something in the air

I just fired it up a little while ago, so there’s about 7 hours of listening to go before I’ve heard the whole thing — but Ambient Online Themed Compilation 08: Air is now available.

As has been the case for most of them, I have two tracks on it. Here’s what I wrote on the AO forum:

“January March”, very much about bitterly cold winter air, is mostly the Make Noise Mimeophon in self-oscillation, with heavy processing.

“Troposphere” is an improvisation on the Lyra-8 processed two ways in parallel:

  • through a Doepfer A-196 PLL which tracks its pitch, an envelope follower and VCA for dynamics, a filter to roll off the square waves the PLL generates, into Mutable Instruments Clouds for pitch-shifting and granular reverb. I was going for a variation of “shimmer reverb” but it’s more like a sort of steam whistle lead voice.
  • more simply, through Catalinbread Adineko and Mosky Spring Reverb pedals and EQ.

The “piano loop” in it is actually the SynthTech E352 captured in a loop by Mimeophon, whcih I manipulate a little in the module, but also timestretch a bit in the DAW. I also used the loop to train a noise reduction plugin, which I then applied to the full mix to quiet and disrupt the loop somewhat, making it a bit more ghostly. This is a technique I’m going to have to explore more in the future I think.

I guess this is the coronavirus post. I hope there don’t have to be too many of them in the future…

Being almost 50 and diabetic and apparently susceptible to every bug that goes around, I’m trying to be cautious but not worried. My spouse has had pretty serious pneumonia in the past and is on meds that suppress her immune system and works with the public, and again, I’m trying not to be worried about this. My mom has postponed a regular checkup for her heart condition, not wanting to sit in a waiting room with sick older people. (Every checkup so far has given the exact same lack of any bad news, so she’s not too concerned about postponing by a few weeks.) A family friend is an IT consultant who has worked at a location where someone has had a confirmed case of COVID-19 — it’s not like he can just stop taking jobs for the next few months. One of my coworkers is going on a Disney World vacation at the end of this week.

I have made soap and hand sanitizer very frequent visitors in my life, and gone through catalogs of songs to figure out what takes about 20 seconds. (One verse of “Particle Man” is pretty close.)

News reports aside, in regular shopping I haven’t personally seen evidence of shortages, but I haven’t specifically gone to drugstores looking for hand sanitizer or isopropyl alcohol, etc. We did just have our first case reported in the state today.

If it weren’t for actual people dying, and some governments getting heavy-handed with restrictions while others fumble around pretending there’s no real new story, I would kind of be amused at the repeated “don’t worries” from our company’s financial advisor, a clear sign that they are worried. Just a minor setback, just the market closing to prevent a total wipeout, here I’ll send your office a gift basket of snacks. If only we could find a way to reduce oil consumption, greatly reduce pollutants in the atmosphere, kick Wall Street in the teeth, and stop Trump from taking credit for “success” that he has nothing to do with, that didn’t involve people dying first, and impacting the livelihoods of workers and the poor more than the rich. If only there was some way to take care of everyones’ health…

plans? what plans

Rather than selling my Cold Mac, I wound up trading it for a Random*Source Serge VCFQ. That’s a filter, designed by Serge Tcherepin for his own modular synth format, adapted to Eurorack format as a DIY kit, built by someone else.

Based on some feature similarity, I believe VCFQ is what inspired the Joranalogue Filter 8. They’re not identical right down to the core, though. I think VCFQ sounds a bit sweeter in most respects, while Filter 8 has a generally more complete feature set. VCFQ is better for pinging, Filter 8 better for self-oscillating. I’ll leave aside any further comparison details, and just say that I plan to keep them both, while further investigating Ripples to decide whether it’s going to be a long-term keeper.

I’ve also got a trade offer for my Hertz Donut mk3, for a second Stages. Stages can be linked together to seamlessly group segments from one module to the next, so two of them could be used for a 12-step sequence for example. I’m considering taking the offer, though it means replacing Supercell with Typhoon becomes a whole lot less optional, and it closes some paths to future expansion. (I was kind of thinking about Morphagene/Phonogene or some other “tape loop” module, but I expect the E520 will cover that ground admirably anyway.) I was already considering replacing Contour with some other modulation source but the case for doing so wasn’t terribly strong. Another Stages could easily be that source, though!

