float*

At this point I believe I have recorded all the tracks for album #12. I also have album art ready — my own photo, I just need to slap the title on. I was dithering about possible punctuation that would definitely cause filename issues and probably MP3 tag issues, but decided it’s not really worth the hassle.

The overall mood of the album is… maybe not lighthearted exactly, but relaxed and not taking itself too seriously. That attitude is pretty much the theme, too. It’s not too deep (so to speak) even though I’m kind of returning to the sea with it. Not under pressure like Nereus was though. The opposite of that.

Gear usage on this one seems atypical — no E352 or Natural Gate and very little Kermit, and much less reverb than usual — but when I look over the track notes it doesn’t seem amiss. I was exploring some unusual techniques, doing some stuff with software, and the Lyra and Castle. Finding my way to make something a little different than previous albums while still staying Starthief with it.

Album 13? It might be an Akemie’s Castle study, since I want to dig deeper into the module. Or perhaps a Castle vs. HD mk2 “battle” of sorts. A siege, perhaps… with donuts.

Hertz Donut mk2 vs mk3: the details

I spent much of the weekend with the Hertz Donut mk2 and mk3 side by side. Re-familiarizing myself with the mk2 didn’t take long and I quickly felt more comfortable with it than the mk3. Applying what I’ve learned about FM in the past year, I extended my exploration of the mk2 and compared the two modules in some detail.

I also spent some time with Akemie’s Castle because this is part of my calculations. Direct comparison of that one is more difficult, but my goal is to eliminate overkill and choose what I’m going to be happiest with in the long term. Two Donuts and a Castle is definitely FM overkill, and it’s possible than one Donut and a Castle is too. I’ll say more about that at the end of this post.

Feature set, layout, usability

The HD mk2 has very typical “complex oscillator” architecture: one primary oscillator, one modulation oscillator. The modulation oscillator is just as fully featured as the primary, except it doesn’t feed through the waveshaper. Both can be switched between, sine, triangle and saw outputs and also feature a pulse.square output, and there’s a dedicated XOR output that mashes them together. There’s a single modulation bus which can be assigned to FM, waveshaping, tracking, and/or AM.

HD mk3 is more complex. It has the fully-featured carrier, and two slimmed-down modulation oscillators. The modulators (OpA and OpB) have no sync inputs and there’s one pitch input assigned to OpA, switchable for OpB. There’s one assignable output where you can select OpA, OpB, a mix, or XOR. There’s also a routing matrix where OpA, OpB, and an external input can be assigned to various destinations with different levels — this dictated the interface design to a large degree and necessitated multiple modes and a menu system. This matrix has a single master modulation amount knob and CV.

Mk2 has a waveshaper with three selectable modes. Mk3 has three waveshapers, with modes and menus determining how its single control and CV are assigned.

Mk3 has a small display and a preset saving and morphing system. I don’t personally like it, and wish the module would at least remember your favorite settings on startup outside the context of the preset system. Mk2 also does not remember modes on startup, but the modes are much simpler, accessed by button presses or very simple button combos.

Mk3 also has a Unison mode where it doubles the output with detuned, octave, fifth or fourth-shifted copies. I don’t think I’ve ever used this other than to turn it on, listen, be disappointed and turn it back off; it doesn’t have the depth of the E352/E370’s Cloud mode.

Mk2 on the other hand, has AM as one of its modulation destinations. It’s not very strong compared to using an external VCA, but for more subtle effects or in combination with other modulation destinations, it can be occasionally useful.

Despite the smaller feature set, I find more joy in the simpler setup and feel of the mk2. It just feels more open and inviting to patch. The menus and modal controls in the mk3 feel awkward to me, and the mk3 lacks some of the patch points of the mk2.

