glittering in the dark

Vangelis, may he rest in peace, is high on my list of influential electronic musicians. Isao Tomita is at the top for me, for his modular synthesis techniques and classical arrangements (and probably because I listened to a few of his albums over and over at a younger age) — but Vangelis was the more inspiring composer, and a fine multi-instrumentalist, and really had an ear and a talent for many different styles.

Chariots of Fire was everywhere, and the main theme is one of the first melodies I remember learning by ear. The Blade Runner soundtrack is the best thing about the movie (sorry, “tears in rain” monologue, Syd Mead flying cars, “enhance” scene, paper unicorns and Sean Young’s shoulder pads). Music from Albedo 0.39 and Heaven and Hell accompanied our journeys through the cosmos with Carl Sagan — “Alpha” still gives me chills, and Albedo 0.39 also features some killer jazz and rock in places (“Main Sequence” and “Nucleogenesis”).

Vangelis allegedly never learned to read musical notation, and preferred one-take improvisation over “writing” music. That’s pretty gratifying considering that’s how I roll myself ๐Ÿ™‚

chill restored

The AC company was able to send someone yesterday at around noon. Apparently they usually have 2 people on duty on weekends, but they had 15 volunteers to work overtime. And yes, it was the run capacitor, it was still under warranty, and replacing it was a very quick job.

Overall the hallway thermostat got as high as 87; it never got below 82 even when it rained and cooled to the mid-60s overnight. Of course the temperature in that particular spot only very loosely correlates to the temperature in the places where we actually spend our time.

The other thing I have cooled off on is the Xaoc Sofia. For most of Superbooth there was no video coverage of Xaoc’s new stuff online, no matter how often I refreshed my searches. ๐Ÿ™‚ But this morning two videos appeared, and… eh, I can do without the module really.

But what I’m looking at now is one of Xaoc’s other new things, the Koszalin frequency shifter. I wrote it off originally because a freq shifter — which inharmonically lowers and/or raises the frequency of the incoming signal by some constant Hertz value, as opposed to a pitch shifter which changes incoming frequencies proportionally and keeps them all in tune — struck me as kind of a niche effect. At low ranges, it’s a swirly sound reminiscent of a psychedelic 70s flanger. At higher ranges it sort of sounds like an extra harsh ring modulator.

But as the demos pointed out, one thing you can do with a stereo frequency shifter is to shift up, process the signal with some other effect, and shift back down — causing the effect to act a little differently but staying in tune. That idea inspired me to give the frequency shifters in Bitwig and VCV Rack a try this morning. Okay, cool… but then I want back to watch the original Koszalin announcement video, and that thing really sounds freaking great. The Density control which affects feedback (I think by filling in delayed copies relative to the shift frequency) adds a lot, and it’s also got TZFM which is unique in a frequency shifter. The feedback sits just below self-oscillation, so it can be pinged like a filter, and in some ways it kind of sits the resonator space. So, that’s a strong contender.

To my ears, the other winner of Superbooth is Klavis Grainity — a “granular VCF” which immediately made everyone ask “what is a granular VCF?” It’s an analog multimode filter that has 13 different simultaneous modes, which are sliced and combined under digital control. Something very much like a wavetable oscillator sets the pattern of those slices, and that oscillator automatically tracks the pitch of the input signal, but can be detuned and divided. The upshot is, it adds all kinds of texture and waveshaping and phase modulation along with its filtering, and it sounds pretty amazing. Plus you can just use one of 6 of the filter modes without the fancy granular aspect and mix that in or use it separately.

These would be a total of probably 20-22 HP (the width of Grainity wasn’t announced). I’m still thinking it’d be Manis Iteritas and Ensemble Oscillator that would make way for these — so as of now, they’re both sort of on trial to decide whether or not I can part with one or both.

having a meltdown

Right now it’s only gotten up to 76 degrees F (at 7 AM, in May) but we’re heading for 94 this afternoon (“feels like” 101). And our air conditioner at home failed at some point last night, making a loud buzzing sound for a few seconds and then not starting. Which is what happened exactly 355 days ago, and it cost $300 to have someone come out and replace the run capacitor.

[UPDATE] Apparently the AC company had 2000 calls for service yesterday, and they can’t send someone to look at ours until Monday morning (unless we get very lucky and a spot opens up). I will not be surprised if it passes 100F inside our house before then.

AND it was hot as balls when I got to work this morning. I never use that phrase, but it seemed particularly appropriate. I could practically feel the heat rising up the elevator shaft like a chimney; I could almost see the heat shimmer. It was sweltering on the 8th floor, and if we had working AC at home I’d have bailed out immediately and worked from home. An hour later, it noticeably improved — I could think, and was no longer sweating and sticking to my desk. But two hours later, I still have a fan set on high blowing directly on my head and am not quite comfortable yet.


