the road to 2.0

Things are moving. My Dark World arrived last Friday, orders for the ER-301 and 16n have been placed and both have estimated ship dates in 6 weeks. [Edit: 16n now looks more like 4 weeks.] I’ve rearranged modules to make room and put a couple more up for sale.

You know what I finished by Valentine’s Day at the start of last year? Nereus. I have four songs ready for the next one, so making that deadline should be a relative breeze. Due to the no-theme theme, I was thinking of calling the album “Wiggly Air,” but somehow that doesn’t quite fit the Starthief image.

So let’s just say it’s Untitled Album for now. Anyway, getting it done before getting potentially sidelined by learning a significant new piece of gear seems like a good idea.

Dark World is pretty great. I could wish it were stereo, had its own feedback knob (because some of its settings are glorious inside of a tight feedback loop) and had its jacks on the back instead of the sides so it could sit hip-to-hip with other pedals instead of sticking its elbows out. But the sound can’t be argued with, and it’s easy to work with.

Some of the changes for Starthief Studio 2.0 are going to be pedalboard related:

  • Geiger Counter can probably be entirely replaced by one of the units in ER-301.
  • Right now I have Tensor, Afterneath and MS-70CDR as end-of-chain FX. This is kind of unnecessary since plugins do EOC reverb and delay better. But Tensor loves to be in feedback loops with reverb/delay, EQ and a limiter — so I might keep the three patched together, set up the CDR for the EQ/limiter, and just rethink the context they get used for. Or I might sell the CDR and Afterneath and just loop Tensor through software plugins or the ER-301.
  • I might consider a cheap (or even DIY) feedback looper pedal for Dark World, rather than patching through a mixer in the modular every time, as a convenience thing.
  • Monobius, like Geiger Counter, loves to be patched into the middle of a modular patch so it needs to be separate from other pedals.
  • I’m not entirely happy with the S.B.G/Trim/Gozinta combo for interfacing pedals with modular. Either right-angle patch cables or some different pedal interface modules will be happening once I figure out available space in the next wave of module selling.

this album is fire

Ambient Online Themed Compilation #2, Fire, is now available. I have two tracks on it (one also appears on Materials).

Based on what I’m hearing so far of the album, I might be pushing the boundaries of what’s commonly considered “ambient” — but I’m not the only one, which makes me happy.

Brian Eno’s concept of ambient music was “as ignorable as it is interesting,” meant to work on many different levels of attention. I never actually try to achieve that, and I think most other musicians in the genre don’t either. The genre has evolved. It’s not quite a meaningless word, but it’s not quite right.

It would be great to find a more like-minded… er, like-sounding (?) community of musicians to run with. Start our own label, build up a reputation, come up with a genre name that really fits, etc. Nathan Moody uses the word “angrient,” which is kind of clever but little of his music (or mine) actually comes off as angry. I have similar mixed feelings about my own “uneasy listening” tag.

A lot of genre names are terrible, though. I guess the real problem is that words aren’t music, and to know what the music sounds like you have to actually listen to it.

Anyway. I was waiting for this compilation’s release — and to give Materials a little while as a Bandcamp exclusive — before submitting it to streaming services. Those will be ready soon though; meanwhile here is a link to pre-save it on Spotify.

*not* incoming so much

How to Crush Your Habits in the New Year With the Help of Science

I particularly like that idea of having a “theme” for the year. An online acquaintance does this in almost a literary sense — determining the books he reads, the directions his imagination goes and so on, even giving years names. For that article’s purposes though, I think “improve my blood sugar” works as a theme, because there are multiple angles I can approach that from.

On my last doctor’s visit, he upped my Trulicity dose. There’s an effect it has where, when eating, after bite N you feel fine but after bite N+1 your guts say “okay, stop now.” It’s a somewhat different feeling from what I think of as fullness — less nausea-like than what Byetta did for me at first, but still quite effective.