Raw sound

The mk2’s raw sine output (with no modulation and no waveshaping depth) has some noticeable aliasing. A lowpass filter at about 4500Hz will clean it up if desired. The waveshaping mode does play some role in the sound even when the depth is at mininum; the orange mode is cleanest. Stability isn’t perfect but isn’t bad. With no CV input and in “VCO” mode, the oscillator ranges from below 20Hz to 3937Hz with a knob turn; max with CV seems to be about 5380Hz (above which, the frequency starts going down as the voltage increases).

Without the waveshaper, the mk2 also offers triangle and sawtooth options from the main output, and a separate pulse output. The triangle seems fairly clean or else is good at masking aliasing, while the saw aliases at higher base frequencies. Again, both are cleaner in the orange waveshaping mode. The pulse output is narrow by default on the primary, though red and green modes act as a width control. It seems to be a square from the modulation output.

The mk3’s raw sine output is clean and free of aliasing. With the octave set to 0 in the menu, the frequency range on the knob is below 20 to only 273Hz; at +2 octaves the range is 69 to 1084Hz. I would certainly have preferred a wider range available on the coarse tuning knob, and an LFO/VCO mode selection rather than octaves. Max frequency seems to go above 20Khz.

I feel like the mk2’s triangle, saw and pulse outs give it an advantage here. I can live with (and even appreciate) some aliasing or filtering as necessary, given the kind of music I make.

Tracking modes

The mk2 has four tracking modes:

  • Off: the modulation oscillator frequency is independent of the primary
  • Red: I think this was literally called “stupid mode” on the mk1. The modulation oscillator frequency tries to follow the carrier’s base frequency (not its FMd frequency), but it does it via random-ish jumps at an adjustable speed, which eventually home in on it. This is a very distinctive and almost never useful sound.
  • Orange: the modulation oscillator is perfectly locked to the primary. This is also rarely useful, as it disables the FM bus; all I can think of to use it for is selecting different output waves.
  • Green: the modulation oscillator follows the carrier’s base frequency, with the knob and CV acting as an offset.

In green and orange modes, the tracking CV and knob act as a phase offset. But the CV is unipolar and doesn’t respond well at audio rates. It’s also a destination on the mod bus, where it reacts better — but since the modulation oscillator always modifies its own phase, the result can be weird. It can be used to disrupt the pitch a bit if used alongside FM, or add some interesting noise textures.

The mk3 has three tracking modes for its OpA and OpB, plus a related mode switch, accessed from a menu:

  • “Discrete” is the default. This is like the mk2’s green tracking mode, except that the offsets are locked to a specific set of pleasant-sounding harmonic ratios. OpA can be fine-tuned off the ratio a little to introduce some beating.
  • “Follow” is exactly like the mk2’s green mode.
  • “Free” disables the tracking.
  • “A-B Link” determines whether OpA’s V/OCT input is also used by OpB (which has no input of its own).

Two of the modes on the mk2 are almost useless, but it’s easy to switch between them. Discrete mode on the mk3 — despite my initial resistance to its being the default — is often pretty useful. I would give this to the mk3…

…except that I found I can imitate Discrete mode for the mk2 with a simple Monome Teletype scene. It sends predetermined voltages based on the knob position into the modulator’s V/OCT input, so I can still flip easily between neat-sounding ratios with a knob turn. With that in mind, I will call this one a draw.

FM

The basic FM character — at least when the mk2’s waveshaper is in orange mode — is very similar between the two modules. When the modulation bus is fed a linear envelope, the mk3 seems to behave linearly while the mk2 seems to have a logarithmic curve.

When in red or green waveshaping modes, the mk2 has more of a buzzy edge to its FM. And of course the modulator and carrier shape selection (sine/tri/saw) can have major effects on the FM.

The mk3’s second operator effectively makes it a 3-op FM synth. To my ears, when OpA and OpB are both FMing the carrier (parallel FM) or when OpB modulates OpA which modulates the carrier (serial FM) it doesn’t sound as nice as familiar Yamaha FM. However, treating OpA as a second carrier and modulating them both with OpB is extremely effective.

