time is weird. frequency is time. timbre is frequency.

I’m still feeling that time is crawling and flying simultaneously. Maybe that’s just the new normal. It’s probably always been true, but maybe the pandemic made me notice it more.

The partially formed concept I had for the album I’m working on is related to time — entropy, the “arrow of time” and how it relates to life; the opposing but complementary forces of Preservation and Ruin, from which Harmony arises, from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series.

Except that the tracks I’ve recorded really aren’t that much in line with that. I’ll just keep recording stuff, and see what happens I suppose 🙂


I wound up with the 4ms Ensemble Oscillator (ENOSC) and am hugely impressed with it.

Trying to keep the technical description part of this short — ENOSC begins with the basic concept of additive synthesis, but instead of fixed harmonic frequency ratios between the partials, it lets you choose from preset or custom-defined chords, scales, or non-octave repeating interval sets, within or outside standard Western 12TET tuning. The idea is to explore the whole spectrum between additive synthesis and music theory. You can also detune them for lush chorusing effects.

On top of that, the partials can FM each other, using the root or highest partial s the modulator, or each modulating the next higher. Combining that with different frequency intervals can give extremely rich results!

And on top of that there’s a phase shaper and a wavefolder, each with three modes.

The sets of partials have three different output assignment modes, but unfortunately each of them can suffer from phase cancellation issues. Thankfully I’ve built up a pretty good roster of ways to deal with those, it’s just something I’ll have to keep an eye and an ear on.

Overall, the sounds this thing can produce are diverse and… kind of alarming to be honest. Pipe organs are easy, and as others have said, using it for drones feels like cheating. I’ve accidentally created really brassy horns with a sort of grace note attack, with no envelopes at all, just as a consequence of the crossfading as the Root input changes along with cross-FM. It’s done vocal formant “yai yoi oay” type stuff, 808 style hi-hats, a combined bassline/chord stabs, wild FM percussion, and some almost Karplus-Strong like power chords. The thing is full of sweet spots and it’s very easy to get something good out of it, but I feel like it’s going to take a while to familiarize myself with it so I can more or less predict what will happens when I change one aspect of its current state.

ENOSC is 16HP, and feels like it’s deceptively small — like it’s trying to fool people into thinking it’s humbler and simpler than it really is. It also tends to eat attenuators for breakfast — any CVing you do needs to be really cut down to size to work well. So it probably should have been 26HP, like the 4ms SMR and SWN as well as E352 and Shapeshifter. It deserves the larger stature 🙂

I’ve gone ahead and put the Faderbank, HD mk2 and E352 up for sale. The kinds of sounds I’m getting from my current rig without them are perfectly suited to what I want to do, while giving me a whole lot of mad ̶s̶c̶i̶e̶n̶c̶e̶ engineering exploration.

I also bought a used Phonogene, for semi-lo-fi varispeed tape loop stuff — something I have missed since trying W/. The looper and Spectral Time Machine in E520 are their own things, good but not the same as that; Clouds is granular and also different; Mimeophon is not quite there with its hold feature. Bitwig doesn’t really do it live or in such a hands-on way, though I’ve made decent use of its sampler in the Grid.

I’m going to pass on Casper/Bastl Waver, after watching a video demo where the sounds are just not very appealing, there was some nasty clipping and some thresholds where the level suddenly jumps.

My past few tracks have used a LOT of moderately slow LFOs, which made me think a bit about maybe Zadar or a DivKid 0chd — but I do have plenty of available CV outputs and can assign them to LFOs in Bitwig, so I won’t go there.

I feel I’m at or near a “version 4.0” of my modular synth, and maybe I will write up a summary of it, like I did with what I had near the start of this blog.

the bell and whistle orchestra

Saturday morning I went ahead and rearranged my modular setup, discovering my plan for the Pod 60 wasn’t going to work. Pod cases are pretty shallow, and some modules just won’t fit in them. When people report the depths of modules on ModularGrid, they don’t always take into account connectors and cables on the back, so that 28mm module isn’t necessarily going to fit into a 34mm deep case. Also, there was really no way I was going to fit a flying bus cable in there to sneak in an extra power header. So I revised the plan on the fly, and I think it’ll work out. Monday when the custom snake cable arrives, I’ll rewire my studio rack box and see how everything goes.

