I have a track on the LCRP (Lines Community Remix Project) compilation Feedback February.
And though I haven’t blogged about it, I have finished The Castle, mastered it (with very little difficulty this time), did the artwork and am putting finishing touches on the writeup.
The details of the gear/plugin usage stats don’t matter, but the general gist I get from it:
I like Clouds and Mimeophon a whole lot!
My secondary goal of working on filter techniques could use more work.
I could also use FM Aid and Flexshaper more.
I could use my pedals more, especially Tensor.
I could probably trim back my plugin selection a little more.
All these “coulds” don’t matter that much if I’m making good music.
One disturbing technical problem I ran into was scratchiness/jumpy values on the 16n Faderbank. It could be only the analog CV outputs and not the MIDI values, but I need to check that. Maybe the faders need to be cleaned with some sort of goop or maybe I can fix it either with indirect routing or slewing. Or maybe I need to talk to the builder (and maybe get the sliders replaced with linear ones like it should have been built with), or even switch to a control surface from Faderfox or MIDI Fighter. One way or another, dealing with this is on my to-do list.
Although everyone, of course, stayed at home to record their part of the song, the adventure kept them busy for several days. “We all had the same soundtrack with a “click” and “tops” on the synthesiser, to launch the different parts and be synchronized. We all played with an earpiece. We all filmed it on our own with our own phones and sent it all in. Then there was a great job by Dimitri Scapolan, from Radio France’s video service, who did the editing. “
There’s a point where I don’t know if it went into some reverb and other processing, or the editor switched to an older recording, but that kind of doesn’t matter. Seriously, I cried a little when I watched this.
Well into week 2 of working from home. The passage of time is still a little weird. I was surprised this morning to realize it’s Thursday already. Most of my workdays fly by, but other times, I rock the code so hard that I’m surprised how little time passed given the amount I accomplished.
Last night after work my spouse made her spiced roasted root veg recipe, and it came out better than ever. We also had chicken apple sausages cooked over the firepit on the patio while enjoying really lovely weather. I had a bottle of peach soju, and the result was a happy, slightly silly, mellow drunk state that was probably the best I’ve felt in weeks. I don’t drink often or much, and it usually just leads to drowsiness, so that was nice.
I picked up the Humble Just Drive bundle, mostly to get Project Cars 2 at a deep discount and direct most of the money to charity. I might actually never start up the career mode, which had a number of frustrations in the first PCars game — but just enjoy tooling around in various exotic cars, especially the fun little XBow, Mono, Atom, Caterham, etc. The feel of various vehicle types is very different — a roadster with slick tires in wet grass is not your friend — and even the rally cars feel very different from Dirt Rally, with the suspension going SQUISH in a big way.
I recorded 3 more tracks for the castle album, but decided one just wasn’t up to snuff. Another expresses the fear, anxiety and frustration of this pandemic pretty well and I will probably keep it around for its honesty. There’s nearly an hour of music in there at this point, but I plan to record one more before working out the song order and deciding if it needs anything else or if something should go.
As of our last outing, no store nearby has had toilet paper in stock. I tried buying some from eBay, but it turned out the “California” seller was actually located in China and (I could kick myself) had 0 prior feedback and the account was less than a month old. The listing was cancelled by eBay but I’d already paid, and there’s an almost certainly bogus tracking number, so I have to wait a few days before filing a complaint. Meanwhile I happened to snag a case of commercial big-roll TP from Amazon, to be “gift wrapped” in a generic Amazon box to protect its identity from potential thieves. (My uncle lost an order that way.) And then nervously waited a couple of days before they announced it had shipped. So I could say our asses are covered now.
Stay At Home order issued Saturday at 3PM, to take effect Monday at 12:01 AM.
My shift began at 7 AM Monday. I worked from home, quite productively, until:
At noon, there was an email from the boss declaring we are an Essential Business and everyone would continue working from the office.
I drove in. My supervisor said I should probably raise my concerns with the office manager (and mentioned several people were frustrated and upset and putting the pressure on to switch to WFH). I did so, specifically mentioning being at High Risk due to medical conditions, and was given permission to work remotely.
