not sorry

I am posting this here to stop myself from replying again in a thread that has gone pretty far off the rails:

I don’t like Radiohead.

It’s the vocals — the sound for sure, and possibly the lyrics if I could get past the sound, which I can’t. That’s it. Same reason I don’t like VNV Nation, even though some of my friends thought I would.

Some have called them “whiny”, but honestly, I liked the Smashing Pumpkins and it’s a real challenge to out-whine Billy Corrigan. So that’s not it.

Before today, I couldn’t have told you what they sounded like or named any of their songs. I did know a couple of album names, but wasn’t 100% sure they weren’t Coldplay albums instead. I figured I’d give them a chance, since several people were saying the band inspired them into electronic music. But: no.

I do understand why they inspired the right people at the right time and place, but the hype is just too much. I do not believe that a single Radiohead performance on Saturday Night Live was the driving force behind the 21st century resurgence of modular synths.

I don’t believe they were as influential as Kraftwerk or King Tubby or Trent Reznor.

I especially don’t believe they are “the Beatles of Generation X.” As someone else put it, there is no Beatles of another generation and the comparison is silly. (Not to mention, they were a few years too late to have deeply imprinted on Gen X.)

let’s go away, blues

(Yeah, I live in St. Louis, and hockey fever is rampant right now. Every time I see an “LGB!” sign I want to change it to “LGBT.” Otherwise I don’t care one way or the other and find it all kind of amusing. I just thought it was a clever-ish pun on the subject at hand:)

The Sad State of Happiness in the United States and the Role of Digital Media

This chart will probably surprise no one:

(I do notice a pretty big additional drop in happiness in 2016. I can think of something that happened in 2016 which affected the happiness of a lot of Americans, but that’s not what this is about.)

This one has some non-surprises and a few big jolts, though.

I (and probably most people) need to prioritize adequate sleep. (It’s supposed to be better for blood sugar, anxiety and other things as well.)

Watching TV news (and radio news) is positively correlated with happiness, even though TV overall is not? As is homework, a little? And people still go to video arcades?

Reading books isn’t on here at all. I wish that surprised me.

The generic “leisure time alone” counts as a phone activity?

But the big one here is that listening to music (marked as a “phone activity” because that’s how kids do it) has the strongest correlation with negative happiness. I’d probably be a lot sadder too, if I had to listen to much current pop music…

But seriously: there are notes about correlation vs. causation in the article. It’s possible that listening to music has the strongest reverse causation, being the thing that’s easiest to do when you’re depressed. The circumstantial evidence pointing toward social media and “screen time” leading to unhappiness really doesn’t seem to apply to music.

Is there anything I can or should do about this as a musician? Am I contributing in some small way, despite everything, to the unhappiness of the human race? Or am I making things a little better for those having a rough time? (To quote A Closed and Common Orbit, “…she taught Jane about something called music, which was a weird bunch of sounds that had no point but made things feel a little better.”)

Okay, it makes things better for me, at least when I keep the right frame of mind… and I am pretty sure that my music isn’t secretly being listened to by millions of 8th and 10th graders. I’ll keep going 🙂

(th)inking

For many years now, I’ve thought about getting a tattoo. Mostly not seriously, but sometimes more seriously. Indecision about what to get and whether I really wanted it has always held me back.

At one point I was interested in “invisible” tattoos that glow under blacklight. I like the symbolism inherent in a hidden thing that only reveals itself under certain circumstances. The downside of those is that they’re not really “invisible” because the scars still show, apparently.

When my spouse did the cool pyrography design for my modular case, I thought the central element of it, inverted, would make a pretty cool tattoo design. It’s got a star of course (gotta have that), and spirals that are somewhat reminiscent of both wind and my spouse’s own tattoo. It bears some coincidental similarity to the “Sesa Wo Suban” symbol which apparently means “transform your character,” and also to symbols for “void” in various fictional settings.

I’ve got some other thoughts about symbols that are personally meaningful that would work for a tattoo. I doubt I should cram all of them into a single design, though. (And once again I shake a metaphorical fist at Starbucks for ruining any combination of mermaid and star I might have otherwise run with…)

The reason I’m thinking of this now is I’m reading Becky Chambers’ A Closed and Common Orbit, wherein one of the main characters has a fascinating conversation with a tattoo artist. What resonates with her — and with me! — is the idea of a tattoo as unifying mind and body. Turning a mental image into a physical one; exercising some control over a thing that doesn’t always cooperate with our mental images.

And then coincidentally, someone on the Lines forum started a thread about tattoos (from artists’ perspective). And I overheard someone at lunch talking about getting a tattoo, too. Bauder-Meinhof phenomenon or not, I was paying attention.