Shapeshifter arrived yesterday afternoon, and it’s a delight. If considered solely on its strengths as a wavetable oscillator, it’d be a disappointment. If considered solely as a TZFM complex oscillator (using only sines), it’d be… okay, but not spectacular.

It’s all about synergy, though. Things that I thought were extra “bells and whistles” turn out to be part of an unusual orchestra, each one multiplying the awesomeness rather than simply adding to it. The patch I have playing right now while I write this has:

Osc1: “Harmo2” wavetable with the position being slightly modulated by an LFO. It’s playing a minor chord inversion.
Osc2: “Flute1” wavetable.
Main output: Osc1 and Osc2, ring modulated.
Osc2 FMs Osc1 mildly, while Output 1 phase-modulates Osc2 very shallowly.
There’s a touch of comb filtering delay driven by Osc2’s frequency.

Change any single piece of that — the depths of modulation, the ratio of the two oscillators, either wavetable or position within it, disable chord mode, use Tilt, remove the ring modulation or change to some other algorithm, enable oscillator sync… and it could be a radically different sound, but probably still awesome.

Just having FM and PM working circularly leads to magic. Sometimes the oscillators will spontaneously synchronize, in a fragile sort of way, and bring something completely new. Go too far and it’ll just spit and hiss and bubble like a rabid reptilian cat-thing; hit it just right and it’s cellos from heaven. Sometimes when it’s running too wild all you have to do is change the combination mode and it’ll fall into line, or it will start to sound like 1500 Game Boys all playing the same chord in a cathedral. Possibly underwater.

So it’s a little unpredictable — the module is well named — but as much I like spelunking in sonic caverns of possibility, we’re going to get along just fine.

I think what I’m going to do in a few days is put Hertz Donut mk2 and E352 into boxes and see if I miss either of them. That seems to make more sense than trying to directly compare them. In terms of playability I do think it’s a match for the Donut. In terms of features and sound, it’s kind of completely different from E352, but seems poised to play a similar role in how I use it in my music.

Akemie’s Castle is safe. I feel like it’s the FM master, and also better at big dense chords than anything else.

I’m thinking that Loquelic Iteritas, Orgone Accumulator, and others that largely do their thing by having two oscillators modulate each other in various ways, are less likely now. VCOs more along the lines of Ensemble Oscillator or Odessa would be more likely to offer something complimentary but different.

moving parts

The Synthesis Technology E520 Hyperion Effects Processor arrived Saturday. It is indeed a lovely and powerful piece of synthesis technology. As with every one of the brand’s modules, the build quality is really solid and sharp-looking. The LCD on this module is the brightest and has the best contrast of any I’ve seen on a piece of music gear (though this photo really doesn’t show it that well). More importantly, the interface is really smooth and easy to use, with very little shuttling around in menus (with the exception of one feature I will never need) and some of the things it can do to sound are nearly unbelievable.

The E520 has several different algorithms, with the possibility of more to come in future updates. I could (and started to) write up descriptions and mini-reviews of all of them, but that would be long, and probably boring to most people, and you could just look at this for the dry technical version.

So I will just say: there are a bunch of delays, each with unique features and character. Like the ability to change the sample rate of a delay while still staying locked to a tempo, or just shift the sample rate way down to make the delay darker and warmer. Or filters, pitch shifting, pattern-based delay, a “beat repeat” style delay, or a spectral delay that shifts different frequencies by different amounts of time.

There are some other time-domain effects, like a shimmer reverb, granular pitch shifter, sound-on-sound looper/recorder (with beautiful lo-fi tape degradation stuff you can dial in), frequency shifter, flanger with diffusion (which also doubles as a Karplus-Strong short delay), phaser, chorus, wah, etc. And there’s a “dual mono” mode which lets you select two simplified effects and chain them or run them independently.

