a few mini reviews

That ChuWi Hi10 X tablet is pretty nice. Noticeably faster than the Asus, fits in the case that I bought (not perfectly, but close enough) and the keyboard is much more solid and laptop-ish without being overly bulky. Hopefully the thing will last a while!

Planar 2 is a joy to use. It turns out mixing/crossfading/panning with a joystick, and also modulating a bunch of things in a coordinated way, is fun and inspiring. The joystick movement recorder, polar-to-Cartesian conversion mode for the CV inputs, and flexible routing options are all excellent extras. I thought about what I could add to complement the module, but it’s basically got just about everything it needs.

FXDf is not very exciting on its own — but paired with a matrix mixer and delay/reverb, or splitting bands to send to Planar’s inputs or ring modulators or something, it’s a win. Small size, flexible, and funky.

EMW Fixed Filter Bank less so. Instead of acting like a set of bandpass filters, it’s more like an EQ with +/- 10dB per band. That’s often not enough to cut out all of the high end from a signal nor boost the low end where I might want that. It does work nicely in a delay or reverb feedback loop, but I feel like software EQ is better. The jacks along the right side are kind of baffling, since they don’t isolate the bands, are dependent on the knobs and emit almost identical signals to each other. So the FXDf stays and this one doesn’t.

Snails! My spouse bought me some snails to hopefully control the algae in my aquarium. But they arrived super tiny — not much bigger than the micro pellets I feed my fish — and I’m kind of afraid the barbs or maybe even the tetras might have eaten them. :/ Hopefully, they are just in hiding.

I devoured The Bands of Mourning — the third, but not final book in Brandon Sanderson’s “Wax & Wayne” era of the Mistborn series. Lots of laughing out loud, a couple of really dark moments and a couple of really glorious triumphs, and a bunch of new questions raised for the book that was originally scheduled to publish in 2018 but got moved back to 2021 or 2022 by his decision to start another series (Skyward) and another graphic novel and some other projects before finishing Stormlight (10 books), Mistborn (probably 10 books), Alcatraz (who knows how many?), or planned sequels to Elantris, Warbreaker or the Rithmatist. He says he works best interleaving the various projects though, and I guess I can’t argue with the results… even if it will probably be 2035 before Stormlight is complete.

Started reading Elantris which somehow I’d missed before. It’s certainly got a grim beginning. I think once I’m done with this, that means I’ll have read all his published novels except the five existing Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians books and the White Sands graphic novels. Phew!

Not a mini review: I may have a seed of inspiration in mind for the next album. Keeping it to myself for now and letting it germinate.

wiggle room

Naturally, the Asus Transformer Mini which I was going to use yesterday for videoconferencing in my performance review, has kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. It is an ex-computer.

I used my phone for the meeting, which worked fine (and the review went great). I’ve also ordered a ChuWi Hi10 X, budget Windows tablet that is winning a lot of reviews right now. I kind of wanted to just get a Kindle, because 90% of what I did with the Transformer was read ebooks but it’s a bit bigger and heavier. But then there’s that other 10%, and my eyes do appreciate having a larger screen, and anything that doesn’t put money directly into Jeff Bezos’ bottomless money pit is a small victory.

I’m keeping my 0-Ctrl for sure. I found I can use the clock and envelope functions in ways that enhance it as a controller rather than necessarily a step sequencer; I also find that other touch controllers tend to either lack the same immediacy and freely tunable values, or cost a lot more, or both. Both avenues of research led me to believe 0-Ctrl really is my best choice, and also to have some fun and make some noise 🙂

I went ahead and ordered the Planar 2 I’ve been pondering for a while. It’ll replace my mostly-unused second Stages, and in many ways replace the Touché SE I was planning to sell. Planar is a joystick controller and motion recorder, mixer, crossfader, panner, VCAs, and some other things besides thanks to a clever design.

In preparation, I rearranged my case to fit the controllers at the bottom, rebalance the power consumption, and make space to test the two incoming fixed filters while I decide which to keep and whether to sell off my pedals. In about 3 weeks when the E520 arrives, I’ll make some further decisions about remaining space. I’m kind of thinking about an Erica Pico BBD (if I don’t feel completely full of delay effects) and an SSF Autodyne compressor, or I could just leave some empty space for future stuff.

