crushed

I finished reading PEDAL CRUSH, the third of the “Bjooks” series…

Each of these is a big, heavy, beautifully produced book that’s somewhere between a coffee table book for admiring the art and design that goes into the equipment, and lots and lots of content. They skew more toward the latter, though.

PUSH TURN MOVE is a discussion and showcase of the interfaces of electronic musical instruments, both hardware and software. What controls should be provided, how they should be laid out and presented, and how the instrument or effect should look, feel and behave. It’s a big important subject with many facets. For me it was mostly a matter of curiosity and something of an art object, though I think it should be required reading for designers.

PATCH & TWEAK is all about modular synthesizers: the history, the different formats, the basics, types of modules, patching techniques, and interviews with instrument makers and musicians. For me, it was more of a review but still a fun read in places.

PEDAL CRUSH is about guitar FX pedals/stompboxes. Different categories of pedals, their histories and variations, typical and non-typical uses, why the order of placement matters, technical and creative considerations about amplification, and look and feel. Lots of interviews with designers and musicians again. Not being a guitarist, just an occasional user of a pedal or two with synths, I found it very informative and fascinating, but I was less interested in the interviews with guitarists.

As a result of reading it and doing some online research, I have a new list of techniques I want to try with my current hardware and software — and a short list of pedals that I would like to try myself.

Many pedals are convenience devices for guitarists to quickly dial in their sound and concentrate on performance — a synthesist can replicate them with little difficulty. But in many other cases, there’s something more complex going on, or a specific character unique to the pedal, vital to its sound, which ranges from difficult to monumentally difficult to imitate.

My list right now, in rough priority order:

  • Red Panda Particle: a granular delay with a generally grittier and glitchier character than Clouds. I don’t expect I could imitate most of its capabilities. The older V1 is cheaper, but I’m convinced V2 is worth the difference with its nicer controls, enhanced sound and extra features.
  • Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dweller: a phaser with a delay between each stage — a simple addition which greatly expands the effect’s repertoire into some neat places I’ve never heard before. I tried imitating it in Bitwig Grid to no avail.
  • Digitech Freqout: I have no clue how it actually works. It creates “natural feedback at any volume” with particular harmonics emphasized or isolated. It may not be as magical on synths as guitars, but it’s cheap enough on the secondhand market that I feel like I should give it a try.
  • Walrus Audio Slö: a beautiful ambient delay, heavily modulated and dark and dreamy, which can do extended freezes and gradual volume swells. I think I’d be smart to wait for the E520 first and see what I think of its shimmer verb and other potential ambience though.
  • Montreal Assembly Meet Maude: a BBD delay with random modulation and a compressor. It has a lot of mojo and is widely loved… but I am particularly well covered in the delay department. Again, I think waiting to see how things fall out with the E520 is wise.

There are plenty of other interesting delays out there I could go for. Adineko, Black Fountain, Rose… but I can’t collect all the cool stuff, because that game is expensive and has no winning condition.

note to self

If you’ve blocked someone on a forum for repeated displays of willfull ignorance, hostility and general infuratingness… don’t unhide their posts just to see what they have contributed to a thread that was questionable in the first place.

And especially don’t bother to call them on whatever completely unimportant thing they said.

starting 2020 a little early

I decided I’m absolutely sure about selling my Dark World pedal, and was tempted by the cheaper Paradox Arquitecto Fictional Space Reverbator. There was one discounted on Reverb in custom colors:

It’s a dual modulated echo that’s pretty much retro, swampy, dubby and ambient. It seems right up my alley. I couldn’t quite imitate the demos with my current hardware and software, though I did reach some other fun places while trying.

The main doubt I have about it is the lack of knobs to control time or modulation rate, but I’ll see how it goes. That was one of my dislikes with the Pittsburgh Verbtronic — but that module also lacked some of the other flexibility this pedal has, and it was annoyingly sensitive to input and feedback levels. If it turns out to be too much of a limitation for me, it’ll be no problem to resell it.