There are some spectral effects which are kind of out of this world. If the module only had the Spectral Crusher algorithm, it’d still be formidable. Several years ago, I wrote some experimental VST plugins that manipulated sound in the frequency domain — but they were awkward, put a heavy burden on the CPU, and mostly just gimmicky. But Spectral Crusher does several of those in a way that is highly useful.

A normal (time-domain) filter reduces the strength of certain frequencies — for instance, a lowpass filter lets lower frequencies pass, while suppressing higher ones. (Filters generally also have side effects on phase, resonant peaks where they increase levels of some frequencies, and so on which are exploited musically.)

But imagine turning that sideways — filtering out frequencies based on their incoming strength. You could take the strongest bands in a signal and cut them off, letting other harmonics and noise through — and then since the fundamental was probably one of the strongest frequencies, maybe pitch shift the results down an octave. Or you could apply compressor logic to thousands of individual frequency bands. Or you can force the levels of individual bands to decay more slowly than normal, yielding a kind of reverb.

Honestly, as much awesome stuff as this one particular algorithm can do, I feel like there’s incredible potential for even more manipulation of this kind. Granted, a lot of it would probably just sound like mush — but it’s an area I think we will see explored more in the future.

Anyway, there are some other spectral effects — a “drone maker” that slowly samples and sustains bands with a slow fade, a delay with spectral pitch shifter, a delay that applies variations in delay time to different bands, and a “Spectral Time Machine” looper that reminds me of Red Panda Tensor but more (and smoother, since it’s spectral rather than granular). It records audio in the frequency domain, applies feedback effects to it, and lets you play it back and overdub at any speed — backwards, forwards, even completely motionless — with pitch shifting independent of the speed. It’s pretty magical, although apparently was a little underappreciated by the beta testers.

So, yes, it’s quite good. Worth the large amount of rack space it takes up — though honestly, I think for 95% of usage it could get away with half the knobs and jacks. It’s got that flexibility for the edge case situations though, and in modular, that can sometimes be a make-or-break issue.


What else in the Eurorack world? The Pod 60 has been sitting here waiting to be filled up. The Sweet 16 controller should arrive today, so I could move everything over — but I will wait a few days before setting everything up, because my custom snake cable is also shipping now. That way I can rewire the rack with my audio interface and PDU all in one go. I bought a used Shapeshifter and it should be on its way soon. So all this is coming together pretty quickly.

I tried a couple of other firmware options on my Starling Via. META strikes me as a mini-Plaits and mini-Zadar in one module — doing different things depending on mode and looping settings. Oscillator and drum synth; wavetable-based envelope and looping envelope; “sequencer” and looping sequencer (although really those are just “envelopes” with weirder data). I liked the oscillator and drum stuff, but I think I’d rather go with an actual Zadar for the fancy modulation source if I were so inclined, since its display and warping capabilities make it more intuitive.

I tried OSC3 next, and will stick with that for a while. Basic oscillator shapes plus phase modulation, but with two “side” oscillators that have unique detuning features. It has an output that signals the beating frequency between the oscillators, so you could synchronize other modulation to it; you can also synchronize the beating to an incoming clock, which gets pretty wild if you use varying rhythms. And it’s got a chord mode that sounds nicely thick in a chiptuney sort of way, which complements the Via platform’s VCAs and sample-and-hold for some wild AM drones. I’ve got faceplates for OSC3 and META incoming, so I can switch between thus (and the SCANNER and SYNC3 I’ve already got) without being confused about the interface.

