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.

time keeps on slipping

To keep this story short:

  • Stay At Home order issued Saturday at 3PM, to take effect Monday at 12:01 AM.
  • My shift began at 7 AM Monday. I worked from home, quite productively, until:
  • At noon, there was an email from the boss declaring we are an Essential Business and everyone would continue working from the office.
  • I drove in. My supervisor said I should probably raise my concerns with the office manager (and mentioned several people were frustrated and upset and putting the pressure on to switch to WFH). I did so, specifically mentioning being at High Risk due to medical conditions, and was given permission to work remotely.
  • Tuesday the entire dev team did a “trial run” of WFH all day, with a conference call in the afternoon with the boss and IT guy to report on how it was going.
  • Shortly after that, it was announced that the entire staff would WFH until further notice, starting Wednesday.

So there’s that bit of drama settled, thanks to worker solidarity and also just the reality of the situation, I guess.


I know I’m privileged here, despite the medical risk factor. I still have a job, which I can do from home, and the business is extremely unlikely to evaporate. While my spouse can’t do her normal work from home, she’s still being paid too and has some “homework” to get through. We have a little bit in the bank, not a ton especially if we lose medical insurance, but it’s not nothing.

But of course this is all still upsetting and disorienting. Routines have been broken. Some of them probably broken forever. Others will, like a broken nose, heal up in a somewhat different shape.

We don’t know how long the crisis is going to be a crisis. I’ve read some opinions about what is necessary to fix both the medical and economic aspects of it, and they are going to require politicians to step up and take real action. I’m not very pleased with Trump being at the wheel for this, nor with either four more years of him or Biden taking over. Somebody like Elizabeth Warren or one of the Squad, sure.

On a personal level, I feel like my sense of time, the rhythm of the day, has been messed with. Our restaurant-going habit has a very different rhythm than eating at home, whether it’s cooking and doing dishes or just digging into leftovers or frozen dinners or whatever. Sitting down to the same computer I use for music production and gaming, instead of commuting to work, taking lunch and walk breaks, etc. feels very different too — although so far I find my workday feels like it passes more swiftly and I’m getting more done. I’m sure it’s weirder for my spouse, who’s on no particular schedule at all now and has a few days’ head start with the weirdness.

My Prius gets 400+ miles to a tank of gas. I just filled it last week. It could be May or even June before I buy more gas.

With all of this going on, I haven’t felt much like making music for several days. I’ve just been playing games and repeatedly checking news sites. I changed that this evening, and recorded “Valaskjálf” for the Castle album. I engaged in FM overkill: layering Hertz Donut with the E352’s linear FM, layering Akemie’s Castle with Rings’ FM mode, and exponentially FMing Kermit with the other Rings in FM mode. I didn’t even bring in FM Aid or use filter FM, but I used the VCFQ as a quadrature LFO, Filter 8 as a highpass filter to keep the E352’s FM clean, and Ripples mostly as a VCA. And I layered in a few small fragments of a previous recording that I’d decided to reject as a song in its own right. The result is a pretty noisy song that kind of expresses the fear and frustration of the past few days, now that I could get it out. But I hope that I can go back to more calming music again, because that’s what seems to be needed.

closure

We’re now under a stay-at-home order and I’ll be working from home for the first time starting about 15 minutes from now. It’s not very comforting that we have no official contact from management about it, and it makes me wonder if heads are still buried in sand or if they’re just bad at communicating outside the office. Either way, the foot-dragging on this most likely means not everyone is going to be ready and able to work from home yet. I don’t envy our IT person.

I’m ready and willing though. I’ll have a clearer idea of how this goes later, but I kind of think this should be the norm in order to reduce emissions anyway.


The other bit of closure is that I’ve bought a used Zorlon Cannon mkII, and that will “finish” my modular. No more available space remaining (given that I’m reserving a big slot for the E520), nothing else that I feel I need, no plans to change anything. It could still happen of course — maybe there will be some future must-have module — but overall, it’s complete.

The short version of Zorlon Cannon: it has two sections, each of which can run at a different rate, and can generate either 4 random/patterned gates and a related CV output, or four Atari 2600-like audio channels and a mix of them, depending on their rates. I’ve heard it used to generate fantastic drones, and CV generation method isn’t far from techniques I’ve used in the past with multiple gates and a matrix mixer. So this should be a fun one to play with.