I’ve also been taking Gymnema (“sugar destroyer”) for a while, too. If you taste it, it’s sort of the opposite of “miracle berry” — it ruins the taste of sweet things for a short while. It may or may not also have some appetite suppressant effects but that seems doubtful. It also may help lower blood sugar a little through a separate effect.

But beyond that I feel like my appetite has decreased, and that is very welcome. Yesterday was my first day back at work after an 11-day break; I picked up the same food I often do for breakfast on the way in and it was too much, and I wasn’t super hungry at lunchtime either. A couple of days ago, I got up at about 6 AM, didn’t eat anything until 2 PM, and still wasn’t too cranky. I’ve been wanting snacks and desserts a lot less. When I do feel like snacking on something, I ask myself if I’m actually hungry, and can usually answer no. For the times when it’s yes, I’m trying to keep interesting varieties of small tomatoes around, and raw almonds and that sort of thing.

I’m not declaring victory here yet by any means, but I’m at least hopeful that it will keep working. I haven’t measured my actual blood sugar and I don’t know how long these effects will last, or if the broken dials in my body will misadjust themselves again and I’ll start getting hangry. But I hope to cement this stuff as a habit first. Not a diet, but a new normal.

I have mixed feelings about checking my blood sugar. It’s often more painful and more of a hassle than giving myself injections. When the numbers are bad, it can be super frustrating and worsen my emotional state, to the point where I give up on it. But it also does help show what’s going on and what changes in diet might be effective. But my new endocrinologist doesn’t insist that I test it regularly and only has his diabetes patients visit every 6 months for A1C testing instead of every 3, so perhaps the emphasis on that was a bit much. Hmm.

incoming

Someone started a forum thread about what new gear announcements we’re looking forward to in 2019. I half-seriously hoped for no new cool things, because I don’t want to be tempted. I’ll have enough going on!

The Chase Bliss Dark World I pre-ordered (from apparently the world’s last music shop to get it, but the discount was nice) is finally shipping. So I’ll have that to try out very soon. It’s a dual effect pedal with three “world” modes (spring, hall and plate reverb) and three “dark” modes (otherworldly freezes either based on dynamics or time, or lo-fi tape and grit) and filtering and modulation, and I think it will fit my music nicely.

The 16n Faderbank open-source build documents were just officially released, and builders are pricing parts and should be accepting orders soon. The ER-301 is 4 days away from orders opening up again. The TXb is rumored to be available soon too. So it looks like my phase 1 gear plans are going to be completed quite early in the year. (Phase 2 is figuring out what phase 1 replaces, selling those, and evaluating what’s next if anything.)

I made a couple of discoveries this week. One of them was a much better way to export wavetables from the Serum plugin into WaveEdit format for the E370 — so I’ve got some new content for that, and potentially more if I start looking at free Serum downloads again, or using it to build wavetables. Serum’s editor and WaveEdit complement each other nicely, I think.

The other discovery is that Teletype’s “Grid Ops” work without actually owning a Monome Grid, using a display mode I’d previously not noticed. The actual Grid hardware is expensive (if cool) and integration with Teletype seems awkward, but the software side of it gives me a few more options for visual feedback, gate sequencing, etc.

shout out

I have to admit, I was pretty excited that the Black Mirror special “Bandersnatch” had a rockstar game developer suggest both Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra and Tomita’s Bermuda Triangle to a fellow game dev.

“I had both those albums!” (Tomita is better, though. We picked Tomita. TD was all over the movie later anyway.)

group does not include living sandwiches

A short story I really enjoyed:

When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis

Nitpick: the Loop is near Wash U, and there are some pretty swanky houses on one edge — but mostly it’s a funky, diverse historic district street with cafes and international restaurants and bars, music venues, interesting-ish shops etc. Blueberry Hill and a monument to Chuck Berry are there. Lots of foot traffic, lots of panhandlers and people being fashionable and whatnot. Drum circles on weekends, street musicians, etc. It’s a lot more interesting a neighborhood than the story makes it out to be.