I figure I am headed for a “version 4.0” of my modular, but I don’t quite know what that looks like specifically yet. It all comes down to how I feel about Shapeshifter in usage and sound. My rough prediction is this:

  • I’ll probably like Shapeshifter very much in terms of sound and feel. It’ll probably be “grab and go” enough to replace the Hertz Donut.
  • Shapeshifter’s design is primarily a complex oscillator, which happens to use wavetables — wavetables are a weaker feature in it. E352 is primarily a wavetable oscillator, which has other tricks (and TZFM was literally an afterthought). The way I use my E352 in general is that the unison, FM etc. are the primary feature and wavetable morphing is a secondary axis of modulation and variation — so therefore, chances are I will feel like Shifter can replace the E352 as well.
  • Unless Shifter has a very specific FM character to it, I will probably decide — after stewing about it — to keep Akemie’s Castle for now. Yeah it’s big, yeah it’s power hungry, but nothing else I’ve heard in modular sounds like it, and it’s not just the chords or the quasi-harmonic-oscillator thing I do with it.
  • And I’ll probably decide against filling the available space with a Verbos Harmonic Oscillator. It’s big, and pricey, and I’m kind of already using some similar techniques with Castle anyway.
  • I could decide I do want another oscillator though — perhaps Rubicon (a top-notch analog oscillator that does TZFM and is praised for clarity) or Orgone Accumulator (a sort of generalist digital oscillator with some neat sounds) or Odessa. Or I might recognize that Shifter, Castle, Kermit, and whatever the Via is being today, and also the Angle Grinder when it’s not being a filter, are enough 🙂

knock knock

Who’s there?

Opportunity.  It's Opportunity.

Thanks to an offer I could not sanely refuse, I have a 4ms Pod 60 coming. This is a slim, 60HP powered Eurorack case that I don’t have room for… unless I replace my 16n Faderbank with a Tesseract Sweet 16, which I totally can do. (And the Sweet 16 has CV inputs it can convert to MIDI and i2c messages along with the faders. Neat!)

So that gives me +36HP of free rack space (for a total of 40, or 48 without the arcade button) and some relief to the -12V current burden on my main case’s power supply, for pretty much no budget hit.

Aside from the Sweet 16 itself — and the cheap little Mazzatron Mult+PassThru I ordered before this happened, which might free up another little bit of space — am going to sit on my hands and not order more stuff until the E520 arrives… really for real this time. That doesn’t mean I won’t plot and ponder!

slow churn

I haven’t been feeling super creative lately, so there are only two candidates for the next album recorded so far. Otherwise it’s just been a little bit of experimentation, and bit of thought into “finishing” the modular.

Back when preorders opened for the SynthTech E520, it was offered in both aluminum and black panel versions. I chose the black to match my E352. Naturally, production of the black panels was delayed, so while some of the other early birds have been receiving their modules, mine is probably going to show up around the start of next month or so.

I have a WMD MSCL compressor/limiter on the way. While I have a couple of strong favorite compressors in the software world (DDMF MagicDeathEye and NI SuperchargerGT), having one in analog hardware might have some benefit in feedback loops, sidechaining, or overcooking signals a bit. A lot of people who don’t use software like it for “mix glue,” but I’ve also heard some demos of it used on individual channels, and it seems promising.

That leaves 4HP unclaimed in my case, or 12HP if I put the arcade button aside. I’m thinking about waveshapers, and there are a few options:

  • There have been leaks about the upcoming Intellijel Bifold, which is 8HP and has both Buchla and Serge style wavefolders and a crossfader between them; they can be used independently or together, or it can act as a ring modulator or VCA. So that’s a neat option.
  • WMD C4RBN (Carbon) was also recently announced: a 4HP filter with an input saturator and an output wavefolder. But I don’t like the filter character at all from what I’ve heard, although to be fair, most sawtooth-through-resonant-filter-sweep demos make me cringe. I didn’t much like their MMF filter when I demoed it at Knobcon before either, though.
  • Casper/Bastl Waver is a badass “wavefolding drone mixer” that seems extremely relevant to my interests. I absolutely love the sound of it in demos. My concern is its hefty power consumption. I suppose I could still add a secondary PSU to the case if it comes to that, though.
  • Xaoc Jena is an 8HP “binary transfunctioner” — essentially a wavetable without the oscillator. It’s part of the “Leibniz Binary Subsystem” — requiring the Drezno module, which is 12HP. As Deckard in Blade Runner might say, this is both a benefit and a hazard. I’d have to pull out another 8HP of something to make way, and that’s a hard choice.