Tuesday the entire dev team did a “trial run” of WFH all day, with a conference call in the afternoon with the boss and IT guy to report on how it was going.
Shortly after that, it was announced that the entire staff would WFH until further notice, starting Wednesday.
So there’s that bit of drama settled, thanks to worker solidarity and also just the reality of the situation, I guess.
I know I’m privileged here, despite the medical risk factor. I still have a job, which I can do from home, and the business is extremely unlikely to evaporate. While my spouse can’t do her normal work from home, she’s still being paid too and has some “homework” to get through. We have a little bit in the bank, not a ton especially if we lose medical insurance, but it’s not nothing.
But of course this is all still upsetting and disorienting. Routines have been broken. Some of them probably broken forever. Others will, like a broken nose, heal up in a somewhat different shape.
We don’t know how long the crisis is going to be a crisis. I’ve read some opinions about what is necessary to fix both the medical and economic aspects of it, and they are going to require politicians to step up and take real action. I’m not very pleased with Trump being at the wheel for this, nor with either four more years of him or Biden taking over. Somebody like Elizabeth Warren or one of the Squad, sure.
On a personal level, I feel like my sense of time, the rhythm of the day, has been messed with. Our restaurant-going habit has a very different rhythm than eating at home, whether it’s cooking and doing dishes or just digging into leftovers or frozen dinners or whatever. Sitting down to the same computer I use for music production and gaming, instead of commuting to work, taking lunch and walk breaks, etc. feels very different too — although so far I find my workday feels like it passes more swiftly and I’m getting more done. I’m sure it’s weirder for my spouse, who’s on no particular schedule at all now and has a few days’ head start with the weirdness.
My Prius gets 400+ miles to a tank of gas. I just filled it last week. It could be May or even June before I buy more gas.
With all of this going on, I haven’t felt much like making music for several days. I’ve just been playing games and repeatedly checking news sites. I changed that this evening, and recorded “Valaskjálf” for the Castle album. I engaged in FM overkill: layering Hertz Donut with the E352’s linear FM, layering Akemie’s Castle with Rings’ FM mode, and exponentially FMing Kermit with the other Rings in FM mode. I didn’t even bring in FM Aid or use filter FM, but I used the VCFQ as a quadrature LFO, Filter 8 as a highpass filter to keep the E352’s FM clean, and Ripples mostly as a VCA. And I layered in a few small fragments of a previous recording that I’d decided to reject as a song in its own right. The result is a pretty noisy song that kind of expresses the fear and frustration of the past few days, now that I could get it out. But I hope that I can go back to more calming music again, because that’s what seems to be needed.
We’re now under a stay-at-home order and I’ll be working from home for the first time starting about 15 minutes from now. It’s not very comforting that we have no official contact from management about it, and it makes me wonder if heads are still buried in sand or if they’re just bad at communicating outside the office. Either way, the foot-dragging on this most likely means not everyone is going to be ready and able to work from home yet. I don’t envy our IT person.
I’m ready and willing though. I’ll have a clearer idea of how this goes later, but I kind of think this should be the norm in order to reduce emissions anyway.
The other bit of closure is that I’ve bought a used Zorlon Cannon mkII, and that will “finish” my modular. No more available space remaining (given that I’m reserving a big slot for the E520), nothing else that I feel I need, no plans to change anything. It could still happen of course — maybe there will be some future must-have module — but overall, it’s complete.
The short version of Zorlon Cannon: it has two sections, each of which can run at a different rate, and can generate either 4 random/patterned gates and a related CV output, or four Atari 2600-like audio channels and a mix of them, depending on their rates. I’ve heard it used to generate fantastic drones, and CV generation method isn’t far from techniques I’ve used in the past with multiple gates and a matrix mixer. So this should be a fun one to play with.
The name comes from the 1982 Atari game Yar’s Revenge, which was wildly original for its time. The 2600’s TIA (Television Interface Adapter) chip, which handled graphics and sound and input in the most awkward way imaginable, uses linear feedback shift registers (LFSRs) not too dissimilar from the ones in the module, for various purposes including sound. Yar’s Revenge leveraged that nicely with an eerie sort of ambient drone soundtrack.