The mk3 has a dedicated external modulation input which can be routed through the modulation system. The mk2 has individual FM inputs for both oscillators. Serial FM on the mk2 isn’t nice, but as with the mk3, using both oscillators as carriers modulated by an external source can work very nicely.

Both the mk2 and mk3 also have exponential FM inputs. On the mk2 this is unipolar 0-5V, which is somewhat ludicrous. But on both, audio rate expo FM is not at all clean and not very usable.

Before this test, nostalgia told me the mk3 is smoother and “too clean” at FM compared to the mk2, perhaps more band-limited. In reality, the mk2’s extra bite comes from the waveshaper modes and the selectable oscillator shapes. I honestly feel like this is a bigger advantage than having a third operator for FM, since I can easily use an external oscillator for that. To me, the mk2 wins this round.

Waveshaper(s)

The mk2 has a single waveshaper (labeled “waveform discontinuity”) with three modes:

  • Orange: the cleanest of the three when the depth is at minimum, but immediately the noisiest as the depth is increased even a little bit. It introduces a complex fractal shape, beginning with higher harmonics and then filling in downward toward the fundamental, which remains strong throughout the range. Internal modulation of the amount at audio rates can introduce beating and subharmonics, but the noisy, sizzling character remains.
  • Red: this mode adds a little bit of buzz even at minimum, especially with FM. As the depth increases, it resembles mathematically precise digital wavefolding, with a sine folding over into “cat ears” with sharp edges. Not as smooth as a classic analog wavefolder, but definitely usable, especially with an LPG.
  • Green: this mode also adds some buzz at the minimum setting. As the level increases, the waveform begins to clip at the top and bottom, and then begins folding somewhat smoothly. It can give FM an edge without as much harshness as red mode. When modulated internally, it can sound quite pleasant and combines very well with FM on the mod bus.

The mk3 instead has three waveshapers which can operate simultaneously:

  • PDist: phase distortion, with varying effects on harmonics. As the level increases, it first shapes the sine into a saw-like shape, and then at about the halfway point it yields a smooth double sine/triangle with a strong 2nd harmonic. Above that, it brings in richer high harmonics. The overall impression I get is less of a Casio CZ phase distortion synth and more of a wavetable. Sweeping PDist itself isn’t that nice, but it does combine smoothly and predictably with FM, and modulating the level at audio rate gives results that are buzzy without being excessively harsh.
  • Umbrage: a fractal waveshaper, with a different harmonic profile than mk2’s orange mode. It’s strong in the second harmonic at first and then shifts toward the third, but also rich in upper harmonics. A more aggressive sound than PDist. Audio rate modulation of Umbrage can actually sound smoother than keeping the level static, and can introduce chord-like tones. It also complements FM well, though the tone is particularly buzzy and seems to be asking for an LPG to tame it.
  • Reso adds harmonics progressively, while adding a resonant peak to them. It sounds very much like a resonant lowpass filter, even though it’s being applied to a sine oscillator. This one can’t be the target of internal modulation. I don’t feel it complements FM very well, but it does combine decently with the other waveshapers.

On both models, external audio-rate modulation of the waveshaper is generally very rough. Envelopes and LFOs make better input there.

Before this comparison I would have given this to the mk3, but now I find the decision more difficult. While I think the mk2 sounds better with an analog wavefolder or sine shaper, there are some uses for its modes, particularly the green. On the mk3, I find PDist disappointing, and Reso a bit gimmicky for my tastes since I don’t really use that kind of filter sweep. Both modules have a lot of high frequency “LPG fodder” options.

I think on both modules, the waveshapers compliment the rest of their design and are strongest when used to complement the FM and be modulated at audio rates. I’m going to call this one a draw.

Overall

I won’t pretend that these categories have equal weighting, or that a slight advantage should count the same as a big advantage. But it’s pretty clear that, while my ears do appreciate some of the mk3’s unique abilities, my heart is with the mk2.