Leibniz is a cool system. Drezno is basically two modules in one: an 8-bit ADC, converting an analog input into 8 binary outputs which have their own front panel jacks and are also passed to the next module in the subsystem. (With that section alone, you can use it as a sort of multi-step comparator, turn an LFO into rhythmic gates, or send those “bits” into a mixer to create other waveshapes from modulation or audio signals.)

The right side of Drezno converts 8 bits to an analog output. The fun here is that bits can be manipulated in between — ignored, inverted, cross-patched, delayed, divided, or independently generated — and can be processed by other modules in the subsystem. Both the input and output clocks can be overridden externally, so you can use it for sample rate reduction and bitcrushing effects, or clock it like a sample-and-hold at the speed of a sequence. You could patch it as a binary shift register, freezing patterns of bits that rotate left or right or travel in unusual paths.

Jena interprets the 8 bits from the ADC as the index into a wavetable, and outputs its own 8 bits. Typical use would be to feed Drezno a linear ramp “phasor” so that Jena moves smoothly through the table. The tables consist of interesting audio and LFO stuff, Walsh functions (which let you combine complimentary sets of square waves at different harmonics for an alternative form of additive synthesis), and drum patterns. Jena also has a synchronous mode which can use the input signal as a “hint” but remove any imperfections in how it scales or resets, plus a phase modulation input.

So that offers a lot of possibilities, but something’s got to be sacrificed if I go that route. Perhaps I could put a module in reserve and rotate things in or out as the whim strikes. Or I could pull out my rarely used Gozinta and one of the Shades and see how that goes. Perhaps the E520’s scope mode will make me feel less need for the O’Tool+. Perhaps I could DIY or acquire a breakout box to patch my modular to the audio interface without using the Bastl mults (or make a very simple box for those two mults). Or maybe reconsider a 4ms Pod, which is a compact case I could put controllers in and a little overflow space — though fitting it right in front of the case could be a little awkward. Hm. (For that matter, that could fix the power issues and allow for that Waver…)

Anyway — not making any decisions until I play with the E520. I don’t really need another waveshaping option, it’d just be cool. 🙂

touch copper

The 0-Ctrl arrived on Saturday, and I’m very pleased with it. My first impression was that it exactly met my expectations and hopes — the form factor is perfect, the touchplates work perfectly even with my dry skin, fit on my little stand in front of the modular is perfect, it feels great to use, it’s fun and inspiring and works almost exactly like I thought. Maybe a little easier to dial in tunings and grooves than I expected, and surprisingly musical when combining unsynchronized internal and external clock sources.

When only using an external clock, the gate lengths and the dynamic envelope times are still based on the internal clock, so the Speed and Time settings as well as Strength are still relevant. The dynamic gate and main clock output will result in different rhythms depending on the setting, which is a neat way to get some interrelated parts going and vary them easily. I threw together a quick jam with the E352’s two outputs:

Working with the 0-Ctrl does make me nostalgic for the 0-Coast — though more in terms of feel than sound or features. In theory, I like the idea of a more compact, simple modular. But in practice, I really like the setup that I have and what it does for my music.


Experimenting with the Disting EX, I found I could get better PLL-like results with the XOR logic gate algorithm than the pitch tracking algorithm… and than my actual A-196 PLL module. So that’s one more module to sell. There’s an EMW Fixed Filter Bank on the way, for feedback, distortion and some band-separating tricks of various kinds, and only 2 HP of free space unclaimed. (4 if I decide I don’t need the 2HP Trim that I have, which is possible.) Nothing’s really calling out to me for that space though.


On another note (that pun never gets old!), someone recommended Freakshow Industries plugins, which I’d never heard of up ’til now. I like their aesthetic and their “steal” policy, though I found Mishby (“Maybe I Shouldn’t Have Built You”) worth the full price, giving some lovely semi-tape, semi-“digital” degradation and chorusing. It sounds especially good in front of Supermassive.

frickin’ laser beams

Today ends my 8th week of working from home (more productively than I ever did in the office), and about 11 weeks of COVID-19 being something to worry about in the US. St. Louis County is opening some businesses on a limited, restricted basis but so far, it looks like we’re going to keep working from home. Given news about other places having spikes in cases and having to close back down again after reopening, it could still be a while.

