Last night I read another article that speculated on plausible scenarios involving the November election. Overall, it seems clear the Trump campaign strategy has been to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election — an old GOP favorite, where “voter fraud” is used as the excuse to disenfranchise voters in Democratic-leaning areas (who are proportionally more black and poor than not) but cranked up to 11. And of course this fits right in with the cultish, Orwellian strategy of calling the news media and science into question so that the Regime can lay sole claim to the truth. Trump, unless defeated in an absolutely crushing landslide, is almost certainly not going to concede but will attempt to bend space and time around the black hole of his ego.

Reading the article was a mistake.

I dreamed last night of being at a college for some kind of artist residency thing in electronic music — COVID wasn’t a concern in the dream world — when it was announced that the school was closing due to widespread outbreaks of election-related violence. It was perpetrated by right-wing militias and by police forces (which are not that far from being the same thing), but of course blamed on antifa and George Soros…

The scene changed to the school’s auditorium, and the woman in the seat in front of me pulled a small pistol from her purse and started pointing it at people and waving it vaguely around while spouting off some QAnon garbage and accusing me of being an anarchist. And that’s when I woke up. (I realized later it was Patricia McCloskey, of the couple in St. Louis who threatened protesters by waving guns at them illegally.)

Sigh. 40 days until Election Day. 118 days until the next Presidential term begins.

I went ahead and traded my Lyra-8 to someone directly for a Medusa. After both were en route, I got a really weird set of messages from USPS about how the Medusa’s address had been changed and it was being held for pickup in the post office in the sender’s city. So that was another recent worry: had I been scammed or something? After a few moments of thinking about it, it didn’t really make sense. I figured it was a mistake, and yes: the sender had accidentally reversed the To and From addresses when buying the label, someone from USPS figured it out and fixed it, and that looked really bizarre to their tracking system. I’ll still be relieved when it arrives, and also happy I hope. I think Medusa is going to work out very well.

I have also gone for a DAFM Synth Genesis, which sports the Yamaha YM2612 “OPN2” FM chip — as found in the Sega Genesis, and also that MegaFM synth I had been thinking about. This is smaller and significantly cheaper, and though it doesn’t have a dedicated slider for every parameter, I’ve heard it’s pretty friendly to work with. I’ve already familiarized myself a bit with how the synth engine works, since Plogue Chipsynth MD is an emulation of it. It’ll be nice to have the real deal and all its wonky fuzzy noise for drones and textures. If I seriously fall in love with the sound, it might be worth reconsidering the MegaFM (and possibly setting Akemie’s Castle aside).

don’t look now

Good thing I didn’t jump immediately for the Quadrantid Swarm, because I have another thought.

Polyend Medusa Black Analog and Wavetable Synthesizer with Sequencer  (Limited Edition) | Sweetwater

The Polyend + Dreadbox Medusa is another one of those synths I didn’t pay that much attention to upon first release, because of its price and my assumption that I didn’t want a grid-based sequencer.

The price of a new Medusa now is almost down to half what it was and the “special edition” panel shown here also looks better than the original. And as it turns out, that grid-based sequencer is also a touch controller, and it is mighty.

In “note mode”, you can select a musical scale as well as the interval between rows — so you can set it up for handy chord fingering patterns or octaves or whatever makes sense to you. Each of the 64 pads also sends X, Y and pressure modulation signals which can be assigned to synth parameters.

In sequencer mode, each pad not only stores a note value but parameters. If you want, you can have each pad play a completely different sound, set up like a drum machine. Or you can use a row or column to sweep across parameters. Or assign the notes you want to use in your composition to a few pads, and simultaneously play those and parameter pads. You can copy/paste to arrange assignments into a sequence, or just step sequence more normally. I’m not sure whether you can sequence the sequencer’s own clock rate from there, and the sequencer’s motion seems to be strictly linear, but it’s still a pretty great concept.

The synth itself is more conventional in some ways, with 3 analog oscillators (with sync and expo FM) and 3 basic digital oscillators (with non-morphing wavetables). But you can assign them to play in unison, 3-voice mode (each voice is 1 analog + 1 digital) or 6-voice mode — note rotation as you play can lead to some interesting variations. The synth has a single multimode filter, making it paraphonic like the Microfreak. There are no built-in effects, which is a difference from other Dreadbox synths.