I wonder if Janelle in the story is named after Janelle Shae (who keeps the AI Weirdness blog) or Janelle Monae (queer futurist singer/songwriter/producer/actress/visionary) or both or neither.

release the brain clutch

One of the reasons I like the Lines forum so much is to get peoples’ random insights. Sometimes those come in the form of quotes by other artists. Sometimes they are in the form of art itself. This time it was both:


Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, 1967

I don’t know if I agree or disagree with this statement. I reflexively flinch at “true artist”, I don’t think mystic truths can be revealed except by themselves (and mostly they defend themselves), and “helps the world” can sound more than a little conceited. But at the same time… yeah, kinda.

It turns out the artist thought the same thing.

Anyway, the thread where that was posted, along with some other thoughts about what it means to “figure out how to be an artist”, had my head spinning but also inspired me to overcome the lethargy of the last several days and record something.

Four minutes into the first take, which was going excellently, the phone rang. Oops. Gotta remember to put it in airplane mode next time. The next several takes were flubs, but then I finally nailed it.

I’ve decided that the next album will definitely have no theme. In fact, no-theme kind of is its theme. Action over contemplation.

Some time back, while I was Kemetic Orthodox, I was unsure about my musical direction at the time and did some divination to get unstuck. What came to me were the words “use force.” While a lot of music is about control and dexterity (either physical or mental) and is often a very intellectual exercise, sometimes you just have to pull out all the stops. (This phrase refers to the controls on a pipe organ; pulling them all out makes the thing as loud and dense as it can get. It’s like turning the amp up to 11.)

That’s… not exactly what my plan is here, but the idea is: just turn the synth on and do something.

the true meaning…

I guess I’m of the school of thought that says things don’t have inherent meaning, beauty, or purpose; we find them ourselves. (Likewise, things don’t have inherent meaninglessness, ugliness or pointlessness.) But so much about the way we think is transmitted socially, we can take that for granted.

Our society obviously attaches a very large accumulation of ideas and traditions to Christmas. It’s an important marker of the year, with far-reaching effects even for those who don’t celebrate it. Sometimes the reach is too much — “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” comes over the speakers while it’s still 75 degrees out; big hardware stores dedicate acres of space to trees and lights and inflatable Santas in mid-October; the whole economy rearranges itself.

I’m not feeling the wonder as much this year — partially because we’re staying home rather than visiting family as we often do, I expect — but I really don’t want to be too cynical. I do enjoy some of the decoration — when it doesn’t take the form of suburban homeowners competing for the brightest display or the largest number of inflatable light-up Santas. The lights at the plaza where my office building is — strung expertly in the trees, suspended above the plaza, and in the Christmas tree — are a lovely contrast with the dark early morning sky.

Some of my favorite childhood Christmas memories were of simply sitting next to the decorated, lighted tree, gazing at it in reverie. Not thinking of Jesus or of gifts so much as the… specialness, I guess, of the season. The feeling of people united in celebration, making something of this particular time. Hanging up some lights to change a dreary scene into a colorful glowing fantastical one. Interrupting the normal everyday flow of things in small ways or big ones.

So while I don’t think Christmas needs to take up three or four months every year, and particularly not with endless covers of 80 year old children’s songs, way too much artificial pine scent, hordes of shoppers not demonstrating peace and goodwill as everyone gets in everyone else’s way, and a little too much of the mandatory about things… I do wish our culture had more actual celebration. More holidays that count. More whimsy, more reminders that love and charity should be commonplace. More color and light. (But not too much light pollution…)

Whatever you celebrate, I hope for happiness and peace for you and yours. And the same during all the rest of the year.

2019 plans/goals: the rest of it

1. Keep making music.

Well, yeah. I’ll keep recording stuff, releasing albums, and entering into compilations.

I might consider submitting music to netlabels, or otherwise doing some actual promotion-ish activity. No promises though. That’s not really what I’m about.

