what I did on my autumn vacation

It was nice having a week off. Not as nice as an actual road trip, and I could have done with less rain and another walk around the lake, but it was all right.

For Thanksgiving, we had jerk chicken and zucchini on the grill, sweet potato fries, coconut rice and cornbread. My spouse also made me a German chocolate cake for my birthday. We Skyped with our families, which felt pretty special and holiday-like since it was the first time for my side and almost the first for her side (and we got to see the new house and our young nephew).

I recorded three tracks for the new album project, and am confident the theme is going to work.

I wasn’t tempted by any Black Friday sales, but did get my Christmas shopping done. [UPDATE: I did get four little Puremagnetik plugins at 50% off on the Tuesday part of “Cyber Monday” though.]

I was tempted to pick up the last Mystic Circuits Portal in the special edition black panel — having decided that I don’t need another delay or reverb in my modular, nor more modulation sources. Portal is a unique distortion module that, above a threshold, wraps around to 0V instead of folding over or clipping. And it can wrap around a ridiculous number of times, feedback itself into ultrasonic ranges, generate interesting rhythmic crackles, perform “oscillator sync” with only one oscillator, and other things. This got my attention because (beyond “Black Portal” just sounding kind of badass) it’s similar in concept to an experimental plugin I wrote years ago, but takes that concept much further. There are two other derived outputs, one of which is a somewhat gentler quasi-quantized output, the other a spiky delta output. While the module can do ludicrously heavy distortion, I’m more interested in the other things it can do. So this is definitely more about curiosity than absolute confidence I will love this module, but satisfying curiosity is a valid use of remaining rack space.

I played my usual Dirt Rally 2.0, Noita, Bewejeled 3 and Guild Wars 2, all of which have been in rotation since before this pandemic struck, and Art of Rally which has been out for a couple of months. Noita has been getting significant updates even after leaving Early Access, with surprise new spells and monsters, so it’s always fresh.

I also grabbed Drag, which is neither about drag queens nor drag racing, but rather, an Early Access game of futuristic-ish off-road racing. The setting is a little strange, with sleek driverless rail buggies that have what seems like a vestigial roll cage too small for a human driver, with a long steering column ending in an odd bracket where the driver’s head would have been. Two of the courses are muddy wilderness roads that occasionally cross concrete or metal bridges or overpasses, bounded by forcefields to either side, occasional radio towers and oddly shaped concrete towers in the distance; the third is a raised bridge-like track mainly covered in a mound of mud, in an arctic setting with mysterious cranes and towers numbered in Arabic numerals but Cyrillic text. Graphically it looks good, within its sparse design. In terms of physics, it’s challenging, slippery and feels fairly realistic (although, once you’ve started to roll over it goes a little nuts, like many racing games do — and wheels are prone to pop off at the slightest provocation). Gameplay-wise there is not much to it yet, just different sections of course to do time trials on, with no sense of competition or career progression. I’m curious to see where future development takes it.

Probably where I spent most of my time was reading Rhythm of War, the fourth and longest book (at ~460,000 words) in the Stormlight Archive.

(I also read Dawnshard, a novella that takes place a little before Rhythm of War. I technically should have read it first, but at least thus far, it’s almost entirely a side story. It may very well become important to later novels, but if so, it will probably be retold.)

One thing I like about Sanderson’s novels is the “hard SF” approach to magic; there are definite rules and mechanics, the magic is highly integrated with how society works, and in most cases there’s a very scientific approach to determining the limits and applications of magic. This extends to the Cosmere as a whole — an overarching setting uniting most of Sanderson’s series, permitting some characters to cross between them and carry exotic artifacts with them.

But what I love about his books is the emotional impact of the story, both the lows and the highs. I care about the characters and want them to stop hurting and being frustrated. I celebrate with their moments of incredible triumph. I reel from the big revelations, shudder at the implications and cheer on their discoveries.

For a while I felt that the Stormlight Archive books kind of “cheat” at this; human emotions attract “spren” that can telegraph how they’re feeling even if they’d rather hide those emotions (or hide themselves!), while the Parshendi people speak and hum to rhythms that make their attitude explicit (with some conscious control when they concentrate). But this ties in nearly with the nature of this world’s role within the Cosmere, and it’s not as if his stories in other settings don’t convey emotion just as effectively.

