it came to other people in a dream

A few days ago my spouse mentioned a dream with Michelle Obama in it. Apparently dreams featuring the Obamas dispensing wisdom are not an uncommon thing:

had a dream obama and the guy who plays air guitar at the mall were about to fight and obama said “ violence for violence is the rule of beasts “ and i woke up because that was the rawest shit i ever heard

http://kumagawa.tumblr.com/post/149460046939/had-a-dream-obama-and-the-guy-who-plays-air-guitar

There are t-shirts and podcast episode titles and a database of Obama dreams. So, why not an album of electronic music? Yep, I’m tentatively calling the next album and the last track on it The Rule of Beasts.

The last track stands out from the others in style (but is probably not “the rawest shit you eve heard”). I was trying out the Sputnik Five-Step Voltage Source I’d just received, driven rhythmically by Teletype and modulating Plaits’ various parameters. I recorded it but figured it was destined to be dumped on SoundCloud as too different from my ambient drone style. But a couple of ideas struck me right before publishing it, and it went back into SoundForge for a few more rounds of editing. The result works, I think, but I’ll wait to confirm that in a different listening environment first.

I’ve got 70 minutes of material now, but a couple of songs need final decisions about inclusion. For comparison, January 2018’s Nereus was a couple of minutes shorter and I’d rejected about 20 minutes of other recorded material.

I’d previously thought about calling this one Super Blood Wolf Moon, but that already feels like a dated and irrelevant reference already. It’s the title of one of the other songs though, if I don’t change it. The album art also was originally one of my dad’s photos of that event, but because the resolution was too low for DistroKid’s requirements, I started processing it… and now it’s a metallic tunnel/vortex thing. My approach to photo editing software sometimes resembles my approach to music making.

Science!

That Sputnik module is a bit quirky. The pulses coming from the top row when a step changes are ridiculously short and don’t reliably trigger every module. It works fine with Tides and Teletype though, and if the ER-301 is fine with it I won’t sweat it. Otherwise I’ve been able to massage the signal a little bit with tanh[3] to keep it over common trigger thresholds long enough to work.

I made a couple of wrong assumptions about controls in the Stage Select section, so it’s slightly less like the Buchla Music Easel sequencer than I thought — but cool in a different way. The Address input is exactly as expected and is easy to control via Teletype. Overall it’s a fun, hands-on multi-channel sequencer. Between it and the faderbank for the Teletype and the SQ-1, and good old MIDI, I believe that should settle the sequencing question.

I’ve got a tentative layout worked out for the new case. I took those guiding principles I came up with in the previous post, used the bubbl.us mind mapping tool to associate modules into groups, considered the impossible ideal of having all my modulation sources equidistant from any given destination, thought about geometry and pre-modern naval tactics and put together a compromise.

There’s a logic to each module’s placement, even if the logic was something a bit weak like “it was the right size to fit in an awkward gap” or “this keeps all the black-panel modules together.” Actual usage will tell me whether I want to shift things around, but I think this is a setup I can live with; I know the modulators are generally on the right edge, VCAs/LPGs clustered together, sequencing all at the bottom and so on.

remod(ular)eling

I decided on the MDLRCASE 12U at 456 total HP. In the 370HP range I was aiming for, cases tend to be shorter but too wide, or I’d need two cases and would have an awkward time integrating everything else — and it would have been pricier, required some awkward DIY at almost the same price, or perhaps a custom job from one of the makers that don’t answer their email… anyway, this one should suit me well. And my spouse has offered to do some pyrography on it, which seems a lot cooler than slapping synth brand stickers all over it.

When I started to experiment with modular sequencing, what I really wanted was a Sputnik Five-Step Voltage Source — but the company had shuttered and they were only available used. I tried to make do with other modules, such as Pressure Points and Mimetic Digitalis, but they weren’t quite what I wanted. I found someone selling their 5-Step plus the Selector companion module for half what I expected, so I went for it — it’s not small but I’ll have the space.

