testing in production

I’ve put my Machine mk2 aside and set up my Microbrute again in the middle space on my desk. Re-acquainting myself with it, I’m not sure this is going to last. It’s a great synth for basses and analog leads, but not generally suited to the music I’m making now. It does have some “edge case” sounds in it that can work well, and it loves audio rate modulation from Eurorack oscillators. But it’s basically holding that desk space until I think of something that would be better suited.

There are several low-cost, small format synths which would be fun — but probably redundant. Some others probably are outside the sonic/workflow ranges I’d want to work with. There are some I’m curious about but are priced outside casual curiosity, and others that are just prohibitive.

My best bet might be a Behringer Neutron, compared to the Microbrute — but I fear it would just feel like an unnecessary expansion of my modular. So I’m holding off any decisions here until something more clearly presents itself.


The album is coming along. I wound up rejecting one of my recordings because I didn’t like the way the melody line worked, after some effort trying to rescue it via selective pitch-shifting, altering rhythms to make it a little less plain, etc. I couldn’t get it to a place where I was proud of it, unlike the rest so far.

I’m mostly sticking to the “places that aren’t places” theme, and recalling the settings of some recurring dreams. I had a variation on one of those dreams last night, where a mad wizard whose tower was built into a bridge support wound up blowing up said bridge. I was tasked by the city to collect fines from him and put up signs condemning his actions. Broken bridges, or bridges that rise far too high and then dip alarmingly underwater, are a recurring feature of my dream scenery. Maybe that’s due to growing up on Florida’s gulf coast, where the two 1980 Sunshine Skyway Bridge accidents were prominent events in my childhood. (Also, both the old bridge and its 1987 replacement were notorious for suicides. My dad once had plans to write a novel about it.)

After chastizing the mad wizard, I woke to see a deer crossing the end of our driveway. We live in the sort of metro suburb where you really don’t expect that, and it’s only the second or third time I’ve seen deer here, so it’s always a bit weird and portentous.


Last Saturday there was a “How-To Festival” at a semi-local library. I got to learn a bit about local snakes and do some guided meditation, but the most significant bits to me were a presentation on solutions to global warming and a quick beginner lesson on the ukulele.

The presentation mostly introduced Project Drawdown, who have a website with a ranked list of climate solutions in terms of how much CO2 equivalent reduction they would result in. The list is not what most people would expect — it’s heavily weighted toward structural and policy changes, and most of our personal responsibility is political. Electric cars are #26 and household recycling is way down at #55, but educating girls and providing clean cookstoves in developing countries, and protecting tropical forests and Ireland’s peatlands are much higher priorities. Proper disposal of air conditioner refrigerants, large scale wind power, and reducing food waste (mostly on the supply side) are the biggest things.

That said, “Plant-Rich Diet” is #4 on the list. Beef has a much heavier carbon footprint than everything else (except lamb, which isn’t nearly as popular), due to deforestation and the methane that cattle produce. Reducing consumption to levels where no new pasture is cleared for grazing, and changing over to regenerative grazing methods for the rest, would be a huge help. I’m personally going to cut back on beef, and commit to only having it once in a while in a particularly good form.

As for the ukulele: it was kinda fun. A lot easier to pick up in terms of technique than mandolin. I felt a little more natural strumming the mandolin than the uke, and the strings aren’t consistent intervals — picking out melodies or working out theory is more of a challenge. But people have been known to restring and retune in mandolin GDAE, so that’s an option. I found the soprano uke a bit tight for my big hands but the concert size was reasonable. One of the instructors said the Waterman plastic ukes are actually pretty decent, so I might give it a try. I don’t expect it’s something I’ll make use of for my Starthief project, but you never know, maybe I’ll kick off a new dark uke ambient subgenre 😉

identification please

Neural networks and their failure are inherently funny. I love aiweirdness.com and have, in the past, named some tracks after its generated brands of breakfast cereal, dubious recipes, Dungeons and Dragons spells, names of colors, etc. (Not so much anymore since I tend to run with album themes.)

ImageNet Roulette is a new source of laughs for me. Using the helpful GetThatPic! extension for Chrome that reveals the URLs of Instagram photos, I had it try to classify some of my recently taken photos.

Yankee, our loaner dog

INR says: darling, favorite, favourite, pet, dearie, deary, duckya special loved one

He’s cute, but no, Gretta is the favorite.

An actual ducky.

INR says: circus acrobatan acrobat who performs acrobatic feats in a circus

Gretta, after being outside in the rain.

INR says: sleeper, slumberera rester who is sleeping

Lady, our #2 ranked dog.

INR says: skin-diver, aquanautan underwater swimmer equipped with a face mask and foot fins and either a snorkel or an air cylinder

A Buchla 200e system with a Thunder controller, as seen at Knobcon.

What INR says: “trawlera fisherman who use a trawl net

To be fair, it did lure people in.

St. Louis Osuwa Taiko at the 2019 Japanese Festival at Missouri Botanical Gardens.

INR says: peddler, pedlar, packman, hawker, pitchmansomeone who travels about selling his wares (as on the streets or at carnivals)

We did buy t-shirts.

fresh step

maybe “fresh start” would have been a better phrase.

