throw away the key

First order of business is this gem:

I’m not a baseball fan, but these folks have restored some of my faith in humanity. I may sample this and use it for something…


OK, on to other things: the album!

  • The recordings are 100% done. The last one I completed was probably the creepiest of them all, in a good way. The album won’t be out in time for Halloween, but it’s got October in its DNA.
  • I’m almost certainly going to call it Vultur Cadens, a name for the constellation Lyra, for reasons that should be obvious from the previous few weeks of blog posts.
  • My answer for “is there a theme?” has been “not really.” But I look at the track titles and see that they’re pointing at madness, poison, parasites, scavengers. It looks like there was a major subconscious political vibe.
  • My brother, a Ringling-educated artist who’s done some whimsical and occasionally somewhat creepy character paintings, expressed interest in doing the cover art based on a description of the music and the name. I’m eager to see what he comes up with, and happy to finally put the cover art in the hands of an artist instead of a musician…
  • I’ve always mastered my own stuff, for budget reasons and because those are skills I’d like to develop. This time, I’m hoping to have a couple of key tracks mastered by Obsidian Sound, to measure against my own efforts and to learn from a pro who is at home in this genre and with the Lyra-8 specifically. I consider it an investment into the quality of my future work, and kind of a special treat.

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:

easy

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.

filtration

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.