Aside from a couple of minor VCA and pedal interface substitutions I’ll do in trades if possible, and some re-knobbing and possible necessary cables — I plan to spend no more money until my “2019 Gear Spending Tracker” balance is back into the black through selling old gear.

Not that it matters much next to tomorrow afternoon’s pharmacy copay for 30 days of meds — I guess it’s important that I maintain my serfdom to America’s insurance billionaires. I hope we get our Medicare For All next year, so I can dance on the graves of Anthem and Express Scripts before they dance on mine.

Anyway, now it’s time to figure out how I’m going to arrange modules in the new case. Even this is something of an art, much discussed on modular forums, with several schools of thought behind it. (Surprise, nerds make everything nerdier!) You can group aesthetically, ergonomically, by signal flow, by function, at random, etc. There are some practical constraints, such as cases where some sections don’t accommodate deeper modules, or narrow modules with tiny knobs that need a little finger room on their sides — or simply finding places to fit modules of different widths.

Even if you pick something like signal flow as your priority, there are different methods. East Coast subtractive synthesis typically proceeds left to right from VCO to VCF to VCA — often with an envelope generator standing in for “VCA” on the panels of fixed-architecture synths, and any LFOs and secondary envelopes in a row below that. Buchla designs — more modular, but with a sharp distinction between control signals and audio signals — proceed from control to sound source to output, which reflects something of an acoustic mindset. But Eurorack modular synths require a little arbitrary shoehorning if you’re going to do this; many of even the simplest modules can fit in multiple categories.

The guiding principles for my layout are:

  • I have 20cm jumpers for my i2c connections since they’re supposed to be kept short — so Teletype, TXb, and ER-301 will be neighbors. According to some, I might have some leeway in placing the 16n Faderbank, though.
  • Modules with “permanent” exterior connections — I/O patchbay(s), pedal interfaces, TXb — should be kept to corners or edges so their cables can be routed out of the way.
  • Try to discourage proximity-based “cliques” among modules — a reason I wanted to merge back to one case in the first place. Since I don’t want to frequently randomize, I think this implies a functional grouping. The impossible ideal is that all modulators are equidistant from any given destination.
  • Try not to have scattered gaps throughout the case (which can complicate rearranging and require more small blank panels).
  • Try to keep like panel colors and brands together, but that’s secondary to all other concerns.

well-oiled machine

For the last few days I have been trying CBD oil. Someone on a forum recommended it about a year ago when I was talking about anxiety, but at the time I thought “whatever, hippie.” There’s this mental connection between hemp and pot that is not very scientific or fair but was trained into us 80s kids, and the common semiotics don’t really help.

Over time, more articles about it came up, and I read a couple of them and thought maybe it actually might be helpful for anxiety… but I was still unsure about how legit and legal it is. But then in the past couple of weeks, two or three billboards have popped up locally advertising CBD in shops. After a few hours of researching it some more I thought… okay, why not. I have various pain and would like to lay off the ibuprofen, and anxiety is still a thing even if it’s not so oppressive as it was last January. So it’s worth a shot.

Following advice and reviews from several sources, I went with a CBDPure tincture oil (300), taken sublingually, half a dropper full twice per day. Let me tell you, the stuff tastes just plain gross. I don’t get too much of that while letting it rest under my tongue, but if I’m not lucky I do when I swallow the rest. Burping is the worst though, ewwww.

It absolutely does make me feel more at ease and unburdened. It doesn’t seem to be doing much for pain, but I have been skipping the ibuprofen since I started. (Maybe because, with a better mood I am less bothered by the pain.) It might be worth trying a stronger concentration or more quantity after a few weeks.

Once this bottle is done, if not before, I may look into capsules or gummies to avoid the nasty, nasty taste. Since I’m not having panic attacks I’m not too concerned about whether it takes effect in 10 minutes or an hour.

