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.

frickin’ laser beams

Today ends my 8th week of working from home (more productively than I ever did in the office), and about 11 weeks of COVID-19 being something to worry about in the US. St. Louis County is opening some businesses on a limited, restricted basis but so far, it looks like we’re going to keep working from home. Given news about other places having spikes in cases and having to close back down again after reopening, it could still be a while.

Given events, maybe the Stormlight Archive wasn’t the best thing to read. I’m most of the way through Oathbringer now, and it’s an apocalyptic mess of magical extreme weather, war, monsters, betrayals, and all the major characters being completely traumatized, broken and lost. It is a really entertaining set of books, with bright spots of humor and insight and triumph, ridiculously epic worldbuilding, the gamut of lovable and hateable characters, etc. but there’s no doubt that it’s a tragedy (even if, 7 books from now, some remnant of humanity is probably going to survive). “Heroism” and ethics are largely a matter of perspective. There are times when the story goes shockingly dark.


Google Play Music, which I’ve been subscribed to since 2014, is also going dark in the near future. I happened to be prepared for it though — my New Year resolution to support musicians through Bandcamp, and having a phone with plenty of storage, has meant streaming much less and listening much more to my MP3 collection. I gathered a list of albums that I want to make sure I own, and cancelled my subscription.

Unfortunately not every musician is on Bandcamp, and for some of those albums I’ve had to track down CDs on eBay. I’ve got a collection of CDs that I really should at least rip some of, and when I traded Eurorack modules with Kid606 he generously sent a couple of CDs to me. I wound up buying an external DVD drive rather than continuing to bother Alisha to rip them for me and transfer via USB stick (because Windows LAN networking still sucks in 2020). Chances are, any computers we might buy in the future won’t have optical drives built in anyway.

My MP3 collection is about 25 years old and has 840 (!!) artists in it. There are some-hundred CDs in my collection that spans roughly 1990-2005. I certainly don’t plan to rip all of them, but there’ll be a bunch. So I’m thinking: I’ll set up a personal streaming server with a rating system, or else cull the collection a little so there’s an archive and a “live” collection, and stop having to copy the whole collection to three different devices.


Two modules arrived this week. The Disting EX, previously described, is a bunch of different utilities in one module. The improved display is TINY and a challenge for my poor eyesight, and I rearranged modules a bit to bring it a little closer to my eyes and hands. But still, the module is easier to navigate than previous versions, and I think a dozen or so favorite algorithms won’t require much referring to a cheat sheet or online reference. I’ve encountered a few bugs, many of which will be fixed in the next firmware release.

I’ve got i2c commands from the Teletype working with it, although it doesn’t support slew, which is going to limit the matrix mixer morphing I thought might be particularly special.

The algorithms I like most are different from the set I originally liked, with more of the basic building blocks (like comparators and sample-and-hold) and fewer oscillators and effects. There are still some “macro” items though, like a pitch and envelope tracker and a wavetable-based waveshaper, that are pretty special.

The polyphonic multisample player is cool, if kind of mind-bending in Eurorack. Not something I’ll probably want to use frequently, but like everything else on the Disting, it’s nice to have it in reserve for when I do. The Disting can also record samples, and an auto-multisample mode is coming that makes use of the MIDI breakout panel — play several notes on a synth into it, and it will sample them and format it for the multisample player — so I might have to make room for that. It could be kind of neat sampling software synths with it and then playing them back with Eurorack sequencers…


The other module is Schlappi Engineering Angle Grinder, and it’s glorious.

The left side is the “grind” section, a set of four comparators that blast the smooth edges off and add more upper harmonics. The “spin” section on the right is a nice filter/quadrature oscillator. As a filter, it sounds like it has a little bit of a resonant peak even at minimum; it can work pretty conventionally but the highpass and notch sound particularly sweet. As an oscillator it’s quite smooth. I feel like I should put in some time exploring what a quadrature LFO/oscillator can do for me, aside from synchronized push-pull on different modulation targets.

The real fun is in the combination. The Spin outputs feed Grind’s four comparators and subtract from the input, changing the shape. The output can then feed back into Spin. The bandpass/allpass output from Spin also feeds back into Grind if not interrupted by a different input. The results vary quite a lot depending on whether Spin is oscillating or filtering, and the phase-shifted and clipped feedback results in many different waveshapes and pitch shifting, under CV control.

