Production notes are here.
I had a nice enough birthday, though the weather celebrated it with really strong winds that ripped a section of siding almost completely off our house.
Magic Death Eye is indeed going to be up for sale on Black Friday. Whoo! I also picked up Wavesfactory Spectre, an almost ideal saturation plugin which I had not noticed before, for half price. So sales like this work.
The Black Friday frenzy has continued to bemuse me though. Some folks at KvR have really been whiney and entitled, complaining 8 days before the actual day that the sales are just not as good as previous years, or complaining when the plugin they wanted is only 40% off and only for 4 days. And I felt the need to say something, and… yeah, I shouldn’t have. I’m going to be more specific about my goals for 2020 in terms of online communication…!
I have the artwork now for Vultur Cadens and just need to put a title on it and do the actual release. Now I remember that was the thing I had been planning to do today…
But today I recorded something for the next Ambient Online compilation (theme: Jupiter) as well as a fourth potential track for album #12. So I was still productive.
Over on Lines, there’s now a thread for “Most impactful albums, 2010-2019.” The top lists started a month or more ago and of course all of them are wrong, but personal favorites lists are exempt from criticism (’cause it’s kind of jerky to do that). Here’s what I came up with:
Caterina Barbieri, Patterns of Consciousness
Belief Defect, Decadent yet Depraved
Danimal Cannon, Lunaria
Dark Sparkler, I No Beast I No Angel
Dark Sparkler, Year One
Figure Study, Figure Study
Johnathan Fitoussi & Clemens Hourrière, Five Steps
Haujobb, New World March
Ernst Karel, Swiss Mountain Transport Systems
Leaves’ Eyes, Meredead
Nathan Moody, Etudes I: Blue Box
Nathan Moody, Etudes III: Red Box
Nero, Welcome Reality
Oedo Sukeroku Daiko, Les tambours de Tokyo
Patricia, Body Issues
Professor Elemental, The Indifference Engine
Prometheus Burning, Kill It With Fire
Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Two Orb Reel
Stemage, Priority One: The Music of TRON
Stemage, Where Good Marbles Go to Die
Amon Tobin, Dark Jovian
Amon Tobin, ISAM
Venetian Snares, Rossz csillag alatt született
Venetian Snares, Traditional Synthesizer Music
Void Vision, Sub Rosa
Youth Code, Youth Code
I’ve certainly had some other favorites in the last decade, but their release dates were pre-2010. That list would be two or three times as long. But I think there’s a pretty good mix here: a lot of synth nerd fodder with minimal modular setups or the Lyra-8 or Music Easel; a taste of taiko; even a field recording album. A little bit of electro-punk and industrial protest music, Chap Hop, the tail end of dubstep, Viking symphonic metal. A surprisingly successful classical/jazz/breakcore blend, and even more successful chiptune/prog rock/jazz fusion hybrids.
This makes me wonder what kinds of music, newly invented or reinvented, that we’ll hear in the 2020s. Maybe it’s time for industrial ambient and “soft noise” genres to spike in popularity… 🙂
I am on the hunt for favorite compressor plugins, particularly for mastering purposes. I really would like to have one standard choice I can always be confident in, instead of hot-swapping several different plugins and tweaking them while tiring my ears with minute differences. I might have found it.
The fantastically named Magic Death Eye is a boutique, hand-built, retro-inspired modern vari-mu tube compressor, which happens to have an officially licensed version. And it’s excellent. (At least the plugin is, and I assume the hardware…)
I tested it against my recordings for the next album, and found it always beat something like 9 or 10 other compression plugins (some of which have multiple models). With some material, the difference between it and the best options is almost subliminal, but it’s there. In other cases, it’s a pretty clear winner. And the controls on MDE are nice and simple, and I feel like it just can’t sound bad even if you push it relatively hard. As some others have described, it’s “respectful” of the source material.
I’m pretty confident I could just use MDE for mastering 100% of the time with no worries. That leaves Supercharger GT, 6050 and a few Presswerk presets to cover more aggressive and “high mojo” compressor and saturator needs and limiting. Fair enough!
BLACK FRIDAY IS HERE declares a post about a plugin sale.