I’ve picked up a whole bunch of music-related reading — a couple of individual ebooks, and then a Humble Bundle on computer music. My first read among them was A Bang, A Whimper & A Beat: Industrial Music and Dystopia.

It’s a scholarly study of the genre, its meanings and inspirations and how it is viewed by fans and non-fans. There’s a whole section analyzing a selection of five songs in terms of content (with a heroic but doomed effort to transcribe them) and listeners’ impressions, which I largely skimmed. Otherwise it was pretty interesting stuff, and made me realize some things that I just sort of accepted subconsciously or didn’t especially take note of.

Industrial had its beginnings in anti-capitalist, “anti-art” art groups. Early industrial was sonically more acoustic, involved building ad-hoc instruments out of junk and making clanging, percussive noise to go along with busted guitars and such. As the cyberpunk fiction genre (which is pretty explicitly anti-capitalist) emerged, the music and fiction swerved toward each other and became entangled, and it became more of an electronic music genre.

The theme of dystopia is strong: the earth and its people exploited past the breaking point. Dehumanization for profit, oppression for profit, war for profit, religion for profit. “Rationalization” taken to irrational extremes and the downfall of society. The machine as a symbol of oppressive power, systemic lack of human empathy — and also as victim, the loss of individuality, individual worth and freedom of expression. (“We are the robots”, the Kraftwerk song says; “we are programmed just to do anything you ask us to.” The word “robot” comes from the Czech robota, meaning forced labor.)

The sound palette in industrial music fits: drums for the march of progress or the march of troops or unceasing pounding machines. Heavy bass and drones for foreboding. Distorted and processed vocals — tormented and scream-like, cold and machinelike, or calling for revolution through a megaphone. No guitar solos (and few synth “solos” as such) because virtuosity is individuality.

Like punk, an important aspect of the genre is a rejection of conformity to the mainstream (disseminated via capitalist media for the convenience of the corporate overlords) — but it does it with a martial, regimented, uniform beat. It uses the imagery of fascism and control against those things, and sometimes confuses non-fans in the process. For a while after the Columbine shooting, industrial music was scapegoated alongside video games, trenchcoats, and all sorts of irrelevant things that aren’t guns and the alienation that leads people to use them on each other.

There is a constellation of genres that are culturally associated with Industrial music — due to similar messaging and aesthetics but more because some of the musicians and many of the fans crossed over. Goth is a particularly strong association. Another is Industrial Ambient, which is now more commonly called Dark Ambient.

The musical imagery of Dark Ambient is the desolation left in the aftermath. Abandoned factories and cities, rusting vehicles, collapse and decay; salt flats and dust bowls; tolling bells and whispering ghosts. Lots of reverb! Icy tundra, outer space, tombs — a closely related subgenre some have called “Isolationism.” Disquiet in a quiet place, pensiveness, mysteries and secrets, the spirit world, the interiors of ancient or alien ruins — I have no idea what this branch is called but it’s more what I associate my own music with.

And then there’s Dark Techno (closely associated with Drone Techno), which borrows heavily from Dark Ambient as well as Industrial. It tends to be slow and heavy compared to most Techno and Industrial, with vocals a rarity; it’s more like ambient with a beat. Some of my music kind of tacks toward this subgenre without quite getting into its lane, I feel.

NAMM jam

The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) has a big yearly trade show this time of year. Not every player in the synthesizer end of the instrument business attends — the thing has a reputation of being dominated by guitars, with a smattering of other traditional Western instruments, and it’s huge and loud and expensive, maybe not the best venue to show off more complex instruments or communicate their subtleties. There are more synth-friendly events throughout the year that are closer-knit and make more sense.

But for those who don’t go — like Moog Music or Make Noise — it’s still pretty common to announce and/or release new products at around this time. So the blogs and forums are a flurry of activity and it’s hard even for fans to keep up with all the videos, writeups, and discussion.