Without even considering connections to other worlds, there are a lot of characters in this series. That is both a strength and a weakness of epic fantasy, I feel. This particular novel concentrates on three in particular, with lesser concentrations on a couple of others, and interludes, flashbacks and side trips to keep up with a few more. But the three main ones get a lot of development and growth and some of those great emotional moments that I love. The book also crams in a ton of that “scientific” discovery, and revelations about the greater universe and historical perspective on current events. Mental health is a huge theme — when you put people under continuous stress as these have been, they break. Their ability to hold it together, heal from emotional trauma, or just get some rest for once, is as important as how they face external threats. The truly important battles in this book were — for the most part — either against personal demons, or battles of wit and cunning rather than spear and sword.

I don’t think this book would make a lot of sense without reading the previous Stormlight Archive novels. It should be fine without reading any other Sanderson novels, although one would miss recognizing many tidbits scattered throughout. But then, there’s so much going on that I’m not sure even the wiki-article-writing superfans are able to catch everything. I don’t feel too bad not realizing on my own that so-and-so mentioned by a minor villain in this novel might be such-and-such character from a different series, who died, and now has a different name and completely different goals… while Sanderson’s novels are full of that sort of thing at this point, that’s not the main attraction for me.

whew

Test results are back and my spouse is negative for COVID-19. Whew!

It was what we expected, but it’s still a relief. Aside from the threat of actual harm from the disease, to have to quarantine and wear a mask and feel possibly unsafe in one’s own home, which is supposed to be a sanctuary, is not a great feeling. Nor is separating yourself from a loved one (in my case, pretty much the only person I interact with directly at this point).


I’ve finished reading Chris Hedges’ War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and woo boy, is that not the book to read when you’re already down. It’s in a somewhat similar vein to Smedley Butler’s War is a Racket, but if anything it’s darker and bleaker. It was not a fun read, but I do think more people should read stuff like this to immunize themselves from the mythologization of war — the nationalist propaganda, the very idea of “a just war,” the canonization of murder and martyrdom, the self-destruction of culture and memory.

Perhaps ironically, the book I am looking forward to (in just a couple of days) is Rhythm of War, the fourth in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. But then, major themes in this series are the questioning the assumed rightness of one’s cause, and the realization that “honor” and “glory” are amoral at best.

For now I’m finishing the Sprawl trilogy with Mona Lisa Overdrive. If I do choose a cyberpunk theme for my next album, I think it’ll be specifically Neuromancer-inspired rather than just general tropes or a fiction of my own. But it won’t be particularly about Case, Molly, Wintermute, etc. or a “soundtrack to the novel” sort of thing necessarily, either; it will be a step removed from the story but more closely related to the language and feel of the thing. I’ve gathered 15 possible song titles, though I like some more than others.

I’ve also been watching High Score Girl, about gamer kids in Tokyo in the 90s. The story centers not on a girl, but a boy who is a slacker and doesn’t really have anything going for him but his skill at Street Fighter II. The main female protagonist never speaks, and in fact is completely absent from a few episodes… which is unusual given that a lot of the story seems to be parodizing and dismantling sexist tropes. Overall it’s kind of sweet and kind of dumb, but entertaining enough.

A major part of the appeal for some is the nostalgia, of course. As a nostalgia vehicle it is certainly less obnoxious and one-note than Ready Player One and its ilk. But for me, arcade nostalgia is centered in the early to mid 80s. My dad worked in an arcade and I’d often accompany him on Sunday mornings to help out a bit and then play a lot of games free. In the early 90s I was in college, and in the mid-90s I moved half a continent away and was playing PC games and PlayStation (I mainly favored racing games, thanks to Wipeout, Ridge Racer and Gran Turismo). The Golden Age of arcades had faded by the mid 90s too. So my nostalgia is more for Marble Madness, 720°, Tetris, Galaga ’88, Joust, TRON, Xevious, Gauntlet, Out Run. I strongly suspect that a lot of my love for FM synthesis and certain kinds of synth sounds comes from the games of that era, particularly the Atari ones.

“out of an abundance of caution”

That’s a phrase we have been hearing a lot this year, isn’t it?