I kind of accidentally — thanks to a sharp-eared listener when I was testing the noise issues the Mimeophon has — discovered that the unshielded cables between my modular and my audio interface are picking up interference. It’s pretty low level, unless there’s a quiet part in the music and I’m boosting the level quite a bit in the computer. Some modules, if they’re the last in the chain, act as an antenna and pick up weird signals either from other modules, or some other source of interference.

Now of course I tend to make messy music, and usually my gain staging is such that this sort of noise would be too quiet to notice or hidden by other things. But I had always intended to replace this jerry-rigged mess of cables — mostly short right-angle patch cables plugged into adapters plugged into cables plugged into other adapters. So I did some research — important to avoid spending ridiculous sums or getting something unsuitable, especially when search engines often are really terrible at showing you the exact kind of cable you’re looking for — and ordered a custom snake of 6 cables, double-shielded, in an appropriate length and with the correct connectors. There’s of course no guarantee it will solve interference issues, but it’ll at least be tidier and less likely to fail.

out of sequence

As of Wednesday, I’ll have been working from home for four months. Later this week I have a performance review meeting, and it’s the first time they have asked for me to use a camera. My desktop doesn’t have one, but I’ve set up my tablet for it.

Work’s mostly been going smoothly, but music making less so. Ever since getting the 0-Ctrl I have found myself somehow following paths that just don’t bear fruit for me. There were more rejected songs than usual while working on the last album, and I haven’t done anything I particularly like since then. I think I might have finally figured out why — I’m starting the process with a sequence, instead of starting from sound as I usually do.

Some of my work has sequenced parts, but regardless of when those appear in the recording, that usually comes later in the process. My best work tends to happen as a result of exploring sound and finding something that wants to have a piece of music built around it. It seems that if I begin by patching the 0-Ctrl, I look for some kind of “interesting” sequence and try to build around that instead, and the result really doesn’t remain interesting.

So I’ll avoid doing that, and see if that gets me out of my rut. I might also consider reselling the 0-Ctrl and maybe the Lyra-8, in favor of assembling a controller skiff with an Intellijel Tetrapad. Maybe even replace my 16n with the Eurorack “Sweet 16” version for one integrated controller. Hmm.

These thoughts kind of went along with rereading Art & Fear last weekend, which talks a lot about the (highly personal and individualistic) process of artmaking, and how its importance to the artist is paramount but its relevance and transparency to the audience is almost none. This issue for me is definitely a process thing — start with sound and I’m good, start with notes and rhythms and I’m not. It’s a bit weird, but there it is. Just like my decision 3 years ago to

Alongside these thoughts about sequencing, I’ve also been pondering questions of quantization and generative/algorithmic composition. I could babble on about it here as I have elsewhere while getting my thoughts together, but I think it comes down to using my pals Marbles and Teletype in some fresh ways rather than needing anything new.

I think I could easily let go of my second Stages. One of them covers many handy roles within my modular and shows up in more patches than not, but the second isn’t really getting tapped very much. I don’t have a candidate in mind to replace it right now though, so I will wait a bit and see.

Last weekend I tried to cancel my order for the EMW Fixed Filter Bank, since its shipping has been delayed over a month due to coronavirus, and I ordered a Make Noise FxdF which I had thought was unavailable. It turns out, EMW just shipped it. So both of them are on the way, and I’ll compare them and keep the one I like most. This is also the last chance for my pedals; if they don’t do something special for me in a feedback loop with one of these fixed filterbanks, I’m selling them off.

misc. pt. 2

The Kraftwerk 3-D 2020 tour in North America was cancelled. I’m not surprised, I am somewhat disappointed but mostly relieved. I don’t think even at the end of next month I’d be particularly comfortable packed into a room with 2300 other people, and traveling so much would no doubt be a big risk for the performers.

The other day I ordered a Synthwerks MG-1 manual gate — basically a big chonky arcade button for my modular. They were already cheap and knocked down to half price for this year to celebrate the company’s anniversary. I don’t have big plans for it or anything, but it’s better than a blank panel for the remaining space. If I wind up unracking it, I’ll still have a satisfying arcade button to smash when I feel like firing lasers at someone on the internet…

More powerful than what I posted yesterday: an ex-cop talks about how they are indoctrinated to be the way they are, and what can be done.

Confessions of a Former Bastard
“I was a police officer for nearly ten years and I was a bastard. We all were.”


I’m happy with Carefully Introducing Problems from a musical standpoint. I was hoping for a few more sales, but honestly — for the minimal promotion, my own obscurity, the limited audience for this genre, and being released with a lot of other new stuff on #bandcampfriday, I think it did okay. And I was happy to see a lot of people promoting black musicians’ work and a lot of other folks donating their proceeds too.