The one “YES I MUST HAVE THAT” item for me is Make Noise QPAS, Quad Peak Animation System — a fancy filter that I’ve decided will replace my Twinpeak and also, why not, my Cinnamon because I basically never use two filters in a recording and I’m going to have the ER-301 to do virtual filters anyway. There were intriguing teasers on social media that we speculated on, and then a short video demo, and then a livestreamed demonstration and talk by the designer Tony Rolando (who, through a combination of astute interviews and cool gear inventions, has sort of become one of my synth heroes*). So that’s pre-ordered.

Another likely one was announced a little early: the Korg Volca Modular, a miniscule but genuinely semi-modular, West Coast style synth that is either going to confuse a lot of people or win a lot of converts to the Way of Buchla (possibly both). Its existence makes me confident I can let go of my Double Helix with little pain.

A few other bits of gear have sparked brief passing interest and mild curiosity. A couple of them, I’m skeptical of and need audio and video demos to prove themselves to me. A couple of them seem very nice but not something I particularly need (the Moog Sirin “analog messenger of joy” for instance).

And then there’s the Arturia MicroFreak. Nearly everything about it makes me sad and screams “out of touch marketing” louder than any sound the instrument can make. The name is bad, the ad copy is bad, the video is painful; the graphic design is bad, the sound is… either kind of bland or the demos are extremely bland. What makes it notable, other than its weird looks and (kind of cool) touchplate keyboard, is the claim that they “collaborated” with Mutable Instruments.

According to Émilie (who is Mutable Instruments): they used some of her (open-source) code from the Plaits module, with both implicit and explicit permission. They invited her to one awkward “focus group”-like meeting after the instrument design was already finished, but she never had the chance to even playtest it, nor even see a photo of it until a week ago. But they slapped her logo and company name on the website and claimed it was a collaboration, and now people think the thing has her endorsement and participation.

UPDATE: Arturia apologized and changed their website. Instead of claiming collaboration it’s now “we’ve also integrated the open-source Plaits oscillator developed by Eurorack legends Mutable Instruments.” Much less misleading.

Also, as more demos come in, the sound might have more promise than it initially seemed. I may keep an eye on it because the keyboard controller frankly intrigues me.

Until Émilie posted a call outlining it in more detail and asking people not to be an angry mob, there was a bit of fan backlash. During that interval I contemplated alternatives to my Microbrute. Something very compact that offers MIDI control, immediate playability and tweakability and good sound — there aren’t too many options within the physical dimensions available really.

There’s a particular range of technique and sound I really love about the Microbrute — the interaction of its triangle oscillator output and its saturation and filter feedback — but if I can replicate that with other gear I have or which is easily available, I could let it go. Now that things are calmer, I’m thinking about that in terms of opportunity rather than boycott. If I can make those sounds with some combination of my modular and software, I could have more control over the subtleties. If I could use a more compact and/or alternative controller, that’s a plus too. But I don’t have to choose that just because of some bonehead marketing committee at Arturia.

Anyway: with the first day of the show over, so is most of the internet excitement. Now the focus is on waiting for clarification and demos of specific interesting gear, and mostly just getting on with our lives.

As I’d planned, I’ve been keeping track of money spent and recovered from gear sales — and also projecting ahead on planned purchases and sales. I’m currently a little in the red thanks to that pre-order, but overall, this plan has me unspending money. I am getting to be on a first name basis with Kevin at the local post office, who now knows I trade “studio equipment.” I may run out of boxes to ship things in, but I’ll get back to the idea of a relatively lean-and-mean but powerful synth setup like I’d planned in 2017, but which ran ahead of me for a bit.

(*) I could rant about “heroes” but I’ll keep it brief: I don’t really have “heroes” but people I admire for particular specific qualities while fervently hoping they’re not an animal abuser, bigot, rapist, supporter of vile causes, or a willing or unwitting pawn in a Russian intelligence operation. You know what a “real hero” is? A meta-concept from fiction and mythology. But in terms of people I have that cautious admiration for: a handful each of instrument designers, musicians, writers, artists and activists.

super blood wolf moon!

