busy busy

So many things just happened in the 4 hours or so since getting back from work:

  • Listened to the second round of masters back from Obsidian Sound. Perfect! There was really just a small tweak I requested from the first round (sent to me yesterday morning and answered this morning).
  • Got my Akemie’s Castle set up and started playing with it. More on this later, but I can confirm everything Mylar Melodies said in his video. Especially “what it does not sound is pristine and clean” and “super doomful.”
  • Went through the end of the “Audio Industry for Rainforests” charity auction — and won more than I expected. There was a ton of stuff donated and that meant less competition; there was also a lot less rapid-fire escalation at the very end due to the way the platform works. So I wound up with the Sequential DSM-03 Feedback module, and 3 plugins: DyVision Reverb Remover, DyVision Video Tape Emulator, and Acon Digital DeFilter.
  • Got a notification about a plugin update. Put off downloading it and then later, realized it’s not a plugin that I’m using anymore anyway.
  • Recorded a track with the Akemie’s Castle. Probably not one to be released, but it’s got some fun sounds in it, and could be an intro/outro/segue/something.
  • Also the secondhand auction ended an hour after the main auction. Since I donated stuff to that one, I watched… but the final tally is being delayed a little, so I don’t yet have to go through the license transfer process for 10 items from 3 companies.
  • Got an email from Obsidian about the processing that was done and why. Started looking up some info and interpreting that… oh yeah, I need to finished that process yet.
  • The T-Rackonizer — the last module I had up for sale — just happened to sell on Reverb at this same time. So I got it boxed up and ready to ship.
  • Started writing this post, partly as a way to make sure I’m not forgetting to do something.
  • Somehow in there I also ate dinner, fed the dogs, and supervised their outside time in the season’s first freezing weather because I didn’t want Lady escaping and giving trick-or-treating kids a real Halloween fright. (She’s a sweetheart, but she’s also a solid iron brick of pit bull.)

This — now that I believe there will be no more gear purchases in 2019 — seems as good a time as any to show my total expenditures for the year:

$11

That is the miraculous number I get from totaling all (*) of the gear I bought and sold this year. That includes the Eurorack case, all modules, pedals, and controllers, the Reface CS, and the Lyra-8. It does not include:

  • Some minor accessories and cables.
  • Shipping expenses — in retrospect I do wish I’d tracked this, because it adds up. I offer free shipping when I sell on forums, and often undercharged flat fees on Reverb.
  • New computer — I would have bought it sooner rather than later anyway.
  • Things that aren’t gear — KnobCon expenses, mastering, Distrokid, web hosting, income from album sales.

Things that I tracked separately:

  • Software. The Bitwig license, a Bitwig beginner training course, Sound Forge Pro 13 upgrade, and a handful of minor plugins. These were 3/4 paid for by selling some plugin licenses I am no longer using. The remaining licenses were donated to the secondhand charity auction, where they raised $157.
  • Preordering the SynthTech E520. My justification is, it ships in May 2020 so it goes on the 2020 budget. 😉

Okay, so it’s really more than $11. But my goal for the year wasn’t a $0 budget, it was to track my spending to stay mindful of it.

From this point, on my guiding principle is “the gear I have is excellent, complete and satisfying.” There may be a hard budget limit or a maximum number of transactions or something, but I may just trust the principle instead.

the depths

The other day I went ahead and ordered issue 1 (the only one that exists) of PRINCE-S STARthief. And I’m afraid it’s really not good.

It’s sort of a Star Wars parody that’s got maybe two small chuckles in the whole thing, and a whole lot of attempted humor that falls flat. The villains are the PEP-C Corporation. There’s a scene where a minion designated TK-421 disappoints the boss and is “carbonated,” a fate which later befalls LV-426. If get the references it’s mildly funny, and if you don’t it’s probably slightly less funny.

The protagonist is basically the only character, but is barely a character… smoking, drinking, wisecracking (or trying to) and “look at all this attitude I’m pretending to have” without any of the personality of Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan or any of the Rat Queens. She’s really just a fanservice delivery vehicle, and unsurprisingly, also completely fails to be sexy. There’s a thin sketch of a plot, but she doesn’t really care about it any more than the writer appeared to.

So I’m pretty disappointed by that particular namesake. The bacon in space painting is much more to my liking.

