plug it in

I have written a lot in this blog about music hardware, but not nearly as much about the software that is also a vital part of my sound. Maybe it’s time. I won’t go into Bitwig’s built-in effects, nor the occasional synth plugins, but here are the third-party effects plugins that I use on a relatively regular basis.

Delay: super important to me, adding space, movement, character, rhythm and of course just plain echoes.

  • Valhalla Delay: for me this is the top of the heap for sure. A perfect combination of simplicity, flexibility and character, and it keeps getting better (there are three new variations in the current beta and they’re all fantastic).
  • Arturia 3 Delays You’ll Actually Use: some nice character here, particularly when overdriven and using their parametric EQ. Second fiddle to Valhalla, but it’s nice to have alternatives.
  • u-he Colour Copy: largely superseded by Valhalla, but for liquid, chorusy modulated delays it has a special lushness.
  • Audio Damage Ratshack Reverb: while I can probably get a similar sound with Valhalla, it’s just right there on tap. And the distortion it offers is pretty special.
  • Sonic Charge Permut8: when what I want isn’t a delay so much as a glitchy repeating weirdness thing, this is where I go.

Reverb: for making space and distance, smoothing out textures, as a medium to apply other effects in a feedback loop, or sometimes extending the duration of tails that I faded too quickly.

  • Valhalla Plate, Room and Vintage Verb: All excellent, though Plate is my favorite.
  • u-he Twangström: a fine emulation of spring reverb, when that kind of character is called for. I sold my real spring reverb because of this plugin.
  • AudioThing Fog Convolver: for applying real acoustic spaces, including some weird ones. I usually keep this one subtle, but I’ve found building a feedback loop around it can be fun too.

EQ: the scissors to generally shape my sounds and the scalpel to cut out problem areas. My music doesn’t tend to have the same kind of mixing applications for EQ that more mainstream music does, but this is still pretty vital.

  • Toneboosters Equalizer 4: My go-to general purpose and corrective EQ, whether full stereo or mid-side. It’s frankly unbeatable.
  • u-he Uhbiq-Q: I keep finding myself turning to this one for character, and for “blind” EQing where I want to trust my ears without graphical assistance.
  • Honorable mention: I just picked up McDSP 6050 and am learning it; among other things, it has 12 different analog-style EQ models with relatively subtle differences between them. There might be a favorite character EQ lurking here too.

Limiters: for keeping peak levels in check and feedback loops from exploding, and increasing loudness as the last stage in mastering.

  • Toneboosters Barricade 4: combines a saturator, compressor and limiter, but I use it primarily for limiting — its saturation can often get ugly and I find it very situational. I could probably just use Bitwig’s peak limiter instead, honestly.
  • u-he Presswerk: it’s a big fancy compressor plugin, but lately I’ve been using it almost exclusively for one of its limiter presets that can be pushed hard and does some nice soft clipping. The exact peak can’t be set, so I often use it as my first limiting stage before Barricade.

Compressors: I’m still trying to work out favorites here; this is an area I have long neglected in favor of the Graphic Dynamics tool in Sound Forge Pro.

  • NI Solid Bus Comp: I feel like it works well for subtle compression, and is fairly easy to dial in.
  • Klanghelm MJUC: a vari-mu tube compressor emulation, with a little more flavor than Solid Bus Comp but not over the top. For mastering purposes I’ve frequently found myself trying both of them and choosing my favorite (usually but not always MJUC).
  • NI Supercharger GT: To me this is best for more aggressive saturation and compression, but works nicely when mixed in parallel at a low level.
  • Honorable mentions: Graphic Dynamics still does have its uses. I used to try a couple of favorite Presswerk presets and A-B test them to see if they improved the overall clarity — and I should probably try its simplified modes against other options. McDSP 6050 has several analog style compressor models to choose from and seems promising. But I may find myself with FabFilter Pro-C2, since it’s very visual like my favorite EQ.

Tape: recording to tape is like acid-washing jeans — it adds character and/or grunge and it’s a good thing. In a plugin, you can control the variables with less hassle, expense and time than real tape.

