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.

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.


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.


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.