I’ve just finished reading Leviathan Wakes, the first novel of The Expanse. The usual refrain about these things is “the book was better,” but I’m not sure that’s the case here. I think the changes made for the TV series were mostly well chosen. Lang Belta is definitely better onscreen, since they consulted with a linguist to develop a more believable creole than the English-with-abysmal-Spanish-and-some-German-loanwords mess in the books; even the authors admit that.

It’s a little unfair to compare the first book with the whole 4 seasons of the show so far, but Alex, Naomi and especially Amos all come off as more developed and complex in the show. Having the UN/Earth completely at a distance, with no Chrisjen Avasarala as “Grandma Who Takes No Shit From Anybody”, and no particular Mars loyalty from Bobbie (which came later in the show anyway) or homesickness from Alex, removes a lot of political complication and multi-dimensional sympathy too. Part of the reason I want to go ahead and read the rest of the books at this point is to get to Chrisjen and Bobbie.

On the other hand, the book felt like a balance between Holden with his righteous but naive heroism that frequently backfires, and Miller’s cynical but persistent style. Considered on its own merits rather than balanced against the show, it worked well.

not even a hot take

I have to get this off my chest, I suppose.

It should be no surprise that I find Trump disgusting, embarrassing, and in basically every way terrible; almost everything he has done is the exact opposite of the right thing.

But if Bloomberg gets the DNC nomination, I am going to abstain from voting in the Presidential general election.

I don’t much like Klobuchar, Buttigieg, or Biden. But I would vote for any of them against Trump without flinching, if it came to that.

Bloomberg is just as racist, sexist, fascist and cruel as Trump. He’s richer — the 9th wealthiest man in the US, which is absolutely not a sign that he has regular peoples’ best interests at heart. He’s less of a buffoon in his demeanor, but not really less of an idiot in terms of policy.

Bloomberg was a Republican until 2018 when he officially switched parties for the sole purpose of running against Trump. He endorsed George W Bush and supported the Iraq War, and called Obama “arrogant” and blamed him for “racial division.”

His “stop and frisk” policy as NY mayor was disastrously racist. He claimed in 2013 that they weren’t stopping enough minorities and were stopping too many white people. Of course now he claims to have reduced stop-and-frisk by 95%, but that was after he increased it by 605% and after a federal judge signaled he was about to rule against the policy. He claims credit for a reduction in the crime rate, but similar reductions have been going on since 1990 whether there were 11,000 stops or 686,000 stops per year. He vetoed proposals to increase police accountability (and was overruled by a supermajority).

He spent 12 million dollars to help re-elect Pat Toomey, PA Republican senator, who squeaked by with 1.5 points over the Democratic challenger; if that hadn’t happened we wouldn’t have Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

He believes any public healthcare program should deny care to the elderly rather than “wasting money” by treating them. He literally said it out loud.

Also he’s transphobic.

His entire campaign is based on the lie that he’s the only one who can defeat Trump, with a sort of it-takes-one-to-know-one logic that’s not exactly flattering. There’s actually no reason he couldn’t have done that as a Republican in the primary, except that he also wants to stop any useful progressive reforms that might tax the super-wealthy.

Yet the same talking heads who complain about Bernie not being “a real Democrat” are happy to throw in with Bloomberg. Millions of dollars in advertising are at stake, I suppose…

I honestly think if Bloomberg gets elected by buying his way into it through the Democratic party, in some ways that’s actually a worse sign than Trump’s election through populist appeal to fear and prejudice. Or, call it a second bad sign maybe. It’d more or less be the end of the Democratic party as anything meaningful and supportable.

That goes double if there winds up being a contested convention, with Bernie having a plurality of delegates but not a majority, and the establishment throwing it to Bloomberg. Right now, FiveThirtyEight is putting the odds of a contested convention at 38%, a Bernie win at 36%, Biden at 14% and Bloomberg at 7%, for whatever such an early prediction may be worth.

recursive reverb

The Mosky spring reverb pedal arrived Thursday. It’s small, basic and it does the job. A guitarist who reviewed it said the settings get pretty extreme for his tastes and he keeps both knobs at 9 o’clock, but I cranked them fully and still wanted it in a feedback loop to make it go further. The blue LED on it was blinding, but after seeing some suggestions I tried a silver Sharpie I had to hand, and that dimmed it to reasonable levels.