I realized I have 256GB of storage on my phone, which is more than twice the size of my MP3 library — and MediaMonkey has an Android version that syncs to the Windows version. It’s supposed to sync over WiFi, but I haven’t had any luck with that yet — could be the VPN on my phone though. Anyway, this gives me more flexibility in music listening anywhere without relying on streaming, and might shortcut a couple of steps when I buy music on Bandcamp. I’ll still keep my GPM subscription though; it can be good for music discovery or casual playlists.

putting some money where my ears are

I decided to get a bit of a head start on my “support other musicians through Bandcamp” goal for 2020 by paying for some of the albums that I’ve streamed many times, thoroughly enjoyed, but which probably earned about 37 cents for the artists up until now.

An industrial techno-ish duo using hardware modular, Reaktor and Maschine, they have just this one 2017 album and a remix EP… and I want more. Somewhat similar artists include Pact Infernal, Ancient Methods and (sometimes) Shifted, but they’re not quite on the same plane.

This is the kind of music I thought was going to emerge as the direction for Starthief in 2018. I went somewhere else instead.

Hands down my favorite minimal modular album. Just an ER-101 sequencer and a Verbos Harmonic Oscillator, with some delay and reverb. “Patterns” is definitely the right word, and comparisons to Bach are entirely fair.

While my music also tends to employ a minimal number of voices, this album is the opposite in many ways. It’s precise, mathematical, and tidy where mine is improvised, messy and tends to complicate itself.

There are a few artists who merge chiptune with rock guitar — elements of prog rock, metal and jazz fusion sort of colliding with 8-bit nostalgia. Danimal Cannon is among the best of those. The chippy solos and explosions of shift register noise are as intense as the guitar licks.

Dark and broody and a bit gothy synth pop with minimal, vintage analog synths. I just like it.

Where it comes to ambient music, I prefer the more shadowy and textured zones, perhaps not quite “dark ambient” most of the time but not just bright shiny stringlike pads and pretty plucking noises. This has got that texture and murk and mood to it and is firmly in the “what I like” zone.

There are a few artists who… wait, I already said that. Stemage is my other favorite in this category, improving on a couple of 80s soundtracks that were already excellent electronic compositions in their original form. Also he co-composed stuff and played guitar for Steven Universe (the best cartoon ever) and a lot of other stuff.

¡goooooooooooools! 2020

I’ve been accumulating and considering my goals for 2020. A quick review of my 2019 goals shows success in some areas, mixed or minimal results in others, and ways I can improve on them for next year. Without further ado:

Gear: I’ll continue the spend/sell/trade tracking that I began in 2019, but will also include software and any shipping costs.

My guiding principles:

  • The gear I have now is excellent, satisfying, and complete.
  • Everything should fit the “focus/charm” and “hybridware” concepts. (E.g. no overkill; character is more important than “flexibility”; don’t duplicate excellent software with good hardware.)
  • I don’t need to change anything. I can change some things.
  • Think less about gear, think/feel more about technique, process, flow.

I won’t sell or trade any modular gear until I’ve got my hands on a SynthTech E520. (This allows wiggle room for beta testing though.)

I am likely to look at some other FX pedals in 2020, keeping in mind those principles. Analog Drive is a big success with the Reface CS, and the CS or Lyra could benefit from some other partners, maybe. I know Dark World is a little redundant for me. Tensor is very cool but I don’t use it very often; why?

Music generally: Reserve some time just to listen. Eyes closed, headphones on (probably), and not multitasking.

Give more support to other musicians through Bandcamp. I know I appreciate the same. Streaming is convenient for listeners, but a lousy deal for musicians.

And of course, keep making music. This year I don’t plan to do Knobcon, nor to really worry about promotion or live performances, or popularity. But making music and putting it out there is deeply satisfying, and I’ll keep doing it my way.

Health: tracking my gear trades worked out nicely for me, so what happens if I log food and exercise? And maybe even my blood sugar once in a while like I should be doing anyway? Keeping myself aware may lead automatically to better habits.