As nice as it is to have a faster, shiny (in this case literally) new computer, the first few hours are often dominated by frustration and annoyance. Stuff works differently, or doesn’t work yet or is subtly wrong because you’re still in the process of installing drivers, fixing the STUPID defaults, and installing the everyday apps and tools you took for granted. It’s like fighting a battle of identity against Microsoft. This is MY computer now, not theirs, and I should get to decide how things work.

Eventually most of the annoyances are overcome as well as they can be, and a sense of relief sets in. At least we have some control over our computers, unlike so many other things in life.

That’s where I am now, though I still need to install about half the plugins I want to keep using, plus Paint Shop Pro and Sound Forge.

It’s too early yet to say how much I’ve gained from this change, since I haven’t made serious recording efforts — but I set my ASIO buffer to 128ms with no ill effects. I’ll happily take 128 and smooth over 512 and occasionally glitchy, but I’ll try cutting it even smaller and see just what this thing can handle.

dark this, dark that

I thought I had mentioned Glen Cook’s Darkwar omnibus/trilogy here, but I guess that was elsewhere.

This was written in the mid 80s and had the requisite “what the hell was wrong with fantasy covers in the 80s” art:

And now it has much more stylish by current standards, but still a bit on the WTF side, 21st century cover art:

So, yeah. First off, these are a race of people who have fur everywhere, call their hands “paws” and their children “pups” and their social groups “packs,” and there’s growling and snarling and a definite sense of the canine. When they encounter humans, they comment on how funny-looking they are, too tall and with fur only on their heads.

Also, though the main character begins as a mere pup, for the majority of the story she is a witch — of a tyrannical, super intimidating, dramatic order who always wears black.

Also, the solar system in the setting is passing through a dust cloud that blocks solar radiation and they’re going through one heck of an ice age, with permafrost nearly reaching the equator — they bundle up in boots and furs, and even more so when flying. And the main character always goes armed.

Maybe the saddleship in that first image is, loosely, what the author had in mind. But the darkship, while described as having a cross or dagger shape, is way too small, there are no harnesses, it doesn’t seem to be the “voidfaring” type that they use in space despite the spaceship behind them, the glow of their shielding is way too subtle… and so on.

As for the more modern one, it’s not quite as bad except for gratuitous boobs and she kind of looks like a cat.

Okay, cover art aside. Its writing predates most of the Black Company novels, and some of the ideas in it would appear there later. Or earlier? The silth (witches) here have their flying wooden or titanium craft, and especially saddleships seem not unlike the rheitgeistiden (aka “flying posts”) of the Voroshk. The black outfits seem like a prototype of the almost-living robes the Voroshk wore, as well. There’s a major city called TelleRai; in the Black Company there’s a nearly lost language called TelleKure. The silth use not-quite-understood shadowy creatures called “they who dwell” for their magic, not too different from the “shadows”/skildirsha of the Glittering Plain. Given that one series has sixteen worlds linked by “shadowgates” and the other has faster-than-light magical space travel, it’s not completely out of the question that they have a connection somewhere.

Or it could just be, Glen Cook had certain ideas he liked and wanted to flesh out in different ways.

Anyway: I’ve tried to read other Glen Cook stuff that wasn’t The Black Company, and just didn’t get into it. Darkwar, I did and enjoyed most of it. The protagonist becomes a pretty horrible person, though sometimes she’s just “differently horrible” compared to the rest of her world. It never quite turns one away from sympathizing or wanting her to succeed. The story does get kind of back-and-forth and time-skippy in the third book. And one wishes for a few more terms in invented languages rather than darkwar, darkship, darkfaring, dark-sider, darkpretzel, darkpenguin etc. It’s a little too middle school heavy metal fan at times. But then, it was the 80s.

I put on my robe and wizard hat

Elon Musk’s company Neuralink was in the news this week, and I pretty much ignored it because I’m skeptical of the man. He overpromises, he thinks he’s an expert in more fields than he actually is, doesn’t treat his workers well — really more on the Edison side of things than the Tesla side.

But thanks to a link on some crazy facts about sound, I found myself poking through Wait But Why and came across this article from a couple of years back:

I’m reading William Gibson’s The Peripheral — the first of his novels I’ve thoroughly enjoyed since the Sprawl series — and the technology level there is based on motor control and sensory feedback from machines and biomechanical “peripherals.” It’s a lot to think about in terms of who we are, but this article goes well beyond that.

I hope that, in the current wave of realization that giving our data to big corporations and letting them mediate our personal relationships, we’ll also be cautious about letting those corporations into our brains. Yes, I’m excited about the potential for enhanced human… humanness, that this technology could represent. But I don’t think the threat is from evil AIs, so much as it is from human greed and malice.