Given events, maybe the Stormlight Archive wasn’t the best thing to read. I’m most of the way through Oathbringer now, and it’s an apocalyptic mess of magical extreme weather, war, monsters, betrayals, and all the major characters being completely traumatized, broken and lost. It is a really entertaining set of books, with bright spots of humor and insight and triumph, ridiculously epic worldbuilding, the gamut of lovable and hateable characters, etc. but there’s no doubt that it’s a tragedy (even if, 7 books from now, some remnant of humanity is probably going to survive). “Heroism” and ethics are largely a matter of perspective. There are times when the story goes shockingly dark.


Google Play Music, which I’ve been subscribed to since 2014, is also going dark in the near future. I happened to be prepared for it though — my New Year resolution to support musicians through Bandcamp, and having a phone with plenty of storage, has meant streaming much less and listening much more to my MP3 collection. I gathered a list of albums that I want to make sure I own, and cancelled my subscription.

Unfortunately not every musician is on Bandcamp, and for some of those albums I’ve had to track down CDs on eBay. I’ve got a collection of CDs that I really should at least rip some of, and when I traded Eurorack modules with Kid606 he generously sent a couple of CDs to me. I wound up buying an external DVD drive rather than continuing to bother Alisha to rip them for me and transfer via USB stick (because Windows LAN networking still sucks in 2020). Chances are, any computers we might buy in the future won’t have optical drives built in anyway.

My MP3 collection is about 25 years old and has 840 (!!) artists in it. There are some-hundred CDs in my collection that spans roughly 1990-2005. I certainly don’t plan to rip all of them, but there’ll be a bunch. So I’m thinking: I’ll set up a personal streaming server with a rating system, or else cull the collection a little so there’s an archive and a “live” collection, and stop having to copy the whole collection to three different devices.


Two modules arrived this week. The Disting EX, previously described, is a bunch of different utilities in one module. The improved display is TINY and a challenge for my poor eyesight, and I rearranged modules a bit to bring it a little closer to my eyes and hands. But still, the module is easier to navigate than previous versions, and I think a dozen or so favorite algorithms won’t require much referring to a cheat sheet or online reference. I’ve encountered a few bugs, many of which will be fixed in the next firmware release.

I’ve got i2c commands from the Teletype working with it, although it doesn’t support slew, which is going to limit the matrix mixer morphing I thought might be particularly special.

The algorithms I like most are different from the set I originally liked, with more of the basic building blocks (like comparators and sample-and-hold) and fewer oscillators and effects. There are still some “macro” items though, like a pitch and envelope tracker and a wavetable-based waveshaper, that are pretty special.

The polyphonic multisample player is cool, if kind of mind-bending in Eurorack. Not something I’ll probably want to use frequently, but like everything else on the Disting, it’s nice to have it in reserve for when I do. The Disting can also record samples, and an auto-multisample mode is coming that makes use of the MIDI breakout panel — play several notes on a synth into it, and it will sample them and format it for the multisample player — so I might have to make room for that. It could be kind of neat sampling software synths with it and then playing them back with Eurorack sequencers…


The other module is Schlappi Engineering Angle Grinder, and it’s glorious.

The left side is the “grind” section, a set of four comparators that blast the smooth edges off and add more upper harmonics. The “spin” section on the right is a nice filter/quadrature oscillator. As a filter, it sounds like it has a little bit of a resonant peak even at minimum; it can work pretty conventionally but the highpass and notch sound particularly sweet. As an oscillator it’s quite smooth. I feel like I should put in some time exploring what a quadrature LFO/oscillator can do for me, aside from synchronized push-pull on different modulation targets.