In terms of mental health and overall mindset: three words. “Relax. Calm. Wonder!”

Online health: Some questions I should ask myself before wading in, particularly given that this will be an election year:

  • “What effect do I want my comment to have? (And is it a likely outcome?)”
  • “Am I reacting defensively (to something that’s not really about me)?”
  • “Is this worth the effort? Is it helping?”
  • “Can anything good come out of even reading this thread/article/etc?”

the internet is a tiring place…

We switched from (an increasingly evil carrier) to Credo Mobile, and replaced our 4-year-old phones with a couple of Galaxy S10e. I wish I could say the signal level at home and work are stronger but Just like setting up a new computer, it takes a few hours of poking at settings and looking up how to disable various stupid defaults to make it feel less like Samsung’s or Google’s phone (with some territorial pissing contests between them) and more like one’s own.

Something I never asked for and don’t want is Google parsing my email to pop up notifications to remind me when bills are due. (The bill in question is set to autopay anyhow, which GMail doesn’t know…) It’s a reminder than I kind of want to switch to ProtonMail, but updating my email address in 150 different online accounts doesn’t sound like a lot of fun either.


Something I read yesterday that disturbs me: That Uplifting Tweet You Just Shared? A Russian Troll Sent It

My thoughts on this:

  • Enemies of the American state “undermining trust in American institutions” sounds bad, sure. But in many cases those institutions have betrayed that trust themselves. It wasn’t the Internet Research Agency that shot Mike Brown, tortured people in Gitmo, put children in cages, etc.
  • One should also wonder if this piece is itself some kind of psyop. Why wouldn’t both Russian and American agents work to influence American opinions by posting things that are at least partially true, including about each other? We know there are organizations dedicated to climate science denial, promoting anti-abortion or pro-police or pro-gun stances, etc. for some combination of voter manipulation and profit.
  • (And to be fair, no doubt progressive groups employing similar tactics. And plenty of companies targeting progressive values for profit reasons, with varying levels of honesty vs. hypocrisy.)
  • And in a similar vein, how many legitimate criticisms have, at this point, been blamed on Russia? Claiming that something is Russian propaganda is a form of propaganda. It’s the new “any criticism of Hilary Clinton, whether from the right or the left, is sexist.”
  • Outrage is how media companies sell ads. And it’s also how things that need changing get changed. And it’s exhausting… it’s why I gave up on Huffington Post and then MSNBC and then Facebook.

Paranoia aside, there sure are a lot of people out there who want to tweak your opinions and employ your sympathy for their own ends. I guess the main thing to do is be cautious of social media (and news articles/opinion pieces, including this one) and the ways it exploits and is exploited.

the 10 year challenge…?

I had a nice enough birthday, though the weather celebrated it with really strong winds that ripped a section of siding almost completely off our house.

Magic Death Eye is indeed going to be up for sale on Black Friday. Whoo! I also picked up Wavesfactory Spectre, an almost ideal saturation plugin which I had not noticed before, for half price. So sales like this work.

The Black Friday frenzy has continued to bemuse me though. Some folks at KvR have really been whiney and entitled, complaining 8 days before the actual day that the sales are just not as good as previous years, or complaining when the plugin they wanted is only 40% off and only for 4 days. And I felt the need to say something, and… yeah, I shouldn’t have. I’m going to be more specific about my goals for 2020 in terms of online communication…!

I have the artwork now for Vultur Cadens and just need to put a title on it and do the actual release. Now I remember that was the thing I had been planning to do today…

But today I recorded something for the next Ambient Online compilation (theme: Jupiter) as well as a fourth potential track for album #12. So I was still productive.