Adineko arrived Saturday. It’s got a nice sound, especially with a bit of the “Viscosity” setting to make it all swirly… but unfortunately the “Reverb” knob (delay repeats) does nothing. Since I’m using it with a modular synth and Bitwig anyway, I can patch my own feedback loop to get repeats — and in fact, use that along with other processing such as the Mosky, which sounds pretty nice. But its own internal feedback is supposed to be part of its character (and why not combine both internal and external feedback loops), and anyway I paid for a fully working pedal.

The seller says it was 100% working when he shipped it, so he considers it damaged in shipping — and had shipped it through “Reverb Safe Shipping.” (That is, Reverb the online marketplace, not reverb the type of effect, nor “Reverb” the knob that isn’t working!) After some confusion and support emails on both our parts, a “Resolution Agent” is going to get back to me about it. I’d accept either a full refund and return, or partial refund to cover repairs. Probably the former is simpler.

Anyway, after my experiments I have decided I’m selling the Paradox Arquitecto, and will keep an Adineko and the Mosky in their own effect chain. I tried imitating it with Mimeophon by modulating the delay time and it wasn’t even close. It’s funny how many variations there can be on woozy, pitch-shifted echoes without them sounding very similar to each other.

Once this is settles, I am leaning toward Walrus Slö (a reverb made specifically for ambient music) and perhaps OBNE Dweller (a phaser/vibrato/tremolo/delay) to finish off the pedals. Keeping 4-5 mono pedals in two chains is easy enough to manage.

I haven’t really dived into my Akemie’s Castle study yet, but I have been pondering replacing it with Xaoc Odessa or 4ms Ensemble Oscillator. Those are both additive synthesis oscillators with different approaches. Odessa is pure brute force additive with thousands of partials, spectral tilt and comb filtering, a means of splitting partials in groups between two separate outputs (and harmonically multiplying or dividing one of those outputs), and detuning it into inharmonicity; it will do both linear and expo FM. EO is a 16-partial oscillator with banks of different scale combinations and programmable scales, putting it somewhere between chords/music theory and harmonic additive synthesis, and the oscillators can be shaped and have “cross FM” applied but not regular FM. EO is smaller and cheaper. Odessa is much less likely to ever have firmware updates (for good or ill) due to its FPGA nature. I’m sure both of them can produce a wide range of sounds but they’re both outside my normal experience so it’s hard to judge. Neither of them seem particularly difficult to use, though Odessa may be a little more straightforward. There are few demos of EO yet, and no really great comprehensive DivKid (or similar) demo of Odessa yet.

I’m also strongly considering switching out Supercell for one of the “micro expanded Clouds” variants and keeping it in Clouds mode forever, rather than messing with a cheat sheet and different modes. Right now I have 7 browser tabs open and am about to compare the different variants on features, layout, size and price.

it’s not the best choice, it’s Spacer’s Choice

I was talking about my search for an RPG I could get into, and my spouse mentioned watching a Let’s Play video of The Outer Worlds which she thought might amuse me. And she was right.

I was going to wait for a discount, but then I found out XBox Game Pass for PC (is that an awkward name or what?) includes it, and that there’s a $1 for 3 months promotion going on right now. After that, it’s $15 for each block of 3 months. Um, yes.

Without taking too much space explaining the story, it’s a space colony as the ultimate company town, a capitalist dystopia taken to extremes. It’s presented as dark humor with occasional more serious streaks, and there are a few earnest and caring people among both the downtrodden and the oppressor class. The overall style is very Fallout and Borderlands — goofy mascots, ironically retrofuturistic ranging from the Flash Gordon era through 50s and 80s styles — with more than a touch of Firefly.

As far as gameplay goes, it is primarily a shooting RPG, with melee as an option (if not a wise one in more open areas or against some enemies). In some situations you can smooth-talk or sneak your way around violence, but killer robots and alien monsters and marauders tend not to listen to reason. Dialogue choices, and choice of who to help against whom, seem to be meaningful and it’s designed to not break the main storyline even if you kill or betray key NPCs. (So they say… I’m trying to stick with my conscience here.) Overall, while it might not be the exact thing I was looking for — whatever that is — I’m enjoying it.

I am also getting a kick out of Lonely Mountains: Downhill, a game about extreme mountain biking. It’s somewhere between a racing game and a physics game, which I guess given that I like rally racing games, is just about where I like things. The graphics are cute and minimalist, there are shortcuts everywhere (many with increased risk or skill/luck required) as well as places that look like shortcuts and turn out not to be and it’s just a fun little thing.

