in the pipeline

I may have already stumbled into the beginnings of a theme for album #9: something in the general region of wavefolding, shaping, nonlinearity, geometric transformation, asymmetry. In fact I already had “asymmetry?” in a section of notes where I was brainstorming album concepts and general inspiration several months ago.

Part of the charm of the DPO I just acquired is its fantastic waveshaping section, which doesn’t just fold beautifully in a “West Coast” manner but creates a wide range of shapes that a digital wavetable VCO would be proud of. All of these varied shapes come from transformations of a simple triangle wave — not done here with mathematical calculations but with analog circuits. Derive a few shapes from this one, and then blend them to create even more.

The DPO can only do this to its own VCO B, but other modules — such as the Bubblesound cvWS which I just found deeply discounted and which fits into the remaining space left in my rack — can act on any signal. It will “correctly” convert a triangle wave and an in-phase square wave to a saw, or a triangle to a sine, given the right adjustments. But the fun comes from putting those adjustments under voltage control, and from feeding it “wrong” signals. I wrote that whole article about things that can be done with sine shapers, and have been experimenting with both the ER-301 and E370 in that respect. With both a tri-to-saw and a tri-to-sine shaper in a single module, the cvWS should be able to implement a kind of phase distortion similar to the Casio CZ synthesizers of the mid-80s, but in analog and with extra twists.

With other tools in the cabinet for nonlinear waveshaping — such as the tanh[3] and the Filter 8 — there’s a lot to work with. So this might well end up being both a synthesis study (as Materials was for Mutable Instruments Rings) and an abstractly themed concept album.

hmm.

Reactions to Internal Reflections haven’t been as strong as the previous album Passing Through, but a little better than The Rule of Beasts before that, which wasn’t up there compared to Materials. It makes me wonder if there’s some kind of boom-and-bust cycle at work, or something in how I present the releases (something about phrasing? day of the week maybe?) because I don’t feel there’s a big wobble in quality going on.

Could just be luck. Even Quincy Jones, producer of (among a lot of other things) Thriller, said it just comes down to divine intervention.

A couple of favorite quotes so far:

Calmly foreboding! (Is that possible?)

Hmm, I guess it is.

A little boring and kind of depressing.

This response actually kind of fascinates me. This comes from a general synth new blog, not specific to modular or to ambient and not really a “community” in the active sense that most forums are. It’s not known to get many comments… yet this person did. I think most people, when they follow a link to music and then don’t like what they hear, aren’t going to spend much time with it and aren’t going to comment. In fact, most people probably don’t comment when they do like the music.

That last bit means I really appreciate getting feedback, of course. But I don’t really take it into consideration when I make music. I don’t tend to get any kind of constructive criticism that I can and would act on.

Many years ago I actively sought peer critique, but not much of it was useful. I think it’d be less so now unless I found exactly the right person with the right insights; otherwise it is just a matter of personal aesthetic differences. I have to stand on my own confidence with these things. Any sort of self-confidence has been a long journey for me.

easy

With about 5 hours of minimal effort last night, Internal Reflections is mastered. Once again, I didn’t really leave myself anything difficult to work with, just a few spikes to manually tame, a couple of generally-too-loud tracks and a couple that benefited from a pass with a compressor/limiter.

I’m sure if I hired a professional who’s used to this genre, like Nathan Moody, to master my work it’d come out a bit better. But I don’t think I can justify the expense as it is. That’s almost a reason to wish I had a bigger audience right there though 🙂

I’m certainly happier with my own mastering work than with super-cheap or free services I’ve heard that seem to either pass everything through a single algorithmic process, or… completely neglect to address major differences in loudness between tracks on the same album so you wonder whether they did anything at all.


I have put together some high-contrast art this time — not the original idea I was going to work with, but I think it’s better — and I’m trying to decide how to work the text in. I might even forgo text, but I have some graphic design ideas for it that I’d like to work in somehow. I also have the concept blurb finally hashed out, and making the patch notes more readable isn’t that much work… so the release will be quite soon!

The Panharmonium got held back for a month for some new software features their testers asked for, which as I see it, just gives me more time to get familiar with the DPO before learning something new. I’ve had a few insights with it — figuring out why the FM felt so wild at first, delineating where the “sweet spots” for less noisy sounds are, and coming up with a set of experiments I want to try.

prismatic!

My Make Noise DPO (Dual Prismatic Oscillator) arrived yesterday.

The other Buchla 259 style complex oscillators and related constellation of similar-ish configurations didn’t really prepare me for the experience of using this one.