Over on Lines, there’s now a thread for “Most impactful albums, 2010-2019.” The top lists started a month or more ago and of course all of them are wrong, but personal favorites lists are exempt from criticism (’cause it’s kind of jerky to do that). Here’s what I came up with:

Caterina Barbieri, Patterns of Consciousness
Belief Defect, Decadent yet Depraved
Danimal Cannon, Lunaria
Dark Sparkler, I No Beast I No Angel
Dark Sparkler, Year One
Datach’i, System
Figure Study, Figure Study
Johnathan Fitoussi & Clemens Hourrière, Five Steps
Haujobb, New World March
iVardensphere, Bloodwater
Ernst Karel, Swiss Mountain Transport Systems
Kodo, Akatsuki
Leaves’ Eyes, Meredead
Nathan Moody, Etudes I: Blue Box
Nathan Moody, Etudes III: Red Box
Nero, Welcome Reality
Oedo Sukeroku Daiko, Les tambours de Tokyo
Patricia, Body Issues
Professor Elemental, The Indifference Engine
Prometheus Burning, Kill It With Fire
Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Two Orb Reel
Stemage, Priority One: The Music of TRON
Stemage, Where Good Marbles Go to Die
Amon Tobin, Dark Jovian
Amon Tobin, ISAM
Venetian Snares, Rossz csillag alatt született
Venetian Snares, Traditional Synthesizer Music
Void Vision, Sub Rosa
Youth Code, Youth Code

I’ve certainly had some other favorites in the last decade, but their release dates were pre-2010. That list would be two or three times as long. But I think there’s a pretty good mix here: a lot of synth nerd fodder with minimal modular setups or the Lyra-8 or Music Easel; a taste of taiko; even a field recording album. A little bit of electro-punk and industrial protest music, Chap Hop, the tail end of dubstep, Viking symphonic metal. A surprisingly successful classical/jazz/breakcore blend, and even more successful chiptune/prog rock/jazz fusion hybrids.

This makes me wonder what kinds of music, newly invented or reinvented, that we’ll hear in the 2020s. Maybe it’s time for industrial ambient and “soft noise” genres to spike in popularity… 🙂

the Magic Death Eye of the beholder

I am on the hunt for favorite compressor plugins, particularly for mastering purposes. I really would like to have one standard choice I can always be confident in, instead of hot-swapping several different plugins and tweaking them while tiring my ears with minute differences. I might have found it.

The fantastically named Magic Death Eye is a boutique, hand-built, retro-inspired modern vari-mu tube compressor, which happens to have an officially licensed version. And it’s excellent. (At least the plugin is, and I assume the hardware…)

yes, I took a photo of my computer screen with my phone, to capture the “real analog warmth” and room tone of photons 😉

I tested it against my recordings for the next album, and found it always beat something like 9 or 10 other compression plugins (some of which have multiple models). With some material, the difference between it and the best options is almost subliminal, but it’s there. In other cases, it’s a pretty clear winner. And the controls on MDE are nice and simple, and I feel like it just can’t sound bad even if you push it relatively hard. As some others have described, it’s “respectful” of the source material.

I’m pretty confident I could just use MDE for mastering 100% of the time with no worries. That leaves Supercharger GT, 6050 and a few Presswerk presets to cover more aggressive and “high mojo” compressor and saturator needs and limiting. Fair enough!

not yet it isn’t

BLACK FRIDAY IS HERE declares a post about a plugin sale.

No. It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Give things their own time.

The last couple of years have seen the rise of “Black Friday Week” — which makes as much sense as “No-Shave November Year” — followed by several days of “Cyber Monday”, only one or two of which are actually on a Monday. Though of course, the first signs of “Black Friday” begin on about November 1.

This is part of a general temporal smearing of the holidays though. The pumpkin spice frenzy began in August. My mom — a big fan of Christmas — wanted me to have a wishlist ready in September. Stores started selling Christmas decor before Halloween.

I like the holidays generally, but they all have their specific times. Stretching them out to cover 1/4 of the year dilutes them and can make us kind of tired of them before they’ve even happened.

And of course Black Friday seems as if it’s taken over as the second most important “holiday” of the year. I appreciate getting some online deals on things — music software is especially discounted for two or three weeks, even though it’s not something that is frequently gifted — but it kind of indicates where our minds are at as a society.