware version of the Multiband device in Bitwig Studio. Hardware gives it the advantage of direct hands-on and CV control and zero latency. Feedback patches and interesting FM/AM/RM should be possible, and I expect it will also lead to different usage patterns than the software.

With the exception of that tiny mixer, this entire spring 2021 update to my modular has consisted of Xaoc Devices and Noise Engineering modules. Xaoc is apparently pronounced “chaos” and has a very Eastern Bloc, almost-Communist-chic, test equipment aesthetic that looks rather classy. All their modules are named after the Polish names of European cities (really putting the Euro in Eurorack). NE is very much inspired by 90s gothic-tinged dark and yet nerdy industrial music, and their module names are in psuedo Latin. They couldn’t be more different, and yet I think they complement each other well, and really have been suiting my music nicely. This kind of diversity is one of the coolest things about Eurorack, compared to other modular formats.


Just yesterday, Polyend released version 4.0 firmware for the Medusa hybrid synth, adding a digital FM mode among some other things. There were a few unfortunate bits:

  • The “extra” analog oscillator in FM mode is only accessible via external MIDI, not the Medusa’s own grid controller/sequencer which is its primary defining feature. Minor quibble though.
  • The behavior of P1 and P2 (paraphonic) modes changed. Previously, if you set one of the oscillator sliders at minimum, it would be skipped during voice allocation — so the sequence would play all specified notes with whatever oscillators it has available. Since you can set oscillator tuning, waveshape, sync and FM individually, this could be exploited to create polyrhythmic patterns that you could change on the fly. This behavior is unique and what makes me want to keep the Medusa rather than going for something else. But someone reported it as a bug, so Version 4.0 stopped skipping silenced oscillators and just left silent notes instead…
  • A bug in Grid mode where polyphony stopped working and it played monophonically using oscillator 1.

I grumbled, reverted to the previous firmware (which I was very glad I’d kept), and reported it to Polyend. I was surprised to get a message this morning with a new version to try — which fixed the bug and added a “Skip muted voices” option to restore the behavior I love. So… hooray! New FM mode plus it still does the crazy stuff that I like.

At this point I have finished my retrospective, critical listen to all my Starthief releases since 2018. Here’s what stands out:

The first album, Nereus kind of doesn’t fit the rest stylistically, at all. I think of this style as “my 0-Coast period” — plucky bassline/melodic hybrids with particular sequencing techniques, which I was doing a lot of in 2017. I liked it better than the more experimental sounds I was trying at the time, and in fact this is the “my sound” I thought I found at first. But it was definitely a stepping stone I don’t need to traverse again. Also, I’m hearing a generally lower production quality, possibly some stereo phase correlation issues. I’m honestly tempted to remove this one from Bandcamp, because it seems so out of place.

The second album, Shelter In Place, was much closer to what I think of as “the Starthief sound.” I was thinking about a more abstract sort of drone techno that hints at industrial, and that’s where this one went. In the future I might introduce a bit more of this flavor, but I don’t want to push toward it.

The third, Vox Inhumana, I backed off on the drone but went to a more… not quite Berlin School sound, but a “collaboration with the synthesizer” attitude. And I think that one really nailed it and still stands as one of my favorite albums.

After that there’s not so much of a progression as a wandering through different interests. At certain times I had particular near-obsessions, like sustaining feedback or FM, or particular gear I was highlighting.

My music is at its best when I follow it instead of trying too hard to lead it. But also, I need to keep a hand on the reins — some of the more experimental “leaks” into my albums feel like weaker points rather than the breaths of fresh air that I intended.


The horribly named Gearslutz is finally changing its name to Gearspace. Years of pressure from the community to be more inclusive and professional can actually work. I might actually take a look around there once it’s done.

Your move, Muffwiggler.com.

I’ve been listening to my albums today, reviewing my own starting from the very recent Luminous Phenomena and working backwards, in a combination of enjoyment and judgement. I’m not taking notes on technical issues or anything like that, but just the overall emotional impact and enjoyability (granted that’s in my current mental state, so these opinions are always subject to change).