I usually roll my eyes at warnings on becoming too dependent on technology. We’re not all dumb because we learned to use pocket calculators, and we haven’t lost the skill of communication now that we don’t write things in cursive. It’s the opposite… mostly. Misinformation and disinformation, it turns out, aren’t conquered by simply giving people access to information. Now imagine, instead of garbage like Gamergate and QAnon and Pizzagate and anti-vax spreading via YouTube and Facebook and Twitter, those ideas just arrive in your brain as if you had thought them — disguised alongside all the true information that you rely on. That truly scares me.

what happened to the past’s future?

This was going to be a much longer post, where I wrote a little about the futurist books Future Shock, Megatrends and particularly The Singularity is Near and where either they or reality went wrong.

I was also going to dive into a comparison of technological progress by decade with specific examples. I’ll cut that down to a short version: the 70s were a time of background breakthroughs in electronics, whose impact wasn’t really felt until the 80s — when computers and media technology started getting personal. That all went online in the 90s. In the 2000s that jumped into the palms of our hands, and social media began demanding our attention.

But a time traveler to 2019 from 2009 — if they didn’t watch any political news(*) — might not even notice anything different. Popular fashion, music, the kinds of movies we’re watching are the same. YouTube, Twitter, Skype, Wikipedia, Netflix, Uber, AirBnB, KickStarter etc. are a decade old. None of the “next big things” of the 2000s have really arrived yet.

(*) I don’t want to write about politics now, it’s tiring and upsetting.

The interesting bit to me isn’t “futurists were wrong” but the question of why 2019 looks so much like 2009 in so many ways.

Miniaturization of electronics is unlikely to go much further than it already has — power requirements and heat are limits on computing power in a small size. So there’s not nearly as much opportunity for entirely new classes of consumer electronics the way there was in the 80s, 90s and 2000s. One could predict things like better batteries and faster networking speeds opening up a few opportunities, but not making major changes in how we do things.

We know there’s a lot of development going on in the background in various areas. Biotech, for instance. Self-driving cars and commercial drones are in not-quite-ready-for-market-but-maybe-soon phases. We’ve been getting more warnings about automation replacing more jobs, though it’s hard to tell how serious that threat is. Cellular agriculture is just starting to show up at fast-food restaurants and might make the big time soon. It’s possible that, overall, we’ve been in sort of in a 70s phase and a lot of the impact of this stuff will arrive in the 2020s.

Vanity Fair did a survey where 18-26 year olds agreed with other adults that 2010s pop music is the worst. The best music of previous decades is more accessible than ever and people tend to prefer it.

Movies and TV have arguably been mining the recent past too, at least some extent.

As for popular fashion and other trends: I wonder if social media has a sort of stabilizing and homogenizing influence. At the same time, we could be differentiating ourselves more through online persona and interactions than offline. People may also be more invested in their individual identities, meaningful affiliations and overall human solidarity than in a sort of fashion-based tribalism, though that kind of sounds like wishful thinking.

collapse

I’ve just read John Varley’s Slow Apocalypse… while deciding not to keep reading the “Climate Collapse” thread on the Lines forum because it’s usually too depressing.

I don’t like disaster movies, or even trailers for disaster movies. It turns out the same is generally pretty true of novels by otherwise excellent sci-fi authors. Though I keep confusing Varley with Vernor Vinge for some reason and crediting them with each other’s’ work, I did enjoy the Thunder and Lightning series.

To summarize the book: a scientist develops bacteria that render crude oil unusable (presumably as revenge against Saudi Arabia for 9/11). It goes out of control, spreads around the world, destroying oil wells and stockpiles. Transportation, power (dependent on diesel trains and trucks for supplies), communication, emergency services, medicine, food, etc. and the rule of law all become scarce.

Okay… maybe an interesting premise. I could see the book being a lesson of some kind, or a story mostly about ingenuity and the triumph of the human spirit, or some such. NOPE. Somehow, it is barely even a story about the climate crisis, much less presenting an acceptable way forward.

Instead, it does the disaster movie thing of dumping one horror after another on the protagonists, and feels a bit like Final Destination. (Ugh.) LA is struck with a 9.8 earthquake, mudslides and fires and lawless violence. The main character — not the “ordinary guy” the back cover blurb says, but medium-rich in Hollywood — faces all kinds of horrors and tragedies he can’t do anything about, as well as repeated internal conflicts over whether to help strangers or defend his family’s hoard.

In a way, the book is about wealth and privilege. The protagonist’s main fear (except when facing immediate threats to self and his family) is losing his wealth. At the start of the book, he’s looking for another lucrative script that will let him maintain the lifestyle he’s accustomed to. Later on, he’s worried about his wealth (in the form of stored food, water, fuel, guns, and other supplies) being redistributed — he’s afraid both of thieves and of his neighborhood going socialist. Life in refugee camps and on the crowded aircraft carriers the Navy is using to move people out of LA, is the poverty he fears. But it’s a muddled message; that “wealth” actually has a practical value to him, in reducing his own family’s suffering. This is unlike reality where a few people sit uselessly on billions while others starve.

It wasn’t a bad book, other than the ending feeling a bit weak and a few quibbles. I just really dislike this kind of… torture story, really. There’s very little justice or hope or satisfaction in it, just a grind, just shock and grimness and deprivation. If I wanted that, I could have turned on the news.

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 🙂