crossover

At the time I chose the name Starthief (*), I was aware of a public domain comics character named The Star Thief, and two extremely minor Marvel characters who had the name. But today I learned that the first issue of a comic called “Prince-S STARthief” launched via Kickstarter in 2016 (and hasn’t gone anywhere since, apparently).

There also have been at least two children’s books titled “The Star Thief” — one from 1967, one from 2017.

There’s a blues band called Shoestring Joe and the Star Thief.

There’s a pretty rad painting called Coyote Star Thief.

There’s a more famous painting by James Rosenquist called Star Thief, which is 46 feet wide and features space bacon. It was almost hung in Miami International Airport, but the president of Eastern Airlines — astronaut Frank Borman — insisted that there is no bacon in space. Spoilsport!

(I mean, he didn’t see all of space — not even close. Maybe somewhere in the vast reaches, there’s bacon. One can dream.)

(*) it’s seriously a nickname my spouse tagged me with during a game of Mario Party. Plus, I like stars. Some things just aren’t very deep.

answering myself

Responding to my own previous thoughts (which was sorta brainstorming), just to show how my mental processes go sometimes.

ring controller or a pitch touchstrip

Nah. No desk space, and I really do like the keyboard/Touché combo.

if the SQ-1 can already do this well enough…

It can!

an arcade button module for manual gates

I’m gonna see what else may come up in the auction, but I might see if I can find an already-built Horstronic Arcade Button. Or I’ll build my own passive switch/fidget toy. 😛

Adventure Audio Skin

For the small price and small size, it’s all right. My dry skin is kind of an issue, just as it was with the Make Noise Pressure Points (but it’s not a big deal with the Lyra-8). I find I can also touch the tips of cables to the touchplates to make contact, for a somewhat different effect.

DSM-03 Feedback — maybe even two

One is fine.

SynthTech E520

What I missed before was a PDF with descriptions of the current algorithms so far. It’s intriguing me beyond the available demos. There are two weeks left in the pre-order period, before it goes to Kickstarter (which I’d rather avoid due to their union-busting). New demos available on Saturdays. I’m still on the fence, but wobbling perhaps a bit more. I hope to make a decision soon.

Going through the PDF, noting the features, summarizing and comparing to available demos: one of the potentially exciting bits is actually the resampling delay. It’s what I enjoyed about W/, and not something plugins do. Which does make me wonder about picking up the original E580 Resampling Mini-delay module… though it’s not stereo and lacks many of these new features.

Spectral Crush does have some resemblance to a couple of my experimental plugins as well as things like MTransformer and SpecOps… but also a novel approach. And real-time modulation of parameters, compared to Elitist’s inefficient, slower-than-real-time operation even on my new computer. Could be interesting to sweep the thresholds instead of just fading the effect in or out, or to control them based on the dynamics of the signal itself… oh boy, starting to lean more toward a yes here.

On the other effects that I can dismiss as “I have this as a plugin,” I wonder if the individual character of the module is going to be an important factor, or perhaps the modulation possibilities.

…also, I could get this and not bid any higher on that DSM-03, which already basically does stuff that Mimeophon does. This smells like a plan.

Stochastic Inspiration Generator

I tried to build something similar in Bitwig and in Teletype. The first was awkward and not completely successful. The second was awkward and not really complete or correct. So it comes down to whether this functionality is worth paying for… I think it’s cool but it’s a low priority.


And a special guest: Akemie’s Castle! After all the cutting back on oscillators that I did.

Working with the Lyra-8 and all the lo-fi plugins recently, as well as having gone (indirectly) from the somewhat gnarly Hertz Donut mk2 to the clean mk3, makes me particularly appreciate the old Yamaha FM chips in the Castle. Plogue’s PortaFM and MD plugins have not quite scratched the itch, only whetted the appetite. Maybe this would even replace the HD mk3, maybe not, but I’m going to keep an eye out for trade opportunities to snag one.

wiggle, wobble, wah

That Expressive-E Touché SE is quite the thing.

