rhymes with sewage

Remember New Age music? It occurs to me some readers might not, either because you’re too young (sigh) or because most of it was very forgettable.

It had a reputation for being deeply uncool, instantly forgettable, vapid. Whitebread or sometimes vaguely Asian-ish or smooth jazz that had all the jazz smoothed out. Relaxation music marketed to yuppies to listen to in hot tubs. Soft piano or acoustic guitar music with any potential for excitement removed; synth music that brought nothing new and didn’t challenge. The music had no friction.

And of course it was associated with the New Age movement, a sort of commercialized and partly whitewashed feel-good mysticism and spiritualism. That probably didn’t help its reputation any.

That movement — aside from being a way to cash in, of course — was supposed to help counter the stressful effects of an accelerating culture and hyper-competitive business world. One might expect to see it rise again, although we do have “mindfulness” and a resurgence of interest in yoga and such now so perhaps that’s it.

Anyway, the musical genre was also something of a catch-all category under which some music of more substance and style and innovation got thrown. For a while in the 80s if you wanted to hear any electronic music, anything that would now be “genre-defying,” anything ambient, you looked under the New Age category at your local chain record store in the mall. That was kind of important, because those were the days when your other option was mail-order catalogs, which you found out about from zines if you were lucky. (That was where I went for darkwave and Celtic and Finnish folk music after New Age fizzled, but before the internet made music discovery easy.) It might actually be fair to say that as a category, New Age had no worse a ratio of good to bad music as most other popular genres.

the cover design is solidly 20th century…

I’m thinking about this now because I’ve been reading The Ambient Century, sort of a history of ambient music from its early predecessors up to the near-present. It is a series of mini-biographies of composer after composer, with occasional inventor: Mahler, Satie, Debussy, Theremin, Martenot, Schoenberg, Varese, Stockhausen, the Pierres (Henry and Schaefer and Boulez), Cage, Miles Davis, Daphne Oram, Xenakis, Subotnick. Then the minimalists: Young, Riley, Glass, Eno, Reich. New Age music and Windham Hill specifically were just covered; then we head into “Ambient in the Rock Era” and “House, Techno and 21st Century Ambience.”

It is mostly very dry, with just the occasional snark or fascinating detail, occasional weird assertions where [citation needed] and some technically inaccurate bits. As with many books about music history, a lot of music of purported or definite historical note doesn’t really hold up as an enjoyable listen today. The book does say that John Cage was more of an idea generator, challenger of the old order(s), and inspirer of artists than he was someone whose work you’d actually want to listen to.

But anyway, New Age music. Vollenweider was pretty neat, I thought — unique in some ways as a composer and sound designer, and honestly the field is wide open for more electric harp music, whether in the more relaxed zone or more aggressive. Enya had authenticity and unique production techniques. Nobody would call Jean-Michel Jarre “New Age” today but that’s where I found his early work, along with Tangerine Dream. I seem to remember even finding Kraftwerk under the category once. Isao Tomita’s work in the “New Age” era probably does (sadly) deserve the label, but his 70s and early 80s renditions of classical music were absolutely brilliant and nobody has yet cracked the code for the sound he achieved with analog synths.

I don’t know if anybody misses New Age as a genre (I don’t) and I’m not sure the music world needs something like it today to gather disparate music under its wing. But that’s what we had at the time.

the road to 2.0

Things are moving. My Dark World arrived last Friday, orders for the ER-301 and 16n have been placed and both have estimated ship dates in 6 weeks. [Edit: 16n now looks more like 4 weeks.] I’ve rearranged modules to make room and put a couple more up for sale.

You know what I finished by Valentine’s Day at the start of last year? Nereus. I have four songs ready for the next one, so making that deadline should be a relative breeze. Due to the no-theme theme, I was thinking of calling the album “Wiggly Air,” but somehow that doesn’t quite fit the Starthief image.

So let’s just say it’s Untitled Album for now. Anyway, getting it done before getting potentially sidelined by learning a significant new piece of gear seems like a good idea.

Dark World is pretty great. I could wish it were stereo, had its own feedback knob (because some of its settings are glorious inside of a tight feedback loop) and had its jacks on the back instead of the sides so it could sit hip-to-hip with other pedals instead of sticking its elbows out. But the sound can’t be argued with, and it’s easy to work with.