Superbooth is underway, and in the last week or more there have been a lot of product announcements. I don’t think parts shortages have really been resolved but there’s a lot in the pipeline. Being satisfied with my current rig, there was a lot I could look at and say “oh, that’s kind of neat but I don’t need it” or “I could use that, but I could also just use plugins” or “clever idea, but it’s not my jam.” And a couple that are simply out of my budget. There was one item where the teaser photo made me wonder if it was something really interesting, and it turns out to be something else instead.

There is one new thing that I am keen on learning more about: Xaoc Sofia, a big analog oscillator with what seems to be some unique waveshaping and audio-rate modulation. I wouldn’t buy it based only on the one video that’s been released so far — a mixed bag of some really great sounds, some not very exciting ones, and a bit of ugliness — but it seems like there’s a lot of potential with this one. So I’m eager to hear more sounds, and maybe get a bit of a walkthrough.

Sofia is the same 24HP size as Odessa, but I’m thinking if I got one, it would more likely replace Manis Iteritas and Ensemble Oscillator. Both of those are fine modules that see regular use, but also I feel like I’d be okay replacing them if the new thing was sufficiently interesting.


I now have a phone widget showing me how long it’s been since I put in my Miezo order. Is that sad? It’s been 0 months, 3 weeks and 2 days. My expectations have been set for 3 months, but I would certainly welcome less.

I’ve got one track recorded toward the next thing, and a simple idea to tie the album together. Not too much to say about it yet though.

We saw Steven Universe in the Strange… no wait, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I will avoid spoilers here, but say it was certainly up to the standard for wild visual effects, but there were some disappointing aspects to the story that I think could have been addressed, either with a clever twist or a bit more character focus in a couple of areas. Eh… it wasn’t awful. I do look forward very much to Thor: Love and Thunder though, given what a fun ride Thor: Ragnarok was.

wrongs

The last book I finished was Iron Widow, very Chinese-flavored future fantasy. Society reverted to the bad old days of feudalistic, deeply racist and even more misogynistic warrior culture complete with foot binding, with alien “spirit metal” beasts held off by giant mecha powered by qi, and controlled by the “spirit pressure” of a male (hero) and a female (usually a sacrificial concubine). The protagonist is an intensely powerful young woman who suffers a lot, gets her vengeance and beats the system, only to find out the system was rigged (against women, and against everyone) on even more levels than anyone suspected.

It wasn’t an easy read.

But the day after I finished it, the news was full of the so-called “Supreme” Court giving its opinion that Roe vs. Wade was a mistake, conveniently ignoring the Ninth Amendment for the sake of Republican culture war fuckery in a way that could easily apply to many other rights that we have taken for granted.

Democrats supposedly “control” the White House and the House of Representatives and the Senate is divided. But somehow this is still a weak position and the curse of Trump lingers. I’m convinced that most Democratic politicians don’t care about the issues or winning, as much as they do about fundraising and personal wealth and power. The ones that do care are stuck in the same broken, corrupt system and can’t build up the momentum to break loose.

Just yesterday morning I was in a rare good mood from the morning commute. Feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction over the new album, some spiritual something where there has been a lot of fog that I hadn’t been looking at… just general good feelings. Until, of course, I opened my browser.

It is difficult, or maybe impossible, not to despair.

better than 8-track

I’m done recording for the next album, titled Diversion. 9 tracks, an hour and 3 minutes. I’ll master it over the next few days and plan to release on Bandcamp Friday, May 6.

The artwork is already taken care of thanks to Wombo Dream, an “AI” art app that creates stuff based on a text prompt. How it responds to various prompts varies a lot. I would describe it as vaguely, inhumanly impressionistic with a lot of accidental surrealism. It does interesting textures and gives the vague idea of something, but the specifics so often just don’t work. It’s great for inventing glyphs and sigils, making piles of machinery or forests or mountains, or an impression of a spreadsheet or chart. It’s not so good at putting together a non-nightmarish animal or human, or a “story” in a scene or knowing when to stop. For instance:

“businessmen shaking hands” in “fantasy art” style
“boiling pasta” in steampunk style
“clown juggling bowling pins” in synthwave style
“robot walking a dog” in ukiyo-e style

So in some sense it’s like what I’ve said about the “ambient” aspect of my music — it gives a sense of a scene, a time and place and general events, but despite some depth of detail and texture, it does not tell a specific story.