(not me)

For the first half-hour or so I was ready to send it back. Nevermind issues with the PACE copy protection scheme for the instrument plugin that comes with it, which doesn’t effectively demonstrate the controller’s real potential once you do get it working anyway. Bitwig’s “assign MIDI controller to this knob” feature is frankly horrible for this, where just touching the controller might trigger multiple sensors, and if you choose the right one, the scaling is all on a separate interface and not very intuitive.

Fortunately before I gave up, I tried Bitwig’s modulator system instead, which includes a MIDI CC device. That one works really well and isn’t hard to deal with. I just need to remember that CC16 is rear pressure, CC17 front pressure, and CC18 sideways movement (as I have set it up).

I made Ondes Martenot-like presets for Aalto and Bitwig’s FM-4 synth. Front pressure controls volume, rear controls timbre, sideways motion affects pitch. It’s amazingly expressive and fun to play, though getting the relative sensitivity settings right is key to not accidentally skewing the pitch a lot with every note. Overall it’s like adding another dimension or two to playing synths.

I also set up an FX Grid preset that routes the three control values to CV outputs on the ES-3 so I can use them with modular. That works just as fantastically well. I can use front pressure to open a VCA or LPG… or to trigger Natural Gate or an envelope, for that matter. And of course I can set up any sort of exotic routing — damping, structure and pitch on Rings for instance, for a wild and weird time.

Its usefulness directly with the Lyra-8 is a little weak, especially where it comes to pitch modulation. But I’ve found that assigning sideways motion to the delay time on a plugin or module can work for both vibrato (due to Doppler effect) and more slow, subtle movement. (Sideways motion is great for all sorts of subtle effects changes, and that’s something I’m going to explore a lot…) Front pressure can go into Hold CV (affecting all 8 voices depending on Hold knobs and envelope switches) or an external VCA or LPG.

Overall, this was a really great choice and I’m glad I went for it.


Other gear thoughts at this point:

  • A ring controller or a pitch touchstrip, for more of a true Ondes Martenot feel with the Touché, could be fun. Space for it is questionable though, the Touché already gives a fair amount of “horizontal freedom” when paired with a keyboard.
  • More realistically: a way to select between a few tuned notes (somewhat similar to the Lyra) in a compact way for the modular would be nice. It’s not high priority though. Also I need to see if the SQ-1 can already do this well enough…
  • I could still get an arcade button module for manual gates. Kind of a nostalgia thing I guess. There are a few options, but I may see if someone can custom-build one that’s more suitable. In fact, if that could be combined with the above concept, it’d be fantastic.
  • I do have an Adventure Audio Skin module (just delivered, waiting for me to get off work in a couple hours) to play with, to bring skin conductivity to the modular. I’m not expecting a lot of it, but we’ll see.
  • There’s some good stuff in the rainforest charity auction. I’m going to grab a DSM-03 Feedback if I can — maybe even two if they don’t go much higher. I’m still kind of hoping other manufacturers join in; Erica just did (pity my case’s PSU can’t handle the Fusion Delay) and in past years Bastl and Dreadbox were involved. Software-wise, so far I really just want that DeFilter.
  • I donated a bunch of my unused software licenses to the secondhand auction — so far they have raised $89 in bids.
  • SynthTech E520 Hyperion Stereo Audio Processor… I’m leaning toward “no.” I’m confident it will be pretty wonderful. The demos are all either excellent or just plain weird, but so far I feel like I can replicate them with plugins.
  • Omsonic Stochastic Inspiration Generator? Kind of on my radar, but I still think I could maybe imitate it well enough with either Teletype or Bitwig.
  • Pedals…? There’s stuff I think is nifty, but I believe I’ve got it all covered with plugins. In fact I could probably let go of the Tensor and Dark World and not really miss them too much, but I think before I did that, I’d try just running the Lyra through them instead.

turning the crank

(It turns out moving aside those unused Dirt Rally files was a bad idea, since the RaceNet server decided it was a “discrepancy” that meant I was probably cheating, so it wiped my current championship progress (which was good) and maybe my online standings (which were not particularly). Feh.)