Some of the changes for Starthief Studio 2.0 are going to be pedalboard related:

  • Geiger Counter can probably be entirely replaced by one of the units in ER-301.
  • Right now I have Tensor, Afterneath and MS-70CDR as end-of-chain FX. This is kind of unnecessary since plugins do EOC reverb and delay better. But Tensor loves to be in feedback loops with reverb/delay, EQ and a limiter — so I might keep the three patched together, set up the CDR for the EQ/limiter, and just rethink the context they get used for. Or I might sell the CDR and Afterneath and just loop Tensor through software plugins or the ER-301.
  • I might consider a cheap (or even DIY) feedback looper pedal for Dark World, rather than patching through a mixer in the modular every time, as a convenience thing.
  • Monobius, like Geiger Counter, loves to be patched into the middle of a modular patch so it needs to be separate from other pedals.
  • I’m not entirely happy with the S.B.G/Trim/Gozinta combo for interfacing pedals with modular. Either right-angle patch cables or some different pedal interface modules will be happening once I figure out available space in the next wave of module selling.

this album is fire

Ambient Online Themed Compilation #2, Fire, is now available. I have two tracks on it (one also appears on Materials).

Based on what I’m hearing so far of the album, I might be pushing the boundaries of what’s commonly considered “ambient” — but I’m not the only one, which makes me happy.

Brian Eno’s concept of ambient music was “as ignorable as it is interesting,” meant to work on many different levels of attention. I never actually try to achieve that, and I think most other musicians in the genre don’t either. The genre has evolved. It’s not quite a meaningless word, but it’s not quite right.

It would be great to find a more like-minded… er, like-sounding (?) community of musicians to run with. Start our own label, build up a reputation, come up with a genre name that really fits, etc. Nathan Moody uses the word “angrient,” which is kind of clever but little of his music (or mine) actually comes off as angry. I have similar mixed feelings about my own “uneasy listening” tag.

A lot of genre names are terrible, though. I guess the real problem is that words aren’t music, and to know what the music sounds like you have to actually listen to it.

Anyway. I was waiting for this compilation’s release — and to give Materials a little while as a Bandcamp exclusive — before submitting it to streaming services. Those will be ready soon though; meanwhile here is a link to pre-save it on Spotify.

incoming

Someone started a forum thread about what new gear announcements we’re looking forward to in 2019. I half-seriously hoped for no new cool things, because I don’t want to be tempted. I’ll have enough going on!

The Chase Bliss Dark World I pre-ordered (from apparently the world’s last music shop to get it, but the discount was nice) is finally shipping. So I’ll have that to try out very soon. It’s a dual effect pedal with three “world” modes (spring, hall and plate reverb) and three “dark” modes (otherworldly freezes either based on dynamics or time, or lo-fi tape and grit) and filtering and modulation, and I think it will fit my music nicely.

The 16n Faderbank open-source build documents were just officially released, and builders are pricing parts and should be accepting orders soon. The ER-301 is 4 days away from orders opening up again. The TXb is rumored to be available soon too. So it looks like my phase 1 gear plans are going to be completed quite early in the year. (Phase 2 is figuring out what phase 1 replaces, selling those, and evaluating what’s next if anything.)

I made a couple of discoveries this week. One of them was a much better way to export wavetables from the Serum plugin into WaveEdit format for the E370 — so I’ve got some new content for that, and potentially more if I start looking at free Serum downloads again, or using it to build wavetables. Serum’s editor and WaveEdit complement each other nicely, I think.

The other discovery is that Teletype’s “Grid Ops” work without actually owning a Monome Grid, using a display mode I’d previously not noticed. The actual Grid hardware is expensive (if cool) and integration with Teletype seems awkward, but the software side of it gives me a few more options for visual feedback, gate sequencing, etc.

shout out

I have to admit, I was pretty excited that the Black Mirror special “Bandersnatch” had a rockstar game developer suggest both Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra and Tomita’s Bermuda Triangle to a fellow game dev.

“I had both those albums!” (Tomita is better, though. We picked Tomita. TD was all over the movie later anyway.)

release the brain clutch

One of the reasons I like the Lines forum so much is to get peoples’ random insights. Sometimes those come in the form of quotes by other artists. Sometimes they are in the form of art itself. This time it was both:


Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, 1967

I don’t know if I agree or disagree with this statement. I reflexively flinch at “true artist”, I don’t think mystic truths can be revealed except by themselves (and mostly they defend themselves), and “helps the world” can sound more than a little conceited. But at the same time… yeah, kinda.

