I went for that Stages trade, and it should be waiting for me when I get home today. I also rearranged modules one more time, in a layout that is my best compromise between ergononics, balancing the power load between the upper and lower sections, a few signal flow considerations, and not having to move things much in my planned changes.

The second Stages will go beside the first one. E520 will take over the right side of the second row from the bottom, where Supercell and the gap are. Supercell will get sold and replaced with a Typhoon that goes in the gap on the left. That leaves just 5HP empty.

I have no plans beyond that, but I acknowledge there will probably be some must-have module in the future that requires selling off one or two lower-priority modules to make some room. Contour might be one of them; the way I use and approach envelopes has changed, and my “favorite” envelope module isn’t getting as much use. Stages can do everything I like about Contour and far beyond, though with a little more cognitive load.

As I wrote on the subject elsewhere, I’m not really using a lot of envelopes overall, anymore. I used to feel like I needed at least two per voice — one for the output VCA/LPG, one for timbral modulation — but that was when I sequenced everything in MIDI. Contour’s ARSR envelope complimented LPGs with a lowish sustain level, varying gate lengths in a sequence and legato playing and note jumps, which was very much a thing I did a lot of before I got more into the “Starthief sound.” But now, most of my modular voices have their levels manually controlled, with level parameters in Bitwig serving as VCA/mixer. For my sequenced/algorithmic voices I have tended toward simple ASR, AR or R envelopes from Maths or Stages, or even generating R envelopes directly in Teletype, or just triggering R envelopes in Natural Gate, or triggering individual grains in Clouds, or purely gating a source but letting a resonator/delay/reverb provide the envelope naturally…

Stages’ envelopes can get fun, though. You’re not limited to classic envelope types, and you can loop it and hybridize it with a step sequence or other modulation sources. Why ADSR when you can A(LFO)(A/D)(S&H)(A/D)R?

I’ve decided to run with the “castle” theme for the next album, and name each song after a different fictional or mythical castle. Most likely, a few tracks that don’t feature Akemie’s Castle will get titles without “castle” in them, e.g. “Minas Tirith” or “Valaskjálf” or whatever.

Only two recordings done for it so far, but I also submitted two for the next Ambient Online compilation, did two “Feedback February” recordings (one again for a compilation), a couple other recordings I decided weren’t going anywhere, and some experimentation. It’s funny how that feels slow to me now, because sometimes I spend as much as a couple of days without recording anything.

Kraftwerk is touring this summer, on their 50th anniversary. (Hey, I’m almost 50 myself. That felt weird to write.) They’re actually playing in St. Louis, so of course I’ll go.

Kraftwerk has pretty much been a Kraftwerk cover/tribute band for the last several years. They’re down to one original member (after a falling-out and creative meltdown) and three touring musicians, playing on laptops and iPads. They don’t do analog synths anymore. But I still expect to enjoy the show, as I enjoyed the Kraftwerk covers that a dude played at Knobcon last year, only with more technical wizardry and light show stuff.

Already I feel inclined to listen to Kraftwerk stuff for the rest of my workday…

plans? what plans

Rather than selling my Cold Mac, I wound up trading it for a Random*Source Serge VCFQ. That’s a filter, designed by Serge Tcherepin for his own modular synth format, adapted to Eurorack format as a DIY kit, built by someone else.

Based on some feature similarity, I believe VCFQ is what inspired the Joranalogue Filter 8. They’re not identical right down to the core, though. I think VCFQ sounds a bit sweeter in most respects, while Filter 8 has a generally more complete feature set. VCFQ is better for pinging, Filter 8 better for self-oscillating. I’ll leave aside any further comparison details, and just say that I plan to keep them both, while further investigating Ripples to decide whether it’s going to be a long-term keeper.

I’ve also got a trade offer for my Hertz Donut mk3, for a second Stages. Stages can be linked together to seamlessly group segments from one module to the next, so two of them could be used for a 12-step sequence for example. I’m considering taking the offer, though it means replacing Supercell with Typhoon becomes a whole lot less optional, and it closes some paths to future expansion. (I was kind of thinking about Morphagene/Phonogene or some other “tape loop” module, but I expect the E520 will cover that ground admirably anyway.) I was already considering replacing Contour with some other modulation source but the case for doing so wasn’t terribly strong. Another Stages could easily be that source, though!