Akemie’s Castle?

Using old Yamaha OPL3 chips rather than code running on a microcontroller, it’s a different beast. Four operators with selectable algorithms, and two separate voices with independent pitch controls that work off the common operators. One of the voices has a chord voicing knob. All the operators have selectable waveforms rather than just sines. There are all kinds of quirks with this one — most notably, “leaky” internal VCAs so that some modulation always sneaks through even if the depth is supposed to be zero, and a steppy, glitchy response to changes in modulation depth.

These days I prefer 2op FM over 4 or more, but the algorithms with multiple carriers, or which divide the assignments between the A and B oscillators are useful. Ridiculously thick clusters of chords can be had when combining B’s chord mode with differently-tuned carriers and some of the more chord-like waveshapes, as well as the independent tuning on A. This makes it excellent for drones, and I recorded a piece this weekend which takes full advantage of that. It also does much more old-school sounding FM plucks and, well, cuteness, than the Hertz Donut or other Eurorack oscillators can achieve — a sound I like on its own, but which won’t necessarily always fit in with my musical style.

On the downside: it’s big, and it drinks deeply of -12V current. (And I also think its current position at the top of the case isn’t ideal for experimentation; if I keep it, it deserves to move a little closer.)

One of my options is to keep the HD mk2 and Castle. I will probably worry about the focus vs. overkill issue though. This is a lot of FM, particularly given that other modules, the Reface CS, and software all can also do FM (albeit each in their own way).

Another option is to let go of Castle and keep just the mk2. If I want those big chords I could achieve them with Bitwig Poly Grid or Plogue’s retro FM plugins, or I could layer them in other ways if so inclined. I don’t feel like the plugins are as satisfyingly hands-on or authentically glitchy as I might like, so this does put those sounds at some remove. It does open up some space that could go to a Xaoc Odessa perhaps, or just stay empty.

A third choice would be to let go of both Donuts and keep the Castle. This feels a bit radical and scary, because missing a “real” complex oscillator was the impetus for the big shakeup where I sold the ER-301 — but in many ways the Castle can perhaps step into that space. It has some appeal in terms of consolidation and focus. The features (and cleanness) that Castle lacks are still available through Rings’ FM mode and my two waveshaping modules, plus Bitwig.

I think my next move is to work extensively both with and against Castle. Can I duplicate those big chords with Bitwig in a satisfying way? Can I get close to that retro kawaii sound that way? And, can I get satisfying “complex oscillator”-like results with the Castle and without Donut?

Also: would rearranging my case help? Something’s got to be on the top row, but perhaps I need a rethink here.

it begins

I didn’t mention that I bought the Flexshaper, did I? I did, and it arrived yesterday from Glasgow in a relative jiffy. Signal Sounds is a helpful resource to the synth community, and even though I’m unlikely to ever attend any sort of event there or check out their mini-museum of vintage synths, I am happy to support them a bit.

Flexshaper is pretty brilliant in its flexibility. Basically it takes this:

And lets you set the height of each point, to remap the output to something like this:

That’s essentially what the Instruo tanh[3] does, without any control over the actual shape. One could instead choose something more like this:

You can use it to reshape audio or control signals — whether envelopes, LFOs, pitch sequences or whatever. Add saturation or folding, invert signals, make a simple decay envelope into something with an extra bounce. With a mode button and two outputs, it can convert in either direction between unipolar and bipolar signals, or you could use the knob settings to flatten or invert half the signal.

And then there’s the even more clever bit: CV control over each of those five levels. You can alter an envelope shape with a sequence, or alter your waveshaping with an envelope, or set up a sort of waveshaping tremolo with a quadrature LFO (like Filter 8). It’ll even respond at audio rates, but at lower resolution — so that means it’s also a bitcrusher. You can run audio through the “Middle” CV with nothing into the main input if that’s what you want, or even (kinda) fade between the crushed sound and a clipped sound by altering the input level (since quieter signals spend more time in the middle area, and louder signals proportionally less).