There are, unfortunately, some really bland-sounding demos out there which have turned a lot of people away from the synth. But there are also some stunning counterexamples — this is not a boring synth, but rather one that requires and rewards some sound design effort, and at least a touch of reverb or delay. Among actual users, opinions seem to be split — some absolutely love it, some just never quite get along with it.

Many of those best demos are using it exactly as I would, for drones and ambient stuff, and I kind of suspect I’m more likely to be in the “love it” group.

Quadrantid Swarm is a synth made to give instant gratification with weird, angry, dark and/or metallic sounds. It does have semi-modularity and that sweet spring reverb going for it. But overall it is much less expressive and flexible, and I think in the long term, the Medusa would likely serve better.

So as soon as either the Lyra or Reface sells or I encounter an extra-good deal, I expect I will go for a Medusa.

something completely different

I don’t write that much about the games I play, partly because there’s just not a lot of change there. I tend to grab onto a game, or at least a genre, and stick with it for a good long while if I don’t burn out and get bored quickly.

What I’ve been playing for the past several months is Dirt Rally 2.0, Noita, Bejeweled 3, and (in the past month-ish) Guild Wars 2.

Dirt Rally 2.0 is currently doing its second World Series event, in both rally (on trails) and rallycross (on a mixed-surface gravel/asphalt track) categories. The finalists will compete for a $20,000 prize pool, and the rallycross winner also gets to test-drive a real-world electric car that’ll be used in the new eRX2 rally category. But everyone who participates will unlock a car in the game, so that’s nice.

I’m not a serious racing simmer, I’m a filthy casual who plays with an XBox controller, “bonnet view” (outside the windshield in the center of the car), and usually with automatic transmission enabled. I had low expectations going into this. But I’m very happy with coming in just below the top 10% overall, so I guess this post is a brag of sorts.

That still puts me a few light-years away from any sort of prize, as each qualifying round will take only 6 drivers in the final and send two of them to the semi-final. But hey, I don’t completely suck at this game after putting in (according to Steam) 261 hours in it 🙂

I did much less well in the Rallycross qualifying, squeaking into the top third. But then I don’t find rallycross as much fun to drive as roads and trails that go somewhere, which is a bit reminiscent of the off-roading I used to do with my dad in the 80s, with (at various times) a rail buggy, go-kart and motorcycles. Just a lot faster than we ever used to go 🙂

still not an exact science

My Ancestry.com ethnicity estimate has been updated again, as it was in mid-November last year. Here’s what it said before:

And here’s the new version:

However, in the details it does say that Scotland could range from 7%-43%. Most of the rest are within a few percent one way or the other.

DNA and statistics both being what they are, adding more data to the pile and re-evaluating everyone doesn’t necessarily make for a more accurate assessment for any specific individual. Mostly this is just a bit of fun.

3/4 gaffer tape covers the ugly graphic strip on the Microfreak just fine. The downside is, it looks like there’s a piece of tape on the synth. It’d be nice if there was something a little more professional looking. But really this is just splitting hairs.

I’ve decided to let go of the Lyra-8. I like the way it plays, but it is fairly rigid about the way it sounds, and I’m just not into it anymore.

The most likely replacement is the eowave Quadrantid Swarm. Like the Lyra, it has 8 touchplates for oscillators that can be individually tuned. But instead of the organ oscillators, it has digital oscillators with different shapes and a unison mode, two analog filters in series, a spring reverb and a sequencer. It’s semi-modular and can also accept MIDI input as well as its touchplates. From the few demos I’ve seen on YouTube, it has a really nice wide range of sound character and should fit right in.

I’ve put some thought into other options, such as the Moog Subharmonicon or Dreadbox Nyx, but I think I’ve convinced myself that the QS is what I want to run with. I do want to sell some gear before moving it in, though.

a few mini reviews

That ChuWi Hi10 X tablet is pretty nice. Noticeably faster than the Asus, fits in the case that I bought (not perfectly, but close enough) and the keyboard is much more solid and laptop-ish without being overly bulky. Hopefully the thing will last a while!

Planar 2 is a joy to use. It turns out mixing/crossfading/panning with a joystick, and also modulating a bunch of things in a coordinated way, is fun and inspiring. The joystick movement recorder, polar-to-Cartesian conversion mode for the CV inputs, and flexible routing options are all excellent extras. I thought about what I could add to complement the module, but it’s basically got just about everything it needs.

FXDf is not very exciting on its own — but paired with a matrix mixer and delay/reverb, or splitting bands to send to Planar’s inputs or ring modulators or something, it’s a win. Small size, flexible, and funky.