I guess there’s not really any need to document the progress of COVID-19 and various government and business and populace response to it in general. The situation here in the St. Louis suburbs is about the same as in many places, give or take minor variations in timing and in strength of response.
There was no official word from my company until literally just now, after I started writing this post: “The office will remain open and we are preforming business as usual until further notice. We are constantly monitoring the situation with COVID-19 and will send an email if anything changes. We ask that you stay home if you are sick and communicate with your supervisor.”
I find this pretty frustrating. I don’t believe our business has any actual barriers to working from home. We already have four remote employees on three continents. But maybe now that something’s been said, I won’t have an anxiety attack once or twice every workday like I was for a while. It’s very weird here at the office complex and surrounding plaza; the parking garage is more than half empty, the restaurants are grim and mostly empty and smell strongly of bleach. “Business as usual” seems very unusual right now.
And yes, I feel weird about having an album called Shelter In Place. I was thinking of environmental-related threats and the general political climate. I thought about pulling it from my Bandcamp, but I don’t think I will.
In the music world, I recorded a bit more for the castle album, rejected one, and really like where the others are going. I’ve got a patch idea I’m eager to try, with multiple FM oscillators playing off each other.
In gaming, I’ve gradually worn my Steam Controller’s left stick down to a lopsided lump and replaced it with an XBox One S controller. The feel is a bit different, with longer throw on the trigger buttons, but my hands are getting used to it. Unfortunately in Dirt Rally 2.0 I’m stuck in the Elite class for career championships — due to a lucky win in the H1 class in Pro — and subsequently coming in 25th place out of 30 didn’t bounce me back down to Pro. So I’m kind of avoiding that mode and trying to fill in other driving modes instead. I might wind up walking away from the game for a while to go with Project Cars 2 or something, despite its flaws.
I also started playing Black Mesa, now that it’s officially finished. This is probably my the 4th or 5th play through one variation or other of Half-Life 1, including an earlier and much less finished iteration of Black Mesa. The initiatory tram ride felt a little wrong, with different music and a different voice, but it’s nice having more up to date graphics, additional dialog etc. With the graphics settings I’ve been using, the flashlight has problems with shadows and sometimes is utterly useless, but at least it can be turned on continuously.
In an interlude between Expanse novels at the point where the TV show has covered and where it hasn’t gone yet, I’ve inserted a couple of other books. One of them was Racing the Beam, a book about Atari VCS/2600 development from the perspective of “platform studies” and how various platforms affect creative arts. The VCS was really a super-primitive machine, designed mainly to play Pong and Tank and similar simple two-person games which is what people imagined games would be, with a lot of cost-cutting that probably multiplied development costs considerably. The variety of games that were accomplished on it, and the precedents set for video game genres, are really a testament to the ingenuity of programmers that Atari wanted to keep anonymous and relatively unrewarded (leading to the creation of Activision, who really pushed the envelope).
Now I’m reading Two Cheers for Anarchism, a social science professor’s “fragments” of thought on anarchism. He doesn’t avoid criticizing its shortcomings and pointing out the inherent paradoxes, while also praising its good points, and it’s been an interesting read so far.
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…
Super Tuesday (“more like Stupid Tuesday”) and the next few days were kind of a rollercoaster. Right now, I am in a place of resigned… something. Not quite acceptance, but panic and anger doesn’t really help either.
I will not be thrilled to vote for Biden if that’s who wins the nomination, but I’ll do it. I’ll be a bit mollified if Warren is his VP or he makes some overtures to the left, but I don’t actually expect either of those things.
I’m not very keen on Biden’s chances of beating trump, but I’m also not very keen on Bernie’s chances to beat Biden. I think we’re going to be playing the same bad game of Rock-Paper-Scissors as 2016: Bernie beats Trump, center-right Democrat beats Bernie, Trump beats center-right Democrat.