I was less pleased by Forza Horizon 4. It’s a favorite for many, but to me it’s too arcadey and over-the-top, as well as buggy. I couldn’t get my controller working with it and it’s definitely the sort of game where playing with a keyboard is the last resort. You can drive at top speed through stone walls without damaging your car, as if they’re merely piles of balloons — pretty much the opposite of the experience in Dirt Rally 2.0 and WRC 7 and the like.

I think, aside from rally games, what I want in a racing game is a sim like Project CARS, with all the weird exotic stuff like the Ariel Atom and BAC Mono like it has… but where the AI has to use the same physics the player does, instead of having perfect grip during a rainstorm with racing slicks. And no getting stuck with no way to abort a super annoying racing series with a wonky car that it turns out you hate. I’d still be playing it if not for those two things.

My Particle pedal sold, and I’ve got two things incoming:

  • Mosky MP-51 Spring Reverb Mini: it’s a tiny pink pedal with a barcode — a blatant copy of the Malekko Omicron Spring — for basically lunch money. Someone posted a photo of one with an MXR Carbon Copy delay captioned “instant vibe,” and I had to look into it. I do like spring reverb, particularly in a feedback loop. Anything this tiny isn’t using a real spring tank but a “Belton brick”, but those sound pretty great honestly.
  • Catalinbread Adineko: an emulation of an “oil can” delay. The original Tel-Ray echo used weird science to electrostatically store a charge for a brief period, picking it up with rotating magnetic heads vaguely similar to tape heads, giving a more warbly and murky character that sounds very musical. This one uses clever DSP instead but still gives a nice range of echo, vibrato, and reverb-ish sounds.

a video interlude

One of my favorite PC game genres is rally racing. I find it one of the more interesting and less pointless types of racing in the real world — it’s a test of car design and safety features as well as driver skill, and things like improved tires, anti-lock brakes, and traction control systems are a direct result of these sorts of races. As a video game, it’s got more scenery and more varied challenge than driving around in a circle. It’s not so much about going as fast as possible as it is about not getting slowed down (or completely defeated) by difficult curves and conditions; there’s a saying, “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Different types of cars from different eras provide unique challenges — whether it’s slow small front-wheel drive cars that understeer and don’t have much acceleration to make up for minor cornering mistakes, overpowered rear-wheel drive monsters from the 80s that were eventually banned for being unsafe, heavy but powerful 90s 4WD cars or modern RWD GT muscle cars, or nimble high-tech rally cars with all the traction and stability you could want but are likely to lead to overconfidence.

I’m not fantastic at these games, and my use of a general-purpose game controller (the Steam Controller, until mine wears out) rather than a racing wheel with force feedback, marks me as a filthy casual… but when I get into a good groove it’s a lot of fun.

One of the cool things about the genre is that most games model real-world courses. Monte Carlo is one of my favorite rally locations. The lower altitude sections (in games anyway) tend to be clear of ice and snow, and can be tackled at reckless speeds alternating with slower twists. But the more elevated areas are just one curvy, frozen slide that’s a struggle no matter what you’re driving. Especially uphill! So it gives me some joy to watch professional drivers with the best technology 2020 has to offer screwing up, one after another, in pretty much the exact same ways that I do and winding up in the same predicaments.

I feel like they could just keep sending cars along this section until this particular curve is completely blocked with disabled vehicles.

The photographers and fans risking life and limb here are nothing compared to some of the daredevils/idiots I’ve seen in some rally videos. Leaping out in front of a barely-in-control speeding car to snap a photo has, in fact, gotten some people killed and is highly discouraged, but it sure seemed to be the norm in some races of earlier decades.

Next up, a video recently posted by computerloverecords on Instagram: a very 80s TV ad for the CZ-101, one of Casio’s few actually respected synthesizers.

It’s a rocket launcher, apparently. “Easy” was one of the selling points, because its main competition was Yamaha DX series synths which were equally easy to play but were unfamiliar and could be difficult and awkward to program. I owned a DX100 for a while, but never wore a helmet or leather gloves while playing:

Rewind 3 years to Korg, with one of the last budget analog synths before the digital revolution (and the computer invasion and eventual analog resurgence). They played it slightly less goofy but it’s still extremely 80s. One of the bass players in my high school jazz band had one, and the riffs I played on it were, sad to say, not far from what’s here. But once again, not being in tune with synth fashions, I wasn’t wearing yellow leg warmers.


Between projects. I haven’t felt quite like jumping into the next album’s recordings, just doing some experimentation for the moment. Reading some depressing books while my spouse is on a weekend trip probably was a poor choice. But the books are done and she’s returning tomorrow.