No. It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Give things their own time.
The last couple of years have seen the rise of “Black Friday Week” — which makes as much sense as “No-Shave November Year” — followed by several days of “Cyber Monday”, only one or two of which are actually on a Monday. Though of course, the first signs of “Black Friday” begin on about November 1.
This is part of a general temporal smearing of the holidays though. The pumpkin spice frenzy began in August. My mom — a big fan of Christmas — wanted me to have a wishlist ready in September. Stores started selling Christmas decor before Halloween.
I like the holidays generally, but they all have their specific times. Stretching them out to cover 1/4 of the year dilutes them and can make us kind of tired of them before they’ve even happened.
And of course Black Friday seems as if it’s taken over as the second most important “holiday” of the year. I appreciate getting some online deals on things — music software is especially discounted for two or three weeks, even though it’s not something that is frequently gifted — but it kind of indicates where our minds are at as a society.
So there’s finally going to be a new Half-Life game…
…and it’s apparently VR-only.
I’m reading a slightly tedious book about the more or less simultaneous rise of popular interest in science and fairy tales in Victorian England, and how they influenced each other and the literature of the time. It mentions L. Frank Baum’s The Master Key: An Electrical Fairy Tale — the story of the wish-granting Demon of Electricity summoned accidentally by a boy’s scientific experiments — and it occurred to me “An Electrical Fairy Tale” might be a fun name for the next album. Because, if what I’ve recorded so far is any indication, it really is that different from the darker stuff I’ve been doing lately…
There’s apparently a yearly music festival called “Electric FAIRy Tale” in Fresno, but I don’t think I’m going to let that stop me. I may come up with a name I like better anyway, though.
The Sequential DSM03 Feedback module that I won in the charity auction arrived yesterday. It’s basically a Karplus-Strong synthesizer in a single module: a white noise generator with built-in envelope generator, a short delay with 1V/octave tracking, and a lowpass filter; there’s an external audio input which you can use instead of its own noise generator. It’s got a couple of issues though — I don’t think the feedback is strong enough for all circumstances, and adding filter resonance tends to suppress the feedback and make it very quiet. It’s capable of some interesting sounds regardless. I’ll pledge to keep it in my rack at least until the E520 comes along.
I have written a lot in this blog about music hardware, but not nearly as much about the software that is also a vital part of my sound. Maybe it’s time. I won’t go into Bitwig’s built-in effects, nor the occasional synth plugins, but here are the third-party effects plugins that I use on a relatively regular basis.
Delay: super important to me, adding space, movement, character, rhythm and of course just plain echoes.
- Valhalla Delay: for me this is the top of the heap for sure. A perfect combination of simplicity, flexibility and character, and it keeps getting better (there are three new variations in the current beta and they’re all fantastic).
- Arturia 3 Delays You’ll Actually Use: some nice character here, particularly when overdriven and using their parametric EQ. Second fiddle to Valhalla, but it’s nice to have alternatives.
- u-he Colour Copy: largely superseded by Valhalla, but for liquid, chorusy modulated delays it has a special lushness.
- Audio Damage Ratshack Reverb: while I can probably get a similar sound with Valhalla, it’s just right there on tap. And the distortion it offers is pretty special.
- Sonic Charge Permut8: when what I want isn’t a delay so much as a glitchy repeating weirdness thing, this is where I go.
Reverb: for making space and distance, smoothing out textures, as a medium to apply other effects in a feedback loop, or sometimes extending the duration of tails that I faded too quickly.
- Valhalla Plate, Room and Vintage Verb: All excellent, though Plate is my favorite.
- u-he Twangström: a fine emulation of spring reverb, when that kind of character is called for. I sold my real spring reverb because of this plugin.
- AudioThing Fog Convolver: for applying real acoustic spaces, including some weird ones. I usually keep this one subtle, but I’ve found building a feedback loop around it can be fun too.
EQ: the scissors to generally shape my sounds and the scalpel to cut out problem areas. My music doesn’t tend to have the same kind of mixing applications for EQ that more mainstream music does, but this is still pretty vital.
- Toneboosters Equalizer 4: My go-to general purpose and corrective EQ, whether full stereo or mid-side. It’s frankly unbeatable.