I have no specific theme in mind for the next album. (While albums may be old-fashioned or may simply fit my favored genre range best, I still prefer albums over singles and will keep doing that.)

I still have no plans to perform live. As a thought experiment I considered “patch from scratch” performance style with “tape” running the whole time — maybe I will give that a go sometime and see what it brings me. Maybe it’ll be the basis of an album. If I can do that, I might feel more comfortable with the idea of actually doing that live in front of people.

Attending KnobCon Eight is a possibility. I skipped Seven, because Six was overwhelming at the time and because I felt I didn’t really need the “gear show” aspect of it every time. We’ll see.

2. The gear plans.

I have a different idea of the music gear I plan to buy and sell than what I posted three weeks ago.

Early in the new year when orders open again, I’ll pick up an Orthogonal Devices ER-301 Sound Computer. This is a highly versatile programmable module — something like the Teletype except for audio signals rather than control, and programmed largely by arranging and connecting “units” rather than terse lines of code (though Lua and C will also be opened up to users). It can act as a six-track digital audio recorder while also doing sampling/delay/looper/granular duties, FM synthesis, more experimental things, a VCA matrix, and so on. Its capabilities aren’t totally limitless, but continue to grow as the firmware is developed further and its users contribute to its library. And it works closely with Teletype via a behind-the-panel connection.

I expect the ER-301 to replace some — potentially a lot — of my current modules, leading to a “Version 2.0” of my system that is markedly different, and perhaps smaller, than the current version. I don’t know for sure until I use the module in practice for a while, though.

I do still intend to get the 16n Faderbank or something like it, as it will open up the Teletype and the ER-301 (and anything else really) to more hands-on interaction.

Whatever else happens, I will start actually tracking money spent and received on gear trading — not with a specific budget, but just to stay mindful of it. I expect to fund new gear mainly from old gear. For instance, the ER-301 is already half paid for with gear sales; selling the minimum of two modules that will make way for it will offset the rest.

3. The health plans.

I don’t realistically expect to lose significant weight. But I do want to nudge my appetite into being quieter, and not give into dessert-related temptations on the kind of regular basis that it can so easily turn into.

I want lower blood sugar. At my recent eye exam, the fancy camera thingy found the signs of (I had to look it up) mild nonproliferative retinopathy — microaneurysms leaking tiny amounts of blood into the retina. It has no effect yet but is a warning sign, and is reversible with better blood sugar control. So there’s some motivation.

As for mental health, I already outlined the online stuff and I wrote a little about anxiety. Keeping clear of trouble there is my goal. I’d like a bit more equanimity about things in general, whether it’s the constant flow of idiotic political news, the bad habits of local commuters, or the cat parking his butthole directly on my forehead for the umpteenth time. I’m considering some sort of spiritual/mindfulness practice to help with that (and I just find aspects of Zen as well as Taoism intellectually and emotionally interesting). Or QiGong to loosen up both physically and mentally.

4. The house plans.

Out of necessity, we did a bunch of work to maintain and clean up the house this year, but overall we do tend to let things slide. I want to put some effort into keeping up with that on a semi-regular basis. I have a continuing list of areas of the house to reorganize and things that need to be repaired. Some of it we can’t or shouldn’t do ourselves, like replacing the deck with stairs leading from the back door down to ground level, but some of it is stuff that we can and should, like finally finishing the last, most awkward section of cutting out carpet and replacing with vinyl planks.

5. Other.

Keep remembering that nobody else really fits into this world either, even if they are better at pretending so than I am.

Keep it weird.

Keep a weather eye on the horizon.

Just keep swimming.

2019 plans/goals: the complicated bit

I’ve come up with a tentative set of “stuff I want to do” for 2019 — not calling it “New Year resolutions” because those tend to get left behind. In fact it’s really more “ongoing things I just happened to contemplate before 2019 starts.”