The name comes from the 1982 Atari game Yar’s Revenge, which was wildly original for its time. The 2600’s TIA (Television Interface Adapter) chip, which handled graphics and sound and input in the most awkward way imaginable, uses linear feedback shift registers (LFSRs) not too dissimilar from the ones in the module, for various purposes including sound. Yar’s Revenge leveraged that nicely with an eerie sort of ambient drone soundtrack.

this.

It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay

We’re all in mourning from the death of normalcy.

This is what hit me yesterday afternoon at work as I took a walking-around break, reading news on my phone.

This pandemic is an event that will have a lasting effect on people, and on cultures, local and worldwide. More so than something like 9/11, I think.

What it’ll do to politics is anyone’s guess. Will it lead to more authoritarianism? Or will people stop tolerating the casual cruelties of capitalism, once they realize that some of them can be relaxed? Will we come out of this with a stronger social safety net, a less divided nation? Or a lot of dead poor people and a broken economy and discouraged generations?

sometimes things happen fast

I guess there’s not really any need to document the progress of COVID-19 and various government and business and populace response to it in general. The situation here in the St. Louis suburbs is about the same as in many places, give or take minor variations in timing and in strength of response.

There was no official word from my company until literally just now, after I started writing this post: “The office will remain open and we are preforming business as usual until further notice.  We are constantly monitoring the situation with COVID-19 and will send an email if anything changes. We ask that you stay home if you are sick and communicate with your supervisor.”

I find this pretty frustrating. I don’t believe our business has any actual barriers to working from home. We already have four remote employees on three continents. But maybe now that something’s been said, I won’t have an anxiety attack once or twice every workday like I was for a while. It’s very weird here at the office complex and surrounding plaza; the parking garage is more than half empty, the restaurants are grim and mostly empty and smell strongly of bleach. “Business as usual” seems very unusual right now.


And yes, I feel weird about having an album called Shelter In Place. I was thinking of environmental-related threats and the general political climate. I thought about pulling it from my Bandcamp, but I don’t think I will.


In the music world, I recorded a bit more for the castle album, rejected one, and really like where the others are going. I’ve got a patch idea I’m eager to try, with multiple FM oscillators playing off each other.

In gaming, I’ve gradually worn my Steam Controller’s left stick down to a lopsided lump and replaced it with an XBox One S controller. The feel is a bit different, with longer throw on the trigger buttons, but my hands are getting used to it. Unfortunately in Dirt Rally 2.0 I’m stuck in the Elite class for career championships — due to a lucky win in the H1 class in Pro — and subsequently coming in 25th place out of 30 didn’t bounce me back down to Pro. So I’m kind of avoiding that mode and trying to fill in other driving modes instead. I might wind up walking away from the game for a while to go with Project Cars 2 or something, despite its flaws.

I also started playing Black Mesa, now that it’s officially finished. This is probably my the 4th or 5th play through one variation or other of Half-Life 1, including an earlier and much less finished iteration of Black Mesa. The initiatory tram ride felt a little wrong, with different music and a different voice, but it’s nice having more up to date graphics, additional dialog etc. With the graphics settings I’ve been using, the flashlight has problems with shadows and sometimes is utterly useless, but at least it can be turned on continuously.

In an interlude between Expanse novels at the point where the TV show has covered and where it hasn’t gone yet, I’ve inserted a couple of other books. One of them was Racing the Beam, a book about Atari VCS/2600 development from the perspective of “platform studies” and how various platforms affect creative arts. The VCS was really a super-primitive machine, designed mainly to play Pong and Tank and similar simple two-person games which is what people imagined games would be, with a lot of cost-cutting that probably multiplied development costs considerably. The variety of games that were accomplished on it, and the precedents set for video game genres, are really a testament to the ingenuity of programmers that Atari wanted to keep anonymous and relatively unrewarded (leading to the creation of Activision, who really pushed the envelope).