I did not get a good photo of the eclipse. We saw it with our own eyes though, despite the 13 degree weather, and it was really nifty. Not quite Great Solar Eclipse of 2017 awe-inspiring, but still… nifty.

I named a song after it. Of course.

My dad did get some good photos, so maybe one of those will become the cover art for the next album? We’ll see.

Last night was the finale of Steven Universe. Not the end of the series, but the end of the five seasons they originally planned for.

No spoilers, but it moved FAST. We had an intriguing villain, a possible sinister hidden conspiracy, a dire situation, and a kingdom that could have been ripe for revolution. We could have expected a full season, if not more, from the setup we had. Instead, a zillion things all happened at once and wrapped it all up (*) in a big damn hurry. It wasn’t a bad ending, though.

Oh, there are implications — worlds of implications. All kinds of uncertainty about how things are going to proceed from here, and potential drama and turmoil. Quite a few mysteries and loose ends. But it was still a conclusion.

After the episode there’s a teaser (which they’ve already seen, but now there’s more context) for a full-length movie featuring a new villain (about whom there are already fan theories), which has apparently been in the works since 2015 (!). But we won’t see that until next fall. They say there’s going to be at least one more season, too. I feel like it’s going to be a long wait…

vision thing

In dealing with some health insurance garbage — the intentionally and increasingly obtuse system we have to deal with for getting refunds from our employer for a portion of the horribly large deductibles we have been stuck with for the past couple of years — I found some interesting messages in my account:

So is that… visions, as in premonitions of the future? Grand insights, perhaps? Because there’s got to be an upside to this thing…

Also, I was checked for eye in December. The optometrist confirmed that I have eye.

Not very good ones, but they still count.

I figure for all the stupid forms I have to fill out, get rejected, re-submit, appeal and finally get approved, there are four people getting paid a pittance to do the bullshit job of rejecting and/or approving them (who also are submitting their own claims and having them rejected by someone else), a manager to tell them they’re not rejecting enough, investors telling them all they need to be more profitable this quarter, a consultant paid by my employer telling them once in a while that they have to not reject claims so much, and time wasted by my employer’s accountant and president dealing with the consultant and getting their own forms rejected. Medicare For All now, please.

Anyway, I figured out a pretty good option for synth 2.0: synthracks.com makes many different custom cases; and a particular unpowered portable one that will be perfect. The power supply and busboards I put in the rack will be more than adequate. With some luck and perhaps a cheap studio rack box I may even fit all of my synth gear (except the Maschine) on one side of the desk; if not I can still get most of it together and just have the Microbrute on the other side perhaps.

Of course if I had better woodworking skills I could build my own case, but… I’ve seen the stuff I’ve cobbled together. It’s not pretty, or sturdy, or the right size, or lined up correctly, or attached properly or… yeah. The wood semi-frame I built for the back of my rack is attached with wire ties because I split the wood twice trying to put it together. So I’m leaving this to a pro.

save the queen, ditch the rest

Today I put some detailed thought into the 2.0 version of my synth setup. Given the minimal number of voices I typically use in each of my recordings, I really have too many VCOs right now.

The “trouble” started with the SynthTech E370 beta test. It was too large and too overkill-ish for my needs, where I formerly had the smaller E352 — but given the opportunity to test one and keep it gratis, I was not going to say no! So that was when I expanded to a second case and kept a bevy of other oscillators alongside it cover the areas where it wasn’t as strong.

Long story short, I worked it out today and found if I keep the E370, I can let go of most of my other VCOs — to be replaced by the ER-301, the tiny new Volca Modular, and a couple of my favorite software plugins. I’d keep Tides for modulation duties (the ER-301’s outputs are audio only) and provisionally keep Plaits to see if it thrives in a less choked pond. But with other consolidation, I am looking at reducing my Eurorack space from the current 460HP down to about 360HP.