It turns out the artist thought the same thing.

Anyway, the thread where that was posted, along with some other thoughts about what it means to “figure out how to be an artist”, had my head spinning but also inspired me to overcome the lethargy of the last several days and record something.

Four minutes into the first take, which was going excellently, the phone rang. Oops. Gotta remember to put it in airplane mode next time. The next several takes were flubs, but then I finally nailed it.

I’ve decided that the next album will definitely have no theme. In fact, no-theme kind of is its theme. Action over contemplation.

Some time back, while I was Kemetic Orthodox, I was unsure about my musical direction at the time and did some divination to get unstuck. What came to me were the words “use force.” While a lot of music is about control and dexterity (either physical or mental) and is often a very intellectual exercise, sometimes you just have to pull out all the stops. (This phrase refers to the controls on a pipe organ; pulling them all out makes the thing as loud and dense as it can get. It’s like turning the amp up to 11.)

That’s… not exactly what my plan is here, but the idea is: just turn the synth on and do something.

sharing leftovers

The year being at an end and all, I went through my “2018 album candidates/other unreleased” folder looking for treasure. A lot of stuff got moved to “2018 album candidates/NO” and one was promoted to 2019 because it might show up on the next album.

Share with, no. Burn, maybe.

There were three survivors, all recorded in January and February. At the time, I didn’t feel they fit in with either Nereus or Shelter In Place. I deemed them not dark enough, or 2% below the standard of the other tracks, or something that escapes me at the moment because now I think they’re all right.

Here they are, with the original patch notes and translations to English (more or less).

Opening


1: E370 2OP through NG; gates into Wogglebug modulate Z + Index; Replika
2: Microbrute; PianoVerb
3: BEV
4: Donut, both oscs mixed in uFold & NG, Uhbik-G + Ratshack
4b: NG out from above through A-189; TBEQ, Ratshack, Val Room

The first voice is SynthTech E370 in 2OP FM mode through Rabid Elephant Natural Gate. I’m sending sequenced gates into Make Noise Wogglebug to generate weird little envelope-like things to modulate the wavetable morph and FM index. Through Native Instruments Replika delay.

Second voice is Arturia Microbrute through PSP PianoVerb.

Third voice is Arturia Buchla Easel V (approximately $4900 cheaper than the real thing, and good enough for me until I win Powerball).

Fourth is the two VCOs in The Harvestman Hertz Donut, mixed, through Intellijel uFold and Natural Gate, through (A) u-he Uhbik-G (granular pitch shifter) & Audio Damage Ratshack Reverb, and (B) Doepfer A-189-1 Bit Modifier, Toneboosters EQ, another Ratshack Reverb instance and Valhalla Room.

Phony

1: SH-01A – Runciter, FogCon, HY Delay
2: Donut, uFold, NG – ValRoom, GMonoBass, TBEq
3: Microbrute – Ratshack, Uhbik-T, Replika, Uhbik-F

This should be easier to decipher. The actors here are:

  • Roland SH-01A (which I had briefly, before deciding LuSH-101 was really just as good after having a little perspective and teaching myself some tricks in the hardware)
  • u-he Runciter filter/distortion
  • Audiothingies Fog Convolver reverb
  • HY-Plugins HY-Delay
  • GVST GMonoBass (prevents low frequencies from causing stereo phase issues and kind of sounds more solid)
  • ToneBoosters EQ (I actually use it so often I skip putting it in my notes)
  • u-he Uhbik-T Tremolo
  • Native Instruments Replika delay
  • u-he Uhbik-F Flanger

Scorby-Babbersy

1: Plaits 5 through Disting synced delay (using note trigger as sync source)
Horse, Permut8, Val Plate
2: Busy noise from self-modulated E370, Transient Master (favor transients), TB
EQ, Replika, UberMod
3: Kermit stereo cross-modulating table pos, dynamix, SpecOps, Val Room
4: Lush-101, Ratshack Reverb, TB EQ
5: Hertz Donut, mod square and XOR mixed through NG, Haaze, MTransformer, Replika

The name for this probably came from aiweirdness.com.