I may have chosen cables for the AA.1 poorly; they’re awfully short. But since I’m not actually using the physical controls on Particle I can probably turn it on its back, so they may still reach. The AA.1 should also arrive tomorrow.

I’ve ordered a Happy Nerding FM Aid from Schneidersladen — sort of the unofficial home store of Eurorack, and the only store in the world that claimed to have them in stock. But I haven’t heard from them yet about shipping, so I hope that was actually true… anyway, their prices without VAT are often low enough that, even with international shipping, they beat some American prices anyway. I had FM Aid a couple of years ago and it was cool, but let go of it when I acquired my first Hertz Donut mk2, thinking I wouldn’t need it anymore. With increased understanding of FM, PM and waveshaping and no “real” wavefolder to work with, I want one again. Some of my experiments in Bitwig Grid with sine shaping have told me that the HD mk2, with this sine shaping method of PM, can sound remarkably like old-school Yamaha OPL FM… which is one reason I like the Akemie’s Castle.

The other reason I like the Castle is its “super doomful” chords. As it turns out, the Sync3 firmware for the Starling Via platform can do moderately doomful chords, and those can be enhanced into super doomfulness by applying phase modulation from another source or giving it more complex input to work with. Sync3 is sort of a digital hyper-PLL, latching perfectly onto a signal and generating other signals at selectable frequency ratios. And that makes it an excellent potential partner for the FM Aid.

So I see a path where I might let go of the big ol’ Castle and its thirst for -12V current, without losing much capability at all. That remains to be seen after I work with it throughout Album Thirteen though. I could potentially drop a 4ms Ensemble Oscillator in there instead — a recently announced hybrid additive/waveshaping oscillator — or something weirder like the Beast-Tek P239 Hyper Fist, or just let the space sit empty and see if anything really pulls at me later.

I’m also wondering, idly at the moment, about how the Xaoc Timiszoara will turn out. From here on out, I will simply call it Tim. It’s based on the Spin FV-1 effects chip, which is commonly used in guitar pedals and has a massive open-source library of DSP code. Unlike other Eurorack implementations of the Spin though, you can load stuff onto it via an SD card and it has a lovely interface with a small LCD screen. I’m considering it as a possible replacement for the Supercell in my post-E520-arrival rack. I’ll see what people think of it once it’s released.

I’ve been listening to some of my moderately older albums — still Starthief stuff, but from 2018 and early ’19 — and surprising myself. A lot of it really does not meet the criteria of what I think of as Starthief music, in terms of structure and flow and the sound palette, and isn’t something I would create or release today. I think getting away from MIDI sequencing on the song level, and having form flow from improvisation, is the biggest part of that.

I’m still kind of hunting a roleplaying game to get into. I briefly tried Secret World: Legends this evening, and while it’s kind of intriguing in terms of story (at least for the chaos faction and perhaps the Illuminati, but not the stodgy Templars) I found the combat to be pretty bleh and disjointed. Sort of like a sloppier and more vague Neverwinter (which I also thought briefly about getting back into).

I saw an announcement today about Torchlight 3. More action game than RPG really, but I had several hours of fun with Fate, Torchlight and Torchlight 2 before getting bored with each of them in turn, and then coming back to them a few months later. I suspect about the same from TL 3, and that’s okay.

I really would like a decent, properly funded, with enough development time and clear design goals, and fully polished and balanced, remake of Hellgate: London. I want to shoot zombies and demons with explosive darts, weird tentacle guns, psycho-cybernetic insect swarms, plasma grenade launchers, a personal squad of drones, and spooky dark spells. An enchanted katana or two would also be nice. And I want more than three different looking streets in all of London. And I don’t want quests that have me gather 7 “things” (literally labeled “thing”), or play capture-the-flag against demons for no explicable reason, or slooooowly burn out all the pus-filled gunk from a section of town with a weak-ass flamethrower, or remotely send orders to a hapless squad of weak, disobedient and poorly armed soldiers. And I don’t want monsters that it takes approximately 17 minutes worth of full-auto fire to the eyeballs to bring down but doesn’t provide any actual challenge aside from the boredom factor. And I don’t want the whole game to be bought by a third party who cares even less, rips out half the game, converts it to multiplayer and shuts it down a year later.

That game wanted to be great and never had a chance. Ah well.