After two weeks with the Lyra-8, I have more than an hour of recorded, finished material. 13 minutes of that is for Ambient Online, and 9 minutes was rejected. I’ll keep going for a while and see what else comes up, and maybe raise the bar a little more.

The Lyra-8 has a very “forward” sound that fills the frequency spectrum, and it musically covers drones, bass, melody, noises, pulses, growls… it tends to want to be dominant, and can stand alone. I was concerned I might find myself putting my music into distinct “Lyra” and “non-Lyra” boxes that have a different feel.

But the last three or so recordings I’ve made have eased my worries. I’m finding technique and style cross over between the two domains, and I’m continuing to discover the ways it all fits together.

Two of those recordings were last night. What can I say, I have been bitten by the bug!

This album is going to not have any particular theme other than “featuring the Lyra-8.” But I already have a specific intent for the next one.

waste of space

Today I read about games that demand 150GB or 175GB or more of disk space because of massive high-res textures that a lot of people with modest graphics cards and monitors will never need. I don’t have a lot of games installed on my new computer, but it got me curious.

WizTree is a nifty program that quickly scans a drive to see what’s taking up space, and gives you a graph grouped by folder and color-coded by file type, making the worst offenders easy to see at a glance. Handy!

It turns out that Dirt Rally 2.0, the only “big” game I have installed, is consuming 83.8GB of my 1TB hard drive. That is almost exactly the same size as my entire MP3 library of 11,491 songs.

And when I looked further, I found that at least 14.1GB of that is DLC content that I haven’t paid for and can’t play… a complete waste, in other words. There’s probably a couple more gigs in the Cars folder.

I will experimentally move those files to my old SSD (which is now acting as a USB backup drive), but I’m pretty sure Steam will see that they’re missing and “helpfully” redownload them for me. If not immediately, then next time it updates. And because the game is partially online, I can’t not update.

I do enjoy the game, but geez, that is stupid. You should (A) by default, not download content you don’t own, and (B) for the content you do own, choose whether to install ultra high resolution textures you’re never going to see (with the default chosen reasonably based on your graphics card/monitor resolution).

All of the other games I have installed — Noita, Slay the Spire, Nova Drift, Islands and Bejeweled — total under 2 gigabytes.

It’s not so easy to estimate the total of all my installed music production software, but my visual estimate — including all of the sample libraries I’ll mostly never use, presets I’ll mostly never use, reverb impulse responses, stray installer files, redundant versions etc. — puts it at about 50GB.

connecting dots

Two essays I’ve read in the last two days: one about one big historical factor that got us where we are today, the other about the big historical factors that will send us somewhere else tomorrow.

In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation

A compelling argument that so much of corporate America’s emphasis on productivity and metrics, the relatively weak worker solidarity, worker’s rights and general sense of egalitarianism, the “it could be worse” attitude from people who should be demanding better lives, and a number of commonplace and questionable financial instruments and manipulations, all were begun by the American cotton industry when slavery, the availability of cheap land (stolen violently from First Nations peoples, of course) and the start of the Industrial Revolution came together.

I can’t find fault with any of this. While America was hardly the only nation that grew itself through imperialism and slavery, it was the biggest and most successful (and horrific) example.


Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World

An argument that the biggest factors in today’s society which are likely to trigger the major events of our near future are (1) demographic shift, (2) wealth inequality reaching a breaking point, and (3) access to information (and disinformation).

This is all well and good, but I think another major factor was missed, perhaps what will be the biggest mover of 21st century history: climate change. It’s a wild card with the ability to start wars, smash economies and undo a lot of what we have often liked to think of as “progress”, or be part of the impetus that propels us — albeit painfully and reluctantly, with a lot of human suffering along the way — into a sustainable, better future.

poke, poke back

It’s nice to finally get some autumn-like weather again. We waited until last night, marshmallows and cheddar turkey sausages at the ready, for the opportunity to “camp” on our back patio and enjoy it. The later dawn, earlier sunset, fall colors, and more human-friendly temperature and humidity generally brings a lift to my mood and general energy level.