First voice is Mutable Instruments Plaits’ Harmonic Oscillator model (the fifth LED lights up green), through Expert Sleepers Disting mk4 in clockable delay mode. I’m giving it the note triggers to sync to, so the delay time continuously adjusts to the time between the last two notes. Through a VST chorus plugin I wrote and named “Horse”, Sonic Charge Permut8 glitch delay, and Valhalla Plate.

Second voice is the E370 with some self-patching going on (there are no voice samples here) through Native Instruments Transient Master and Replika, and Valhalla UberMod.

Third is both voices of The Harvestman Kermit, each modulating the opposite’s wavetable position, recorded in stereo through Unfiltered Audio SpecOps and Valhalla Room.

Fourth is self-explanatory. Fifth is Hertz Donut, with the modulation oscillator’s square output mixed with the XOR output in Natural Gate, with Klevgrand Haaze, Melda MTransformer and Replika.

Material goods

Yippee skippee, the new album is released!

There’s a page of patch notes with a bonus track (which is in the blog sidebar anyway, heh) and some words.  But the important thing is, there’s music.

Any feedback (heh… feedback) is welcome, as is pushing this at your friends who like weird music, your uncle who runs a highly successful dark ambient record label, etc.

It’ll be submitted to streaming services in the next few days (where I get almost a penny per minute of my music streamed… really, Bandcamp is better).

that’s a wrap… almost

I am so bad at gift wrapping.  I think I inherited that from my dad, who is not above using cardboard tubes, newspapers and duct tape to get the job done.  I failed this evening at wrapping a perfectly rectangular package and had to throw the paper out and start over.

I’m doing a better job with the album mastering…. except, it turns out, I’ve been doing it wrong.  

MusicTech magazine’s current issue has a feature about mastering.  I read it, and most of the advice is on the order of “use this $4000 worth software and these $3000 monitors” and uh, no thanks.  But I did learn that editing the beginning and end of a track is “topping and tailing”, and that electronic music technology magazines in 2018 are pretty much overpriced garbage.

I got more specific, up-to-date advice from the first website that popped up on a Google search.  It turns out that in general, you should meter in LUFS (“Loudness Units relative to Full Scale”) for loudness and dBTP (decibels True Peak) for peaks.  Nobody thinks you should compress heavily to make your music as loud as possible, because many streaming services normalize everything to the same volume level anyway.  And while I was being relatively gentle with my own work compared to the previous album, I was still going beyond recommended levels.

I’d been ignoring metering plugins because there’s nothing more boring than that, and I assumed dbFS peak and RMS as shown in Sound Forge were good enough anyway.  But the free version of Youlean Loudness Meter shows the relevant info and how I’m breaking the rules.  (-23 LUFS is a European broadcast standard; -14 seems to be a common goal for streaming audio but the important thing there is more “don’t over-compress”).  And -1 dBTP is a recommended peak maximum so that MP3 converters don’t accidentally cause clipping.

Of course it would have been smart to do this research before “nearly finishing” all 11 songs.  In a lot of cases I think I can just turn it down and be fine, but I’ll double-check I didn’t compress too much.

Sound Forge Pro 10 has been crashing on a semi-regular basis, and it’s a few years old now.  I’m happy to see that it’s not abandonware and there is a new version — though Sony (having bought it from Sonic Foundry) sold it to Magix.  Unfortunately, the demo crashes immediately on startup.  I can use it okay after that as long as I never close the bug reporting window, but it doesn’t say a lot about the potential stability, so I’m not sure I want to pay for an upgrade.  Maybe I will look for another tool in the future, though I do like Sound Forge’s dynamics tool and the ease of crossfading every edit.

master blaster

I’ve mentioned I’m in the process of mastering my fifth album of the year.  But what is that, really? Or what is it to me?

What it used to mean was the preparation of a “master” copy of the final mix, to be duplicated — almost like a mold for casting.  For CDs and DVDs, there’s a digital file of course — but for large-scale duplication, a physical glass master is prepared in a cleanroom with a laser burner and a nickel deposition process, and then a “mother” is created as a sort of negative of that, to stamp pits into the actual CDs.

Mastering requires making some adjustments to suit the limitations of the medium.  For instance, if the difference in bass content between the left and right channels on a stereo LP is too great, it will throw the needle right out of the groove.  Digital media have their own limitations, and some master for specific sound systems in clubs.  “Mastering for MP3” or “for iTunes” might be a little snake-oily, but certainly earbuds or headphones are a different sort of target than a big speaker system.  (Generally, I use headphones throughout the whole process, including as my mastering target.)