So far I’m finding confirmation that I have a “sound” in a general sense, and should stick to it. I would rank my 5 most recent albums in this order:

  • Luminous Phenomena: an intense ride, with a good balance of continuity and contrast. I want to keep doing things in this vein.
  • Unfolding: really solid, some great textures and an emotional ambiguity and tension that I like. Not as intense as LP, but good.
  • Pieces: pretty strong, with some good melodic use of the Medusa. I didn’t enjoy “Energy Exchange” as much; it goes a bit outside my Goldilocks Zone.
  • Carefully Introducing Problems: there’s certainly some good work here, but some of it just isn’t grabbing me as much — a bit uneven.
  • The Sky Above the Port — this was a difficult album; I was trying to make music for specific scenes and settings, and not really doing what comes naturally to me. It feels like my weakest recent work. So I’m asking myself some questions about the process. Was the concept doomed, did I need to change the plan a bit, or just spend more time on it and be more discriminating? Or is there not really anything wrong with it and it just didn’t hit me in the right frame of mind today?

I’ll probably keep listening to my older work and contemplating until I get back to Nereus, but I feel that the most recent work is the most relevant.

five point oh

I’m happy to say that I rearranged my modular case with a relatively simple organizing principle with only a couple of minor fudges to make everything work. This might be a good time for a fresh walkthrough — not of the “what is it?” kind but more how I feel about each module.

Top row: FX, and a little space on either side for further expansion.

Phonogene: its crude lo-fi nature, particularly when slowing parts down, makes it charming. You can grab almost any audio and turn it into some kind of interesting noisy texture with this.

Desmodus Versio: currently shipping to me. Desmodus itself sounds great but I was going to wait for the VST plugin — but the recent addition of Electus and Ruina firmware and the likelihood of even more in the future put this over the “must have” threshold. And I’m pleasantly inclined toward Noise Engineering after interviewing with them and getting a Manis Iteritas again.

Mimeophon: it has great character, works very nicely as a resonator and is very friendly toward modulation. It’s most of what I wanted in the ideal delay module.

FX Aid XL: this is like having a whole bunch more effects plugins, many of which sound great, and with the benefits of no latency and the ability to mess with and modulate the sample rate it runs at.

Beads: an endless abyss of possibilities. I experimented a bit with hardcore granular techniques, but am happiest using it as a way to add space and texture to other voices, or occasionally for its wavetable oscillator.

Rings: yes, I’m counting it as an effect because I use it that way more often than not. It’s a massively parallel set of bandpass filters or tuned delay lines with particular spacing. One of the first modules I owned, and I will use it as long as I use Eurorack at all… unless some other developer picks up the torch and takes modal synthesis to the next level with a true successor to Rings. So far, other developers’ idea of physical modeling is either just a delay, or a “complete” voice with no audio input.

Row 2: the oscillators.

Akemie’s Castle: a serious drone monster, and a ticket to the FM synthesis sounds of the late 80s/early 90s that I love so much.

Manis Iteritas: throbbing sometimes, noisy often, dark at its best, unique. The Smash parameter was the aspect I once liked least, but I’m finding ways to make it work for me. Very glad to have this back in my rack after a 3 year absence.

Odessa: brilliantly different. True additive synthesis, which can be twisted to many purposes. It can sound “very digital” — mostly in a good way! — but if you want to start sonic riots, just detune the partials a bit and feed it through some distortion.

Shapeshifter: it’s not just a complex oscillator, it’s a complex2 oscillator. A huge parameter space to explore, and it can be hard to find your way back to any given point. I suppose that’s why it has a preset system, but I never use that except to let it boot up to a “safe” default setting.

Ensemble Oscillator: I think where people get lost with this one is that the quantizer isn’t for melodic control, but controlling the ratios between its oscillators. It’s sort of a hybrid between additive synthesis and “West Coast” sine-FM-waveshaper territory, and sounds unique and fascinating to me. I often use it for gentler chordal pads at one extreme, or noisy weirdness at the other.

Row 3: mainly modulation.

Mazzatron Mult+PassThru: with a 1HP gap on its left for cables to escape from behind it, this is a super handy way to patch from the modular into my audio interface. Getting it was a good idea.

Maths: you’d have to combine the features of 5 or 6 different function generator modules to get the ideal one for me, but Maths is a pretty solid “close enough.” Usually the first module I turn to for envelopes (looping or not) and sometimes does audio rate duties.

Stages: I probably use it more for basic LFOs than anything else, but occasional simple envelopes or slew, and rarer sequences, S&H, or more complex envelopes and hybrid modulation. I would probably be 95% fine with Zadar instead, but I don’t feel compelled to make that change.