I’ve just finished reading Leviathan Wakes, the first novel of The Expanse. The usual refrain about these things is “the book was better,” but I’m not sure that’s the case here. I think the changes made for the TV series were mostly well chosen. Lang Belta is definitely better onscreen, since they consulted with a linguist to develop a more believable creole than the English-with-abysmal-Spanish-and-some-German-loanwords mess in the books; even the authors admit that.

It’s a little unfair to compare the first book with the whole 4 seasons of the show so far, but Alex, Naomi and especially Amos all come off as more developed and complex in the show. Having the UN/Earth completely at a distance, with no Chrisjen Avasarala as “Grandma Who Takes No Shit From Anybody”, and no particular Mars loyalty from Bobbie (which came later in the show anyway) or homesickness from Alex, removes a lot of political complication and multi-dimensional sympathy too. Part of the reason I want to go ahead and read the rest of the books at this point is to get to Chrisjen and Bobbie.

On the other hand, the book felt like a balance between Holden with his righteous but naive heroism that frequently backfires, and Miller’s cynical but persistent style. Considered on its own merits rather than balanced against the show, it worked well.

not even a hot take

I have to get this off my chest, I suppose.

It should be no surprise that I find Trump disgusting, embarrassing, and in basically every way terrible; almost everything he has done is the exact opposite of the right thing.

But if Bloomberg gets the DNC nomination, I am going to abstain from voting in the Presidential general election.

I don’t much like Klobuchar, Buttigieg, or Biden. But I would vote for any of them against Trump without flinching, if it came to that.

Bloomberg is just as racist, sexist, fascist and cruel as Trump. He’s richer — the 9th wealthiest man in the US, which is absolutely not a sign that he has regular peoples’ best interests at heart. He’s less of a buffoon in his demeanor, but not really less of an idiot in terms of policy.

Bloomberg was a Republican until 2018 when he officially switched parties for the sole purpose of running against Trump. He endorsed George W Bush and supported the Iraq War, and called Obama “arrogant” and blamed him for “racial division.”

His “stop and frisk” policy as NY mayor was disastrously racist. He claimed in 2013 that they weren’t stopping enough minorities and were stopping too many white people. Of course now he claims to have reduced stop-and-frisk by 95%, but that was after he increased it by 605% and after a federal judge signaled he was about to rule against the policy. He claims credit for a reduction in the crime rate, but similar reductions have been going on since 1990 whether there were 11,000 stops or 686,000 stops per year. He vetoed proposals to increase police accountability (and was overruled by a supermajority).

He spent 12 million dollars to help re-elect Pat Toomey, PA Republican senator, who squeaked by with 1.5 points over the Democratic challenger; if that hadn’t happened we wouldn’t have Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

He believes any public healthcare program should deny care to the elderly rather than “wasting money” by treating them. He literally said it out loud.

Also he’s transphobic.

His entire campaign is based on the lie that he’s the only one who can defeat Trump, with a sort of it-takes-one-to-know-one logic that’s not exactly flattering. There’s actually no reason he couldn’t have done that as a Republican in the primary, except that he also wants to stop any useful progressive reforms that might tax the super-wealthy.

Yet the same talking heads who complain about Bernie not being “a real Democrat” are happy to throw in with Bloomberg. Millions of dollars in advertising are at stake, I suppose…

I honestly think if Bloomberg gets elected by buying his way into it through the Democratic party, in some ways that’s actually a worse sign than Trump’s election through populist appeal to fear and prejudice. Or, call it a second bad sign maybe. It’d more or less be the end of the Democratic party as anything meaningful and supportable.

That goes double if there winds up being a contested convention, with Bernie having a plurality of delegates but not a majority, and the establishment throwing it to Bloomberg. Right now, FiveThirtyEight is putting the odds of a contested convention at 38%, a Bernie win at 36%, Biden at 14% and Bloomberg at 7%, for whatever such an early prediction may be worth.

if FM overkill is wrong, I don’t want to be right

In the last few weeks I’d been thinking seriously about selling off Akemie’s Castle, having convinced myself that I have more than enough FM capability and can use Sync3 among other things for the big chords. So I was trying to decide between the Odessa or the Ensemble Oscillator as a replacement, but honestly I wasn’t totally fired up about either of those choices. They can both do cool things but I’m not fully convinced either of them is truly what I want.