Historically, recording engineers found this was the best time to make adjustments to the final mix as a whole, so it sounds as consistent and appealing as possible.  That generally means having a nice balance in different frequency bands, but mostly it means means loud.

Quiet recordings are more susceptible to noise, from random particles and errors in the medium to cosmic rays and other interference getting amplified along with the music.  Also, louder music generally sounds “better” than quiet from a psychoacoustic standpoint.  Some stereos have a “loudness” button which fakes a louder sound by changing the curve.  But too much loudness causes distortion.

Certain kind of distortion sound great.  The sound of the electric guitar is dependent on it.  Different kinds of distortion are involved in synthesis.  Saturation involves nice smooth curvy distortion that sounds “full” and “warm” if it’s kept subtle enough; you can get that by recording to tape a little bit louder than it was designed for.

But distortion can definitely be undesirable, too.  There’s a reason why chords on electric guitars tend to be very simple, such as the open fifth “power chord.”  Distortion creates more harmonics in the signal, and if the harmonic relationships are already complex going in, what comes out will be mushy and gross (technical term).  And a too-loud digital recording is subject to “clipping”, where the peaks of waves are sheared off in a flat, sudden way that is very inharmonic and does not sound natural or organic at all.

Dynamics are important — the balance and change of quiet and loud over time.  Dynamics in playing style creates drama, and is an important element in groove.  Many instruments, such as drums, are highly dynamic in themselves.  But excessive dynamics in a recording can be annoying (when you constantly have to adjust the volume to hear clearly) and cause technical challenges (too quiet overall, subtle details are easily missed, or the recording gets too loud at times).  Often to make a recording louder and more balanced overall, the engineer has to reduce the dynamics through compression and/or limiting — usually in a way that doesn’t noticeably sound like the dynamics have been changed or anything has been lost — as well as “riding the gain” more gradually.

The actual dynamics in a file can include all kinds of weirdness we don’t perceive — lots of little spikes of volume that our ears and brains just smooth right over.  That’s why these tricks can work. Both compression and limiting basically just turn down the volume as the signal gets louder, and back up as it calms down — but the devil is in the details.  At what level this attenuation takes place, how smoothly or suddenly it applies on a volume scale, how quickly it applies on a time scale, and so on.  It’s part science and part art.

(Don’t confuse dynamic compression with the kind of compression that makes an MP3, WMA or OGG file smaller than a WAV file.  Lossless audio compression uses algorithms to represent the same data in less space, and is guaranteed to sound exactly the same as no compression.  Lossy compression removes data that contributes little or nothing to what we can actually perceive, and is generally a compromise between size and perfection.  Blind tests on thousands of listeners have shown that on average there’s a barely discernible difference between a 192kbps VBR MP3 and a CD it was ripped from, and nobody can distinguish 320kbps from the real thing.)

If you lower the relative volume of the spiky bits, you have more room to turn it up overall.  There was something of an arms race or “Loudness War” which reached its peak (so to speak) in the mid 2000s, with Metallica’s Death Magnetic frequently cited as one of the most egregious examples.  Things have calmed a bit since then.

There’s also equalization (EQ) — this is the raising or (more usually) lowering the volume of particular frequency ranges to get a nice, balanced, full sound.  This can be combined with dynamics processing in tools such as dynamic equalizers and multiband compressors.

Of course both EQ and dynamics can be used for “creative” effects as well; it’s common to compress drums more than is strictly natural-sounding, or to “squash” a singer’s voice into a narrow, telephone-like or old-timey-radio range, or to really bring out the breathiness in a voice or squeaks on a guitar fingerboard, and so on.  Usually that’s done as part of the mix rather than mastering, though.

There are a lot of tools out there to help with mastering.  Some plugins or services promise to do it all automatically with a single button or knob, and usually that’s better than nothing.  I have a whole process and a set of tools I use.


I try to get levels reasonably okay in the original recordings, with the compressor/limiter ToneBoosters Barricade.  I don’t push it very hard at this point because I won’t be able to undo it.  The idea here is mostly to keep any unexpected spikes from clipping, and having a good monitoring tool to make sure I’m not recording too quietly with my headphones turned way up or vice versa.

My first pass at editing in Sound Forge Pro does only a little dynamics work to get levels generally okay — it’s mostly about overall sound, good first and last notes, and so on.  I save the more strenuous mastering work for a separate step.