One of them is a bit complicated though: do not engage in unhealthy online interactions. “Unhealthy” is a wide term, but mostly I mean unnecessarily upsetting or contentious, or the sort of habit I used to have where it was uncomfortable not to check Facebook several times per day.

There are some places I frequent online which can get unpleasant and I want to change my relationship to them.

KvR Audio: a website about music production on a computer, most specifically about VST plugins and the sequencing software that hosts them. It was a valued resource for several years and still serves some purpose, but I use software synths a lot less now, am pretty well set for software effects, am happy with the host I’m using (Maschine), have my production techniques and sound design down, etc.

Moderation on the forum is mostly hands-off. There are a few members who continuously snipe at each other and regularly turn threads into pointless bickering between themselves. There are others with strong opinions and perhaps little imagination, and no qualms about calling everyone else idiots. After 17 years or so of discussing things there are a lot of very tired topics of discussion and memes that are just not funny anymore which still pop up regularly. It can be a little bit of a boy’s club though it’s much less so than it once was.

Mostly it’s not too bad; I just need to not get drawn in to arguments about what kinds of things are “useful”, valid, “best”, what music and art are, that sort of thing. There is nothing to gain in defending my opinions or preferred instrument makers, nor in trying to pry the blinders off people who should be much more imaginative and open-minded, and there are certain people I should never read or reply to at all. If I keep that in mind, all is well.

MetaFilter: a sort of community link blog that shares interesting stories from around the internet, and covers a lot about politics and criticism of media coverage (from a generally left perspective). The community has turned generally more socialist-friendly in recent years, which is great. But it still has a particular hate-on for Bernie Sanders and for the Green Party.

They’re willing to blame literally everyone for the mess we’re in now: obviously the Republicans and the media and Russia and a broken system, but also white women in general, progressives, Baby Boomers, Millenials, and your pets. In fact, they seem to believe that everyone is to blame for the defeat of Hillary Clinton except for Hillary Clinton, her supporters, and the Democratic Party.

For the most part there’s a ban on “relitigating the 2016 primary.” But in practice, moderators often allow people to make snide comments about it and then crack down on progressives’ response to it. I called them on it once and now apparently at least one moderator has it in for me. In the past couple of months I’ve had so many posts deleted with no explanation or notice — regardless of the actual content — that I’ve given up posting and logged out of my account. I lurk but I’m a little bitter about it and might see if I can get my news fix elsewhere.

MuffWiggler: yes, embarrassingly enough, it’s actually called that. You might never guess it’s the biggest forum on the internet for modular synthesis. There is a ton of information and discussion about equipment and DIY, direct from the designers and engineers and experienced users. There’s a very large market in used gear and occasional prototypes. There’s a lot of advice for beginners and occasional discussion of advanced techniques.

The name is a sort of “locker room talk” passed off as “just a joke, you should relax” while being inherently and intentionally exclusionary. A lot of people dislike it, and the environment it comes from and fosters, and would like it changed — or just stay away entirely. Most of the prominent musicians in the modular synth, ambient and techno communities do avoid it and can be found on other forums instead.

The one guy running the site, his moderator crew, some alt-right types and “PC culture has gone too far” types, don’t see a problem — and are likely to delete your complaints as being “politics,” which is off-limits.

After some consideration, prompted by a recent call for extra donations to cover a rather larger shortfall on what’s purported to be suspiciously high hosting costs, and questions about transparency and community representation, I’ve stopped my $3/month Patreon support and am backing off in my participation a bit. I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing if the site went down and got archived somewhere and replaced by something a bit less toxic.

As with KvR, I feel that I’ve passed my peak “need” for the site’s resources anyway. I know what I’m doing in modular, and when I have questions, there are other places to ask them. (I give a lot more advice than I ask for, though there’s certainly a factor of learning through teaching.) My setup is relatively complete and I’m not doing as much research into what’s out there and how to work with it. There are other places for news and announcements, and other places to trade gear. But it’s still useful, more so than KvR, so I’m not completely getting out.