Over the weekend one of my spouse’s coworkers tested positive for COVID-19, and her workplace is temporarily closing while everyone self-quarantines and the place is disinfected. Since she’s in a high-risk category, she was advised to call the county coronavirus hotline. They told her to get a “real” test since the rapid tests have too many false negatives, and because of timing, it wouldn’t show up in a test for a couple more days anyhow. She has to quarantine herself from me — spending most of her time in the guest bedroom and wearing a mask otherwise — and the test is on Thursday. Of course if she tests positive, I will get tested myself. I’ve also read now that wearing masks does offer some protection to the wearer as well as preventing outward spread, so I’ll wear mine in the house too when necessary.

Last week seemed to last forever while waiting for election results, and this week-or-so (however long it takes to get the results) looks like it’s going to feel even longer. And of course, every little headache, or the throat irritation I had briefly last night (probably allergy related) is going to make me even more paranoid than it has since March.


And now for a software update…

Plugin Alliance had super deep discounts for Halloween, and I tried several things and wound up going for Noveltech Character. The description of its technology is kind of vague, but through some analysis/feedback mechanism it does “adaptive filtering” to make stuff sound better different. It’s not something I will slap onto every track, but it does add a little extra something to some parts.

In the charity auction I won three things. The first (in no particular order) is SoundRadix SurferEQ2. It’s a flexible equalizer made especially for monophonic parts, which can track the pitch and adjust its bands to match. So no matter what note is playing, it can boost or cut particular harmonics, or filter out unwanted noise outside the desired region. It can also act as a resonator, so it’s as much of a synthesis tool as a sound engineering one. It’s frankly awesome, and gives me some ideas about ways I can use Shelves in my modular.

Another was the AtomicTransient/AtomicReverb bundle, of which I was much more interested in the transient processor. While most transient effects can reduce or enhance the impact of transients relative to sustained sound, this one can create a new envelope or apply the detected dynamics to a filter, with cool results. There’s even a polyphonic mode that sort of separates the envelopes of individual notes. (The reverb on the other hand, has a ton of parameters and doesn’t sound better to me than Valhalla & company.)

The third was a Voxengo premium membership, giving me licenses to all their products current and future. I’ve tried several of their plugins and wound up installing CRTIV Tape Bus (a saturation plugin), Elephant (a limiter, which I might use next time I master an album), OldSkoolVerb Plus (a mostly retro but also creative reverb), OVC-128 (a hard clipper with 128x oversampling), and SPAN Plus.

And recently, AudioThing released Wires, an emulation (and enhancement) of a Soviet wire recorder, which was developed in partnership with Hainbach (a musician who is into all kinds of exotic gear for making music, including old test equipment and lo-fi dictaphones, and whose YouTube channel is a delight). It imparts some nice lo-fi character as well as having a very tasty delay. Wire recorders are a neat piece of tech history. The hair-thin wires were more compact than tape and could have a longer recording time, making them great for flight recorders and spy devices (as well as a few consumer models, but they could only record in mono, the fidelity wasn’t great, and editing was problematic.

that time again

It’s October 28, and definitely a good time to break out the scary music. I’ve never wanted to watch the movie a second time because it just wasn’t that amazing, but every year I break out the 30 Days of Night score. The composer invented several new instruments for it, some of which involve objects whirling dangerously at high speed…

For Halloween, I’ll be staying home, wearing a t-shirt with a skull-faced mermaid lounging by a pool, and keeping an eye on the end of the charity auction. Though the bid totals are quite good (over $22.5K so far), there are relatively few hardware offerings this year. I’m not interested in any of the sample or preset packs. There are a few software items I could go far — but in many cases they are bundled with a bunch of stuff I’m less interested in, so bidding competitively doesn’t make sense for me. Right now I am only trying to win one particular item, though I might throw a bit more money at something for the sake of the charity. And in the secondhand auction, there’s one minor plugin that I have a $5 bid on that’s on sale for $7 anyway.

Although… maybe on Halloween I may have to drive over to Lake Creve Coeur and walk around for a while, if it’s not too crowded. Hopefully the fall colors will be somewhere at peak, though it might be late for that. I’m probably too out of shape at this point to walk the full distance without overdoing it, but some semblance of “forest bathing” will probably do me some good. Unless it’s raining of course, in which case it would be a forest shower and not quite so pleasant.

With COVID cases hitting new records, we are following the advice to not risk travel this Thanksgiving. It’s a shame we will miss out, but it is not worth anyone getting life-threateningly ill.