- u-he Uhbiq-Q: I keep finding myself turning to this one for character, and for “blind” EQing where I want to trust my ears without graphical assistance.
- Honorable mention: I just picked up McDSP 6050 and am learning it; among other things, it has 12 different analog-style EQ models with relatively subtle differences between them. There might be a favorite character EQ lurking here too.
Limiters: for keeping peak levels in check and feedback loops from exploding, and increasing loudness as the last stage in mastering.
- Toneboosters Barricade 4: combines a saturator, compressor and limiter, but I use it primarily for limiting — its saturation can often get ugly and I find it very situational. I could probably just use Bitwig’s peak limiter instead, honestly.
- u-he Presswerk: it’s a big fancy compressor plugin, but lately I’ve been using it almost exclusively for one of its limiter presets that can be pushed hard and does some nice soft clipping. The exact peak can’t be set, so I often use it as my first limiting stage before Barricade.
Compressors: I’m still trying to work out favorites here; this is an area I have long neglected in favor of the Graphic Dynamics tool in Sound Forge Pro.
- NI Solid Bus Comp: I feel like it works well for subtle compression, and is fairly easy to dial in.
- Klanghelm MJUC: a vari-mu tube compressor emulation, with a little more flavor than Solid Bus Comp but not over the top. For mastering purposes I’ve frequently found myself trying both of them and choosing my favorite (usually but not always MJUC).
- NI Supercharger GT: To me this is best for more aggressive saturation and compression, but works nicely when mixed in parallel at a low level.
- Honorable mentions: Graphic Dynamics still does have its uses. I used to try a couple of favorite Presswerk presets and A-B test them to see if they improved the overall clarity — and I should probably try its simplified modes against other options. McDSP 6050 has several analog style compressor models to choose from and seems promising. But I may find myself with FabFilter Pro-C2, since it’s very visual like my favorite EQ.
Tape: recording to tape is like acid-washing jeans — it adds character and/or grunge and it’s a good thing. In a plugin, you can control the variables with less hassle, expense and time than real tape.
- Wavesfactory Cassette: this is a relative newcomer. It’s great for a touch of saturation and subtle compression, or heavy blown-out saturation, or extreme “4th generation copy using a warbly microcasette recorder and worn-out tape” effects.
- XLNAudio RC-20 Retro Color: this one does vinyl, sampling and tape, with particularly tasty distortion and EQ sections. It’s really flexible and can do very non-tapelike things, and again works well both for gentle and extreme use.
- Denise Bad Tape: a very up-front effect, with heavy and weird saturation. Sometimes useful though!
Downsampling: for retro digital sound, or just another flavor of dirt.
- d16 Decimort: a pretty flexible sample rate and bit reducer with some anti-aliasing options, jitter and EQ.
- Plogue Chipcrusher: realistic bad old digital encoding methods, with added noise and filter/speaker/cabinet impulses to sound like it’s coming from an old PC or game console or handheld toy.
- haSound MSLR: mid/side left/right encoding and decoding. I use it pretty frequently with two different signals from the modular to create a wide stereo field. Needs some caution to prevent phase alignment issues though, and I may switch back to Voxengo MSED for its built-in scope.
- Izotope RX6 DeClick: doesn’t work on 100% of clicks and pops, but when it does, it “just works” with no hassle or side effects.
- Klevgrand Brusfri: a real-time noise reduction plugin that can listen to an example of your noise floor, and then dampen it pretty effectively.
- Melda MAGC: automatically compensates for volume differences caused by an effect, which can help remove the illusion that louder=better, or confirm that a compressor’s make-up gain is set wisely.
- Voxengo SPAN: an excellent spectrum analyzer with a phase correlation meter.
- Voxengo Correlometer: a multiband phase correlation meter that can show which frequency ranges have problems. It makes fixing those areas with mid/side EQ a bit easier.
- Youlean Loudness Meter: shows real-time true peak and LUFS readings, and can synchronize its display with the host’s transport time.
- Honorable mention: the Statistics tool in Sound Forge Pro. Much faster than Youlean, but it measures what has already been done to the file.