Last night I was feeling pretty bleh and unmotivated, but after making a pretty crappy recording I decided to mess with Akemie’s Castle… and it brought immediate joy. The chords are huge, the FM is glorious and not quite like all my other FM synths, and it sort of does the additive thing from a different angle. I have a bond with this module, and it would make no sense at all to swap it out for something else.

With that settled, I decided there’s really no point in waiting for the E520 to sell stuff: the DSM-03 Feedback, tanh[3] and Cold Mac have been sitting in a drawer and I’ve left HD mk3 unused, and I don’t think I will miss any of those. Also the Supercell, which I’ll replace with Typhoon (unless I happen into a great trade deal for Monsoon or Microcell).

What makes much more sense is to not buy anything else, including pedals, for a while. I don’t have any particular gaps I can think of. E520 of course is going to cover a lot of effect territory. I don’t see a good argument for another oscillator, and I feel pretty happy with my set of modulation sources. Bitwig Grid and Teletype cover most things that aren’t directly present. I’m sure eventually there will be something I will want to try out, so I’ll just leave the empty space for that future eventuality.

I’ve been reading Greg Egan’s Diaspora. It starts off in a wild and weird post-human future, and only gets wilder and weirder from there. My only gripe is that while the physics might have more dimensions than we can imagine, the characters mostly tend to have one or two. It seems like the more interesting a character becomes, the more likely they will be ignored, fall into the background, or be killed off in the background in the next chapter. I’m still enjoying the scale and uniqueness of the ideas though, and the rate at which they are introduced.

recursive reverb

The Mosky spring reverb pedal arrived Thursday. It’s small, basic and it does the job. A guitarist who reviewed it said the settings get pretty extreme for his tastes and he keeps both knobs at 9 o’clock, but I cranked them fully and still wanted it in a feedback loop to make it go further. The blue LED on it was blinding, but after seeing some suggestions I tried a silver Sharpie I had to hand, and that dimmed it to reasonable levels.

Adineko arrived Saturday. It’s got a nice sound, especially with a bit of the “Viscosity” setting to make it all swirly… but unfortunately the “Reverb” knob (delay repeats) does nothing. Since I’m using it with a modular synth and Bitwig anyway, I can patch my own feedback loop to get repeats — and in fact, use that along with other processing such as the Mosky, which sounds pretty nice. But its own internal feedback is supposed to be part of its character (and why not combine both internal and external feedback loops), and anyway I paid for a fully working pedal.

The seller says it was 100% working when he shipped it, so he considers it damaged in shipping — and had shipped it through “Reverb Safe Shipping.” (That is, Reverb the online marketplace, not reverb the type of effect, nor “Reverb” the knob that isn’t working!) After some confusion and support emails on both our parts, a “Resolution Agent” is going to get back to me about it. I’d accept either a full refund and return, or partial refund to cover repairs. Probably the former is simpler.

Anyway, after my experiments I have decided I’m selling the Paradox Arquitecto, and will keep an Adineko and the Mosky in their own effect chain. I tried imitating it with Mimeophon by modulating the delay time and it wasn’t even close. It’s funny how many variations there can be on woozy, pitch-shifted echoes without them sounding very similar to each other.

Once this is settles, I am leaning toward Walrus Slö (a reverb made specifically for ambient music) and perhaps OBNE Dweller (a phaser/vibrato/tremolo/delay) to finish off the pedals. Keeping 4-5 mono pedals in two chains is easy enough to manage.

I haven’t really dived into my Akemie’s Castle study yet, but I have been pondering replacing it with Xaoc Odessa or 4ms Ensemble Oscillator. Those are both additive synthesis oscillators with different approaches. Odessa is pure brute force additive with thousands of partials, spectral tilt and comb filtering, a means of splitting partials in groups between two separate outputs (and harmonically multiplying or dividing one of those outputs), and detuning it into inharmonicity; it will do both linear and expo FM. EO is a 16-partial oscillator with banks of different scale combinations and programmable scales, putting it somewhere between chords/music theory and harmonic additive synthesis, and the oscillators can be shaped and have “cross FM” applied but not regular FM. EO is smaller and cheaper. Odessa is much less likely to ever have firmware updates (for good or ill) due to its FPGA nature. I’m sure both of them can produce a wide range of sounds but they’re both outside my normal experience so it’s hard to judge. Neither of them seem particularly difficult to use, though Odessa may be a little more straightforward. There are few demos of EO yet, and no really great comprehensive DivKid (or similar) demo of Odessa yet.