  • Wavesfactory Cassette: this is a relative newcomer. It’s great for a touch of saturation and subtle compression, or heavy blown-out saturation, or extreme “4th generation copy using a warbly microcasette recorder and worn-out tape” effects.
  • XLNAudio RC-20 Retro Color: this one does vinyl, sampling and tape, with particularly tasty distortion and EQ sections. It’s really flexible and can do very non-tapelike things, and again works well both for gentle and extreme use.
  • Denise Bad Tape: a very up-front effect, with heavy and weird saturation. Sometimes useful though!

Downsampling: for retro digital sound, or just another flavor of dirt.

  • d16 Decimort: a pretty flexible sample rate and bit reducer with some anti-aliasing options, jitter and EQ.
  • Plogue Chipcrusher: realistic bad old digital encoding methods, with added noise and filter/speaker/cabinet impulses to sound like it’s coming from an old PC or game console or handheld toy.


  • haSound MSLR: mid/side left/right encoding and decoding. I use it pretty frequently with two different signals from the modular to create a wide stereo field. Needs some caution to prevent phase alignment issues though, and I may switch back to Voxengo MSED for its built-in scope.
  • Izotope RX6 DeClick: doesn’t work on 100% of clicks and pops, but when it does, it “just works” with no hassle or side effects.
  • Klevgrand Brusfri: a real-time noise reduction plugin that can listen to an example of your noise floor, and then dampen it pretty effectively.
  • Melda MAGC: automatically compensates for volume differences caused by an effect, which can help remove the illusion that louder=better, or confirm that a compressor’s make-up gain is set wisely.


  • Voxengo SPAN: an excellent spectrum analyzer with a phase correlation meter.
  • Voxengo Correlometer: a multiband phase correlation meter that can show which frequency ranges have problems. It makes fixing those areas with mid/side EQ a bit easier.
  • Youlean Loudness Meter: shows real-time true peak and LUFS readings, and can synchronize its display with the host’s transport time.
  • Honorable mention: the Statistics tool in Sound Forge Pro. Much faster than Youlean, but it measures what has already been done to the file.

Weird stuff:

  • Unfiltered Audio SpecOps: various kinds of spectral filtering, mangling, and freezing. There’s a lot going on here. It could be dethroned by the SynthTech E520 when that ships, though.
  • Melda MTransformer: I find this pretty interesting mostly for spectral compression or formant shifting. Again, the E520 might bury it.
  • Melda MCharacter: it attempts to synthesize extra harmonics, and/or spectrally filter the input, but it’s kind of touchy and situational.

Have any favorite effects plugins, or recommendations especially for dynamics? Let me know!


I’ve passed the 1 hour mark for the Lyra album, but I’m going to edit the 12-minute improv I recorded last night and add one more piece, I think.

I’ve found that my UMC1820 audio interface gets hotter than I would like. The front panel hit 99.7°F at one point last night — even with a fan trying to exhaust air from the back of the case — which implies the electronics inside might be above where they should be in the long term. (For a PC CPU, the general rule is the core should be below 40°C (104°F) when idling; I can only guess that’s roughly true for some of the parts in the interface.)

My old interface ran cool, but the new one crams more electronics into a housing half the size. There’s no ventilation in the rack case I’ve got it in, so I guess I’ll be switching to a 3U rack, possibly 4U. First I need to figure out whether to go for 6″ or 9″ deep (depending on how much platform I need for the 3DWaves stand that’s on the way & the laptop stand behind it), and where to arrange the gaps and any fans/blowers etc. (depending on temperature measurements of the top and bottom of the interface after it’s been running in the box for a while).

3 years ago I was making music experimentally with no particular focus, and I acquired my first Eurorack modules to explore “sounds I can’t make with software,” on the theory they were going to provide an extra voice to accompany my MIDI piano-roll sequences and software synths.

Now what I have is an instrument/system attuned to the music I make and the way I like to make it, rather than the other way around. The last waves of changes really brought it together: intentional focus, hardware/software unification, and hands-on expressive performance. I’m not just fascinated by it, as I have been by a lot of synth gear — but genuinely satisfied. I expect to make very few gear changes in 2020, and will be writing that into my goals for the year.