- Unfiltered Audio SpecOps: various kinds of spectral filtering, mangling, and freezing. There’s a lot going on here. It could be dethroned by the SynthTech E520 when that ships, though.
- Melda MTransformer: I find this pretty interesting mostly for spectral compression or formant shifting. Again, the E520 might bury it.
- Melda MCharacter: it attempts to synthesize extra harmonics, and/or spectrally filter the input, but it’s kind of touchy and situational.
Have any favorite effects plugins, or recommendations especially for dynamics? Let me know!
The idea of inheriting ethnicity through DNA is a bit problematic:
- Biology and culture are different things. Culture is not passed genetically.
- Genes are randomly inherited in each generation. The more generations back you go, the more random it is.
- There is no single “French gene” that you might have 36% of. Either you carry a gene or you don’t, and all of this stuff comes down to statistical analysis from data that comes from peoples’ family histories.
So I think of this as mostly “for entertainment purposes only.” That said, here’s what Ancestry.com says about me after the latest statistical update:
It’s a slight tweak from the reading a few years ago, but no big surprises. Looking at the family tree research my mom has done, as far back as is documented right now, it adds up. There’s a very clear “all Scotland all the time” going back from my mother’s father’s mother, but most branches on both sides of my family, if they don’t fade into obscurity in Kentucky or New York, point at England, Ireland, Scotland, and some Germany and Switzerland. It would be really cool to be able to trace DNA to specific relatives on the family tree, but I don’t think things work that way, even if they all had samples.
An excellent twitter thread from author Seanan McGuire.
Quoted in full:
People keep talking about how much stuff a billionaire could buy even after Warren’s wealth tax, as if that were the greatest horror of that number. “Tax the rich and they can still buy islands!” Yes, that’s horrifying. But my friends and I have been calculating the “okay, that’s it, I’m done” number for years. That’s the amount of money in the bank where you can live deliciously without ever touching the principle.
Everything is done via the interest. Our numbers assume no investments, no money management; just a savings account with a decent interest rate, calculated monthly.
If you could open a savings account with a 2.05% interest rate and a starting balance of one million dollars right now, today, you would make 20k a year, just for the effort of having all that money.
At five million dollars in the bank, you’re making 100k a year for doing NOTHING. Almost anywhere in the country, that’s living-off-the-interest time. (SF Bay Area and New York, somewhat excepted.)
Six million in the bank, you’re making 120k a year for doing nothing. That’s 10k a month to spend on bills and vacations and IDK, new live ponies for Kaitlyn and Hunter.
But ten million is where we start hitting real money. Because with just ten million–JUST ten million, and remember, we started with BILLIONaires–you’re seeing 200k a year for doing nothing other than NOT funding a mad genetics lab to create dinosaurs for your amusement.
At fifty million, again with our simple savings account, no investments, you’re making a million dollars a year by not touching your principle. A hundred million is two million dollars a year.
A billion dollars is a thousand millions.
This is wealth on a scale that has no applications apart from supervillainy. I am GOOD at spending money. Give me a hundred million dollars and I’ll make dinosaurs.
A thousand million dollars? I’ll make frantic noises and hide under the bed. That is money turned monster.
No one NEEDS a billion dollars. Ten million is enough to live so comfortably that you’re insulated from the world forever. And no one NEEDS that, either.
If a hundred million dollars is two million a year in interest, then a billion dollars in that rock-bottom account is two hundred million a year. Just for owning money.
That last bit is off by a factor of 10, but the point still stands. To me, $10 million sounds like a good amount to keep after winning Powerball, after taxes, debts and giving the rest to family, friends, charities and random strangers.
Bill Gates is currently worth $107 billion. Which means his hypothetical 2% interest would earn $2.1 billion a year for doing nothing, not even wise investing. Every year he could turn two paupers into supervillain-level rich people, or 210 completely broke families Powerball-level, never-work-again wealthy, with zero personal sacrifice to his own astronomical fortune.
This makes me think Elizabeth Warren’s 3% wealth tax on billionaires is just barely a start.
It may still be stupidly cold, and I may still have the remnants of a cold, and somebody may have either mistaken the phone charger at my desk for company property or just “perma-borrowed” it… but the sky gave me a gift on my morning commute.