Speaking of current events, I have been swayed from my previous position of “cops have a serious culture problem — and Black and Latino people, the poor and the mentally ill bear the consequences. But abolishing the police can never work.” I thought that some amount of defunding made sense — take away the military hardware and most of the handguns for sure. But this twitter thread does a pretty good job of summarizing why rebooting the whole concept of policing makes the most sense.

we have taken almost every single one of our country’s most pressing social issues and handed them over to the police to fix with guns and handcuffs and charges and prison.

In some ways, the problem we have police is akin to the problem we have with health care and the environment: a sort of illusory cost saving that only results in eventual higher expenses, and more importantly, suffering.

For an example of how to do it right, apparently — as with health care — the Nordic countries have it figured out.

I’m happy that the Minneapolis city council, with a veto-proof majority, has resolved to disband the MPD and replace it with something else. Perhaps other communities will follow suit.

I have been on a big Brandon Sanderson kick since nearly the beginning of the stay-at-home orders. I read the extant books of the Stormlight Archive, and then continued to Mistborn. Reading various Cosmere books serially helps one piece together the (so far relatively sparse) connections. It’s kind of like finding out that not only are there whales living under the ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa, they havea different mathematical system than we do but they speak perfect French, and 500 years ago they were personally acquainted with Taika Waititi. I kind of expect something of a “grand unification” to happen by the end of those two series…

In terms of character-driven story and emotional weight, I think Stormlight is the better series overall, but before the end of The Hero of Ages things start falling together like a chain of “I” pieces into their slots in a Tetris game and it’s really something to behold. I was hoping to continue to the “Wax and Wayne” era of the Mistborn world, but I seem to have misplaced those books. For now I’m reading Warbreaker, which is one I hadn’t gotten to before, and am amused to see a little few more hints of connection between the Cosmere worlds. I haven’t read Elantris yet either, so I’m going to have to fix that.

As I’ve no doubt made clear, I am crazy about FM synthesis. One of the quirky things I like about it is how old Yamaha FM synths got kind of crusty and noisy on lower notes. It’s a bit similar to the character I love about Kermit and to a lesser extent Hertz Donut mk2. I think it has to do with low resolution sine lookup tables maybe?

Akemie’s Castle, despite using OPL3 chips and having several other odd and noisy characteristics, doesn’t do this. Hmm .

The SynprezFM app for Android phones does it faithfully. I couldn’t get MIDI to work with it though, so it requires resampling. I did that for one of the tracks on Carefully Introducing Problems, but the processing I did to it took the texture of that noise away again.

I was half thinking about acquiring a classic Yamaha FM synth. I used to have a DX100 back in the day; there’s also the little FB-01, or the YM2612-based DAFM Synth. But any of these would be one more thing to plug in and take up space, and these are not synths that are friendly or fun to program.

Plogue Chipsynth MD — a Megadrive/Genesis/YM2612 emulation plugin — sort of does it. It has selectable noise (and filter) impulses that change with the note frequency, but not quite in the same way. I think it’s probably an acceptable compromise, given that it’s less of a chore to design sounds with it (though got some quirks I don’t yet understand!) and it takes up no space and I already own it.


The next Ambient Online compilation has the theme “Unity”, and proceeds will go to the ACLU. (I’d personally have chosen a different organization, and in fact I have done so personally… but protesters definitely need their rights protected right now.) So my second-most-recently finished track will be going onto that instead of the new album.

And my most recently finished track was a Drone Day 2020 project. In hindsight I don’t really love it, so… go hit my Soundcloud if you want to, but meh.

This Friday, Bandcamp is doing another one of its #BandcampFriday things where they waive their fee. Can I record one more track for the album, put together the artwork, do the mastering and release it so quickly? Even with a dentist appointment tomorrow evening? If so, great! If not, well… the release should still be soon. Either way, I will dedicate 100% of proceeds on the album to Reclaim the Block.

maybe it’s a sign

In the course of working on this album I have tried twice to record tracks named “Small Enough to Fail.” I have rejected both of them for not meeting my standards; they just didn’t have the right atmosphere or have enough to say. Maybe I should just not try naming anything else that, because it seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, the second one has undergone a lot of filtering, editing, and processing and has become something worthy — a complete metamorphosis that gave it a new identity entirely.