Those depressing books? The first was Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty, which was described as “a Soviet fairy tale” — and despite a little bit of framing that tried to link it to Russian folktales about Ivan, Vasilisa, Koschei the Deathless, the Baba Yaga and so forth – -it was using the term in the derogatory sense of wishful thinking doomed to failure. The basic premise is that some of the mathematicians of Kruschev’s day were convinced that, through the proper application of mathematical models, they could set prices and production targets that would optimize the Soviet economy and, in a short few years, grow far beyond the capitalist pigs on the other side of the world, and successfully spread peace and full Communism across the Earth. And even halfway into the book, I was under the impression this was meant to be an alternate history where something like that actually happened. NOPE. Self-interest, personal politics, dogmatic inertia, corruption, and bureaucracy got in the way. It fouled the mathematicians’ models to some degree, but even more so, ensured that they didn’t get to really apply their theories.

And the overall feeling of Soviet life in this book was kind of… squalid. Stalin’s legacy of disregard for current human life and happiness in order to secure some theoretical future, a whole lot of smoking and drinking, disregard for the environment, the criminal underworld, shabby living conditions and (often willful) ignorance just made the whole culture seem thoroughly unpleasant. Worst fairy tale ever.

It wasn’t without some good bits though. To me the most fascinating thing was the notion that Marxism was based entirely on the idea of a workers’ revolution in a fully developed, industrial, successful capitalist society that was already humming along smoothly and had some idea of what goods were worth. Instead, it happened in a poor backward agrarian feudal one. And it was decided at the highest levels that sacrifices would be made in order to jump-start industrial production to catch up with the capitalists. And that meant millions of people were starved for decades in order to ramp up heavy industry that was obsolete by the time it finally got up to speed, and actually wound up subtracting value from raw materials while polluting the environment and failing to provide for peoples’ needs. It wasn’t “socialism” that caused that suffering, it was central economic planning by iron-fisted ideologues with no heart and too little brain and a completely wrong vision of eventual success.

This book isn’t turning me against socialism, but certainly illustrated the folly of Soviet Communism. I still believe workers should share fairly in the fruits of their labor and in decisions that affect the course of their companies; that inequality matters and that rentier capitalism, inheritance and executive pay need to be severely limited; that collectively we have the means and obligation to feed, clothe, house, educate and keep healthy and safe all of our people and not sacrifice them to enrich the 1%. A market economy can partially self-organize, although it needs some regulation and assistance; one has to remember that (A) the theoretical perfect consumer knowledge and perfect competitive environment don’t exist, and (B) when it comes down to it, people are more important than money.

…the other depressing (sort of) but heartwarming (kind of) and strangely uplifting (a bit), book was Moominvalley in November. Yes, a children’s book. Theoretically. I wound up getting it because of a sort of hot take on a gaming website that floated the Moomin setting as one for some interesting and atypical games. It quoted from the “Rain” chapter of the book, in which Snufkin, an itinerant musician and a very contemplative sort, was listening to the rain and trying to recapture the five perfect bars of music that previously came to him at the wrong time but which would now be perfect. I have fond memories of a couple of the other Moomin books from childhood, so I had to read this one. It was a very wistful sort of book, where each character either longed for something or was anxious or sort of empty. One of them actually starts in on the “Swedish death cleaning” thing (which I recently heard about in an “Ask a Mortician” video my spouse was watching) after a frightening event.

I actually don’t know what a child would have thought of it compared to the other books… but now I wonder just how dark some of the other books were and how I’d interpret them differently now. Comet in Moominland was about the impending destruction of the world, after all.

Now I’m on to Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower, which probably isn’t going to be all fun and games either but I do really like her work. It’s got my attention so far — the narrator is a god who remembers the time before life crawled out of the sea and has to abide by particular rules; the story is told more or less in the second person, with the “you” being a trans man named Eolo. So that’s different…

star and other wars

We still haven’t seen Rise of Skywalker. First, we were out of town visiting my parents, who would rather record 87 Hallmark Christmas movies and watch 6 of them (plus reality shows about gold miners and whatever) than go to a cinema. I love my parents, but their media habits are pretty much the opposite of mine.

And then we were both sick, and have remained so. I think maybe at this point I could sit in a theater for a couple of hours, so we might go soon. So far I’ve been able to avoid spoilers, other than the general impression that a lot of people didn’t like it and some people found it really satisfying. That’s pretty much what people said about episodes 7 and 8 and Solo, so… whatever. At this point I think Star Wars is too big a cultural thing with so many personal interpretations that no possible movie could please everyone.