Overall I’m quite pleased with the module. I need to play with it a bit more as a relatively simple saturation tool, but I expect I will go ahead and let go of tanh[3] at the appointed time.

And just a little while ago, I pounced on a used Hertz Donut mk2 at a price I liked a lot. I look forward to comparing it to the mk3. I fully expect the mk2 will win, but I will know for sure after a few months with them side by side.

refocus

Been a few days since my last post — we went to my parents’ place for Christmas, and caught colds, and also my digestion is in some chaos due to switching diabetes meds. And I often write blog posts while at work rather than at home, where I can make music, read, play games or catch up on The Expanse (for instance).

(The Expanse is kind of fun for me for an additional reason. I turn captions on to catch all the Lang Belta, but I get fun bonuses like this:

(There’s also a lot of [pensive music], [tense music], the occasional [dark ambient music] and some [rhythmic electronic club music]. Fun!)



Other than the cold, Christmas was nice. It’s been a year since I got to see my family. Mom fed us very well, especially in the breakfast department where I’m used to just having cereal or yogurt, or a McDonald’s sausage biscuit at my desk at work. We tend to exchange a lot of gifts, and I wound up with a nice Luna ukulele, a variety of books, and various bits of electronic stuff including a hand crank generator that I want to experiment with wobbly CV input to the modular.

I still have another week off, and tonight we’ll be visiting the brand new St. Louis Aquarium which just opened on Christmas day. Hopefully we can fit the new Star Wars movie in sometime as well, if we’re feeling up to it.


In 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons, one of the actions your character can take on your turn is to “refocus” — to wait a little bit for other characters or enemies to go first, and reset your turn’s timing. I feel like I have refocused in terms of my thinking on album 12. I woke up ridiculously early a couple of mornings ago and wound up listening to my recent “misfit” recordings in reverse order… and for the most part, it worked nicely. I found if I drop out most of the ones I was originally trying to match, I have 48 minutes of material with a pretty consistent feel to it. It’s generally more “calm” than “calmly foreboding,” and I think I will run with that. No idea yet for an album name, but it’ll come.


In writing up posts for forums, I’ve come up with gear priorities. While yes, I plan to keep my modular setup pretty stable this year now that it’s in a really great place, I do have some changes in mind:

  • Klavis Flexshaper. Not yet in stock anywhere, this is what Oberheim for some reason called a “Tracking Generator” in its synths — a sort of waveshaping lookup table, where you can map an input to a different output shape. Good for distortion, wavefolding, frequency doubling, rectification, inverting, and generally altering audio and control signals in many interesting ways. I have space for one right now, and I could see maybe having two eventually if I decide it replaces the tanh[3].
  • Hertz Donut mk2: I want to find a used one and compare it directly to the mk3. With both of them in my rack, I will be more easily able to choose a favorite, and sell the other later. My guess is I will choose to keep the mk2.
  • OBNE Dweller and Red Panda Particle pedals: I can’t decide which of these two would be better for the kind of textures I want, but both are on my list. Probably the order will be based on which one I see a good deal on first, and whim. But I don’t feel like I need either of them.
  • Digitech Freqout pedal: I’m mostly just curious about whether this’ll work for me; it’s fairly cheap and there will be little risk in trying it, but it’s not a high priority.
  • DSM03: it doesn’t really distinguish itself in my rack, despite some more interesting audio rate modulation than the Mimeophon. It’s probably going away when the E520 arrives, and I’m only keeping it in place for that sense of stability.

But my higher priority above all of those is working more with the Akemie’s Castle in particular — because I feel there’s a lot more in it than I’ve made use of so far, having been distracted by the Lyra and learning mastering and everything else. And also working more with the sound generating possibilities of Mimeophon, and exploring Via Scanner.

wandering

Warning: anxiety detected.