O’Tool+: (with Shades and P-075, I put these utilities on this row instead of the bottom to make them more physically central.) Super useful for learning new modules or figuring out new techniques, checking levels, tuning and calibration, and generally knowing what’s going on. SCIENCE!

Shades: my favorite of the simpler scale/invert/offset modules, it has a good feel and is very precisely 1.000000x gain at max knob level.

Ladik P-075: simple but clever, with both latched and momentary switches for mutes. Or with Shades, sudden transitions from 0V to some other level, which is great for transposing drones.

Clep Diaz: musical and smart. I don’t have a lot of experience with it yet, but I like what it’s done for me so far!

Kermit mk2: easy to use, flexible wavetable LFO which also sounds gorgeous at audio rates.

Marbles: the module that changed my mind about random sources, mostly because it’s so good at taming randomness. And more quantizers should be as musical as the one in this, prioritizing notes by their consonance.

Teletype: anything Pam’s New Workout can do, Teletype can do better. And also a lot of other things that you might want to do with gate or CV processing or generation. As a full-time software developer, I find its simple scripting language to be refreshingly simple — but I recognize a lot of people just won’t want to interact with modules in this way, and that’s okay.

TXb: just a doodad to let Teletype query the Sweet Sixteen’s fader values. If I need to free up exactly 1HP of space in the future I could “hide” it inside the case and leave a gap instead.

Bottom/front row: utilities + misc.

ES-3 (and hidden ES-6, thanks to the Mult+PassThru): channels of communication with the DAW. I use it for audio much more than CV. I can’t imagine going back to only having the analog audio inputs now.

Gozinta: rarely needed, but sometimes I do want to boost a signal a lot.

CVilization: as a basic matrix mixer it’s dead simple to use. Getting into the more advanced possibilities requires looking at a cheat sheet, but it’s not a bad experience. This is a tool I definitely don’t need in every patch, but can do some clever things and once in a while it really justifies itself.

Natural Gate: I don’t use it as much since getting more into drones, but it is gorgeous. Demand vs. supply is so skewed that I could easily resell it for almost 3x what I paid for it new, but I would probably regret it immediately if I did.

MSCL: good for when I want a signal to be hotter, but not too hot — protecting inputs that tend to clip in unpleasant ways for instance, or keeping feedback loops right on the edge without exploding.

Tallin: still a favorite VCA thanks to its distortion options, and compact size without feeling cramped.

Drezno (and space reserved for Jena): amazing as a waveshaper and noisifier. Very good as a pattern extractor/maker/mangler.

FM Aid: not often used for its stated purpose, but as a variation on a wavefolder. I have a lot of FM stuff already, but once in a while it’s good to mix things up or do the impossible.

Blinds: like a super-Shades, but also a ring modulator/crossfader. I should have had one earlier in my modular journey.

Ana: multiple ways of taking two signals (or one signal and a reference level) and doing something to them makes for some fine waveshaping possibilities and alternatives to FM.

Portal: this should really be in the FX row I suppose, but I’ve used it to generate impulses and noise to drive other things. When I got it I was worried it would be harsh and not very commonly useful, but it can be tamed and put to good use.

Planar: there is no more fun way to crossfade between sounds, or tweak a couple of parameters together, or both at the same time.

Bonus level: the Pod60

Blades: overall favorite (dual!) filter ever, due to its considerable versatility. I like my filters to be more than filters, and this has a heavy drive or wavefolding stage, can act as an analog complex oscillator with phase modulation, etc.

Angle Grinder: another example of versatility, as an oscillator it can sound remarkably wavetable-like thanks to its “grind” section. It can be really stable or chaotic and weird depending on how you dial it in. And the highpass just sounds really great to me for some reason.

Sweet Sixteen: the control center for my recording sessions, I have it handling mix levels in the DAW, effects amounts and parameters in both hardware and software, custom/quantized pitches in Teletype, and simple attenuator duty all at once.

taking it apart and putting it back together

Just a second… why the title of the previous post? I was going to say something about the musical term ostinato, which of course, means obstinate.

“A motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice, frequently in the same pitch.” Examples given include Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder’s “I Feel Love”

This is something I latched onto at a young age, before electronic music (and thus simple sequenced loops) was common. I used to noodle a repeating passage on the piano, sometimes playing with nuances of timing, sometimes just repeating it obstinately. Though I hadn’t heard of Brian Eno, I was exploring the idea that repetition is a form of change. It infuriated my grandma because I “wasn’t playing proper music” — which meant a tune someone else wrote and was printed as sheet music. Improvisation barely counted as music to her; my proto-exploration of drones and reverb with the sustain pedal most certainly did not. We were both obstinate toward each other quite a lot.