Here’s what I do have planned:

  • I pre-ordered the SynthTech E520. The Resampling Delay sounds pretty fantastic to me (based on E580 demos), with the character that was the one thing I really liked about Mannequins W/ but a full-featured, sane interface. While the Spectral Crusher does have some overlap with software, it’s got a few other tricks; the Peak Hold sounds a lot better than the one from my own FFT experiments and everything can be modulated in real time, whereas my code barely even runs in real time. That should be shipping next May.
  • Akemie’s Castle. I’m gonna get one. I just really like that crusty character of the old FM chips, and the drone/chord potential is strong even without freely tuneable FM operators.
  • Sequential DSM03 Feedback. I’ve got a winning bid on one in the charity auction, but I won’t raise if someone outbids me.
  • Small gaps: probably going to arcade buttons.
  • Possible displacement: I may find that with Castle I don’t also need Donut. Or that Supercell, Mimeophon, E520, and (possibly) DSM03 is overkill. Or that I’d rather have one Rings and the DSM03 than two Rings. Or that with Castle, my power supply can’t keep up with the -12V requirements and something else has to give. I’m not particularly “looking to get rid of” anything here, but acknowledge that it’s possible.

Other than that, I expect to say “that sounds nice but I don’t need it” a lot in 2020.

wiggle, wobble, wah

That Expressive-E Touché SE is quite the thing.

(not me)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other gear thoughts at this point:

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

poke, poke back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a taste, here’s the first thing:

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

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

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

from Russia with drones

That didn’t take long…

In my deliberations of instruments that could work well in my musical context I kept circling back around the Soma Lyra-8, as I have for a few years now. The earliest Russian-built units had a waiting list and commanded high prices, so I figured it was something to daydream about at best. The maker contracted a Polish manufacturer to help meet demand, and prices steadily creeped down. (EDIT: it seems price weirdness was more due to exchange rate pains and VAT/shipping/customs issues more than rarity.) But US retailers still have a big markup, and a lot of owners who resell are still pricing them like their cases are made of gold instead of steel.

I found someone reselling a more recent Russian “Black Beast” at a much more reasonable price, did the math and went for it.

8 independent oscillators, tuned at will, played via very expressive touch plates. They can FM each other for more growly and intense sounds. There’s an interesting “hyper LFO” modulation source, and a delay and distortion so good that Soma has had success selling them as a separate FX-only Eurorack module. I’ve heard the Lyra-8 cross the spectrum from gentle angelic ambient through harsh industrial noise, often within a single performance. My musical neighborhood is right along that same path, and I’ve often thought this could be the perfect instrument for me. I hesitated mostly because of past prices, but also because it might threaten my use of other gear.

I’ve heard it’s got something of a mind of its own, and some people just don’t get along with its quirks and style — it’s a love-it-or-hate-it instrument. In the designer’s words, it’s more about improvisational performance and emotional connection than predictable, reproducible results, and I’m certainly fine with that. I expect I’ll love it, but if not it should be an easy resell.

I’ll close with a link to one of my favorite videos featuring the Lyra-8:


Last night I recorded my first “real” song with the new setup, and it went mostly smoothly. In fact… my goals during the mastering stage are -1db true peak and -14dB integrated LUFS, and look at where this one landed:

I think this is mostly coincidence, but it’s a good sign. Usually I add several stages of compression with manually drawn curves, followed by maybe Presswerk and a few rounds of adjustment. This time it was just Bitwig’s peak limiter when recording, and a very light touch of it again when rendering.

I could streamline away the extra step of recording and then rendering, but it’s an opportunity to do some of my processing and automation right there in Bitwig before moving to Sound Forge.

Sound Forge Pro 13 only lets you scan 3 locations for plugins — and that’s supposed to cover VST3, VST2 64- and 32-bit, I guess? But VST installation is not well standardized and there are a few important bits not in line, like NI Transient Master. I’m going to have to shuffle some stuff.

This was also my first recording with Mimeophon and Via Scanner. Mimeophon is an excellent delay, but as a sound source in its own right it’s amazing too. The “flip” input, which toggles the direction of delay playback, can be modulated at audio rates for some incredible textures.

Scanner is complex and unconventional, but once you grasp a couple of important things, it’s not hard to use as an audio waveshaper. (Its affect on CV signals is going to take me some time to work out with a scope.) It can sound like a traditional wavefolder, Plaits’ waveshaping model, or more like a wavetable oscillator. It can also get glitchy and weird when you start self-patching its logic outputs.