The real fun is in the combination. The Spin outputs feed Grind’s four comparators and subtract from the input, changing the shape. The output can then feed back into Spin. The bandpass/allpass output from Spin also feeds back into Grind if not interrupted by a different input. The results vary quite a lot depending on whether Spin is oscillating or filtering, and the phase-shifted and clipped feedback results in many different waveshapes and pitch shifting, under CV control.

Overall the thing can range from a conventional filter or sine oscillator, to something with a little more edge, to a weird noise generator that can produce chirps, atmospheric noise, “toy with dying battery,” self-pinging filter and other weirdness. The feedback loops make it inherently chaotic, but the knobs control the amount of that chaos. Also, it provides several excellent ways to combine other oscillators to create complex drones.

I do kind of wish it had CV control over the “Damping” (aka reverse resonance) and “Grind->Spin” controls since both can influence feedback. To some extent I could manage that with external VCA(s) and mixer though, if the block diagram in the manual is correct.

I have absolutely no regrets about trading my Filter 8 for this one. In fact, it’s so good, I’m considering one of Schlappi Engineering’s other modules, the Interstellar Radio. It converts a signal to a high-frequency “radio transmission” and then back, but with different clocks or even external ones, to generate a variety of errors, aliasing and distortion and other oddities. If I let go of my A-196 PLL — which I believe I can do without losing any functionality, because of the Sync3 and Disting’s pitch tracker, comparator and XOR algorithms — I’ll have room for it. I won’t leap too quickly though, and give myself some time to get to know the new stuff.

I didn’t wind up going for TAL Sampler, at least not yet. I still might!

I did pick up Goodhertz Lossy though, which was an accidental discovery when checking out their Vulf Compressor plugin. Which was designed as an emulation and expansion of the “LoFi Vinyl” setting on the Roland SP303 sampler, which is highly prized among some hiphop and dance music producers and which I’ve been hearing a lot about lately, thanks to investigating lo-fi samplers. It turns out, not doing the sort of drum stuff where that particular flavor of compression works best, the compressor itself didn’t grab me.

Lossy imitates MP3 compression artifacts — the filtering, loss of detail, smearing of transients and, well, blorpy smudge that happens with low-bitrate MP3s. It has a few other models of digital artifacts and glitches as well, including packet loss and packet repeats that can happen with UDP data streams. (UDP packets are smaller and have less bandwidth overhead than TCP, but are not guaranteed to arrive in order or even at all — which is acceptable for some kinds of real-time streaming where a little lost data is better than long dropouts and pauses, an ever-increasing time delay and eventual traffic jams.) It combines these with a filter and reverb, in a way that delightfully smears sounds. It works nicely in feedback loops and to take the edge off of sounds in a mix.

This is the time of year when Superbooth would normally be happening — a synthesis convention (modular and otherwise) in Berlin, a big expo and new product announcements and performances and drinking. With the pandemic, instead there’s been “Superbooth Home Edition” as well as Hainbach’s “Special Reserve Livestream.” Far more video than I’ve had time or inclination to watch, but a bunch of product announcements and performances and interviews nonetheless.

To me the most interesting announcement has been the Expert Sleepers Super Disting EX Plus Alpha, aka “Disting EX.” This is, sort of, a module I had been wishing for; I even referred to this dream module as “Super Disting” last September.

Disting (*) has been a series of small digital Eurorack modules capable of a wide variety of useful functions — envelope generator, comparator, VCA, oscillator, delay, sample player, exponential-to-linear converter, etc. — one at a time. The mk1-mk2 versions had 16 different algorithms, with binary code on LEDs telling you what mode it was in; the mk3 had more banks of algos added. The mk4 had a much improved 8×6 LED display which could show a couple of characters of text, but with 105 algos it still required patience and/or a cheat sheet to use. I had one for a while — it was my introduction to wavetables in Eurorack and prompted me to go for the E352 — and I found it excellent overall but a bit tedious. I thought a module in about 8-10HP, with a larger OLED display, would make navigating it and editing parameters much more workable, as well as give it the ability to act as an oscilloscope.