Of course ostinato in Western music dates back at least to the 13th century and has (appropriately) never stopped. It’s also prominent in sub-Saharan African and Indian classical music and probably appears in most cultures’ music, honestly.

Anyway, I’ve been using short repeating sequences as part of music for a while now, and it occurred to me it’s somewhat related to drone. I only recently recalled the term — being more used to thinking of them as “loops” or even (incorrectly) “arps” (for arpeggio, which should only refer to spreading out the notes of a chord). I had a good chuckle about the meaning of the name.

So: Drezno! A few days ago I described what it is, and what I thought I could use it for. Now I have some practical experience, and opinions.

As a waveshaper, it is fantastic. By simply blocking a bit, you add kinks into the waveform, and thus harmonic content, which varies with the dynamics of the input. Much like a wavefolder! You can also rearrange bit order or plug other sources in, for instance, to mix two oscillators in unusual ways.

As a digital noisifier it’s also pretty amazing. Simply blocking lower-ordered bits reduces resolution. Since lower-ordered bits tend to change faster (and thus have more high frequency content) and be more subject to analog noise, replacing them or boosting their positions up the chain can have some nice effects, and using them to clock the DAC is also very nice. I’m getting sounds reminiscent of the YM2612 and also some more unique artifacts.

These things hold true for LFOs and envelopes too, turning smooth ramps and curves into steppy fractal patterns, and shifting the levels of steppy CV sequences.

Patching a couple of low-order bit outputs into the high-order inputs and clocking the DAC externally gives those “Atari noises” I was looking for, and with feedback from the DAC to ADC and slower clocks, shift register patterns. The patterns tend to be more volatile than typical LFSRs like Zorlon Cannon — probably because analog noise is a factor, and because exactly matching the scale and offset of both ADC and DAC is difficult. But there are some interesting results. I’m currently deciding whether or not to keep Zorlon Cannon — my current modular plan still has room for it, but I should be able to cover its abilities well enough between Drezno and Teletype and plugins.

Experiments have shown me that clock dividers, logic etc. aren’t going to be all that fun when processing audio through Drezno, and Teletype and other stuff can handle it should I want to use it at lower rates. Maybe a switch/rotator of some kind eventually, such as the upcoming Noise Engineering Vice Virga or one of the 4-way options, but I’m not necessarily going to plan on it now. I also won’t bother with the Lipsk expander. Jena is a yes for sure though — more waveshaping and patterns, Walsh functions and phase modulation sound like great options to add.

So, right now I am figuring out how I might rearrange the case — the gaps are looking a bit weird with E520 and Zorlon out. The goal:

  • The mult+passthru needs to be on the left, with a 1HP gap to pass cables through. The ES-3 needs to be very nearby.
  • Teletype needs to be on the right, next to TXb or a 1HP gap to allow the i2c cable to pass through. (This could balance the other 1HP gap.)
  • Drezno/Jena need to be adjacent.
  • Planar should be on the front/bottom row.
  • LCDs should be at a good reading angle.
  • All the free space should be contiguous, like defragging a hard drive, to prevent having to rearrange to fit other modules later.
  • It’s helpful to have certain modules that can act as mults (Shades, the Ladik switch, O’Tool+, maybe an actual mult) near the horizontal center.
  • Preferably, black panels aren’t adjacent — I find they tend to get a bit lost that way.
  • Some modules “like” to be near each other — Shades and the Ladik switch, Clep Diaz near an attenuator, Drezno near O’Tool+, etc.

That’s a lot of priorities to shuffle, and there will be some failure of the less important goals. Oh well!

prolific, obstinate

Surprise! I have all the material I need for another album release. All I need to do is master it, make the art and the webpage, and release.

The first half of the material was recorded from March 11 through 14 — spurred by the arrival of Odessa. And the second half was recorded from March 18 through 21, spurred by the arrival of Manis Iteritas and Clep Diaz.