Logic I should dislike Biden at least as much as I did Hillary Clinton, but I don’t, quite. Maybe it’s because I haven’t really been watching debates, and didn’t see him looking smug while explaining as if to a child that “America will never have universal healthcare.” Maybe it’s because in 2016, I didn’t think Trump was actually going to get elected and that a protest vote sent a stronger message than anything else I could do, while in 2020 I’m thoroughly sick of Trump and feel just as betrayed by the Green Party as the Democrats. I just sort of feel tired about it.
I don’t like choosing a lesser evil when there’s another choice. This time I don’t feel like there is another choice.
But I’m not going to argue with people about it and keep myself tied up in knots for the next 8 months. I’m gonna put in my vote for Bernie on Tuesday and a Democrat in November and we’ll see what happens.
The castle album continues to move along, with an ash-colored cranium and a granular mostly-silicate material joining the first two. The stuff going on so far really doesn’t sound like either typical FM or typical subtractive synthesis (*), and it’s definitely not all dense chordal Akemie’s Castle drones. But it does sort of have a sound to it, a recognizable evolution of Float.
There kind of hasn’t been much subtractive synthesis, yet. Some filter FM combined with a manual range sweep. A couple of minor voices that used filter envelopes as part of the sound. But I don’t feel like I’ve quite engaged with it yet…
I went for that Stages trade, and it should be waiting for me when I get home today. I also rearranged modules one more time, in a layout that is my best compromise between ergononics, balancing the power load between the upper and lower sections, a few signal flow considerations, and not having to move things much in my planned changes.
The second Stages will go beside the first one. E520 will take over the right side of the second row from the bottom, where Supercell and the gap are. Supercell will get sold and replaced with a Typhoon that goes in the gap on the left. That leaves just 5HP empty.
I have no plans beyond that, but I acknowledge there will probably be some must-have module in the future that requires selling off one or two lower-priority modules to make some room. Contour might be one of them; the way I use and approach envelopes has changed, and my “favorite” envelope module isn’t getting as much use. Stages can do everything I like about Contour and far beyond, though with a little more cognitive load.
As I wrote on the subject elsewhere, I’m not really using a lot of envelopes overall, anymore. I used to feel like I needed at least two per voice — one for the output VCA/LPG, one for timbral modulation — but that was when I sequenced everything in MIDI. Contour’s ARSR envelope complimented LPGs with a lowish sustain level, varying gate lengths in a sequence and legato playing and note jumps, which was very much a thing I did a lot of before I got more into the “Starthief sound.” But now, most of my modular voices have their levels manually controlled, with level parameters in Bitwig serving as VCA/mixer. For my sequenced/algorithmic voices I have tended toward simple ASR, AR or R envelopes from Maths or Stages, or even generating R envelopes directly in Teletype, or just triggering R envelopes in Natural Gate, or triggering individual grains in Clouds, or purely gating a source but letting a resonator/delay/reverb provide the envelope naturally…
Stages’ envelopes can get fun, though. You’re not limited to classic envelope types, and you can loop it and hybridize it with a step sequence or other modulation sources. Why ADSR when you can A(LFO)(A/D)(S&H)(A/D)R?
I’ve decided to run with the “castle” theme for the next album, and name each song after a different fictional or mythical castle. Most likely, a few tracks that don’t feature Akemie’s Castle will get titles without “castle” in them, e.g. “Minas Tirith” or “Valaskjálf” or whatever.
Only two recordings done for it so far, but I also submitted two for the next Ambient Online compilation, did two “Feedback February” recordings (one again for a compilation), a couple other recordings I decided weren’t going anywhere, and some experimentation. It’s funny how that feels slow to me now, because sometimes I spend as much as a couple of days without recording anything.
Kraftwerk is touring this summer, on their 50th anniversary. (Hey, I’m almost 50 myself. That felt weird to write.) They’re actually playing in St. Louis, so of course I’ll go.
Kraftwerk has pretty much been a Kraftwerk cover/tribute band for the last several years. They’re down to one original member (after a falling-out and creative meltdown) and three touring musicians, playing on laptops and iPads. They don’t do analog synths anymore. But I still expect to enjoy the show, as I enjoyed the Kraftwerk covers that a dude played at Knobcon last year, only with more technical wizardry and light show stuff.
Already I feel inclined to listen to Kraftwerk stuff for the rest of my workday…