There are a few ways this could go…

  1. Keep current Mantis and rack, just leave empty space in the rack. (Boring, but easy and cheap — and where I will start unless a surprise opportunity comes up.)
  2. Sell my Mantis, and buy a bigger case to unify things. (Big cases tend to be more expensive, but well within what I recover from selling the modules. It may not be as satisfying as other options though.)
  3. Sell my Mantis, and DIY a bigger rack or case with a second or bigger power supply. (Cheaper than 2, but once I work out issues with power, power distribution, rails etc. it’s probably not as cheap as I first thought. And it’s probably a bad idea in general.)
  4. Get a second Mantis. Bracket them together for a taller, unified setup. (These cases are a great value and easy to find used.)
  5. Keep the Mantis, but replace the rack with a Rackbrute 6U. That’s a row shorter than my rack, and optioanlly mounts onto a Minibrute 2 or 2S, which could replace my Microbrute. All of that for about the same cost of getting one big case, and it’s professional and portable. But in retrospect, I don’t actually feel like I want to upgrade the Microbrute that much…

Anyway, one step at a time: get ER-301. Learn it. Build up replacements via custom units and sampling. Sell unneeded stuff. Then figure out the case thing. Make music the whole time I’m doing it.

chill out already

I have finally finished reading The Ambient Century. The final section was about House, Techno, Trance and their ambient variations, many of which could probably accurately be called ambient. Or at least ambient-ish, ambient-inspired, and ambient-inspiring.

I’m not sure I can really tell the difference between most of the various dance genres in electronic music when push comes to shove. I could probably tell Minimal Techno from Progressive House. I have no idea what the difference between Goa Trance, Uplifting Trance, Psytrance, or 180 Faceplant Backslide Cool Ranch Istanbul Ultra Cyber Trancecore is. I’m not even sure that last one isn’t an actual genre.

The book isn’t new enough to cover things like UK Garage, Future Bass, Dubstep, Techstep, Darkstep, Chiptune, Fakebit, Electro Swing, Witch House, Synthwave, Vaporwave, Dark Techno, Deconstructed Club, and the dreaded stadium/festival EDM stuff, and the subgenres (or microgenres) brought on by the new resurgence of modular synths, and whatever else I am forgetting that is less than 20 years old. (Yeah, the 90s are almost 20 years old. That’s still weird to me. The 80s seem like a long time ago, but the 90s do not. I think it’s the divide between “I was in high school” and “the internet and cell phones were a thing.”)

Anyway: the major premise here is that Ecstasy was what brought it all together in the 90s. The author writes in a way that leaves little doubt he’s got personal experience, but the point is, there was a need for music for people to chill out to happily while coming back to Earth and still being generally sociable, and that’s where all the more ambient-but-clubby forms of music came in. Chill-out rooms, chill-out tents, chill-out music. It’s plausible I guess. My experience of 90s music was solitary: through headphones, via CDs bought in used record stores, then mail order, then the internet, and then (yes, totally legit) MP3s by indie musicians.

The music relied on a lot of sampling and merging of stuff into a cohesive but still dreamy whole, so the musicians went back to
Satie and Derbyshire and Stockhausen and Cage and Reich, the Beatles and Pink Floyd and Tomita and Tangerine Dream and King Tubby, and whatever else from each of the three previous sections of the book. So it does kind of neatly tie all that history together I suppose.

I’m not sure Future Sound of London or The Orb or the Chemical Brothers really had much influence on my music, but I did enjoy them a lot in the 90s and mostly still do.

Anyway. I’m done with the book, and while it was kind of a workout to get through, glad for some different perspective and the excuse to revisit some of the music I liked in the past. (Waaaay back in the 90s. Sigh.)

Next I’ll be reading some graphic novels and SF and fantasy for a bit.

you had to make final decisions as you went

While this interview goes a little more into recording engineer geekery
(*) than I can appreciate, there’s something to it at the end.