The word I’ve settled on to describe the DPO is feral. If you approach it slowly and make no sudden moves, it might let you pet it or eat out of your hand. But it might run away or bite you.

To compare: the Hertz Donut mk2 uses linear TZFM and has a convenient tracking mode that has the modulator perfectly follow the primary oscillator, so it can easily remain true to pitch no matter how intense the modulation. The shaper — while it’s a dirty digital “waveform discontinuity” thing — just has one 3-way mode switch and a single intensity level to work with.

The DPO does exponential and/or linear FM in both directions simultaneously if you want; even the linear FM in the traditional modulator-to-primary direction varies the pitch with intensity. There’s a vactrol-based “follow” feature that tries to follow the pitch input — but not the knob, making transposition less easy — but always has at least some slew to it. For perfect tracking one can mult the pitch to two inputs, but the knobs are still independent. (There are two sync modes for the carrier and one “is it even working” subtle super-soft-sync input for the modulator, which don’t really lock things down to steadiness.) The shaper has three different parameters to choose from, which each make radical changes to the sound (and are radically different from each other).

The DPO is made to growl and wobble and get weird. And that’s a good thing; if I want the smooth Hertz Donut style dynamic FM I can do that with the ER-301, or Rings in FM mode.

It’s going to take a while to really learn the DPO in an intuitive sense. But it’s one of the most exciting bits of synth gear I’ve tried in a while.

onward

I’ve got a bit over 58 minutes recorded for the new album. I’ve just gone through a full listen, and aside from two minor edits, mastering and artwork are next (and I have a solid idea about the artwork). I will still need to bash on the accompanying text, because the initial concept sort of proved itself, but also proved itself trivial? It’s hard to explain, and that’s why I need to work on that explanation some more.

In some sense I feel like the album’s cohesion arises naturally rather than due to conscious effort on my part. Aspects of the composition, sound, feel, etc. just come together a certain way. The previous album was different, and the next will be different again, but this one hangs together. This is a big part of why I prefer albums.


I’ve been playing a lot of Guild Wars 2 recently. I finished the Personal Story for the first time — despite having had several level 80 characters previously. There was some tedium and frustration and eye-rolling, but I made it.

Then I started on the Path of Fire expansion. This skips 3 years of “Living World” story and a prior expansion (and apparently enough happening to the player’s character to make them much more brash and forceful in personality), so I read up on that and… wow. This game and the lore behind it are huge, and kind of crazy at times. There’s a frightening amount of content, past and present.

I was hoping to unlock the Mirage specialization for my character quickly, but circumstances require a bit more effort. Meanwhile I’m mostly enjoying the ride with the story, though the area design — based on training various mounts for jumping, flying etc. — has stymied me a bit. The setting is much more gorgeous and creative than I expected, with minimal “faux Egypt” elements and much more “desert/oasis region with its own rich history and present story.” Overall, it feels like a different game — still partially an open world explore-fest, but far more like a single-player, story-driven adventure.

filtration

My Filter 8 arrived yesterday. I’m pretty sure I made the right choice (instead of keeping QPAS or trading for Three Sisters). It’s as good for basic filter and VCO duties as I thought, is wicked cool as an LFO, and it turns out to be pretty great at waveshaping too. This morning I had 20 minutes to play with it before heading to work, and I had it turning a simple sine wave into an 80’s “brass” synth sound.

And then I happened to spot someone selling their DPO for a fair bit less than I’d seen elsewhere. Reader, I did not close the tab, sit on my hands and wait for Knobcon as previously planned. I bought the DPO and put a couple things up for sale that were previously “trade only.” The risk here is minimal; I know I love the sound of the DPO from other peoples’ recordings, and I know from previous module experience that the essentials of its design are exactly what I wanted. So Synth Farm 2.2 is now settled.


The current album project, now likely to be titled Internal Reflections, has 51 minutes of completed work. I could certainly stop now and move on to mastering, but I think one more song will do. I’ll get that in before the DPO arrives as a sort of chapter close.


The new headphones and mini Bluetooth receiver for the office are working out great. I don’t know why semi-open back headphones aren’t more popular — the sound and comfort are fantastic, there’s still enough isolation for anything that doesn’t require close mic recording or jet engine level noise cancellation, and they clearly don’t have to be expensive either. I’m currently using them to listen to the 4th Ambient Online Themed Compilation, Death and Rebirth, on which I have a couple of tracks. It’ll make for a chill day of listening.

drone day

I just learned about 3 hours ago that today is Drone Day. That is, a day to celebrate drone music, rather than the flying kind (there’s an International Drone Day for that too).