My mood was off for several days — sad, stressed, frustrated — and then I noticed yesterday much the exact pattern I experienced early in 2018, which was part of the key to realizing what’s my deal anyway.

That is: A day of general frustration. Early in the afternoon at work, feeling like I need to get up, walk around and clear my head. Encountering a crowd of people on my way out of the building (I generally dislike crowds) and annoying clumps of loud people or smokers outside anyplace where I would have had some illusion of solitude. Feeling frustrated at that, and then realizing I can’t escape me anyway. Realizing that there’s not any particular thing bothering me, but anxiety.

So now that I’ve had that, I think that means I’m over the hump and can deal with it.


I feel like I might have lost my way on album 12 — whether it’s my mood, or the overall concept just isn’t really translating to music I don’t know. I’ve recorded a lot of stuff, some of it decent, but it doesn’t seem to be hanging together as a concept, nor consistently up to quality standards of my better albums.

What I’m going to do is this: don’t sweat it! Keep recording things. Put it together later — something is bound to emerge. I have no obligation to release anything, really. Enjoy the holidays, make whatever music comes out, and then just see what happens.

Just for fun, the track titles I have so far:

Spoopy
Tunneling
Comb Jellies
MRRSF (I don’t even remember what this stood for, but it has the alternate title of “SPLAIN!”)
Space Gecko
Dust Settles
Quercus
Press Here
1414
Prisma
Thyme Pilot

crushed

I finished reading PEDAL CRUSH, the third of the “Bjooks” series…

Each of these is a big, heavy, beautifully produced book that’s somewhere between a coffee table book for admiring the art and design that goes into the equipment, and lots and lots of content. They skew more toward the latter, though.

PUSH TURN MOVE is a discussion and showcase of the interfaces of electronic musical instruments, both hardware and software. What controls should be provided, how they should be laid out and presented, and how the instrument or effect should look, feel and behave. It’s a big important subject with many facets. For me it was mostly a matter of curiosity and something of an art object, though I think it should be required reading for designers.

PATCH & TWEAK is all about modular synthesizers: the history, the different formats, the basics, types of modules, patching techniques, and interviews with instrument makers and musicians. For me, it was more of a review but still a fun read in places.

PEDAL CRUSH is about guitar FX pedals/stompboxes. Different categories of pedals, their histories and variations, typical and non-typical uses, why the order of placement matters, technical and creative considerations about amplification, and look and feel. Lots of interviews with designers and musicians again. Not being a guitarist, just an occasional user of a pedal or two with synths, I found it very informative and fascinating, but I was less interested in the interviews with guitarists.

As a result of reading it and doing some online research, I have a new list of techniques I want to try with my current hardware and software — and a short list of pedals that I would like to try myself.

Many pedals are convenience devices for guitarists to quickly dial in their sound and concentrate on performance — a synthesist can replicate them with little difficulty. But in many other cases, there’s something more complex going on, or a specific character unique to the pedal, vital to its sound, which ranges from difficult to monumentally difficult to imitate.

My list right now, in rough priority order:

  • Red Panda Particle: a granular delay with a generally grittier and glitchier character than Clouds. I don’t expect I could imitate most of its capabilities. The older V1 is cheaper, but I’m convinced V2 is worth the difference with its nicer controls, enhanced sound and extra features.
  • Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dweller: a phaser with a delay between each stage — a simple addition which greatly expands the effect’s repertoire into some neat places I’ve never heard before. I tried imitating it in Bitwig Grid to no avail.
  • Digitech Freqout: I have no clue how it actually works. It creates “natural feedback at any volume” with particular harmonics emphasized or isolated. It may not be as magical on synths as guitars, but it’s cheap enough on the secondhand market that I feel like I should give it a try.
  • Walrus Audio Slö: a beautiful ambient delay, heavily modulated and dark and dreamy, which can do extended freezes and gradual volume swells. I think I’d be smart to wait for the E520 first and see what I think of its shimmer verb and other potential ambience though.
  • Montreal Assembly Meet Maude: a BBD delay with random modulation and a compressor. It has a lot of mojo and is widely loved… but I am particularly well covered in the delay department. Again, I think waiting to see how things fall out with the E520 is wise.