Part of why my process works for me so well is not treating music as something to be assembled jigsaw-like from many little recorded bits. I may not play live in front of audiences, but the recording process is still performance of a sort. I hit record, I do things with my hands that shape the course of the music. It’s usually improvisational to some degree, and it’s usually done in one take. Even when it’s not, there is no separation between what I hear and what I record. All the mixing and effects and stuff are done. Recording is commitment. In some ways it’s more primitive than all the psychedelic rock groups The Ambient Century was praising.

…of course sometimes I will edit my recording, and do things to it that extend and enhance it. But it’s still not cut-and-paste.

(*) Recording engineers are the people who know which microphone to use and exactly where to put it, how to set up the acoustic space, how loud to record on tape (or whatever), how to mix mic signals in ways that sound better instead of causing phase cancellations and such, and all of that. It’s a whole area of expertise that is only tangent to what I do. To me, the voltages in the wires, the data in the computer, and the vibrations in my eardrums are all extremely similar, and the few variables that confound that are constant and familiar. But microphones just don’t “hear” the way our ears do, nor is human attention a factor. If you’ve ever tried to record a neat birdsong, only to have the recording make you aware of traffic noises and an air conditioner and barking dogs in the background that you didn’t notice before and the movement of your hands and rustle of your clothes, that’s just a small part of the challenge. And if you’ve ever tried to record extremely loud drums in a concrete warehouse without it sounding like it’s in a concrete warehouse, while still capturing the subtleties of the sound of the stick hitting the head, that’s another five or six technical problems to solve.

this is not archaeology

The Ambient Century drags on, too long and too dry but occasionally interesting despite itself. I feel like the author took the widest possible definition of “ambient” and then stretched it some more just to include more artists in the book — to make it seem like ambient music had a continuous evolution throughout the 20th century, an unbroken lineage.

While it didn’t cover the entire history of rock & roll in a comprehensive way, it certainly went over a lot more of it than seemed relevant. If I had to distill it into something more coherent, I would say that:

  • Brian Eno, who invented the term “ambient music”, was of course involved in rock too as a musician and producer.
  • A lot of 60s rockers came from more of an art perspective than, say, the blues-Gospel-jazz melange that became 50s rock, rockabilly and doo-wop. More than I ever realized, a lot of them were into Cage, Stockhausen, etc. and wanted to shake things up…
  • …which meant electronic instruments like the Mellotron and early Moogs and ARPs, multitrack studio techniques and tape manipulation, guitar FX, experiments in song structure, borrowing from Near Eastern cultures.

But doing all of the acid, playing a sitar solo, recording 17 tracks of overdubbed strings backwards, slapping a Binson Echorec on every guitar part and saying “cranberry sauce” doesn’t make your music ambient.

I’ll admit though — my parents’ Beach Boys and even Captain and Tenille albums did feed my own interest in synths as a kid. It’s just that there was also an unbroken line of electronic and experimental musicians outside of rock, and I grew up with those too.

(Side note: “Good Vibrations” didn’t feature a theremin as is widely claimed, even in this book. It was the “Electro-Theremin” (later called the Tannerin when a second one was finally built in 1999), invented and performed by trombonist Paul Tanner, which was played with a slider. It’s an important distinction because it works completely differently.)

The book progressed on to progressive rock, with the important note that it was often called “space rock” or even “techno rock” at the time and that not all of it was terrible and self-indulgent. And I’ll agree that Pink Floyd, sort of a bridge between psychedelic and progressive music but also sort of its own thing at times, did manage to approach closer to ambient music at times than most of the other examples given. (Pink Floyd was indeed another frequent childhood listen, as was the Alan Parsons Project.)

And then the book reaches Krautrock, which certainly is closer to the mark, and finally Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre and the like, and I breathed a sigh of relief because maybe now when the book says “ambient” it will actually mean ambient or something like it.