EMW Fixed Filter Bank less so. Instead of acting like a set of bandpass filters, it’s more like an EQ with +/- 10dB per band. That’s often not enough to cut out all of the high end from a signal nor boost the low end where I might want that. It does work nicely in a delay or reverb feedback loop, but I feel like software EQ is better. The jacks along the right side are kind of baffling, since they don’t isolate the bands, are dependent on the knobs and emit almost identical signals to each other. So the FXDf stays and this one doesn’t.

Snails! My spouse bought me some snails to hopefully control the algae in my aquarium. But they arrived super tiny — not much bigger than the micro pellets I feed my fish — and I’m kind of afraid the barbs or maybe even the tetras might have eaten them. :/ Hopefully, they are just in hiding.

I devoured The Bands of Mourning — the third, but not final book in Brandon Sanderson’s “Wax & Wayne” era of the Mistborn series. Lots of laughing out loud, a couple of really dark moments and a couple of really glorious triumphs, and a bunch of new questions raised for the book that was originally scheduled to publish in 2018 but got moved back to 2021 or 2022 by his decision to start another series (Skyward) and another graphic novel and some other projects before finishing Stormlight (10 books), Mistborn (probably 10 books), Alcatraz (who knows how many?), or planned sequels to Elantris, Warbreaker or the Rithmatist. He says he works best interleaving the various projects though, and I guess I can’t argue with the results… even if it will probably be 2035 before Stormlight is complete.

Started reading Elantris which somehow I’d missed before. It’s certainly got a grim beginning. I think once I’m done with this, that means I’ll have read all his published novels except the five existing Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians books and the White Sands graphic novels. Phew!

Not a mini review: I may have a seed of inspiration in mind for the next album. Keeping it to myself for now and letting it germinate.

misc. pt. 2

The Kraftwerk 3-D 2020 tour in North America was cancelled. I’m not surprised, I am somewhat disappointed but mostly relieved. I don’t think even at the end of next month I’d be particularly comfortable packed into a room with 2300 other people, and traveling so much would no doubt be a big risk for the performers.

The other day I ordered a Synthwerks MG-1 manual gate — basically a big chonky arcade button for my modular. They were already cheap and knocked down to half price for this year to celebrate the company’s anniversary. I don’t have big plans for it or anything, but it’s better than a blank panel for the remaining space. If I wind up unracking it, I’ll still have a satisfying arcade button to smash when I feel like firing lasers at someone on the internet…

More powerful than what I posted yesterday: an ex-cop talks about how they are indoctrinated to be the way they are, and what can be done.

Confessions of a Former Bastard
“I was a police officer for nearly ten years and I was a bastard. We all were.”


I’m happy with Carefully Introducing Problems from a musical standpoint. I was hoping for a few more sales, but honestly — for the minimal promotion, my own obscurity, the limited audience for this genre, and being released with a lot of other new stuff on #bandcampfriday, I think it did okay. And I was happy to see a lot of people promoting black musicians’ work and a lot of other folks donating their proceeds too.

Speaking of current events, I have been swayed from my previous position of “cops have a serious culture problem — and Black and Latino people, the poor and the mentally ill bear the consequences. But abolishing the police can never work.” I thought that some amount of defunding made sense — take away the military hardware and most of the handguns for sure. But this twitter thread does a pretty good job of summarizing why rebooting the whole concept of policing makes the most sense.

we have taken almost every single one of our country’s most pressing social issues and handed them over to the police to fix with guns and handcuffs and charges and prison.

In some ways, the problem we have police is akin to the problem we have with health care and the environment: a sort of illusory cost saving that only results in eventual higher expenses, and more importantly, suffering.

For an example of how to do it right, apparently — as with health care — the Nordic countries have it figured out.

I’m happy that the Minneapolis city council, with a veto-proof majority, has resolved to disband the MPD and replace it with something else. Perhaps other communities will follow suit.

I have been on a big Brandon Sanderson kick since nearly the beginning of the stay-at-home orders. I read the extant books of the Stormlight Archive, and then continued to Mistborn. Reading various Cosmere books serially helps one piece together the (so far relatively sparse) connections. It’s kind of like finding out that not only are there whales living under the ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa, they havea different mathematical system than we do but they speak perfect French, and 500 years ago they were personally acquainted with Taika Waititi. I kind of expect something of a “grand unification” to happen by the end of those two series…

In terms of character-driven story and emotional weight, I think Stormlight is the better series overall, but before the end of The Hero of Ages things start falling together like a chain of “I” pieces into their slots in a Tetris game and it’s really something to behold. I was hoping to continue to the “Wax and Wayne” era of the Mistborn world, but I seem to have misplaced those books. For now I’m reading Warbreaker, which is one I hadn’t gotten to before, and am amused to see a little few more hints of connection between the Cosmere worlds. I haven’t read Elantris yet either, so I’m going to have to fix that.