The thing about wavefolders is that their tone depends on the gain of the input — the stronger the signal, the more it folds over on itself and gains extra harmonics. So they tend to have a big gain boost at the input, controlled by a VCA. Scanner has two output VCAs (bipolar, in parallel and mixed) to allow for some other tricks, but no voltage control over the input… so it calls for a separate VCA. But I don’t need Origami anymore, and Cold Mac fits into that space… it can be my input VCA or a crossfader or compressor or a lot of other things.

And with that, I have my “final” setup for Synth Farm 3.1.

wiggling the wiggy bits

I went through a highly recommended video course for Bitwig beginners, by Thavius Beck. It walks you through creating a… frankly pretty awful tune, but it’s a good demonstration of navigating around the software and using many of its features, and by the time it wrapped up and I slapped together another couple of quick, bad songs it felt pretty comfortable to use.

I really like Bitwig’s flexibility. For audio/effects routing, there are usually multiple ways to achieve any particular goal, and you can pick the one that makes the most sense at the time. For recording and sequencing, there’s a linear arranger as well as a clip-based, loop-oriented one, and you can transfer material between them or record from one to the other. The interface itself has multiple different layout options and it’s easy to switch them as you switch tasks. Several different hardware devices can be used for controlling it (though sadly not the Maschine mk2). And I appreciate that it can run brand new VST3 plugins right alongside 32-bit VST plugins from 2003 with no fuss whatsoever.

I’m confident this will work better for me than Maschine, though I’m holding onto the hardware for a while to make sure. I’m not as confident it can also replace Sound Forge entirely, but I’ll probably do at least some of the post-processing work in Bitwig.

This weekend I briefly poked around the Grid device — modular building blocks to create instruments or effects. Rather easily, I put together exactly the kind of additive oscillator, controlled by the 16n Faderbank, that I had used on the ER-301 on Passing Through. And then I phase modulated it with the Hertz Donut for some fantastic growling tones. That was about 90% of my motive for wanting the SMR, SWN or Just Friends.

Grid also has a whole set of phase-related modules, including a sine lookup module… so I could implement a lot of the stuff I wrote about in “Sine Shaping and You” as well as phase distortion, etc. And they all apply to audio signals too; like Eurorack, Bitwig Grid doesn’t actually care whether any given signal was supposed to be audio, a pitch CV, a gate or whatever.

So the new way of things for me is going to be to keep a core of awesome modules in Eurorack, and throw open the borders between hardware and software. One of Expert Sleepers’ ADAT interfaces will be perfect for this, giving me plenty of inputs and outputs for CV and audio at Eurorack levels with minimal latency.

That gives me a new focus for checking things out at KnobCon, because a lot of situational or utility modules could be handled by Bitwig instead.

Synthesis Technology has “pre-announced” the E520 Hyperion Stereo Effects Processor, about which Paul Schreiber says “we are focusing on FFT/spectral/frequency domain transforms that have not been done 600 times in the past.” Frequency domain effects are nearly nonexistent in Eurorack and other hardware, and rare enough in VST plugins. Panharmonium was a bit of a bust for me, but this emphasis on effects processing rather than resynthesis is very promising.

out of phase

I have a title and some maybe-final artwork for the new album. It’s a secret for now though. Mastering is done, and was a little bit of a chore in places this time around but my efforts paid off, at least in a creative sense. I just have the notes page to write up and it’ll be ready to upload.

Before work on the next album gets seriously underway, there’s Knobcon, a few more gear changes and that new computer coming. I’ve figured out which plugins and sample collections I’ll want to install on the new machine, but that’s going to take a few days to set up. There are also newer Sound Forge versions to try. This will give me some time to ponder themes for a bit.

Make Noise’s imminent Mimeophon matches, almost line by line, a list I wrote back in February of the features of the delay module of my dreams. But it’s reinterpreted through in their own style, which is mostly a bonus. It was going to be a prime candidate to try out at Knobcon, but a couple of recent demo videos have convinced me it’s better than ideal. It’s so good as a resonating micro-delay I could even end up selling one of my Rings. Waiting for Knobcon is really just a formality with this one.

But what does require some deliberation and demoing is the question of the 4ms SMR vs. 4ms SWN vs. Mannequins Just Friends vs. just using Stages’ Ouroboros mode.