Of course, the most likely outcome is I’ll think about symbols for a few days and then not make any decision about a tattoo. You never know, though…

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

in lost Carcosa

Did I mention here that the next Ambient Online Themed Compilation is going to be “Death & Rebirth?”

And of course I mentioned I was reading The Laundry Files. Which features necromancy — and specifically, a very disturbing bone-white violin carried at all times by a “combat epistemologist” and music theory professor, who’s occasionally sent on missions around the world to neutralize the worst hauntings and cults. The agent finds all this traumatizing but the violin loves to feed…

Anyway. Yes, I did the thing.

up

I’ve been told that episode #23 of Sonic Tapestries — a radio show on London’s Resonance FM — featured ambient music using modular synths, and specifically one of my own tracks. I wasn’t told which one though. The specific episode hasn’t made it to the archive as of this writing, but hopefully soon. I’m eager to hear which one was used, what they said about it if anything, and especially what other music it shared the show with. The show is described as “a sedated sojurn through worldly, mystical sounds past and present.” Hmm.


I might not be thrilled with my job, but I’m glad to be back to work after spending Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in sick-limbo. Still got some congestion, but I’m about 80% functional.


Sampling Modulator is pretty neat. Kind of mesmerizing to watch those 8 LEDs flicker sequentially through the steps. My first attempt to use it with the PLL to multiply a clock tempo didn’t work, but at those speeds I can use Teletype or Marbles for that anyway; its strength is more in manual control, rates that are fast enough for audio or clocking the BBD, and of course the built in sample-and-hold that gives it its name. I can’t help but think a slew would have been a cooler addition than the fine tuning knob — making it more akin to Sport Modulator or Wogglebug — but I’ve got that available elsewhere anyhow.


The latest in the MW story is a post from Chris Meyer of Learning Modular and the Patch & Tweak book. Alongside more general praise, he reveals that back in August, Mike was talking about changing “MW” to something else, and in fact had preemptively registered the domains “ModularWorld” and “ModuleWorld.” This puts things in a somewhat different light from the years-ago post that said “I know it’s a puerile name but it’s not hurting anyone” and makes me a bit more hopeful.

Mind you, some of the current moderators on the site sure don’t give me any warm feelings.

sniffing and reading

Sinus congestion and its usual entourage of symptoms, plus extra back pain from sleeping poorly/in the recliner, have been keeping me down for the past few days — so I have been spending more time reading than diving into musical projects or accomplishing much else.

The Erich Fromm books I picked up were not as mind-blowing as I could have hoped. It’s partially that he was less radical than some things I’ve read in the last couple of years, partially that the subject matter only partially intersected what I was looking for, and partially that the titles and descriptions of posthumously published books might have been a little misleading.

The Art of Living is definitely more on a personal psychological level than a sociopolitical one; the idea behind it is to be “more authentically human” through self-knowledge (meditation and psychotherapy) and resistance to materialistic/consumerist modes of thought. On Disobedience is a bit of an anti-bureaucratic manifesto with equal disdain for capitalism and communism; it repeatedly decries nationalism and the nuclear arms race, praises Bertrand Russell, and provides an outline for a humanist democratic socialism.

The most important point he makes isn’t the details — he’s not an economist — but the general drive to put people first, and make the economy serve humanity instead of the other way around. Rather than abolishing property, seizing the means of production, or even an emphasis on income/wealth equality, the goal is to provide for everyone’s basic needs and education and to put businesses under partial social control of their workers and community. Work should be fulfilling and something to take pride in, rather than mind-numbing and dehumanizing. Anyone should be able to leave their job at any time to pursue further education, a career change, creative pursuits, etc.

It might be somewhat idealistic, but I prefer that to the “capitalist realism” that says that the unjust state we’re in now is the least worst possible option available.


After that, I blazed through The Apocalypse Codex and am well into The Annihilation Score. When I can’t sleep very well and need to sit up to relieve the congestion as much as possible, I get through a lot of reading. So far it seems like the Laundry Files series gets more intense with each successive book. Codex is the first to be told from the POV of someone other than Bob — in this case, Mo or “AGENT CANDID” — and I think the author scores about a 90% on making it feel like a different narrator. (In The Black Company novels, one of my favorite fantasy series, the narrative voices blur together much more and don’t feel quite as much like a real character as the people they write about.) There are two more of them on my shelf, then I’ll have to dig up The Labyrinth Index to catch up fully.