The Lyra-8 has been working out well for me. I’ve started a collection of some decent recordings of improvisations with it, and submitted two of them to Ambient Online’s next compilation. A couple of times I’ve worked from “what’s the most utterly horrendous noise possible?” to something really gorgeous.

I know its self-modulation will never really be tamed — there are singularities along the range of the “Mod” knobs that defy all explanation. But so long as I avoid those, I’m developing a better sense of the combinations, modulation, effects, techniques, performance etc. that give me results I like. Natural Gate is a yes for sure, as it adds more definite articulation and really enjoys chewing on those full, harmonically rich and noise-infused sounds. Stereo delay as well as Haaze can give it width and depth, and delay and reverb can help turn the instrument’s generally loose sense of pitch into a fuller “ensemble” feel. Low shelf EQ, notch filtering and dynamic EQ can tame some of the overwhelming pressure the instrument puts in some bands, while a high shelf or noise reduction algorithms can reduce or shape some of the noisiness of the built-in PT delay. CV modulation requires some offset and attenuation to work well, as the first couple of volts often seem to have almost no effect. With that knowledge I want to revisit external FM sources and see how they differ from the internal modulation routing. I haven’t tried pitch sequences with the SQ-1 or Stages yet, but that’s coming.

The Lyra is certainly responsive to touch and expressive to play, but it invites a bit more.

  • I’d like some subtle performance control over vibrato and pitch bending. It can be achieved somewhat through modulation between voices, but you’ve got to play multiple voices for that, and that’s more like “influence” rather than control. Trying to use the tuning knobs for micro pitch fluctuations is a bit awkward and risky, and the vibrato toggle switch is very organ-like and heavy-handed.
  • Likewise, dynamics control with the touchplates can be a bit tricky. Some of it is down to technique, combining different touches/brushes of the plates with the envelope switch and Hold knob settings — and is a pretty delightful aspect of the feel of the instrument at times — but more control is welcome.
  • Expressive control over other aspects of the sound — like the mix level of an effect, or a manually controlled phaser or something — seems like it would be extremely welcome with this instrument.
  • When I’m playing non-Lyra synths now, I feel like I’m missing a dimension.

I’m considering the Expressive E Touché SE. It’s a highly adjustable touch controller inspired by the touché d’intensité control (aka the “lozenge”) on the Ondes Martenot, but with 4 degrees of freedom rather than one. You can press, tap, rock, and shift it, and assign different directional controls as needed — most typically, downward pressure to affect volume and brightness, and sideways movement for vibrato and bending. You can adjust its sensitivity and its feel, through a combination of electronic settings, software settings, a mechanical balancing slider, and physically changing out an internal cylinder if you want to get that deep. I tried its more expensive sibling at Knobcon a couple of years ago, and it felt very good. The “Software Edition” is USB-only and gives up direct MIDI and CV connections, but I can get around that easily with the Bitwig/Expert Sleepers integration. The full version could be a smarter choice if intended to play live without a computer, which… right now I assume I don’t.

But: desk space. I’ll have to figure out if it will fit and if the ergonomics will be right.

There are other possibilities, with… mostly fewer benefits other than fitting in the modular rack. Intellijel Tetrapad, Meng Qi Hand, Adventure Audio Skin, FSRs (force sensing resistors)… I have a lot of questions about some of them, doubts about others. A couple of them are cheap enough I might add them on for giggles even if I go for the Touché, if I make other small changes to the modular.

two things.

Luftrum Sound Design has been running a charity auction every October for the past few years. Music software and hardware developers donate all kinds of great items — the 2016 auction is when I got into Eurorack because of Mutable Instruments’ contributions, and I picked up a few Bastl modules in 2017. Things are a bit calm to start, but by Halloween the bidding is intense!

This year’s charity is the World Wildlife Federation, with donations specifically directed to protect rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia.