I’m also strongly considering switching out Supercell for one of the “micro expanded Clouds” variants and keeping it in Clouds mode forever, rather than messing with a cheat sheet and different modes. Right now I have 7 browser tabs open and am about to compare the different variants on features, layout, size and price.

thanks I hate it

What the hecking heck is this?

It’s the Roland TAIKO-1 and it is about 10% brilliant and 90% bullshit.

I was a taiko performer for a couple of years, so let me first mention the things I like about this before I tear it to shreds:

  • It looks kinda cool (if you’re unconcerned with tradition)
  • It’s light-ish and it disassembles for transport.
  • You can use it for practice with headphones, IF you want to practice katsugi okedo.
  • Built-in ji is better than a metronome… if you want to be backed up by a robot playing a horse beat, you can.
  • The shime-daiko sample set sounds okayish.
  • Could be neat for one or two performers during an interlude, or for parades or Eisa performances I guess, or for a single novelty piece by a taiko group. IF the volume and battery situation is up to the task.

And now the hatey bits:

  • This is a katsugi okedo in style. It is useless if you want to practice or perform chu-daiko, shime-daiko, or oodaiko parts or technique.
  • Each type of drum, type of stand, and style of playing requires different physical technique. Each taiko piece has its own choreography which is a vital part of the art form (some even say it’s more important than rhythm and sound). This is one drum played in one style, which happens to sound sort of like other drums. The way this is designed, I’m not even sure it can be placed on any kind of stand.
  • Would you like to watch a symphony orchestra where everyone is playing electric violins, except some of them sound more or less like cellos or oboes or French horns or timpani?
  • Would you rather go to a Japanese festival and watch a bunch of people in traditional costume playing a variety of beautiful, full-sized polished wooden drums, hand-built in the traditional manner, with fancy metal kan (the medallion handles) and proper horsehide heads tacked on in that distinctive pattern, where one of the drums is a 250-800 pound monstrosity that looms over its performer… or a bunch of electronic instruments with lightweight metal frames and fabric heads?
  • The chu-daiko sound in the video sounds synthetic to me. The shime-daiko is okay. The chappa samples are a disgrace, and there is no way all the varied techniques of chappa playing can be done with a drum.
  • Real taiko is like thunder. It’s extremely physical. You feel it throughout your body, especially in your chest cavity. In person or in a really good recording, you hear the crack of the hinoki (cypress, awesomely fragrant) bachi on the drum head as well as the deep boom. When in group rehearsals you’re supposed to wear hearing protection. I’m going to guess the sound of these is a relative disappointment in terms of physical presence.
  • Likewise, the feel can’t possibly be right for anything that’s not a katsugi part. There is a very physical feel to the movement and the way the bachi rebounds from the skin, which is different for different styles of drums and bachi, and it deeply affects the player’s expressive playing as well as dynamics and timing. It may even feel wrong compared to a real katsugi as far as that goes.

Now, I’m more of an electronic music nerd than I am a former taiko player, so I still think it’s kind of got neat aspects. And if someone gave me one, I would play it. But I don’t want to see a taiko group performing with just these things, ugh ugh ugh gah no.

an individual note

Lately there have been some threads on various forums that have tried to ascribe a little more to the design of particular modules, and the intent and motivation of people in the community, than is actually there.

As in: [these modules] are for beginners. [These modules] sound like plugins.* [These modules] are overhyped by uninformed fanboys. [These modules] are for generative ambient noodling, while [these other modules] are for techno. The real nature of modular synthesis is [such and such] and [these modules] aren’t good for that.