My SMR did indeed have something wrong with it, which excited the tech, was one of the first ones 4ms built and thus had an old, incompatible bootloader, but should be ready to ship back to me today or tomorrow. I want to give it a proper chance.

SWN (Spherical Wavetable Navigator) is a newer module that evolved from the SMR, but does exactly what I was looking for. Six oscillators with their own VCAs, which can be tuned relative to each other or independently, mixed to a stereo output. It uses a 3D wavetable setup that doesn’t beat SynthTech but does go well beyond the SMR’s sines. It’s more expensive than the other options, but well within my “sell more stuff than I buy” budget. It can’t be used to process audio as SMR can (if I decide I like that), but alongside the VCOs it also has a set of 6 LFOs that can be related or independent and can act as its own sort of algorithmic rhythm generator.

I also worked out how Just Friends, with the help of a Teletype script and the 16n Faderbank, can go without a separate VCA mixer. It’s a little bit of a hack, but smaller, cheaper, and will do FM. When not acting as a VCO it can do envelopes and LFOs, extending Teletype’s modulation capability without a tangle of patch cables.

Aside from that, I think I’ve probably settled on Mannequins Cold Mac as a crossfader/VCA/utility thing. But I want to look into the MSCL stereo compressor especially if I keep the SMR, and also potentially for Clouds and Mimeophon. Otherwise it takes Dynamo, 2/3 of Shades, both channels of Tallin and a lot of tweaking to compress/limit a stereo feedback path.

shine on

After 11 years with a Core i7 960 on which I upgraded/replaced literally everything except the case, cooler and motherboard, I have bought a fresh new computer.

InWin 101 Mid Tower
+ 600W 80+ Gold PSU
+ 3x InWin Sirius Loop RGB case fans
+ professional wiring
ASUS TUF X570-Plus Gaming motherboard
+ 16 GB DDR4-3200 RAM
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 CPU
+ MasterLiquid Lite ARGB cooler
+ Cooler Master thermal paste
GeForce GTX 1650 4GB video card
1TB Intel 660P M.2 NVMe SSD
+ Windows 10 Home

It’s a compromise of latest new stuff and budget/efficiency — the 3600 is within a few percent of other Ryzen chips that cost a lot more. That particular SSD is a little slow for its class, but that’s like saying the Indian Ocean is a little small for an ocean, and it was half price (the SSD, not the ocean). There are faster video cards in that price range, but they run hotter and use more wattage. (If I were buying components individually and assembling it myself, I’d have used my old video card… and the total would have cost about the same as this computer anyway.)

Like my old computer, I chose a white case, but this one isn’t the size of a SmartCar. I didn’t pay extra for case lights, but all the fans glow with adjustable colors. This plus the large window have the benefit of making it easily to tell when it’s time to open it up and blow out the accumulated dog hair. 😉

Supercell arrived yesterday — the maximal version of Mutable Instruments Clouds, which I chose to replace Panharmonium. It has a dedicated knob, CV input and attenuverter for every parameter and a few other improvements to the interface, making it 34HP (compared to the original’s 18HP, and alternate versions that run between 8 and 14HP with varying interface compromises). I believe it’s worth the extra space.

The original mode allows for all kinds of possibilities beyond the stereotypical smearing-and-reverb, and the “Superparasites” firmware makes 7 other modes relatively easy to access. (If it had mode names printed on the panel that would have been nice.) There’s no unified documentation for it, so I found myself summarizing FIVE manuals into one brief text file. For the most part there’s a relative consistency in usage, and I have just tested my memory of the mode order (Granular, Pitch Shifter/Timestretch, Looping Delay, Spectral Madness, Reverb, Resonator, Beat Repeat, Spectral Clouds) and was right. So maybe I won’t have to refer back to that very much.

The delay has some nice character but won’t 100% replace other delays. Mimeophon remains the most likely other candidate and I don’t expect to keep Prism or T-Rackonizer. Some of the other modes make me downgrade SMR’s chances a little bit too. As far as how well Clouds “replaces” Panharmonium: the sound character is not even a little similar, but the freeze-and-harmonize action is somewhat so. I find it more generally useful. It fits within the whole “focus” thing without being too much of a one-trick pony that will get old quickly.