The auction previously was hosted at the kvraudio.com message boards, and was kind of a nightmare for the organizer and assistants to keep track of bids and update the available items. This year it’s being hosted at RallyUp.


This is the other thing: Modern Waste is an Economic Strategy

Recycling is… kind of bullshit, unfortunately. Where it works, it’s certainly better than chucking materials into a landfill and mining more aluminum or producing more plastic from petroleum. But it often doesn’t work. Either way, it’s industry’s way of pretending disposable goods and packaging aren’t waste, while still externalizing costs and pushing the responsibility for cleanup onto cities and consumers.

In other words, yes, it’s capitalism’s fault.

All this said, recycling and this kind of waste are relatively low down the priority list where it comes to climate — food waste is about 30 times more of a problem than packaging.

lyrical

My Lyra-8 arrived yesterday, and it’s certainly a beast. The designer’s intent was:

  • Taking inspiration from neurology, build an electronic instrument where everything is interconnected rather than defined by a limited set of one-way linear flows. Simple parts with a network of many connections between them allow for rich and complex behavior.
  • Taking inspiration from both the violin and Theremin, make the instrument tactile and direct, with minimum automation or quantization.
  • Taking inspiration from Indian ragas, where “the art of mastering your mental and emotional state is essential.” I’ll mostly take the designer’s word on that, but I agree that it does seem to ask for a certain mindset.
  • An intro video for the smaller Lyra-4 claims it’s an instrument for communicating with the subconscious of whales via household plumbing, using recovered Soviet military technology from the 60s. Ummm.

My very first impression of the instrument was, it weighs a LOT. My second impression was several minutes of confusion and disbelief. Understanding parts of the instrument arrived within the first couple of hours. Mastery over the whole thing does not seem possible in a human lifetime, but intuitive partnership with the cetacean subconscious seems to be imminent 🙂

The cross-modulation stuff is basically FM, but I’ve read that it’s neither linear nor exponential FM since the oscillators have a nonlinear voltage-to-frequency relationship. Notes often, but not always, drift in pitch as volume changes or slide from one to another. There are probably all kinds of DC offsets, crosstalk, and unspecified feedback going on as well. It’s not that uncommon for sets of voices to go up when you expect down, lock themselves into perfect sync, or drop into silence (perhaps because they’re not thru-zero capable? or is it ghosts?). And it’s all based on gestures, and sometimes the tiniest movements of knobs, and humidity and temperature.

You can turn all those modulation switches off and it’s much more predictable, but still on the weird side. As Loopop said in his video, “forget East Coast or West Coast, this synth is from outer space.”

The sound, and the feeling you get when playing it (after the initial overwhelming confusion) is an amazing combination of alien and humanistic, delicate and forceful.

I recorded two jams with it last night, as well as playing with running drums through it (which was amazing, but pretty far from what I’m doing as Starthief). I expect the next album after… whatever the scenes-but-no-places-one is called …will be Lyra-heavy. I’ll just record a whole lot of stuff and publish the best.

For a taste, here’s the first thing:

I can imagine playing this instrument live, which isn’t something I’ve felt very inclined to do with the Eurorack gear or plugins. It’d be very edge-of-the-pants… er, seat-of-the-seat? Fly by night? Creatively risky and adventurous, though I don’t know if the audience would know just how much so. Just the Lyra and maybe a couple of guitar pedals; if I wanted to change directions, a drum machine too.

I kind of want to take it upstairs to our crafts/jamming room and plug it into the little amp I’ve got up there, and then maybe record that with my portable recorder (if I can find the thing! It’s so small I lost it somewhere in the house). But I don’t want to crawl under/behind my desk to reroute the power every time, so perhaps I’ll look for a second power adapter.

I also intend to try it together with the modular, of course. It is a natural drone monster, for one thing. The effects (a fantastically dirty PT delay and surprisingly controllable distortion) can be used with an external input, and if also using the voice section, the combined output can modulate the voices in a feedback loop. It has a few CV inputs, though from what I’ve read it’s less “control voltage” and more “humble suggestion voltage…”