Overall the thing can range from a conventional filter or sine oscillator, to something with a little more edge, to a weird noise generator that can produce chirps, atmospheric noise, “toy with dying battery,” self-pinging filter and other weirdness. The feedback loops make it inherently chaotic, but the knobs control the amount of that chaos. Also, it provides several excellent ways to combine other oscillators to create complex drones.

I do kind of wish it had CV control over the “Damping” (aka reverse resonance) and “Grind->Spin” controls since both can influence feedback. To some extent I could manage that with external VCA(s) and mixer though, if the block diagram in the manual is correct.

I have absolutely no regrets about trading my Filter 8 for this one. In fact, it’s so good, I’m considering one of Schlappi Engineering’s other modules, the Interstellar Radio. It converts a signal to a high-frequency “radio transmission” and then back, but with different clocks or even external ones, to generate a variety of errors, aliasing and distortion and other oddities. If I let go of my A-196 PLL — which I believe I can do without losing any functionality, because of the Sync3 and Disting’s pitch tracker, comparator and XOR algorithms — I’ll have room for it. I won’t leap too quickly though, and give myself some time to get to know the new stuff.

øut of ctrl

Still waiting on the Disting EX to ship. I would be more patient about it if I hadn’t known that other people who ordered from the same shop (Control in New York, which is usually quite speedy) got theirs already. Perhaps they had a very limited number of them come in the first wave.

My 16n Faderbank has been fixed up with new linear sliders and the latest firmware. The USPS tracking still estimates it’ll arrive today, but it was last scanned in Michigan on Tuesday morning, so that’s not for sure. I’ve been missing it; it’s become integral to the way I tend to make music. I found myself working around its lack for a recording last week, and doing something completely different the previous week, but I’ve mostly been putting music-making on hold awaiting its return.


For the past few days, Make Noise has been teasing something new. Cute animations of a skeleton with several overlapping circles for a skull, touching various pads or plates and opening portals, rising into the air, swimming through water and watching LED bar graph meters. Speculation has been fun, and a little crazy and intense in some cases, with some people insisting they knew what it was…

It’s the 0-Ctrl (“Zero Control” or “No Control”), a touch controller and sequencer. Almost exactly like two of their Power Points modules and Brains expander, but improved and with the addition of a clock and a dynamic gate and envelope, in a unit the same size and style as the 0-Coast.

I had the 2xPP/Brains combo for a while in 2018, and it was a nice overall design with the fatal flaw of touchplates that did not like my dry skin. Also it took up a relatively large amount of space in the case. This version solves both problems (and in the Make Noise fashion, you might say it creates new ones). So of course, I had to order one. It’ll take over from my little SQ-1 (though I might keep that as a secondary sequencer when I want patterns to run at different lengths).

What’s fun about this is how it erases the line between (pressure sensitive, freely tunable) controller and sequencer. While the sequence plays, you can jump around to a different step, reverse the flow, or of course change values. You can patch its step gates into the reverse, reset or stop inputs to create loops that reverse direction, and jump into and out of loops by touching one of the plates.

Though all three rows of knobs can be used to control anything, it’s set up to normally mean Pitch, Strength and Time. Strength affects dynamic gates and decay envelopes in a really natural way. Time can alter the groove of the clock away from on-the-grid robotic timing. Either of them can also be controlled externally; having them loop at different pattern lengths than the 0-Ctrl’s own loops will be an extra layer of fun, I think. Recursively self-modifying polyrhythms…


I’ve been considering a Schlappi Engineering Angle Grinder. Like the Filter 8 (which it would replace) and VCFQ, it is a filter that, with resonance, can run as a quadrature oscillator. It also adds a waveshaping section based on comparators that are fed by the filter’s outputs, in a feedback configuration that adds all kinds of interesting overtones and distortion. Right now, I’m waiting to see if a used Angle Grinder pops up on my radar rather than buying new; that way selling the Filter 8 should completely cover its costs.


I have found my inspiration, theme and title for album #14. In a recent post I had said “I feel like a lot of processing I do in software is either partially correcting flaws, or carefully introducing them.” It’s not limited to software though, it’s throughout the whole process.

And then I watched Walker Farrell’s video “The Joy of Patching” where (among other things) he mentions an interview with Tony Rolando, founder of Make Noise:

So much of music technology today is designed to do some specific task… What's gorgeous about the modular synthesizer is that it's the exact opposite of that. Often, at trade shows, people will ask me, 'What problem is your product solving?' Typically I say that it's creating them. This product does not solve a single problem, unless you say it solves the problem of inspiration.

So, yeah. The next album is going to be called “Carefully Introducing Problems” or something along those lines.