I finished watching Neon Genesis Evangelion, and… I was not really prepared for how broken the ending is. I feel like the state of the series kind of reflected the apocalyptic events in the story and peoples’ mental states, but it also apparently was a reflection of the writer’s depression and the exhaustion of the overworked production team and pressures that were hitting the studio in general. Things just sort of fell apart, and aside from some (disturbing) hints, we lost perspective on events other than Shinji’s inner voice in the process of merging with everyone else’s…

There was a movie that presented sort of an alternate viewpoint and alternate ending, called appropriately enough End of Evangelion. Where the original series ending was, in its odd way, “the good ending”, this is the bad one in terms of Shinji’s personality and which conspirators “win” the apocalypse. There is also a remake slowly in progress called Rebuild of Evangelion, which apparently makes the main character more macho and has a lot more fanservice. I’m going to eschew those, and consider the original series and all its flaws a complete work of art. (Granted, one that doesn’t quite stand up on its own without a little support from outside explanation.)


I’ve sent the DAFM synth back to Kasser in Spain for repairs. Given that it took a month to arrive here in the first place, I will not be surprised if it doesn’t get back to me in 2020.


The album is up to 57 minutes of material. I feel like I’m on a roll and have more to say here, but an album shouldn’t be overly long or it challenges the attention span and does the music a disservice. If my next set feels like a continuation, I could always call it a Part Two.

Listening to what I have, I think it needs something to close it right, and I’m considering dropping one of the songs. But I do expect to release it on Bandcamp Friday on November 6.

I did do another recording with three parts rather than one or two, although the third is just using the other output of Akemie’s Castle which was used as the first voice, and some different processing to make it a simpler, background part.

On the album front: I have 41 minutes of material recorded so far, and I’ve been sticking with the minimal voices theme. One of the tracks does have three voices rather than a max of two, but since one of those is just a sub drone than blends with the chords of another voice, I’m letting myself get away with that. I figure I will probably release before Thanksgiving.

Speaking of which, we plan to visit my spouse’s parents at their new house for Thanksgiving, if we can arrange for dog sitting. We’re both a bit worried about traveling during the pandemic, and plan to avoid public spaces as much as we possibly can on the way. It’ll be nice to go do something though, spend some time with family and see my nephew and the new place.

Recent reads:

  • Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky was mostly great fun, with a few grim bits. A witch and a mad scientist whose lives are entangled wind up on opposite sides of a conflict over two horrible plans to save the world.
  • I gave up partway through The Book of Strange New Things. A Christian missionary is recruited by a megacorporation to minister to aliens on a dreary remote planet, after the previous pastor went missing. I found most of the characters tedious and/or unlikeable, and the mysteries not very compelling either to the reader or the characters experiencing them. Despite the title, it feels like a book that had its sense of wonder surgically removed.
  • I’m currently enjoying The City in the Middle of the Night (also by Charlie Jane Anders). Misfits living on a tidally locked planet on the border between the always-day side and the always-night side, with various culture clashes paralleling that same opposition. And most importantly, compelling characters.

I’ve also started watching Neon Genesis Evangelion and I am finally, 25 years after its original release, going to watch it all the way through. It’s on Netflix, so there are some unfortunate changes including the loss of “Fly Me to the Moon.” Now that I know that the original English subtitles weren’t quite so awkward, I can deal. If they had replaced “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” too, then I’d be annoyed.


Right now I’m listening to my previous album on a new pair of headphones: German Maestro GMP 8.35 D. I picked them up because they were very highly rated by those who’ve used them, and they’re closed-back style with fairly good isolation. That’ll be helpful when I need to concentrate on work or music making and need to block out other noise. While I can still hear, for instance, the sound of my own typing on a clicky mechanical keyboard, the ticking of the desk fan behind me, and cartoons that my spouse is watching, it does block quite a bit more than the semi-open HD 668Bs I have used for years.

In general I don’t like closed-back headphones as much — they feel more “boxy” and when there’s no music (especially when you first put them on), you can hear the rush of your own blood. But I found it really didn’t take long before music started sounding right in them. Comparing between the two pairs of headphones, I think the GMPs are either revealing more detail, or it’s just not getting lost in the low hum of fans. The frequency response is a bit different, but I will probably not wind up using corrective EQ, opting instead to listen to a lot of music for reference in both sets of headphones so I have a proper feel for them.

I write music with the assumption that my listeners will use headphones, but it’s probably a good idea to check with two kinds of headphones anyway (as well as the wireless earbuds I usually check with on my phone during the mastering stage).