Or more generally, disappointment in some perceived lack in the tools: too little innovation in the technology, too little creativity in the products, no future ahead for novel synthesis methods. As if it’s the instruments, not the musicians, which are expected to be creative…

Well. I’ve been reading Daphne Oram’s An Individual Note: of Music, Sound and Electronics. She floats some esoteric ideas and metaphors extrapolated from the science behind electronic music… some of it is frankly a little crazy, but some of that is illuminating in a poetic sort of way.

What really struck me though, particularly in the context of those other discussions, was this section:

It seems as relevant to the tools of music-making as it is to a performance or recording. Perhaps even more so; music is the product (in a vague mathematical sense) of the instrument AND the musician.

And yeah, I’m saying if a module sounds bad, maybe it’s the person using it who is not good with it, either through incompatible style or lack of understanding or practice. And if it seems like it’s “for beginners,” maybe the person trying it lacks the experience to get more out of it.

(*) This of course implies that plugins have a characteristic “sound” which is deficient in some way, which is also a pretty questionable assumption in 2020.

it’s not the best choice, it’s Spacer’s Choice

I was talking about my search for an RPG I could get into, and my spouse mentioned watching a Let’s Play video of The Outer Worlds which she thought might amuse me. And she was right.

I was going to wait for a discount, but then I found out XBox Game Pass for PC (is that an awkward name or what?) includes it, and that there’s a $1 for 3 months promotion going on right now. After that, it’s $15 for each block of 3 months. Um, yes.

Without taking too much space explaining the story, it’s a space colony as the ultimate company town, a capitalist dystopia taken to extremes. It’s presented as dark humor with occasional more serious streaks, and there are a few earnest and caring people among both the downtrodden and the oppressor class. The overall style is very Fallout and Borderlands — goofy mascots, ironically retrofuturistic ranging from the Flash Gordon era through 50s and 80s styles — with more than a touch of Firefly.

As far as gameplay goes, it is primarily a shooting RPG, with melee as an option (if not a wise one in more open areas or against some enemies). In some situations you can smooth-talk or sneak your way around violence, but killer robots and alien monsters and marauders tend not to listen to reason. Dialogue choices, and choice of who to help against whom, seem to be meaningful and it’s designed to not break the main storyline even if you kill or betray key NPCs. (So they say… I’m trying to stick with my conscience here.) Overall, while it might not be the exact thing I was looking for — whatever that is — I’m enjoying it.

I am also getting a kick out of Lonely Mountains: Downhill, a game about extreme mountain biking. It’s somewhere between a racing game and a physics game, which I guess given that I like rally racing games, is just about where I like things. The graphics are cute and minimalist, there are shortcuts everywhere (many with increased risk or skill/luck required) as well as places that look like shortcuts and turn out not to be and it’s just a fun little thing.

I was less pleased by Forza Horizon 4. It’s a favorite for many, but to me it’s too arcadey and over-the-top, as well as buggy. I couldn’t get my controller working with it and it’s definitely the sort of game where playing with a keyboard is the last resort. You can drive at top speed through stone walls without damaging your car, as if they’re merely piles of balloons — pretty much the opposite of the experience in Dirt Rally 2.0 and WRC 7 and the like.

I think, aside from rally games, what I want in a racing game is a sim like Project CARS, with all the weird exotic stuff like the Ariel Atom and BAC Mono like it has… but where the AI has to use the same physics the player does, instead of having perfect grip during a rainstorm with racing slicks. And no getting stuck with no way to abort a super annoying racing series with a wonky car that it turns out you hate. I’d still be playing it if not for those two things.

My Particle pedal sold, and I’ve got two things incoming:

  • Mosky MP-51 Spring Reverb Mini: it’s a tiny pink pedal with a barcode — a blatant copy of the Malekko Omicron Spring — for basically lunch money. Someone posted a photo of one with an MXR Carbon Copy delay captioned “instant vibe,” and I had to look into it. I do like spring reverb, particularly in a feedback loop. Anything this tiny isn’t using a real spring tank but a “Belton brick”, but those sound pretty great honestly.
  • Catalinbread Adineko: an emulation of an “oil can” delay. The original Tel-Ray echo used weird science to electrostatically store a charge for a brief period, picking it up with rotating magnetic heads vaguely similar to tape heads, giving a more warbly and murky character that sounds very musical. This one uses clever DSP instead but still gives a nice range of echo, vibrato, and reverb-ish sounds.