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… šŸ˜›

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. Iā€™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.

lost and found / on mirrors

At the office, above all other things, I like to fidget with magnets. (It was originally BuckyBalls, but those were subject to a recall thanks to the CPSC because it’s dangerous to swallow them. For some reason, safety warnings are deemed sufficient for every other relatively powerful, small magnet on the market, including some produced by the same people, just not the BuckyBalls brand. So you can’t get those anymore.)

From my original set of BuckyBalls, I dropped a few somewhere, could not find them, and assumed they were lost. Several months later when the other business that shared our floor moved out and we raided the stuff they left behind for salvage, I happened to find my missing magnets on their floor. It seemed a stunning coincidence, but hey, I got my magnets back for a while. (Eventually the coating wears off and they get gross and you’re not supposed to handle them anymore.)

At the end of last year I got these Speks magnets as either a birthday or Christmas gift, but managed to lose three of their number within days of bringing them to work. Today, 3-4 months later, I found them sitting on the floor in the middle of my cube, plain as day.

And that’s my creepypasta for the day.

From time to time I’ve contemplated the idea of doing a musical project that is more directly and personal and emotionally intense, less abstract than Shelter In Place was, with no obfuscation. This means it would get political. And thus, mostly angry and frustrated and tired and afraid.

And maybe that’s the way some artists have to operate, but I think I am the opposite. Maybe going abstract is my way of dealing with the world’s crap. It’s not explicit escapism, but almost a case of not wanting that dirt in my sacred space.

I’m thinking about my phrase “paint the mirror” from a couple of years ago:

The title for this track is a clue to something, I’m sure. I was walking around the plaza on a break from work, thinking about art as a reflection of life, and that maybe that goes both directions. I can’t do as much to fix the world as I’d like, but I can make music. The words “paint the mirror” came to me at that moment.

In other words, show the world a better reflection of itself. I’ve said things before about art and magic being types of each other, and the point of them is to change the world. Maybe just a small part of it, just a little — the emotions and thoughts of those who experience the art (or if no one else, the artist themselves!) And then that spreads out in ripples, influencing a wider area in subtle ways.

What I want to bring into the world isn’t more anger and frustration and fear. It is… well, I’ll have to think about it some more, but wonder, weirdness, and acceptance of others’ weirdness seems like a good starting point.

keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle until it comes to a complete stop

We’re still nearly a year away from the first scheduled Democratic caucus for the 2020 primaries. It’s going to be a long haul and a lot of stupid shit is going to fly. I refuse to commit either to or against any candidate this early. I do have some opinions and concerns about most of them — some more than others — but let’s see how things shake out.

A couple of months ago, a progressive organizer (I don’t recall which one) said something along the lines of not worrying so much about who the candidate is, but (A) stopping Trump and (B) applying continuous pressure wherever necessary to get the policies and the justice we want. And that this is a strategy that doesn’t wait until after the convention in mid-July, but has already begun and must continue forever.


I’ve gotten shipping notices for the ER-301 (literally on the very day it was estimated) and 16n Faderbank. The TXb arrived a couple of weeks ago. The new case was estimated to ship from the Netherlands sometime this week, too. I’m not letting the anticipation stop me from making music in the meantime though…

My QPAS arrived last weekend and it’s pretty brilliant. I’ve come to accept that I’m not really a fan of filters as such — but if I think of it as an LPG, a source of tuned percussion, a kind of waveshaper/distortion, a particular type of equalizer, and a rich target for modulation that can add texture and motion and rhythm, rather than as “a filter” then it’s a great… one of those. I suppose “filter” is okay for shorthand though.


Two things about the supposedly sticky new song in The Lego Movie 2:

1. What really stuck in my head after the movie was “Everything Is Awesome.”

2. “Baby Shark” fits melodically and rhythmically over the new song just fine, and then takes over your brain completely.

3. When a thing you do goes viral, it’s really hard to follow it up with a second viral thing on purpose.

4. That’s more than two things.

on repeat

I’ll be Quite pleased when the theater on the second floor of my workplace is done with its run of Avenue Q.

They have a TV monitor facing into the atrium that continuously loops a loud 63-second long ad for the show. ” sQueaky clean (loud buzzing noise) Winner of the Tony award for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score (snippet of a chorus for about half a second) …warm and fuzzy neighbors as they face the cold hard realities of modern life…
‘It Sucks to Be Me,’ ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,’ and ‘The Internet is For Porn’ …seats are limited so do it Quickly… it’s furry fun, no strings attached!”

63 seconds. That means, on the trek from the parking garage to the elevator I get to hear more than one complete loop. When I get up to take a break, I hear it again. If I walk around the atrium to stretch my legs and get some pretend exercise, I hear it some more.

Now, I actually like… some musicals. Most of the StarKid ones, for instance. But I’m long past sick of this one and I’ve never seen it. They’ve been promoting it since approximately June of last year and it is the only thing they’ve been promoting for the past five weeks.

It’s playing through March 25, which I know because they keep shouting it at me multiple times every day. On March 26, I will celebrate.

control freak

Another weird dream: an online roleplaying game where parties of four players each try to synchronize their characters’ magic powers and/or kung fu with a 4×4 set of knobs. I was playing it with my Doepfer A-138m Matrix Mixer, and someone else on my team had a Midi Fighter Twister.

Each column of knobs corresponded to a character, and each row a different category of ability (e.g. fire/air/water/earth, or attack/evasion/deception/defense, etc.). Each player mainly had control over their own character, but the closer other players’ knobs in that same column are, the more effective the ability is. (Or in some cases, you’d want the other three players to set their knobs opposite yours — it was complicated.) For maximum effectiveness all four players had to vary their own settings to match the rhythm of the combat or puzzle, and all four players had to coordinate with each other to maintain a defense or to attack as one to exploit an opening, and so on. Trying to have all your knobs turned up all at once would tire your character, and uncoordinated movement would hinder your teammates. And of course the knob settings affected the music too.

It was fiendishly difficult, required a very well-coordinated team and lots of practice, would never catch on and I have no idea how all this could translate in real time to something less abstract in terms of movement and choice making. My subconscious mind is creative, but is not a great game designer.

back to the salt mines

Last night I did not dream of Michelle or Barack, but of my boss.

In the dream he was throwing a party in his magnificent mansion / evil lair. It was built over, and included the entirety of, a former salt mine. Wide, high-ceilinged halls lined with exotic woods, with signs pointing the way to different “galleries” and “villas” within the… let’s face it, the man owned his own underground city. Shafts wide enough to contain a normal-sized house, with staircases wide as a city street, led down to museums, art installations, and stockpiles of building materials and booze.

So much booze. Everyone at the party was given a sizable bottle of Bombay Sapphire and we were downing it like water. There was a storehouse of it below in case the pyramid of bottles in one of the ground floor rooms wasn’t going to be enough. Impressive storehouses of really good rum and whiskey were below. In the waking world I would never choose gin over rum…

He also had his own cult in residence — well, not his cult but he was their benefactor. They had a village in one of the “galleries” with a natural salt floor; they dressed a bit like Mennonites but specialized in performance art and glass blowing. I watched them putting on a play about the misinterpretation of a dying woman’s advice and instructions to her children, who were going to run the village after her passing. The main character was represented by a carefully arranged pile of clothing, which they alternately shuffled around, removed from, and poured water onto to make it sort of sink into the ground as the character let go of life.

…I’m pretty sure IRL, my boss is a teetotaler, fairly well off but not obscenely rich, and doesn’t live in a salt mine or sponsor a cult. But I don’t know him that well; who knows?