James Rosenquist, Star Thief

I may do this or something like it in 2020:

I don’t want to be absolutely strict about it, though.

I find my current music setup very satisfying, and would like to sit with it a while, and concentrate more on improving my skills. If it comes to something like a more precise pair of headphones, or a piece of mastering software or something, then fine. But 2019 was a year of partially reinventing my setup multiple times over, and I don’t want to do that now.

“No new books allowed” makes me reflexively rebel, but doing some re-reading does sound very nice, particularly series re-reading. I could also see getting into something like the Expanse novels though.

And while I’m not about to stop listening to new music, I do want to take some time to listen to some music with full attention. Not necessarily critically, just mindfully. Obviously I listen to my own recordings closely as part of the process, but that’s different. Before the internet changed everything, and especially before I had the disposable income to buy several CDs a month, I would listen to an album several times, while not doing anything else. Today most of my music listening is at work or in the car, and I miss the full experience.


I’ve already got some valuable feedback from Obsidian Sound — a couple of technical issues that went under my radar, to keep a closer watch on in future recordings. I feel pretty confident that I understand the outline of what will happen in the mastering process, and I’m eager for the details and results.

throw away the key

First order of business is this gem:

I’m not a baseball fan, but these folks have restored some of my faith in humanity. I may sample this and use it for something…


OK, on to other things: the album!

  • The recordings are 100% done. The last one I completed was probably the creepiest of them all, in a good way. The album won’t be out in time for Halloween, but it’s got October in its DNA.
  • I’m almost certainly going to call it Vultur Cadens, a name for the constellation Lyra, for reasons that should be obvious from the previous few weeks of blog posts.
  • My answer for “is there a theme?” has been “not really.” But I look at the track titles and see that they’re pointing at madness, poison, parasites, scavengers. It looks like there was a major subconscious political vibe.
  • My brother, a Ringling-educated artist who’s done some whimsical and occasionally somewhat creepy character paintings, expressed interest in doing the cover art based on a description of the music and the name. I’m eager to see what he comes up with, and happy to finally put the cover art in the hands of an artist instead of a musician…
  • I’ve always mastered my own stuff, for budget reasons and because those are skills I’d like to develop. This time, I’m hoping to have a couple of key tracks mastered by Obsidian Sound, to measure against my own efforts and to learn from a pro who is at home in this genre and with the Lyra-8 specifically. I consider it an investment into the quality of my future work, and kind of a special treat.

assembly

I’ve passed the 1 hour mark for the Lyra album, but I’m going to edit the 12-minute improv I recorded last night and add one more piece, I think.

I’ve found that my UMC1820 audio interface gets hotter than I would like. The front panel hit 99.7°F at one point last night — even with a fan trying to exhaust air from the back of the case — which implies the electronics inside might be above where they should be in the long term. (For a PC CPU, the general rule is the core should be below 40°C (104°F) when idling; I can only guess that’s roughly true for some of the parts in the interface.)

My old interface ran cool, but the new one crams more electronics into a housing half the size. There’s no ventilation in the rack case I’ve got it in, so I guess I’ll be switching to a 3U rack, possibly 4U. First I need to figure out whether to go for 6″ or 9″ deep (depending on how much platform I need for the 3DWaves stand that’s on the way & the laptop stand behind it), and where to arrange the gaps and any fans/blowers etc. (depending on temperature measurements of the top and bottom of the interface after it’s been running in the box for a while).


3 years ago I was making music experimentally with no particular focus, and I acquired my first Eurorack modules to explore “sounds I can’t make with software,” on the theory they were going to provide an extra voice to accompany my MIDI piano-roll sequences and software synths.

Now what I have is an instrument/system attuned to the music I make and the way I like to make it, rather than the other way around. The last waves of changes really brought it together: intentional focus, hardware/software unification, and hands-on expressive performance. I’m not just fascinated by it, as I have been by a lot of synth gear — but genuinely satisfied. I expect to make very few gear changes in 2020, and will be writing that into my goals for the year.