I don’t think there’s anything locally going on for it, but then I didn’t look either. Instead, I made a thing.

If there are drone purists, they might scoff at some of what’s going on. They might say “this is more like dark ambient, not really drone.” That’s okay. I still like it.

one better than Filter 7

…or I could end up selling the QPAS to someone and turning it around into a Joranalogue Filter 8, which ticks all the right boxes for interesting filters and then some, sounds great and I’m pretty confident will not get traded for some other filter in the future.

One of the keys to this choice is, when it’s self oscillating it can be either a VCO or an LFO — and it has 8 outputs at different phases that can be patched back into itself to change the shape. And it also goes slow enough to act as a sort of resonant slew limiter for CV signals. Fun times! And it has both exponential FM (which most filters do) and linear (which most don’t) and a hold function (which none do, and is a bit more like the first Tides version).

CS 101

The Reface CS is set up and I’ve whiled away a few hours messing around with it. It is indeed fun! The warm fuzzy glowing reviews are only a little overstated. The synth’s limitations as I see them are:

  • There doesn’t seem to be any internal limiting/saturation keeping levels sane; the max volume setting for normal synthesis turns into clipped mush if you make the filters self-oscillate. There might be some DC offset or something eating into the headroom too, because it doesn’t sound all that loud… this isn’t too serious a problem, just a matter of a bit more tweaking while working with it.
  • I hate to sound like the people who claim that digital isn’t as “warm” or as capable of solid bass as analog is, but this particular synth does not have much bass junk in its trunk. This is something I can compensate for, where it matters — but I’m more inclined to use it for what it is natively great at instead.
  • The controls are steppy, in the manner of 7-bit MIDI CCs. This is only an issue when trying to slightly offtune filter resonance (a trick I like with Roland SH-101 and clones) and a pretty serious lack of precision in the ringmod oscillator type.
  • The second slider in FM mode adds noise to the mix as well as changing the ratio. This can sound good, but isn’t a choice I would have made.
  • The pitch bender seems to have some built-in slew that I’m not sure I like. Doesn’t really matter much to me since I rarely use pitch bend and almost always edit automation curves for it when I do.

That aside, it is really good at some things. Especially supersaw pads with the phaser lending it a lush 70s “string machine” sound, “singing” organ-like tones with the filter resonance, and some unusual tones with the sync, ringmod and FM types. Right now I feel like I’m going to need to rotate and jiggle things to get the Reface to fit in with my vibe — but that’s a challenge I welcome. The keyboard feels better to me as a controller than the Microbrute.

I dug up my “DJ” “laptop” stand and have the Microbrute hovering above the Reface, but unless I want to steal an input from the modular, right now I can’t use them both simultaneously. I had a dodgy little analog-to-SPDIF converter that theoretically should work with my audio interface, but Maschine has a max of 8 inputs anyway for some reason. If, over time, I find I’m just not using one or the other of the keyboards I’ll likely move it upstairs to the Jamming Room.


Those headphones at work are just not getting better. I can listen to some things without too much disappointment, but others I really can’t — and it just feels like I’m wearing buckets on my ears. I get why people called headphones “cans” back in the day when they were all closed-back liked this.

But all will be well. My favorite pair of headphones, which I’ve used at home for years now for music production and everything else, is the Superlux HD688B with a velour ear pad replacement. If I spent 6 times as much I might get slightly more accurate sound reproduction, but I’m totally used to these. Well, I found a barely-used pair with the pads already replaced, and also a tiny Bluetooth receiver I can attach right to the thing and stay wireless at work.

I’ve finished a first skim through the big Curtis Roads book, and gleaned a few things I might want to play with in the future. I’ll do another pass just to make sure I’m not missing anything since I don’t need to return it for another month. A lot of the book covers material I’m already familiar with, or am not interested in personally working with, and a lot of it is oriented toward academic experimentation and technologies from the 90s and earlier. Overall it was worth looking at but I’m glad I didn’t pay full price to own my own copy.


While I’m overall not planning on doing more buying/selling until after Knobcon at least, I don’t think I said anything about trading. 😀 I went ahead and put up a very specific “have these, will trade only for these” list, and as I did it, realized I kind of miss the Three Sisters filter. Its general sound was my favorite among them, it’s straightforward yet has a few neat tricks, and does FM and self-oscillation really well. I’ve got a potential trade lined up for my QPAS, and if that goes through I’ll just stick with that for my filter needs.