I did go ahead and preorder a CVilization, after the matrix mixer video dropped and a couple of beta testers commented about how friendly and flexible it is to work with. And it shipped this morning, so there wasn’t a lot of “pre” in that order. I’m not going to sell off my AI008 until I know for sure I like CVil, but… I probably will.

I’ve put the Doepfer 256-stage BBD on my birthday/Christmas wish list. The new Mutable Instruments modules are planned for a 2020 release but may or may not make it due to production schedules, so I’m holding out for that. If it’s not a must-have, I have a few options to consider.

I’m still waiting for that DAFM Genesis synth to arrive. The last update from Correos (Spanish parcel post) was “Leaving the Exchange Office” on October 2, but from a quick check online these sorts of delays and/or a failure for USPS to show any tracking data isn’t unusual. If another week goes by I will write to the seller.

“I think it would be a good idea”

An addendum to my modular planning:

u-he is a company that makes some pretty great plugins, and they announced a foray into Eurorack a couple of years back. CVilization is:

  • a 4×4 matrix mixer (with optional sample+hold & clock divider)
  • a sequencer/ sequential switch
  • a “Mucorder” (mutating CV recorder, something like a different take on the “x” side of Marbles)
  • a quad panner
  • quantization and clock divisions per channel on the first three modes.

The interface seems as clever and useable as is possible for something with so many different functions, and from reading the manual I expect the cheat sheet is mostly needed for occasional/rare config options.

In fact, the matrix mixer mode seems like it is probably more clear than my AI008. You deliberately select an input and then adjust its output routings, or you select an output and then adjust its input routings. It seems to me like this method reduces the impact of the “geometrical transform” issue the AI008 has.

So I could see replacing the AI008 with it, and then I’d also have another quantizer, which is something I was considering. And something else to complement Marbles, which is something else I was considering.

I do think I’ll wait for the other videos beyond the intro to make sure usability looks as clear as it seems from the manual, but chances are pretty good I will pick this up.

rosin up, and put on your speculation spectacles

Listening to Unfolding this morning, I was struck by how “strings-like” many of its voices are in general timbre, regardless of what was producing those sounds. I kind of wish I could take credit for brilliant imitative sound design, but honestly: I didn’t actively set out to imitate string ensembles. There’s just something that really works about that kind of sound though.

The basic formula for a synth string ensemble is fairly simple: sawtooth waves, preferably from a stack of detuned oscillators or a chorus effect later, with a lowpass filter to tame it a little, a sustained volume envelope, and typically some reverb. Playing chords helps with the illusion, as does vibrato. To get a little fancier, a fixed filter bank or physical modeling can be employed, or a modulated wavetable that adds a bit more motion. None of this will necessarily fool the ear into thinking it’s actual strings being vibrated by actual horsehair stretched across actual wood, but it can definitely put the sound of a string section in mind.

While I also approximated strings with the Hertz Donut, Lyra-8 and others — thanks mainly to generous chorus and reverb — most of the points on the album that sound most convincingly like a string section or a double bass were Ensemble Oscillator. It’s not really any wonder; the right shapes for it are easy to dial in, the self-FM can add just the right kind of growl and bite so you can practically hear the rosin gripping the strings, and it eats detuned chords for breakfast.

ENOSC of course can do pipe organs with embarrassing ease — so much that when you first try it, it feels difficult to avoid them. It can also go to all kinds of astonishing, unexpected places. You can tune it so its lowest oscillators drop down to LFO rate but set the spread so its highest sing soprano and are modulated by those LFOs. You can coax patterned static bursts and growly flutters and metallic resonant hums and all kinds of oddities.

I am leaning harder toward “I have plenty of oscillators” because the likes of ENOSC, Shapeshifter, and Akemie’s Castle are each just so much in themselves already. And there’s Kermit, Rings, Mimeophon, Angle Grinder, Zorlon, Phonogene, Clouds, Maths etc. to act as sources. And the Medusa, the Microfreak, and the incoming YM2612 synth. And software integrated with the modular.


Mutable Instruments announced a new revision of the Veils quad VCA last week, and also that there will be two more releases. It’s been more than strongly hinted that one of these is the successor to Clouds. The other — which sounds like it’s going to be another successor-with-a-new-name sort of thing — is unknown. So I’ll speculate baselessly!