The new (and “new”) gear is good stuff, but it doesn’t get all of the credit for inspiration. There’s the recent read of Monolithic Undertow, and the Stridulation-Yukon-Relay set that I recorded for The Neon Hospice, pushing me toward more of a long form, continuous mix, reaffirmation of “the spirit of drone” sort of thing. There’s a bit of influence from the music I’ve been listening to more lately — the spooky synthy retro-SF/horror (psuedo-)soundtrack stuff, a collection of xenharmonic albums and a few heavy drones. There’s perhaps some influence from the horror podcasts (Old Gods of Appalachia, The Magnus Archive) and paranormal YouTubers my spouse has been listening to and I’ve been half-listening to. There was a technique cribbed from Mylar Melodies, of running vocal samples through Rings for a sort of metallic ringing echo, which reminded me of the Front Line Assembly song “Right Hand of Heaven.”

The use of Odessa, and thinking about letting go of the E520 led me to playing with spectral processing a bit more than usual — and Rings, which is kind of an indirect form of spectral processing. Spontaneous musical phrases and pulsation can happen as a result of the source material passing into and out of processing bands, and on Odessa, through cancellation and reinforcement of partials that have been twisted until their frequencies overlap.

The new album will be called Luminous Phenomena (unless I change my mind). It consists of three tracks, ranging in length from 16:26 to 28:17. Like Stridulation-Yukon-Relay, each track was recorded in two or three shorter sessions and mixed into a continuous piece with transitions.

Even though I record “live” and improvise, before the recording is a lot of not audience-friendly patching, tuning, setting up FX, and planning and practicing maneuvers. After, some editing (cleanup of glitches, taming some harshness, and occasionally more). Extending my editing process a little bit, and adding just a little bit of planning for smooth transitions, fits naturally in this process.

While I probably have the gear to perform longer single-take pieces of, say 20-30 minutes, it would impose limitations that I don’t have with this method. People who perform longer sets with modular tend to have bigger rigs with duplicates of favorite modules, and spend more time patching and planning things out — ironically, live performance can lead to less spontaneous creativity because of a need to prepare more and to manage risk.

And also this method works out creatively. The overall pieces have a sense of scale, with more weight and more time to build up and more time for the listener to settle into it, and offer some continuity while also giving a sense of travel from one scene to another. I’m really happy with how both S-Y-R and Luminous Phenomena have turned out — they give me chills.

Manis Iteritas is not new to me, but it’s been about 3 years since I sold the previous one, so there’s been a bit of a process of rediscovery.

Manis can range from simple “sawtooth through a filter” sounds, to dark, heavy, pulsating drones, to whippy percussion and gritty swarms. While I like a lot of its sonic range, but the raw “chaotic beehive” sound of the Smash parameter is… not my favorite. And the Bash parameter applies the internal envelope to Smash along with the others, so things can feel a bit limited. I think this might have been one of the reasons I let go of the module in the first place.

But this time I know more, and have learned to put every feature of the module to work for me. Subtle use of Smash can be very rewarding. It also works well with heavy processing — such as Rings, SpecOps, or massive dark reverb. The key, as with many other modules, is to not treat it as a self-contained voice in isolation but as part of a whole.

Clep Diaz, or Clepsydra Diazoma, is a nice addition. It primarily generates “stair step” signals — upward, downward, or alternating. The Count control/CV determines how many steps are in the cycle, from 0 to 16 — and like a staircase, fewer steps means a bigger rise per step. The levels can be even or randomized, and there’s also an LFO mode that does smooth random that’s still somehow related to the input clock in a way I haven’t really investigated yet. There’s also a “beginning of cycle” gate output so you can use the module like a clock divider, and a reset input if you want to shake the pattern up some.

I’ve made good use of it and feel like this is a keeper. It’s helped bring some interesting animation to drones, and I’ve used it for pitch both with and without quantization. Using it to play with clock speeds is also fun!

I do wish that it was 6HP rather than 4, and a little less crowded. (And I think the tighter jacks that NE has been using contributes to this cramped feeling somehow.) The LEDs count steps in binary, which isn’t the most intuitive thing even for a nerd like me; it could have had a little one-digit hexadecimal display like some of their other modules. Since there’s no attenuator on board, I think the bipolar output could have been skipped, in favor of a Reverse gate input to flip the step direction. But it’s still a handy little module that is going to get a lot of use.