I’ve been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, a now 8 year old MMO (11 years old if you count the official announcement of its development). Since I was one of the major developers on HeroEngine, the platform that runs the game, I have mixed feelings here. HeroEngine was frankly a year or two away from being ready for prime time when they insisted on licensing it, and they forked the code with their own patches and modifications to the core technology that we thought unwise. We were half afraid they’d release a broken game and give people a poor impression of the engine. (That was far from being our company’s main problem, but I’m not here to be bitter about history right now.) And here it is 2020 and I encountered a bug that I fixed myself back in about 2009…

But the game does mostly work, and is… okay? It feels like an older MMO, not as fluid as something like Guild Wars 2 which was only released 1 year later. I see a lot in it that’s how our ill-fated Hero’s Journey behaved, except that it’s an actual playable game, where HJ was 27 false starts at something that the management couldn’t decide if it was a game or a tech demo. Anyway. A lot of what you can do in the game, in terms of customization and even basic item storage, is restricted to subscribers. I kind of enjoyed the beginning of the Imperial Agent story, but then my interest kind of fizzled when I got to the second chapter. I also kind of enjoyed the beginning of the smuggler’s story, but the overall gameplay is not really very engaging to me, and I expect I’ll just uninstall it tonight.

I kind of want an MMO experience, but a better one.

I played Warframe a bit, but the story really takes a while to wind up. The gameplay is pretty much just a mildly decent shooter, but I am really not sure I want to play shooters any more. (This one is generally more science fictionish than gun culturish, but still.) Character customization is extremely limited without plunking down surprising amounts of money or playing for quite a long time to accumulate resources (though some of the robot/suit designs I see on other players are very elaborate and cool). But the worst bit is, despite apparently huge amounts of content out there, I got stuck at a point where I can’t successfully complete available missions unless, perhaps, I grind ones I’ve already done. Bleh to that.

I also tried Dragon’s Dogma very, very briefly. It’s a console port, with poor support for my screen resolution, awful unexplained controls, and NPCs that chatter repetitively at you multiple times per minute. I asked for a refund from Steam in record time.

Other ones I’ve considered are Final Fantasy XIV, and Elder Scrolls Online. Since they’re not free, I read over lots of reviews and I’m not sure I would really dig either one. So perhaps I should just drop it and do other things (like making music). When you’ve got a cold it just feels easier to play games than to do something creative, though.

Given 45’s unprovoked, inappropriate, illegal, foolhardy, shortsighted, selfish, heartless, etc. action against Iran, and their nearly inevitable, understandable but saddening reaction, and the propaganda and warmongering noises coming out of the mouths of politicians and pundits, I think my personal balance point between staying informed and staying sane is tilting more toward the side of blissful ignorance. Reading about the missile attack on US military bases, the conflicting versions of casualties coming from various completely unreliable sources, and the threats of further violence in both directions, before going to bed last night, really did not help me sleep or feel generally better about humanity.

Nothing at this point is going to change my opinion: war is stupid and cruel and primitive and we don’t need it. For the past 70 years or so, the US has been sticking its ham fists into the Middle East and every single time, our actions have come back to bite us while causing unneeded suffering. It’s long past time we just stopped. We need to transition away from fossil fuels pretty damn fast anyway.

Wars belong a long time ago, in a galaxy far away, and solely in the imagination. (For that matter, maybe we can even have some stories in that setting that don’t even involve war, but other conflicts and dramas. Just not Hutt: A Love Story please.)

I don’t do this, but I totally did this

The one with the hat? That was me. And I also accept the way it was resolved.

The new year (and decade too, I grudgingly accept) is underway. I’m back at work today. I’m working on those 2020 goals: I started my new gear tracking a few days early, I’m making some effort to not engage with toxic forum threads, and I’ve started basic food journaling using an app called “My Symptoms.” (It’s intended to identify which foods lead to which negative consequences, but still works for my purposes).

I’ve found that, on Ozempic, I’m eating smaller meals. I just feel full sooner — unlike my experience on Byetta a few years ago, where I got “stop eating NOW or you will throw up” signals between one bite and the next. I do feel queasy occasionally, and I hope that will fade soon without any of the rest changing. I haven’t tested my blood sugar in quite some time, but I think I may start because I’m having some moments where it feels like it might be low.