I tried to take a photo. It didn’t save, and it wouldn’t have been very good if it did — sky photos on a phone, taken hurriedly through the windshield during a brief traffic light, are never very good.
So, picture a pinkish-blue streaky sky and an enormous full moon in clear detail, with a hint of a glowing corona, about 30 degrees above the horizon. You’re probably right now picturing something that looks a little too plain, a little too “realistic”. Make it more vibrant and intense and painterly… borderline unbelievable. Stunning. Yeah, that’s better. Now put the back of a garbage truck below it, because as magical as it was, it was still in the real world (and that somehow made it better).
By the time I got to work and had time to set up a better photo, the sky had changed; the moon was neither so clear nor was the “background” sky (the atmosphere in front of it!) quite as nice. All things are ephemeral.
It filled me with such wonder though, like too few things do in a sane, stable-ish adulthood. And now I have the desire to try to express that in music. Next album project, perhaps? It seems like a challenge, but a good one.
Back when I used to play the text-based MMORPG GemStone III (and then IV), I had a character who was devoted to Zelia, the goddess of lunacy. While it wasn’t in the sparse official documentation at the time, some players seemed to tacitly agree that Zelia’s good side, her gift to her followers, was a gleeful, childlike sense of wonder about random things — an openness that is lost to most adults. Years after I’d stopped playing, when one of the lore documents named the six Handmaidens of Zelia (a constellation), one of them was “Myzori, the Most Amazed.” The idea of amazement as a kind of virtue, something to seek out, and a form of devotion stuck with me. (I of course would like the occasional amazement and silly good fun without emotional instability or delusions…)
Sunday it was a lovely 65°F throughout the evening. Monday at that same time, it was 25 and windy and been snowing most of the day. This morning as I’m about to go to work, it’s
which is just too flipping cold. Autumn is my favorite season, but for the last few years, it’s seemed like it was under attack from both sides. Going from picnic weather to parka weather in one day is just too much.
Anyway. Here’s a thing I did, a quick jam on the Lyra-8 with another layer of distortion, inspired by the computer game I’ve been playing quite a bit of lately:
Noita (Finnish for “witch” or “shaman” apparently) is the sort of game where, if I am bad at it, it’s kind of hard to tell because so much of it comes down to random luck, impossible situations, and occasionally completely unfair events. Yet usually the most ridiculous sudden deaths even after a long, careful campaign are more entertaining than frustrating. You’re a levitating wizard with a couple of basic wands to start with, on a dungeon crawl through increasingly deadly environs. Everything is physically modeled like a “falling sand” game — water flows somewhat realistically, evaporates when heated and condenses again; wood and coal and oil burn at different rates; fire needs oxygen; oil is slippery and floats on water; slime is sticky; sandstone is softer than other rocks. But it also plays like a high-speed magical game of Worms. You find and tinker with more and better (and sometimes ludicrously dangerous) wands and potions as you go: tentacles, arrows, bouncing bolts, chainsaws or flying sawblades (!), lightsabers (!!), freezing, acid balls, lightning, boulder summoning, lakes of lava, Giga Death Crosses, nukes (!!!!!)
Theoretically, there’s a way to “win” the game. I’ve never seen it. I’m lucky to get through the reach the incredibly deadly jungle level with its robotic spiders and fire-flinging flowers, or the Vault with shielded flying drones and acid-spitting floating eyes. Once I reached a place called the Temple of the Art, and got cornered in a pool of acid that was on fire while being pummeled by spells from four different completely unfamiliar monsters.
The game is full of surprises and secrets. Sometimes you do things to “anger the gods” — or a pesky earth-devouring worm does and you get the blame — and they send a flying, shielded skeleton mage to murder you. Sometimes you find mysterious secret tablets or orbs or areas of total darkness or stranger-than-normal alchemy or other weirdness. Once I drank from a “Touch of Midas” potion that turned loose substances (sand, coal, etc.) into gold when I approached; I racked up a lot of wealth but didn’t survive to spend it. Just once, I saw this in the Hiisi Base:
That’s my wizard’s blood there, because there were about five more of these guys on the other side of the screen. Oops.