As I’ve no doubt made clear, I am crazy about FM synthesis. One of the quirky things I like about it is how old Yamaha FM synths got kind of crusty and noisy on lower notes. It’s a bit similar to the character I love about Kermit and to a lesser extent Hertz Donut mk2. I think it has to do with low resolution sine lookup tables maybe?

Akemie’s Castle, despite using OPL3 chips and having several other odd and noisy characteristics, doesn’t do this. Hmm .

The SynprezFM app for Android phones does it faithfully. I couldn’t get MIDI to work with it though, so it requires resampling. I did that for one of the tracks on Carefully Introducing Problems, but the processing I did to it took the texture of that noise away again.

I was half thinking about acquiring a classic Yamaha FM synth. I used to have a DX100 back in the day; there’s also the little FB-01, or the YM2612-based DAFM Synth. But any of these would be one more thing to plug in and take up space, and these are not synths that are friendly or fun to program.

Plogue Chipsynth MD — a Megadrive/Genesis/YM2612 emulation plugin — sort of does it. It has selectable noise (and filter) impulses that change with the note frequency, but not quite in the same way. I think it’s probably an acceptable compromise, given that it’s less of a chore to design sounds with it (though got some quirks I don’t yet understand!) and it takes up no space and I already own it.

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.

things like this…

…make me feel like it’s going to be okay.

“We’re not trapped in here with the coronavirus. The coronavirus is trapped in here with us.”

they seem determined to protect each other

English translation of an explanation:

Although everyone, of course, stayed at home to record their part of the song, the adventure kept them busy for several days. “We all had the same soundtrack with a “click” and “tops” on the synthesiser, to launch the different parts and be synchronized. We all played with an earpiece. We all filmed it on our own with our own phones and sent it all in. Then there was a great job by Dimitri Scapolan, from Radio France’s video service, who did the editing. “

There’s a point where I don’t know if it went into some reverb and other processing, or the editor switched to an older recording, but that kind of doesn’t matter. Seriously, I cried a little when I watched this.

goes on

Well into week 2 of working from home. The passage of time is still a little weird. I was surprised this morning to realize it’s Thursday already. Most of my workdays fly by, but other times, I rock the code so hard that I’m surprised how little time passed given the amount I accomplished.

Last night after work my spouse made her spiced roasted root veg recipe, and it came out better than ever. We also had chicken apple sausages cooked over the firepit on the patio while enjoying really lovely weather. I had a bottle of peach soju, and the result was a happy, slightly silly, mellow drunk state that was probably the best I’ve felt in weeks. I don’t drink often or much, and it usually just leads to drowsiness, so that was nice.

I picked up the Humble Just Drive bundle, mostly to get Project Cars 2 at a deep discount and direct most of the money to charity. I might actually never start up the career mode, which had a number of frustrations in the first PCars game — but just enjoy tooling around in various exotic cars, especially the fun little XBow, Mono, Atom, Caterham, etc. The feel of various vehicle types is very different — a roadster with slick tires in wet grass is not your friend — and even the rally cars feel very different from Dirt Rally, with the suspension going SQUISH in a big way.

I recorded 3 more tracks for the castle album, but decided one just wasn’t up to snuff. Another expresses the fear, anxiety and frustration of this pandemic pretty well and I will probably keep it around for its honesty. There’s nearly an hour of music in there at this point, but I plan to record one more before working out the song order and deciding if it needs anything else or if something should go.

As of our last outing, no store nearby has had toilet paper in stock. I tried buying some from eBay, but it turned out the “California” seller was actually located in China and (I could kick myself) had 0 prior feedback and the account was less than a month old. The listing was cancelled by eBay but I’d already paid, and there’s an almost certainly bogus tracking number, so I have to wait a few days before filing a complaint. Meanwhile I happened to snag a case of commercial big-roll TP from Amazon, to be “gift wrapped” in a generic Amazon box to protect its identity from potential thieves. (My uncle lost an order that way.) And then nervously waited a couple of days before they announced it had shipped. So I could say our asses are covered now.