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.

Untitled IX

The ninth Starthief album still needs a name, but its actual content is nearly ready.

It didn’t follow the “asymmetry” or “nonlinear waveshaping” theme at all, which is probably for the best. It didn’t strictly follow the “incubation” theme from In the Dark Places of Wisdom either, as some of the songs have a more atmospheric, storms and wind and air sort of theme.

I seem to have this recurring theme of caverns in my work, despite only having visited caves a few times as a casual tourist. Underlands from 2012 is my favorite among my pre-Starthief albums, probably because it was a bit more ambient and themed than most, and it was all about underground spaces (and the ruins of a lost underground kingdom). That word “spaces” betrays some of the significance I think, as does the song title “Stone and Air.” The contrast between open space and the solidity that defines its shape is also in the theme of Passing Through. Reverb with a long tail is often described as “cavernous,” caverns are naturally dark places which fit the trope of dark ambient music, and there are the mystical, underworld associations.

Though this album feels like it took a while, it’s only been a couple of months. It straddles a divide between subterranean and aerial themes as well as a major change to my synth setup, but it doesn’t feel discontinuous. The track order I’m going to use is the order in which they were recorded.

I’ve got about 55 minutes of music to master, and one track that needs some more repair work. It had issues with tiny bits of lost time during recording — leaning a little too heavily on the CPU, I believe — which caused some audible clicks. Izotope RX6 DeClick fixed most of them, and a bit of manual effort fixed one of the more difficult ones. This morning’s listen tells me I missed one, though. There’s also a little bit of crackle in a couple of places that I would prefer to clean up.

That sort of technical trouble is making me reconsider upgrading my computer sooner rather than later. After all, this phase of changes has me selling more synth gear than I’m replacing.

The Sea

I missed this on the day it happened, but Ambient Online Themed Compilation 05: The Sea is available on Bandcamp. It’s about 11 hours of music.

Once again I have two tracks on it, “Albatross” and “Shifting Light.”

Meanwhile, I have 7 tracks so far for the next album, for about 43 minutes. I want to get one or more two tracks on there.

One track I recorded recently didn’t make it to the album, but I posted it on SoundCloud:


With about 5 hours of minimal effort last night, Internal Reflections is mastered. Once again, I didn’t really leave myself anything difficult to work with, just a few spikes to manually tame, a couple of generally-too-loud tracks and a couple that benefited from a pass with a compressor/limiter.

I’m sure if I hired a professional who’s used to this genre, like Nathan Moody, to master my work it’d come out a bit better. But I don’t think I can justify the expense as it is. That’s almost a reason to wish I had a bigger audience right there though 🙂

I’m certainly happier with my own mastering work than with super-cheap or free services I’ve heard that seem to either pass everything through a single algorithmic process, or… completely neglect to address major differences in loudness between tracks on the same album so you wonder whether they did anything at all.

I have put together some high-contrast art this time — not the original idea I was going to work with, but I think it’s better — and I’m trying to decide how to work the text in. I might even forgo text, but I have some graphic design ideas for it that I’d like to work in somehow. I also have the concept blurb finally hashed out, and making the patch notes more readable isn’t that much work… so the release will be quite soon!

The Panharmonium got held back for a month for some new software features their testers asked for, which as I see it, just gives me more time to get familiar with the DPO before learning something new. I’ve had a few insights with it — figuring out why the FM felt so wild at first, delineating where the “sweet spots” for less noisy sounds are, and coming up with a set of experiments I want to try.


My Filter 8 arrived yesterday. I’m pretty sure I made the right choice (instead of keeping QPAS or trading for Three Sisters). It’s as good for basic filter and VCO duties as I thought, is wicked cool as an LFO, and it turns out to be pretty great at waveshaping too. This morning I had 20 minutes to play with it before heading to work, and I had it turning a simple sine wave into an 80’s “brass” synth sound.

And then I happened to spot someone selling their DPO for a fair bit less than I’d seen elsewhere. Reader, I did not close the tab, sit on my hands and wait for Knobcon as previously planned. I bought the DPO and put a couple things up for sale that were previously “trade only.” The risk here is minimal; I know I love the sound of the DPO from other peoples’ recordings, and I know from previous module experience that the essentials of its design are exactly what I wanted. So Synth Farm 2.2 is now settled.

The current album project, now likely to be titled Internal Reflections, has 51 minutes of completed work. I could certainly stop now and move on to mastering, but I think one more song will do. I’ll get that in before the DPO arrives as a sort of chapter close.

The new headphones and mini Bluetooth receiver for the office are working out great. I don’t know why semi-open back headphones aren’t more popular — the sound and comfort are fantastic, there’s still enough isolation for anything that doesn’t require close mic recording or jet engine level noise cancellation, and they clearly don’t have to be expensive either. I’m currently using them to listen to the 4th Ambient Online Themed Compilation, Death and Rebirth, on which I have a couple of tracks. It’ll make for a chill day of listening.

the next medium-sized thing

I’m declaring Passing Through “feature-complete,” as is sometimes said in the software development business. I’ve got everything recorded and have the order worked out, I just need to do some minor editing, and then mastering and artwork and that’s that.

I thought I had a pretty neat idea for a title for the next album, but it turns out to be the same title as a Christian Rock song. I’ve already had the displeasure of seeing one of my album titles as the title of a novel on a convenience store shelf.

…You know what, I’m not even going to check if “Passing Through” is already the title of something because it’s really a common enough phrase.

it’s time to talk about Uranus

The third Ambient Online Themed Compilation is now available. There are 74 tracks on it (!) and two of them are by somebody named Starthief. I’ve only listened to a few of the others so far, but I like what I’m hearing.

“Georgium Sidus” may be as close to conventional ambient music as I’ve come lately. “In Cyan” had to go weirder. Both of them are studies in tension, in their own ways.

A couple of the pieces on the upcoming album are a little more chill, providing relief from the oppressiveness of a couple of the others.
But maybe sometime I should just make an album of relaxing yoga music or something.

It’s been 4 months since I set out my 2019 goals. How am I doing?

  • “Keep making music”

Pretty well! I released The Rule of Beasts, submitted to the compilation above, and have recorded 42 minutes of music toward Passing Through. The latter was slowed a little by gear and layout changes but I think this is an acceptable pace.

I haven’t done anything related to playing live. I looked into some ambient labels and haven’t decided to submit anything to them yet. I changed all my albums on BandCamp to pay-what-you-want.

I booked a hotel for Knobcon (registration for the event itself has changed from “tickets on sale March 1” to “tickets on sale in March” with no indication of progress).

  • “The gear plans”

Swimmingly! I’m basically at version 2.0 now (just waiting on one module to arrive from Portugal, and may make one more substitution), and it’s as good as I had hoped.

I’ve been diligent about tracking money spent on gear and received in sales, and in fact have stuck to the stricter idea that I’m going to spend less than I sell. There’s still some leeway in that for a couple more toys if I want — though I will wait at least until KnobCon for that — but right now nothing’s really on the menu.

  • “The health plans”

Physically: I don’t see my endocrinologist in May, and have been measuring nothing. I’ve been generally eating healthier, I think.

Mentally: really haven’t had the “maybe a panic attack” symptoms for a while. CBD oil is not a miracle cure but has helped with general mood stuff and seems to relieve tension a little bit. I have been pretty good about avoiding, or quickly disentangling from, pointless online bickering.

  • “The house plans”

I finally finished the vinyl plank floor. Haven’t done much else really.

  • “Other”

I guess?