Here’s what I do have planned:

  • I pre-ordered the SynthTech E520. The Resampling Delay sounds pretty fantastic to me (based on E580 demos), with the character that was the one thing I really liked about Mannequins W/ but a full-featured, sane interface. While the Spectral Crusher does have some overlap with software, it’s got a few other tricks; the Peak Hold sounds a lot better than the one from my own FFT experiments and everything can be modulated in real time, whereas my code barely even runs in real time. That should be shipping next May.
  • Akemie’s Castle. I’m gonna get one. I just really like that crusty character of the old FM chips, and the drone/chord potential is strong even without freely tuneable FM operators.
  • Sequential DSM03 Feedback. I’ve got a winning bid on one in the charity auction, but I won’t raise if someone outbids me.
  • Small gaps: probably going to arcade buttons.
  • Possible displacement: I may find that with Castle I don’t also need Donut. Or that Supercell, Mimeophon, E520, and (possibly) DSM03 is overkill. Or that I’d rather have one Rings and the DSM03 than two Rings. Or that with Castle, my power supply can’t keep up with the -12V requirements and something else has to give. I’m not particularly “looking to get rid of” anything here, but acknowledge that it’s possible.

Other than that, I expect to say “that sounds nice but I don’t need it” a lot in 2020.

crossover

At the time I chose the name Starthief (*), I was aware of a public domain comics character named The Star Thief, and two extremely minor Marvel characters who had the name. But today I learned that the first issue of a comic called “Prince-S STARthief” launched via Kickstarter in 2016 (and hasn’t gone anywhere since, apparently).

There also have been at least two children’s books titled “The Star Thief” — one from 1967, one from 2017.

There’s a blues band called Shoestring Joe and the Star Thief.

There’s a pretty rad painting called Coyote Star Thief.

There’s a more famous painting by James Rosenquist called Star Thief, which is 46 feet wide and features space bacon. It was almost hung in Miami International Airport, but the president of Eastern Airlines — astronaut Frank Borman — insisted that there is no bacon in space. Spoilsport!

(I mean, he didn’t see all of space — not even close. Maybe somewhere in the vast reaches, there’s bacon. One can dream.)

(*) it’s seriously a nickname my spouse tagged me with during a game of Mario Party. Plus, I like stars. Some things just aren’t very deep.

answering myself

Responding to my own previous thoughts (which was sorta brainstorming), just to show how my mental processes go sometimes.

ring controller or a pitch touchstrip

Nah. No desk space, and I really do like the keyboard/Touché combo.

if the SQ-1 can already do this well enough…

It can!

an arcade button module for manual gates

I’m gonna see what else may come up in the auction, but I might see if I can find an already-built Horstronic Arcade Button. Or I’ll build my own passive switch/fidget toy. 😛

Adventure Audio Skin

For the small price and small size, it’s all right. My dry skin is kind of an issue, just as it was with the Make Noise Pressure Points (but it’s not a big deal with the Lyra-8). I find I can also touch the tips of cables to the touchplates to make contact, for a somewhat different effect.

DSM-03 Feedback — maybe even two

One is fine.

SynthTech E520

What I missed before was a PDF with descriptions of the current algorithms so far. It’s intriguing me beyond the available demos. There are two weeks left in the pre-order period, before it goes to Kickstarter (which I’d rather avoid due to their union-busting). New demos available on Saturdays. I’m still on the fence, but wobbling perhaps a bit more. I hope to make a decision soon.

Going through the PDF, noting the features, summarizing and comparing to available demos: one of the potentially exciting bits is actually the resampling delay. It’s what I enjoyed about W/, and not something plugins do. Which does make me wonder about picking up the original E580 Resampling Mini-delay module… though it’s not stereo and lacks many of these new features.

Spectral Crush does have some resemblance to a couple of my experimental plugins as well as things like MTransformer and SpecOps… but also a novel approach. And real-time modulation of parameters, compared to Elitist’s inefficient, slower-than-real-time operation even on my new computer. Could be interesting to sweep the thresholds instead of just fading the effect in or out, or to control them based on the dynamics of the signal itself… oh boy, starting to lean more toward a yes here.

On the other effects that I can dismiss as “I have this as a plugin,” I wonder if the individual character of the module is going to be an important factor, or perhaps the modulation possibilities.

…also, I could get this and not bid any higher on that DSM-03, which already basically does stuff that Mimeophon does. This smells like a plan.

Stochastic Inspiration Generator

I tried to build something similar in Bitwig and in Teletype. The first was awkward and not completely successful. The second was awkward and not really complete or correct. So it comes down to whether this functionality is worth paying for… I think it’s cool but it’s a low priority.