Now I’m reading Two Cheers for Anarchism, a social science professor’s “fragments” of thought on anarchism. He doesn’t avoid criticizing its shortcomings and pointing out the inherent paradoxes, while also praising its good points, and it’s been an interesting read so far.

something in the air

I just fired it up a little while ago, so there’s about 7 hours of listening to go before I’ve heard the whole thing — but Ambient Online Themed Compilation 08: Air is now available.

As has been the case for most of them, I have two tracks on it. Here’s what I wrote on the AO forum:

“January March”, very much about bitterly cold winter air, is mostly the Make Noise Mimeophon in self-oscillation, with heavy processing.

“Troposphere” is an improvisation on the Lyra-8 processed two ways in parallel:

  • through a Doepfer A-196 PLL which tracks its pitch, an envelope follower and VCA for dynamics, a filter to roll off the square waves the PLL generates, into Mutable Instruments Clouds for pitch-shifting and granular reverb. I was going for a variation of “shimmer reverb” but it’s more like a sort of steam whistle lead voice.
  • more simply, through Catalinbread Adineko and Mosky Spring Reverb pedals and EQ.

The “piano loop” in it is actually the SynthTech E352 captured in a loop by Mimeophon, whcih I manipulate a little in the module, but also timestretch a bit in the DAW. I also used the loop to train a noise reduction plugin, which I then applied to the full mix to quiet and disrupt the loop somewhat, making it a bit more ghostly. This is a technique I’m going to have to explore more in the future I think.


I guess this is the coronavirus post. I hope there don’t have to be too many of them in the future…

Being almost 50 and diabetic and apparently susceptible to every bug that goes around, I’m trying to be cautious but not worried. My spouse has had pretty serious pneumonia in the past and is on meds that suppress her immune system and works with the public, and again, I’m trying not to be worried about this. My mom has postponed a regular checkup for her heart condition, not wanting to sit in a waiting room with sick older people. (Every checkup so far has given the exact same lack of any bad news, so she’s not too concerned about postponing by a few weeks.) A family friend is an IT consultant who has worked at a location where someone has had a confirmed case of COVID-19 — it’s not like he can just stop taking jobs for the next few months. One of my coworkers is going on a Disney World vacation at the end of this week.

I have made soap and hand sanitizer very frequent visitors in my life, and gone through catalogs of songs to figure out what takes about 20 seconds. (One verse of “Particle Man” is pretty close.)

News reports aside, in regular shopping I haven’t personally seen evidence of shortages, but I haven’t specifically gone to drugstores looking for hand sanitizer or isopropyl alcohol, etc. We did just have our first case reported in the state today.

If it weren’t for actual people dying, and some governments getting heavy-handed with restrictions while others fumble around pretending there’s no real new story, I would kind of be amused at the repeated “don’t worries” from our company’s financial advisor, a clear sign that they are worried. Just a minor setback, just the market closing to prevent a total wipeout, here I’ll send your office a gift basket of snacks. If only we could find a way to reduce oil consumption, greatly reduce pollutants in the atmosphere, kick Wall Street in the teeth, and stop Trump from taking credit for “success” that he has nothing to do with, that didn’t involve people dying first, and impacting the livelihoods of workers and the poor more than the rich. If only there was some way to take care of everyones’ health…

plans? what plans

Rather than selling my Cold Mac, I wound up trading it for a Random*Source Serge VCFQ. That’s a filter, designed by Serge Tcherepin for his own modular synth format, adapted to Eurorack format as a DIY kit, built by someone else.

Based on some feature similarity, I believe VCFQ is what inspired the Joranalogue Filter 8. They’re not identical right down to the core, though. I think VCFQ sounds a bit sweeter in most respects, while Filter 8 has a generally more complete feature set. VCFQ is better for pinging, Filter 8 better for self-oscillating. I’ll leave aside any further comparison details, and just say that I plan to keep them both, while further investigating Ripples to decide whether it’s going to be a long-term keeper.

I’ve also got a trade offer for my Hertz Donut mk3, for a second Stages. Stages can be linked together to seamlessly group segments from one module to the next, so two of them could be used for a 12-step sequence for example. I’m considering taking the offer, though it means replacing Supercell with Typhoon becomes a whole lot less optional, and it closes some paths to future expansion. (I was kind of thinking about Morphagene/Phonogene or some other “tape loop” module, but I expect the E520 will cover that ground admirably anyway.) I was already considering replacing Contour with some other modulation source but the case for doing so wasn’t terribly strong. Another Stages could easily be that source, though!