Drezno arrived in the mail just now — experimenting with that will be my next project. I’ll need to determine what I can and can’t do with it, whether I want to keep or sell Zorlon Cannon, as well as determining what else I might want to accompany Drezno — Jena, Lipsk, CMOS clock divider, CMOS boolean logic, a simple pattern sequencer, some kind of addressable switch, etc. I will have plenty of space to work with here, and want to keep my modulation and processing pretty interesting.

I’m now certain that I want to grab one of the Versio modules — probably Desmodus with its bat logo, or the new Ruina for its beholder logo and DOOM knob. Ruina (distortion/wavefolding) and Elector (clocked delay/reverb based on Desmodus) both sound fantastic, and I no longer believe that waiting for the Desmodus VST plugin is going to be enough for me 😉

Other than that, I’m also still kind of thinking that an Erica Pico BBD and/or a WMD/SSF DPLR could offer a lot of character in a little space for not much money. And I should leave some space for beta testing (they said hopefully) or surprise must-haves.

make room! make room!

I have emerged from deep contemplation and have plotted a course for the next leg of the modular journey:

I really don’t want to give up Akemie’s Castle. So I won’t.

But the more I think about it, the less sure I am that the E520 is the best use of its space. I have told myself that it does things I haven’t been able to replicate elsewhere in hardware or software, and convinced myself that those effects are valuable to me. But my findings are, in short:

  • Spectral Crusher/Threshold is my favorite effect by far… but I recently found I can get very close in Unfiltered Audio SpecOps, with the MP3ify and Decapitate filters.
  • Spectral Crusher/PeakHold is a bit more unique, with SpecOps’ Freeze and Resonant Freeze being closest perhaps, though without the decay time. But I haven’t used this one in any recordings.
  • Spectral Time Machine is unique! But I haven’t used it that much. SpecOps does cover freezing, which seems like my most likely use for it.
  • Spectral Delay can be almost covered by two instances of Melda MSpectralDelay. Close enough.
  • Granular Pitch and Dirt: I can cover these with Bitwig or plugins quite well.
  • All the delays, all the modulation: some of these are very good, but I have so many options here that I rarely use the E520 for them.
  • The rest: not my cup of tea really.

So I’m thinking, despite my initial excitement and ongoing appreciation for the E520, I will probably sell it and free up a lot of space to give myself options.

And then there’s… the bits.

Give us the bits!

I’ve been considering the Xaoc Devices “Leibniz Binary Subsystem” off and on since it was first announced. It’s a bit esoteric in usage, but the basic pieces are:

Drezno: an 8-bit analog-to-digital converter paired with a digital-to-analog converter. It provides jacks for each bit (out and in) as well as scale and offset controls and external clock inputs for both of the converters.

Lipsk: an expander with buttons and gates to invert/XOR individual bits. Or it can connect to Odessa instead, to enable individual spectral banks.

Jena: an expander that acts as a lookup table of various waveshapes, rhythms and Walsh functions, addressed by the 8 bits from Drezno (or Lipsk), returning 8 bits as output, with a phase offset CV.

I’m thinking I would skip Lipsk (unless using the other two shows me it’d be super useful). With those, I could:

  • Extract individual bits from an LFO for rhythmic gates, or from audio for “Atari noises.”
  • Skip low-order bits to decrease resolution, or skip high-order bits for a crude wavefolding effect.
  • Tweak the scaling and offset to clip/decimate.
  • Rearrange bit order, skip middle bits or use logic to change the shape of waves.
  • Use high-order bit as a comparator.
  • Use the DAC separately to create stepped CV from other gates.
  • Clock the DAC and/or ADC at lower rates for sample rate reduction, or sample-and-hold.
  • Use Jena for wavetables or nonlinear distortion, alternate rhythms and noise, override some but not all of the original bits, etc.
  • Feed the DAC output back to the ADC, and use scaling, bit order changes, Jena and/or analog shaping to create a (non)linear feedback shift register, to produce patterns of CV and gates/squarewaves. Possibly externally clocked, possibly just at its maximum internal rate.
  • Clock the DAC from one of the bits of the ADC, effectively holding values for different lengths related to their level…???
  • Probably other things I haven’t thought of!

In fact, I have just talked myself into buying Drezno, without even the Jena at first. I am betting that its flexibility will beat Zorlon’s dual clocks and multiple (but less flexible) LFSRs. A new Drezno is less than the resale value of the Zorlon, and a little smaller — I could rearrange things to fit Jena without even selling the E520. But I’ll see how it does on its own first.