And a special guest: Akemie’s Castle! After all the cutting back on oscillators that I did.

Working with the Lyra-8 and all the lo-fi plugins recently, as well as having gone (indirectly) from the somewhat gnarly Hertz Donut mk2 to the clean mk3, makes me particularly appreciate the old Yamaha FM chips in the Castle. Plogue’s PortaFM and MD plugins have not quite scratched the itch, only whetted the appetite. Maybe this would even replace the HD mk3, maybe not, but I’m going to keep an eye out for trade opportunities to snag one.

wiggle, wobble, wah

That Expressive-E Touché SE is quite the thing.

(not me)

For the first half-hour or so I was ready to send it back. Nevermind issues with the PACE copy protection scheme for the instrument plugin that comes with it, which doesn’t effectively demonstrate the controller’s real potential once you do get it working anyway. Bitwig’s “assign MIDI controller to this knob” feature is frankly horrible for this, where just touching the controller might trigger multiple sensors, and if you choose the right one, the scaling is all on a separate interface and not very intuitive.

Fortunately before I gave up, I tried Bitwig’s modulator system instead, which includes a MIDI CC device. That one works really well and isn’t hard to deal with. I just need to remember that CC16 is rear pressure, CC17 front pressure, and CC18 sideways movement (as I have set it up).

I made Ondes Martenot-like presets for Aalto and Bitwig’s FM-4 synth. Front pressure controls volume, rear controls timbre, sideways motion affects pitch. It’s amazingly expressive and fun to play, though getting the relative sensitivity settings right is key to not accidentally skewing the pitch a lot with every note. Overall it’s like adding another dimension or two to playing synths.

I also set up an FX Grid preset that routes the three control values to CV outputs on the ES-3 so I can use them with modular. That works just as fantastically well. I can use front pressure to open a VCA or LPG… or to trigger Natural Gate or an envelope, for that matter. And of course I can set up any sort of exotic routing — damping, structure and pitch on Rings for instance, for a wild and weird time.

Its usefulness directly with the Lyra-8 is a little weak, especially where it comes to pitch modulation. But I’ve found that assigning sideways motion to the delay time on a plugin or module can work for both vibrato (due to Doppler effect) and more slow, subtle movement. (Sideways motion is great for all sorts of subtle effects changes, and that’s something I’m going to explore a lot…) Front pressure can go into Hold CV (affecting all 8 voices depending on Hold knobs and envelope switches) or an external VCA or LPG.

Overall, this was a really great choice and I’m glad I went for it.


Other gear thoughts at this point:

  • A ring controller or a pitch touchstrip, for more of a true Ondes Martenot feel with the Touché, could be fun. Space for it is questionable though, the Touché already gives a fair amount of “horizontal freedom” when paired with a keyboard.
  • More realistically: a way to select between a few tuned notes (somewhat similar to the Lyra) in a compact way for the modular would be nice. It’s not high priority though. Also I need to see if the SQ-1 can already do this well enough…
  • I could still get an arcade button module for manual gates. Kind of a nostalgia thing I guess. There are a few options, but I may see if someone can custom-build one that’s more suitable. In fact, if that could be combined with the above concept, it’d be fantastic.
  • I do have an Adventure Audio Skin module (just delivered, waiting for me to get off work in a couple hours) to play with, to bring skin conductivity to the modular. I’m not expecting a lot of it, but we’ll see.
  • There’s some good stuff in the rainforest charity auction. I’m going to grab a DSM-03 Feedback if I can — maybe even two if they don’t go much higher. I’m still kind of hoping other manufacturers join in; Erica just did (pity my case’s PSU can’t handle the Fusion Delay) and in past years Bastl and Dreadbox were involved. Software-wise, so far I really just want that DeFilter.
  • I donated a bunch of my unused software licenses to the secondhand auction — so far they have raised $89 in bids.
  • SynthTech E520 Hyperion Stereo Audio Processor… I’m leaning toward “no.” I’m confident it will be pretty wonderful. The demos are all either excellent or just plain weird, but so far I feel like I can replicate them with plugins.
  • Omsonic Stochastic Inspiration Generator? Kind of on my radar, but I still think I could maybe imitate it well enough with either Teletype or Bitwig.
  • Pedals…? There’s stuff I think is nifty, but I believe I’ve got it all covered with plugins. In fact I could probably let go of the Tensor and Dark World and not really miss them too much, but I think before I did that, I’d try just running the Lyra through them instead.

turning the crank

(It turns out moving aside those unused Dirt Rally files was a bad idea, since the RaceNet server decided it was a “discrepancy” that meant I was probably cheating, so it wiped my current championship progress (which was good) and maybe my online standings (which were not particularly). Feh.)