Edges/Yarns: Edges was a quad chiptune-inspired oscillator, discontinued some time back. Yarns was a MIDI to CV converter that also could act as simple oscillators, discontinued recently due to relatively low sales (and a general decrease in demand for MIDI-CV converters). I could see some kind of quad oscillator with a minijack MIDI input as well as CV perhaps, but I wouldn’t rate it as highly likely.

Peaks: Arguably, this LFO/envelope generator/drum voice was supplanted by Stages as a much more powerful modulation source and Plaits as a more powerful percussion module. With plenty of more basic EG and LFO modules out there I can’t see a compelling reason for a more direct Peaks successor. So I’d rate this as even less likely.

Streams: It could be made non-modal, with a VCA/VCF balance and some integrated compression ability. Maybe not the strongest contender for a remake, but not impossible.

Branches/Grids: in a sense, Marbles does some of this. I honestly don’t have any experience with Grids, but it seems fairly robust already and there’s a lot of other competition out there for pattern sequencing stuff. It’s a possibility, though.

Rings/Elements: my wishful thinking here is that there’s room for another resonator in the Mutable lineup. Perhaps something that emphasizes the pure resonator aspect more, while offering new resonator models (perhaps a continuous morph between models) — or something that leans more to the bowed/breath side as opposed to Rings’ pluck/mallet. Not a “replacement” or “successor” to Rings so much as a complementary module. I can’t even guess if this is likely or just my own daydream though.

Warps: maybe? There are a lot of ways a revision could go and I don’t really have a clear vision of what that would be. I can tell you though, I would go for it.

Frames: I feel like it was a brilliant concept but it suffered somewhat in the implementation. If I were designing my own keyframe-based CV mapping module, it’d have an LCD display on it — but there are other ways in which the interface could be redesigned for clarity. It could also perhaps add individual CV inputs, making it (in some minor sense) a sort of fusion with Blinds, yet remaining at or below 18HP.

Regardless, my plan is now:

  • Continue to wait on the charity auction to see what else comes up.
  • Plan to pick up a Doepfer A-188-1y (256 stage BBD).
  • Reserve the remaining space for Mutable Instruments gear, at least until I see what that’s going to be. And if it’s not a must-have, don’t fill in that space with another oscillator, but consider other options.

pieces

I don’t want to write about the whole election/COVID/”president” thing right now or give it any more attention than it needs. I’ve voted. I don’t need to have dreams about this crap or wake up immediately wanting to know the current status of… things. Gah.


I have four recordings so far that might appear on the next album, and they suggest a theme by each having only one or two voices. I think I will continue in this vein. There are a couple of ways I could go with a title, but I’ll decide that when I get closer to a release.


I finished reading Harrow the Ninth and… whoo boy is it different from the first book in tone for the most part, and confusing for a while, which reflects the protagonist’s state. Excellent though. Such a unique setting for these books, and enjoyable characters. I look forward to the third book, and will have to start a new necromancer in Guild Wars 2, even though they’ll be nothing at all like Harrowhark and her rivals/comrades.


I’ve now color-coded my matrix mixer, and it does indeed provide a better visual cue to the inputs-knobs-outputs relationships, reducing the cognitive load when patching. Not quite as straightforward as having inputs in a vertical row and all jacks aligned with the knob matrix, but good enough!

I also received the Ana and Blinds, and sold the Shades. Ana is great as a waveshaper, as a general thing to plug multiple signals into and get a variety of other things out. Even with Shapeshifter’s multiple combination modes, plugging the 1 and 2 outputs into it, maybe with an envelope too, yields some fun variations. And Blinds is pretty much exactly as I expected; if it had bipolar/unipolar switches and maybe mute buttons/toggle switches it would be perfect, but it’s at about 94% as it is. But I’m going to hold onto the matrix mixer I think, as it seems a little more intuitive for feedback patching than Blinds.

I have my Starling VIA and its 4 faceplates up for sale now. META doesn’t sit entirely well with me due to its modes and unclear interface, SCANNER doesn’t fascinate me like it used to (and I have plenty of waveshaping options now that make more sense), OSC3 has some neat tricks but I crashed it a few too many times to want to rely on it, and SYNC3 is cool but I feel like I have enough tools that will cover its range of abilities.