The one thing I have been doing musically is trying out the Rainmaker, which arrived yesterday afternoon (thanks to my spouse picking it up from the post office; no thanks to the lazy postal carrier who slipped a “missed delivery” notice in the mailbox instead of carrying the package to our door during one of the few times I was actually right there ready to answer it…) While I haven’t delved super deeply into it yet — and there’s a lot there to swim around in — I find it’s almost exactly what I expected from the videos I watched. Complex rather than simple and immediate, but also not difficult thanks to a well-designed interface. With a few minutes of button tapping and knob turning, I can set up neat little bouncy patterns of echoes, or warbly drunk echoes, or the sound of being at the other end of a long metal or concrete tube, or plucked strings, or all sorts of things. The pitch shifting is fairly rough granular stuff, but serviceable — and the artifacts that creates are actually useful as an effect in their own right. Overall I think this was a good choice of module for the mad sound designer in me.

The Befaco Sampling Modulator just arrived today and is sitting on my desk in a box. I’ll get to it in a bit.


As I’ve written before, the unfortunately named muffwiggler.com is something of a central hub for the synth community, especially modular synths. It went down this weekend, and one of the moderators informed people that the funds that had been donated to cover its expenses had been misappropriated for months and the owner/founder, Mike McGrath, was incommunicado.

But it had been known that Mike had been suffering from health issues, and it was already rumored that the donations were covering his medical expenses rather than the site. I… kind of can’t fault that, though I think if it were my project I’d want to be more up front that the most important creditors get paid first.

As it turns out, Mike has passed away. I didn’t know him, but those who do say he was kind, generous, and funny. I’ll take them at their word. He does deserve some credit for running a site that became such an important community and repository of information, but as I’ve also written before, the culture there was not without its problems. Specifically, toxic masculinity problems. Starting with the name of the forum (which was Mike’s own online handle, and came from a pair of Electro-Harmonix FX pedals from the 70s), which establishes a sort of locker room atmosphere, there are also several users with lewd (just short of pornographic) profile pictures, mildly transphobic or sexist jokes, and just a general sense of… stuff that doesn’t need to be on a synth forum and doesn’t make women, nonbinary, queer, or just generally tasteful people feel comfortable. And those things are all unnecessary and could be fixed with a name change and a small policy change. But of course, to a certain type of white guy, it’s just a bit of fun and no harm done and us SJWs need to not be so sensitive… 😛

Discussions of that have run headfirst into (A) the kind of people who deny that toxic masculinity exists or is a real problem, and (B) people calling for respect for the dead.

SynthCube, who sells DIY kits, covered the past due bills and got the site running again. The moderator team is deciding what to do next, but promises that the content will be preserved and they are committed to “preserving Mike’s legacy.” By that I hope they don’t mean preserving the unnecessary sexism. But any discussion of that is killed immediately by the moderators, so I don’t have a lot of hope for that.

The latest word is that Mike wanted his daughter Kira to take over running the forum, which she will do after some time to grieve. She and the rest of his family seem to be fine with the “Muff Wiggler” name at the moment, but I have some hope that she’ll take an active role in the forum and community and make at least some of the changes so many of us want.

I’m just going to leave these here

“Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.

– Donald J. Trump, upon learning that Mueller was appointed as the Special Counsel… as quoted in the Mueller report

Dare we hold out any hope that this will come true?

Does it sound like the statement of someone who isn’t guilty? I know this isn’t how our justice system works, but… wow.

we determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.”

“we recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern and potentially preempt constitutional process for addressing presidential misconduct.”

The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”

” if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”

“while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

– the Mueller Report

So yeah, this supposed “corrupt rigged witch hunt by Democrats” started with the premise that they were not going to charge Trump with anything.

But the report provides plenty of examples of Trump obstructing justice, and even preemptively shoots down arguments that “it’s not obstruction if guilt is not proven.” And it’s probably as close to saying “wake up, Congress, and smell the impeachment” as they felt they could say.

escape or embrace

I’ve been thinking more about that article I linked to last night, the concepts of “positive liberty” and so forth. Wikipedia — sometimes useful — pointed out that Erich Fromm wrote on the subject well before Isaiah Berlin did.

Based on some quick summaries I think I like Fromm. A political psychologist, a Jew who left Germany as the Nazis came to power, he theorized about why people support authoritarian rule (extremely relevant then and now!), argued that true freedom is defiance of social expectations, was firmly against warmongering and nuclear proliferation, and supported humanistic democratic socialism. One of the reviews I’ve read describes Fromm as the antithesis of Ayn Rand. Sounds good to me!

So I’m definitely going to read some of his work, and I might have a theme for the next album.

I feel like what Fromm was getting at is what got watered down to a vague “be yourself,” meaninglessly repeated by children’s media while I was growing up. A much less strongly reinforced message than all of the entertainment, advertising, news, peers, authority figures, family etc. driving home the lesson that you better not be yourself. And that’s a shame.