At this point the album is more than an hour long. I’m happy with the start, I’m even happier with the end, and I like the stuff in between them… but the “it’s finished” flag in my brain hasn’t been raised yet. Once the missing piece falls into place, it’s possible that not all the candidates will make it to release. I’ll figure that out when I get there.

I’ve decided to go ahead and sell my Touché SE and my Tensor. The former is really neat for an Ondes Martenot sort of playing style that I just don’t use, so I only occasionally point it at some parameter or other in Bitwig — it’s overshadowed by the 16n and now there’s also the pressure CV on the 0-Ctrl. The Tensor is a neat thing but I don’t find myself turning to it very often and I can’t really justify keeping it.

I may also sell off the other pedals, except for Analog Drive which is basically one of the Reface’s limbs. I should first wait for the fixed filter bank, to see if it brings some magic to feedback loops that use the Adineko or spring reverb. But I kind of just want to set pedals aside; right now I don’t feel like they’re really bringing the magic, and that’d be one less format of thing to deal with, a few less controls to reach for.

touch copper

The 0-Ctrl arrived on Saturday, and I’m very pleased with it. My first impression was that it exactly met my expectations and hopes — the form factor is perfect, the touchplates work perfectly even with my dry skin, fit on my little stand in front of the modular is perfect, it feels great to use, it’s fun and inspiring and works almost exactly like I thought. Maybe a little easier to dial in tunings and grooves than I expected, and surprisingly musical when combining unsynchronized internal and external clock sources.

When only using an external clock, the gate lengths and the dynamic envelope times are still based on the internal clock, so the Speed and Time settings as well as Strength are still relevant. The dynamic gate and main clock output will result in different rhythms depending on the setting, which is a neat way to get some interrelated parts going and vary them easily. I threw together a quick jam with the E352’s two outputs:

Working with the 0-Ctrl does make me nostalgic for the 0-Coast — though more in terms of feel than sound or features. In theory, I like the idea of a more compact, simple modular. But in practice, I really like the setup that I have and what it does for my music.

Experimenting with the Disting EX, I found I could get better PLL-like results with the XOR logic gate algorithm than the pitch tracking algorithm… and than my actual A-196 PLL module. So that’s one more module to sell. There’s an EMW Fixed Filter Bank on the way, for feedback, distortion and some band-separating tricks of various kinds, and only 2 HP of free space unclaimed. (4 if I decide I don’t need the 2HP Trim that I have, which is possible.) Nothing’s really calling out to me for that space though.

On another note (that pun never gets old!), someone recommended Freakshow Industries plugins, which I’d never heard of up ’til now. I like their aesthetic and their “steal” policy, though I found Mishby (“Maybe I Shouldn’t Have Built You”) worth the full price, giving some lovely semi-tape, semi-“digital” degradation and chorusing. It sounds especially good in front of Supermassive.

gotta catch ’em all

My music collection is straightened out. I went with Plex, after a brief attempt to set up the open-source but much less polished and friendly Jellyfin. Securing the Jellyfin server was left as an exercise for the reader, with no specific instructions for any given platform or choice of security method, and the advice I found from third parties on the subject was unhelpful. Plex, on the other hand, was a breeze.

Once I had that set up, I went through and culled 2530 songs from 177 different artists (about 16GB) from my collection. Then I ripped 45 albums from my CD collection (of approx. 350) — things that I’d missed, several of which I’d had in my Google Play Music library.

Valhalla DSP announced an awesome, free new plugin today: Supermassive. It’s an experimental, flexible, wonky FDN reverb that sounds fantastic and lush, with algorithms more or less discovered accidentally while the developer was working on more conventional things. While I really like ValhallaPlate, I suspect I might find this one absolutely perfect for my needs, once I have time to learn it a little more.

Of course, cue the crowd at KvR claiming that giving it away was advertising and therefore somehow wrong and bad rather than generous, and also that if it wasn’t free nobody would want it because it’s just a normal delay (what??). Sometimes, “creative” people just make me tired.

I also wound up picking up CraveEQ. I was going to ignore it at first, because I like ToneBoosters EQ4 so much. But I discovered I like the sound of this one better in some cases, and it’s a little more flexible. And with the new Angle Grinder, plus the Disting, all this new stuff is going to show up in my music all at once.

Speaking of which, I got a shipping notification on the 0-Ctrl this afternoon, so that’s one more. The E520 is still going to be a month or more though, so I don’t expect it’ll be on this album, which is most of the way done at this point.