I’ve started listening to The Happiness Lab podcast. I feel like, as with many books on self-help or similar areas, it’s padded a bit with selling you on it (when you’ve already bought it — or in this case, when you’ve started listening to it for free). Maybe bolstering the belief that it works makes it work better, but I often kind of wish they’d get to the point faster. On the other hand, some of the anecdotal stories have been interesting so far. Anyway, I’ll see how this goes.

One of the items on my goals list was to think more about process, technique, intent, etc. above gear. Having heard some really great stuff in the last few days that uses the Ciat-Lombarde Cocoquantus, I felt myself kind of wanting it… but not. It’s a bit expensive, I’d have to figure out where to put it in my setup, and seems to have quite a learning curve. What I would rather do is get the class of sounds I’m liking from it out of gear I already have, which I believe is entirely possible, and refine that into something that flows naturally for me. In my mind, it’s all about lo-fi and somewhat glitchy looping creating a wide ambient bed.

I know, that sounds a bit opposite to my feelings about some other gear, where the experience of using it and the workflow is all-important. But I’m not looking for that new experience or workflow change at this point.


Been a few days since my last post — we went to my parents’ place for Christmas, and caught colds, and also my digestion is in some chaos due to switching diabetes meds. And I often write blog posts while at work rather than at home, where I can make music, read, play games or catch up on The Expanse (for instance).

(The Expanse is kind of fun for me for an additional reason. I turn captions on to catch all the Lang Belta, but I get fun bonuses like this:

(There’s also a lot of [pensive music], [tense music], the occasional [dark ambient music] and some [rhythmic electronic club music]. Fun!)

Other than the cold, Christmas was nice. It’s been a year since I got to see my family. Mom fed us very well, especially in the breakfast department where I’m used to just having cereal or yogurt, or a McDonald’s sausage biscuit at my desk at work. We tend to exchange a lot of gifts, and I wound up with a nice Luna ukulele, a variety of books, and various bits of electronic stuff including a hand crank generator that I want to experiment with wobbly CV input to the modular.

I still have another week off, and tonight we’ll be visiting the brand new St. Louis Aquarium which just opened on Christmas day. Hopefully we can fit the new Star Wars movie in sometime as well, if we’re feeling up to it.

In 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons, one of the actions your character can take on your turn is to “refocus” — to wait a little bit for other characters or enemies to go first, and reset your turn’s timing. I feel like I have refocused in terms of my thinking on album 12. I woke up ridiculously early a couple of mornings ago and wound up listening to my recent “misfit” recordings in reverse order… and for the most part, it worked nicely. I found if I drop out most of the ones I was originally trying to match, I have 48 minutes of material with a pretty consistent feel to it. It’s generally more “calm” than “calmly foreboding,” and I think I will run with that. No idea yet for an album name, but it’ll come.

In writing up posts for forums, I’ve come up with gear priorities. While yes, I plan to keep my modular setup pretty stable this year now that it’s in a really great place, I do have some changes in mind:

  • Klavis Flexshaper. Not yet in stock anywhere, this is what Oberheim for some reason called a “Tracking Generator” in its synths — a sort of waveshaping lookup table, where you can map an input to a different output shape. Good for distortion, wavefolding, frequency doubling, rectification, inverting, and generally altering audio and control signals in many interesting ways. I have space for one right now, and I could see maybe having two eventually if I decide it replaces the tanh[3].
  • Hertz Donut mk2: I want to find a used one and compare it directly to the mk3. With both of them in my rack, I will be more easily able to choose a favorite, and sell the other later. My guess is I will choose to keep the mk2.
  • OBNE Dweller and Red Panda Particle pedals: I can’t decide which of these two would be better for the kind of textures I want, but both are on my list. Probably the order will be based on which one I see a good deal on first, and whim. But I don’t feel like I need either of them.
  • Digitech Freqout pedal: I’m mostly just curious about whether this’ll work for me; it’s fairly cheap and there will be little risk in trying it, but it’s not a high priority.
  • DSM03: it doesn’t really distinguish itself in my rack, despite some more interesting audio rate modulation than the Mimeophon. It’s probably going away when the E520 arrives, and I’m only keeping it in place for that sense of stability.

But my higher priority above all of those is working more with the Akemie’s Castle in particular — because I feel there’s a lot more in it than I’ve made use of so far, having been distracted by the Lyra and learning mastering and everything else. And also working more with the sound generating possibilities of Mimeophon, and exploring Via Scanner.