That leaves up to 36 HP free (34 if I keep the blank next to FX Aid where it’s helping a bit with tight knob spacing). I’m waiting to see what happens with the charity auction, but here are some options I’m considering:

  • Pittsburgh DNA Symbiotic Waves. It’s an older digital oscillator that’s sort of a gritty and lo-fi proto-Cyclebox (which was the precursor to Shapeshifter). It’s a little limited in CV control and flexibility compared to more modern things but I can’t argue with the sound. Again I remind myself, I have plenty of oscillators to go around. But… it’s cool, and with a Rings and Via out, I could indulge this.
  • A real BBD. ValhallaDelay is nice but imitates a “clean-ish” guitar pedal with its filtering, lack of clock whine and inability to underclock to the point of aliasing. The Doepfer BBD I once had offered some delicious mangling opportunity, although I found 1024 stages was an awkward compromise between short resonator lengths and longer echo lengths, not great at either. I’m leaning toward a Doepfer 256-stage, which I could always patch into the feedback path of longer delays if I wanted longer times — but the Erica Pico BBD (4096 stage) has the appeal of being much smaller, a little cheaper, and letting me fit in more stuff.
  • 2hp Freez. I had one before, and while the actual freeze effect is not terribly exciting (Phonogene, Mimeophon, Purple Rain all can do it anyway), its sample reduction had a lovely character to it. This is pretty optional though, as there are some mighty tools in software to lo-fi-ize sounds.
  • A quantizer like Intellijel Scales, Sonic Potions Penrose etc. where individual notes in the scale have buttons, rather than dialing in a scale selection. I could keep using Marbles or Teletype, but the hands-on, instant setup appeals. The important thing here is, something sparser than a full scale seems to work nicer for quantization.

auction action

Luftrum’s 10th annual music industry charity auction is now underway. This time the proceeds go to MusiCares COVID-19 relief.

This one’s just getting started, and it typically takes a couple of weeks to really get rocking. But last year’s auction raised $31,075 for the World Wildlife Fund to help protect rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia. Dozens of plugin and sample library developers and some notable hardware manufacturers contributed a lot of cool stuff to the effort. If you happen to be a maker and seller of music gear, please follow the link and click on “Contact Organizer” to join in.

4 years ago, this auction is what started me in modular synthesis with Mutable Instruments Rings (and a quick purchase of Tides and Peaks to go with it). So it’s like passing a personal milestone when it comes up each year. In subsequent years I’ve seen a couple of others buying their first modules and growing into modular synth buffs.

And if some tempting modular goodies make an appearance, I’ve got 24HP of free space now with no specific plans. As it turns out, what I’ve actually used my Disting EX for in recordings has mainly been crossfading and ring modulation. Mutable Instruments Blinds, which I was already considering as a replacement/consolidation for the AI008 Matrix Mixer and one of my two Shades, can do those things. The Disting sold very quickly, since demand is still higher than production and shipping speeds can handle, and I ordered the Blinds.

I’m holding onto AI008 for now because I’m still waiting on that pinstripe tape to try color-coding it. Could be the available space will expand to 32HP though.

I also decided I don’t need two Rings anymore — the combination of Mimeophon, FX Aid, E520, Shelves, and a mixer are quite potent for resonator purposes. But I’ll always keep one Rings to rule them all. 😀 The spare one also happened to go quickly, traded for a Mystic Circuits Ana, which handles some of the other things I used Disting for occasionally plus a few other fun tricks.


And now, it’s book review time! Only in my usual style of “I read this and I liked it” because being critical is a lot of work and I read for fun.

I had this pair on my wishlist for a while, but borrowed electronically from my local library. A fun, mostly lighthearted fantasy thing that borrows more than a little from D&D monster manuals and surprisingly a lot from rock & roll. There is a wizard named Moog. In the first book, old crusty mercs “get the band back together” to save one of their daughters (and in the process, a city, and the world); the second was said daughter wrapping up her own adventuring career.

I’ve just finished the first of these, and it was brilliant. It’s kind of equal parts fantasy and horror but in a science fiction setting; the writing style and characters are hilariously snarky while the subject matter is as grim and creepy and moody as you’d expect from a story about space necromancers.

The setting is creatively different, mysterious and, well, cryptic — I kind of get a Gene Wolfe vibe from it without the pretentiousness. The characters are the best though. Some of the language is very much present-day slang (e.g. “I couldn’t have noped harder”) but it completely works to convey the kind of attitude the main characters have. These are books that I might want my own copy of, depending on whether I feel like the second one is as strong as the first.