After two weeks with the Lyra-8, I have more than an hour of recorded, finished material. 13 minutes of that is for Ambient Online, and 9 minutes was rejected. I’ll keep going for a while and see what else comes up, and maybe raise the bar a little more.

The Lyra-8 has a very “forward” sound that fills the frequency spectrum, and it musically covers drones, bass, melody, noises, pulses, growls… it tends to want to be dominant, and can stand alone. I was concerned I might find myself putting my music into distinct “Lyra” and “non-Lyra” boxes that have a different feel.

But the last three or so recordings I’ve made have eased my worries. I’m finding technique and style cross over between the two domains, and I’m continuing to discover the ways it all fits together.

Two of those recordings were last night. What can I say, I have been bitten by the bug!

This album is going to not have any particular theme other than “featuring the Lyra-8.” But I already have a specific intent for the next one.

waste of space

Today I read about games that demand 150GB or 175GB or more of disk space because of massive high-res textures that a lot of people with modest graphics cards and monitors will never need. I don’t have a lot of games installed on my new computer, but it got me curious.

WizTree is a nifty program that quickly scans a drive to see what’s taking up space, and gives you a graph grouped by folder and color-coded by file type, making the worst offenders easy to see at a glance. Handy!

It turns out that Dirt Rally 2.0, the only “big” game I have installed, is consuming 83.8GB of my 1TB hard drive. That is almost exactly the same size as my entire MP3 library of 11,491 songs.

And when I looked further, I found that at least 14.1GB of that is DLC content that I haven’t paid for and can’t play… a complete waste, in other words. There’s probably a couple more gigs in the Cars folder.

I will experimentally move those files to my old SSD (which is now acting as a USB backup drive), but I’m pretty sure Steam will see that they’re missing and “helpfully” redownload them for me. If not immediately, then next time it updates. And because the game is partially online, I can’t not update.

I do enjoy the game, but geez, that is stupid. You should (A) by default, not download content you don’t own, and (B) for the content you do own, choose whether to install ultra high resolution textures you’re never going to see (with the default chosen reasonably based on your graphics card/monitor resolution).

All of the other games I have installed — Noita, Slay the Spire, Nova Drift, Islands and Bejeweled — total under 2 gigabytes.

It’s not so easy to estimate the total of all my installed music production software, but my visual estimate — including all of the sample libraries I’ll mostly never use, presets I’ll mostly never use, reverb impulse responses, stray installer files, redundant versions etc. — puts it at about 50GB.

connecting dots

Two essays I’ve read in the last two days: one about one big historical factor that got us where we are today, the other about the big historical factors that will send us somewhere else tomorrow.

In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation

A compelling argument that so much of corporate America’s emphasis on productivity and metrics, the relatively weak worker solidarity, worker’s rights and general sense of egalitarianism, the “it could be worse” attitude from people who should be demanding better lives, and a number of commonplace and questionable financial instruments and manipulations, all were begun by the American cotton industry when slavery, the availability of cheap land (stolen violently from First Nations peoples, of course) and the start of the Industrial Revolution came together.

I can’t find fault with any of this. While America was hardly the only nation that grew itself through imperialism and slavery, it was the biggest and most successful (and horrific) example.


Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World

An argument that the biggest factors in today’s society which are likely to trigger the major events of our near future are (1) demographic shift, (2) wealth inequality reaching a breaking point, and (3) access to information (and disinformation).

This is all well and good, but I think another major factor was missed, perhaps what will be the biggest mover of 21st century history: climate change. It’s a wild card with the ability to start wars, smash economies and undo a lot of what we have often liked to think of as “progress”, or be part of the impetus that propels us — albeit painfully and reluctantly, with a lot of human suffering along the way — into a sustainable, better future.