I’ve just finished reading Leviathan Wakes, the first novel of The Expanse. The usual refrain about these things is “the book was better,” but I’m not sure that’s the case here. I think the changes made for the TV series were mostly well chosen. Lang Belta is definitely better onscreen, since they consulted with a linguist to develop a more believable creole than the English-with-abysmal-Spanish-and-some-German-loanwords mess in the books; even the authors admit that.

It’s a little unfair to compare the first book with the whole 4 seasons of the show so far, but Alex, Naomi and especially Amos all come off as more developed and complex in the show. Having the UN/Earth completely at a distance, with no Chrisjen Avasarala as “Grandma Who Takes No Shit From Anybody”, and no particular Mars loyalty from Bobbie (which came later in the show anyway) or homesickness from Alex, removes a lot of political complication and multi-dimensional sympathy too. Part of the reason I want to go ahead and read the rest of the books at this point is to get to Chrisjen and Bobbie.

On the other hand, the book felt like a balance between Holden with his righteous but naive heroism that frequently backfires, and Miller’s cynical but persistent style. Considered on its own merits rather than balanced against the show, it worked well.

not even a hot take

I have to get this off my chest, I suppose.

It should be no surprise that I find Trump disgusting, embarrassing, and in basically every way terrible; almost everything he has done is the exact opposite of the right thing.

But if Bloomberg gets the DNC nomination, I am going to abstain from voting in the Presidential general election.

I don’t much like Klobuchar, Buttigieg, or Biden. But I would vote for any of them against Trump without flinching, if it came to that.

Bloomberg is just as racist, sexist, fascist and cruel as Trump. He’s richer — the 9th wealthiest man in the US, which is absolutely not a sign that he has regular peoples’ best interests at heart. He’s less of a buffoon in his demeanor, but not really less of an idiot in terms of policy.

Bloomberg was a Republican until 2018 when he officially switched parties for the sole purpose of running against Trump. He endorsed George W Bush and supported the Iraq War, and called Obama “arrogant” and blamed him for “racial division.”

His “stop and frisk” policy as NY mayor was disastrously racist. He claimed in 2013 that they weren’t stopping enough minorities and were stopping too many white people. Of course now he claims to have reduced stop-and-frisk by 95%, but that was after he increased it by 605% and after a federal judge signaled he was about to rule against the policy. He claims credit for a reduction in the crime rate, but similar reductions have been going on since 1990 whether there were 11,000 stops or 686,000 stops per year. He vetoed proposals to increase police accountability (and was overruled by a supermajority).

He spent 12 million dollars to help re-elect Pat Toomey, PA Republican senator, who squeaked by with 1.5 points over the Democratic challenger; if that hadn’t happened we wouldn’t have Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

He believes any public healthcare program should deny care to the elderly rather than “wasting money” by treating them. He literally said it out loud.

Also he’s transphobic.

His entire campaign is based on the lie that he’s the only one who can defeat Trump, with a sort of it-takes-one-to-know-one logic that’s not exactly flattering. There’s actually no reason he couldn’t have done that as a Republican in the primary, except that he also wants to stop any useful progressive reforms that might tax the super-wealthy.

Yet the same talking heads who complain about Bernie not being “a real Democrat” are happy to throw in with Bloomberg. Millions of dollars in advertising are at stake, I suppose…

I honestly think if Bloomberg gets elected by buying his way into it through the Democratic party, in some ways that’s actually a worse sign than Trump’s election through populist appeal to fear and prejudice. Or, call it a second bad sign maybe. It’d more or less be the end of the Democratic party as anything meaningful and supportable.

That goes double if there winds up being a contested convention, with Bernie having a plurality of delegates but not a majority, and the establishment throwing it to Bloomberg. Right now, FiveThirtyEight is putting the odds of a contested convention at 38%, a Bernie win at 36%, Biden at 14% and Bloomberg at 7%, for whatever such an early prediction may be worth.