There are plenty of other interesting delays out there I could go for. Adineko, Black Fountain, Rose… but I can’t collect all the cool stuff, because that game is expensive and has no winning condition.

starting 2020 a little early

I decided I’m absolutely sure about selling my Dark World pedal, and was tempted by the cheaper Paradox Arquitecto Fictional Space Reverbator. There was one discounted on Reverb in custom colors:

It’s a dual modulated echo that’s pretty much retro, swampy, dubby and ambient. It seems right up my alley. I couldn’t quite imitate the demos with my current hardware and software, though I did reach some other fun places while trying.

The main doubt I have about it is the lack of knobs to control time or modulation rate, but I’ll see how it goes. That was one of my dislikes with the Pittsburgh Verbtronic — but that module also lacked some of the other flexibility this pedal has, and it was annoyingly sensitive to input and feedback levels. If it turns out to be too much of a limitation for me, it’ll be no problem to resell it.


I realized I have 256GB of storage on my phone, which is more than twice the size of my MP3 library — and MediaMonkey has an Android version that syncs to the Windows version. It’s supposed to sync over WiFi, but I haven’t had any luck with that yet — could be the VPN on my phone though. Anyway, this gives me more flexibility in music listening anywhere without relying on streaming, and might shortcut a couple of steps when I buy music on Bandcamp. I’ll still keep my GPM subscription though; it can be good for music discovery or casual playlists.

putting some money where my ears are

I decided to get a bit of a head start on my “support other musicians through Bandcamp” goal for 2020 by paying for some of the albums that I’ve streamed many times, thoroughly enjoyed, but which probably earned about 37 cents for the artists up until now.

An industrial techno-ish duo using hardware modular, Reaktor and Maschine, they have just this one 2017 album and a remix EP… and I want more. Somewhat similar artists include Pact Infernal, Ancient Methods and (sometimes) Shifted, but they’re not quite on the same plane.

This is the kind of music I thought was going to emerge as the direction for Starthief in 2018. I went somewhere else instead.

Hands down my favorite minimal modular album. Just an ER-101 sequencer and a Verbos Harmonic Oscillator, with some delay and reverb. “Patterns” is definitely the right word, and comparisons to Bach are entirely fair.

While my music also tends to employ a minimal number of voices, this album is the opposite in many ways. It’s precise, mathematical, and tidy where mine is improvised, messy and tends to complicate itself.

There are a few artists who merge chiptune with rock guitar — elements of prog rock, metal and jazz fusion sort of colliding with 8-bit nostalgia. Danimal Cannon is among the best of those. The chippy solos and explosions of shift register noise are as intense as the guitar licks.

Dark and broody and a bit gothy synth pop with minimal, vintage analog synths. I just like it.

Where it comes to ambient music, I prefer the more shadowy and textured zones, perhaps not quite “dark ambient” most of the time but not just bright shiny stringlike pads and pretty plucking noises. This has got that texture and murk and mood to it and is firmly in the “what I like” zone.

There are a few artists who… wait, I already said that. Stemage is my other favorite in this category, improving on a couple of 80s soundtracks that were already excellent electronic compositions in their original form. Also he co-composed stuff and played guitar for Steven Universe (the best cartoon ever) and a lot of other stuff.

the 10 year challenge…?

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
Datach’i, System
Figure Study, Figure Study
Johnathan Fitoussi & Clemens Hourrière, Five Steps
Haujobb, New World March
iVardensphere, Bloodwater
Ernst Karel, Swiss Mountain Transport Systems
Kodo, Akatsuki
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… 🙂

the Magic Death Eye of the beholder

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…)

yes, I took a photo of my computer screen with my phone, to capture the “real analog warmth” and room tone of photons 😉

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!