Well, this one has a small OLED display of the kind I tend to think of as a “window” for some reason — wide but short in height. It doesn’t do categorized menus, but reading the names of algorithms at a glance instead of waiting for them to scroll by or looking them up on a cheat sheet looks like quite an improvement (and a preset and favorites system can help reduce the search further).

The big deal though is that it is the equivalent of two Disting mk4s running side-by-side independently (with the display optionally “zooming” to show more detail of the one currently being edited) but with more memory and a higher sample rate; it can also run more involved “single mode” algorithms that use more inputs and outputs and processing power. Right now these include polyphonic multisample playback, “drum sampler” style playback, a tape delay based on the old Augustus Loop software, and a matrix mixer. And it can be controlled via knobs and CV but also MIDI and i2c — making that matrix mixer a VCA matrix, which is a whole other level of hot stuff.

(*) I figure it’s either named after the ancient yearly market in Uppsala, Sweden, the Dísablót Thing — or “what is dis ting?” Perhaps both.

To make some room for dis ting, I have swapped out my trusty Doepfer A-138m matrix mixer for an AI008 4×3 matrix mixer, which is half the width. Yes, I did just say Disting EX has a matrix mixer mode — but an analog one dedicated to the task, with no DAC latency, can be good for feedback purposes and letting the Disting do other things. I’ve also gone ahead and sold off my LS1 Lightstrip (which was redundant since getting the 16n Faderbank) and Flexshaper (which was a cool concept but I never really put it to much use). That leaves 12HP open, though I have no particular plans for that space right now.

Teletype got a firmware update recently, with a few cool new features. My favorite is the NR op — a rhythm pattern generator based on bitwise multiplication of a set of patterns, as found on the Noise Engineering Numeric Repetitor. With NR you can imitate the Repetitor pretty much exactly, but you have the freedom to do many other things with it. If I made something more akin to techno and I didn’t already have Noise Engineering’s pattern generation line of stuff, I would be thrilled beyond comprehension at this gift; as it is, it’s pretty cool and will likely get as much use as Euclidean patterns do now. Slow, odd time signatures can still benefit from repeating patterns whether the listener notices them consciously or not. It almost feels like I got another new module with this update.

closure

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.

if FM overkill is wrong, I don’t want to be right

In the last few weeks I’d been thinking seriously about selling off Akemie’s Castle, having convinced myself that I have more than enough FM capability and can use Sync3 among other things for the big chords. So I was trying to decide between the Odessa or the Ensemble Oscillator as a replacement, but honestly I wasn’t totally fired up about either of those choices. They can both do cool things but I’m not fully convinced either of them is truly what I want.

Last night I was feeling pretty bleh and unmotivated, but after making a pretty crappy recording I decided to mess with Akemie’s Castle… and it brought immediate joy. The chords are huge, the FM is glorious and not quite like all my other FM synths, and it sort of does the additive thing from a different angle. I have a bond with this module, and it would make no sense at all to swap it out for something else.

With that settled, I decided there’s really no point in waiting for the E520 to sell stuff: the DSM-03 Feedback, tanh[3] and Cold Mac have been sitting in a drawer and I’ve left HD mk3 unused, and I don’t think I will miss any of those. Also the Supercell, which I’ll replace with Typhoon (unless I happen into a great trade deal for Monsoon or Microcell).

What makes much more sense is to not buy anything else, including pedals, for a while. I don’t have any particular gaps I can think of. E520 of course is going to cover a lot of effect territory. I don’t see a good argument for another oscillator, and I feel pretty happy with my set of modulation sources. Bitwig Grid and Teletype cover most things that aren’t directly present. I’m sure eventually there will be something I will want to try out, so I’ll just leave the empty space for that future eventuality.


I’ve been reading Greg Egan’s Diaspora. It starts off in a wild and weird post-human future, and only gets wilder and weirder from there. My only gripe is that while the physics might have more dimensions than we can imagine, the characters mostly tend to have one or two. It seems like the more interesting a character becomes, the more likely they will be ignored, fall into the background, or be killed off in the background in the next chapter. I’m still enjoying the scale and uniqueness of the ideas though, and the rate at which they are introduced.