 Sound Forge has a few built-in dynamics tools.  There’s “normalize” which can raise everything to within a certain threshold, either by peaks (safest) or RMS (useful for general “perceived” loudness but risks pushing the peaks too far) and is good at reporting maximum peak and average RMS levels to compare the different songs on an album.  There’s a fantastic graphic dynamics tool that lets you draw the response on a graph, and you can compare to levels shown in a recording.  There’s a “clip detection and repair” tool that’s a kind of gentle compressor that lowers peaks to safer levels.  And sometimes I highlight a section and crossfade into and out of a general “volume” tool to raise or lower the volume in a specific area.

I use other plugins with Sound Forge as well.  u-he Presswerk is a full-featured compressor that goes a bit beyond my pay grade, but I have some standard favorites among its presets.  I’ll almost always try “A Touch of Glue” and/or “AF Master Transparent” to see if either of them brings out subtle details and reigns in peaks a bit, but sometimes neither of them really helps.  Undo is just a click away.  The aforementioned Barricade is also good to try for a big boost; it can produce what looks like clipped-off peaks but in practice are carefully set to sound clean while maximizing overall volume.

I don’t do a whole lot of fiddling with EQ in mastering.  Sometimes I’ll decide that if I cut out some sub-bass I’ll have more room for everything else, or that a particular note or frequency band is a little too intense.  Sound Forge has a good graphic EQ (for more general changes) as well as a parametric EQ (for surgical edits to specific bands).  Sometimes I want to reduce the strongest frequencies a little bit all across the file, whatever they may be, to enhance the timbre and make it “howl” a bit less — for this I use Melda MSpectralDelay‘s level transformation tool, being careful to disable the delay, spectral panning, and frequency shifting first.

EQ changes the dynamics, and often it’s best to cycle between different tools, make small and gradual changes, and keep getting feedback from one’s ears and the various measuring tools in the software.

Write drunk; edit sober.

— not Hemmingway, who wrote in the mornings, avoided alcohol until the afternoon, and was to avoid hangovers.  It was Peter de Vries, and was not meant literally but to encourage both “spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

Between the ultra-close attention this process demands, and the changes to dynamics bringing out more detail, it can expose flaws that were previously unnoticed.  I suspect that sometimes the Firewire connection between my audio interface and computer gets a little overwhelmed, and there are any number of other things that can find their way into a recording.  Usually it’s just subtle quirks of the modules and effects I’m using, or sometimes I pushed something a little hard for effect and got more than I bargained for. I accept a certain amount of this as a part of the process and the charm of working this way, and I’m sure Tony Rolando would agree.  Sometimes I even bring these “flaws” out intentionally, such as enhancing background noise through manipulating dynamics and EQ — or creating the noises intentionally via modular or plugins.

But other times I want to repair things.  Smoothing them out is rarely as easy as using Sound Forge’s “Clicks and Crackles” automatic tool, which has a penchant for making things worse.  Sometimes I just need to zoom way in and literally draw a smooth curve over where there was a sudden jump, an edit affecting the tiniest fraction of a second.  Or it might require some careful copying and pasting from another part of the file, being especially careful to keep the transition smooth, or just cutting out a tiny bit and stitching the edges together.  Reverb can smooth things over so long as it doesn’t cause a sudden shift in timbre, or it’s done in an intentional-sounding way and fits in with the busy things that are already present.  Sometimes mixing in something else will help mask it.  There really are no hard-and-fast rules, and this bit can be time-consuming, but persistence usually pays off.

One of the goals of mastering is consistency in volume levels across an album, and generally in line with other music of a relatively similar nature.  My goal is to get them where Sound Forge’s Normalize tool reads about -0.3dB peak and -10.5dB RMS. 
I wouldn’t read too much into those specific numbers though, because other tools are likely to report differently.  (0db is the maximum possible level in a digital recording; “bigger” negative numbers are quieter.)  That allows a little bit of room for the playback device to hopefully not clip, and seems to match the volume levels of other modern albums.  I’m not too worried about a little deviation here, as long as it doesn’t sound so different from one song to the next that you want to reach for a volume control too frequently.

This sort of work can be tiring to the ears and mind, so I break it up a bit, get the headphones off and reset myself.  Mastering Materials has seemed particularly grueling so far, but of course I hope the result is worthwhile.