  • But is it art?”
    • Oh please don’t. That is the most tedious question ever.
  • “Is it good?”
    • This has no objective or meaningful answer.
    • But if you find the images somehow compelling, then… sure, it’s good.
  • “Will this replace human artists?”
    • Entirely? No.
    • But if you just need something whipped up ridiculously fast and cheap? Particularly with a more sophisticated tool like DALL-E where the specifics aren’t so hilariously broken? Yeah.
    • Maybe think about this in terms of drummers vs. drum machines. The “replacement” is not total. Drum machines that sound pretty dull are easy; to sound good, you need a human to work it like the creative tool that it is. Drum machines enable new creative directions that live human drummers couldn’t (or at least, didn’t) go, but they don’t mean people don’t value a good human drummer or enjoy drumming anymore.

A couple of weeks ago I watched the documentary “Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons & Dragons.” The better fantasy artists could convey a lot of story, a sense of character, in a single still image scene. You could see it and easily imagine you knew some things about that Halfling thief’s personality, what her voice sounded like, how she got into this mess and the kind of tricks she’ll pull to get out of it again. I have my doubts that any AI in the next 10-20 years will be able to do that, at least not without a human pulling a lot of its strings… in which case, we’re still talking about a human making art.

At any rate, I think the wonkiness of Wombo has a sort of combination charm/creepiness and it will make at least one cool album cover for music like mine.


T-Bone Burnett (whoever that is?) and Bob Dylan have teamed up to announce “the pinnacle of recorded sound.” Which is basically, a lacquer analog record that is recorded in a one-off way, no duplication. So it’s like an NFT but a physical thing.

There are all kinds of reasons to hate and mock this. But mostly I am amused to be able to say my releases have outsold a Bob Dylan record, as well as Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.


Recent reads:

Robert Jackson Bennett, Foundryside and Shorefall: fantasy set in a Mediterranean-esque city ruled by merchant houses whose magical “scrivings” bend the rules of reality. E.g. self-propelled carts that roll because its wheels believe they are going downhill. There’s a sort of programming language behind it — and a deeper language behind that, with more permissions to rewrite reality (and humanity) that is the source of all kinds of trouble. A decent read and clever system, but didn’t really have the emotional pull for me that some authors do.

Brandon Sanderson & Janci Patterson, Skyward Flight: Technically three novellas in one book, but it’s a continuous timeline from one into the next with different protagonists. Set in the YA series with spaceship dogfights, psychics who can teleport entire space stations, a scumbag empire called the Superiority that wonders why the (heavily oppressed) “lesser races” are so gosh-darn aggressive, and Doomslug. I was well entertained.

Charles Stross, Quantum of Nightmares: a novel in the horror/comedy Laundry Files series, where at this point, the UK is ruled by a god/demon called “the Black Pharaoh,” the US narrowly avoided a coup by Cthulhu cultists, and superheroes and supervillains are running rampant because reality is very… leaky. This one involves the attempted kidnapping of a quartet of spoiled rich superpowered children, the worst possible supermarket chain to work for getting a bit Sweeny Todd with 3D meat printers, and of course a cult. It was probably the grossest of the series so far, though not necessarily the scariest, but still funny and clever and riveting.

Charles Stross, Escape from Yokai Land: this was billed as “Book 12 of the Laundry Files.” But it’s a short novella for the price of a novel, and it’s set between books 7 and 8 — practically ancient history at this point. It doesn’t advance the plot or tell us anything about good old Bob that we didn’t already know. It lacks almost everything that makes the series so good. There were a couple of chuckles in it at best. I am disappoint.

Reading now: Charlie Jane Anders, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak: so far it’s early yet and it has not yet got its hooks in, but I’m giving it a chance. It’s the sequel to Victories Greater Than Death, a YA “chosen one” space opera where the characters were refreshingly considerate and kind, and was as much about about emotional struggles and internal conflicts as galactic ones. The sort of thing the Sad Puppies would absolutely hate, because people respecting each other’s boundaries and gender identity is just the worst.

half pint

I’ve been consistently happy with the U-bass aside from the tuner repair issue (probably self-inflicted when I wrapped the new strings too many times). It feels comfortable, it’s compact enough to use while sitting at the corner desk, and I love its mellow sound. It doesn’t cover all the bas(s)es, though, thus the Mikro, for a fretted, metal string, brighter sound and feel.

But the Mikro isn’t quite micro enough to be fully comfortable to me. Sometimes it’s absolutely great but sometimes things just don’t flow. And the overall body length can be awkward to maneuver without bumping the headstock into stuff. So I’ve searched for alternatives, and over the last week it came down to the finals.

MihaDo (FingyBass): they answered my Reverb message very quickly even on Easter Sunday. They are quite flexible about custom work, so they get some points there. But the price they quoted me for the selection I made, helped me realize that their lower prices come from corner cutting — specifically from simplified designs and cheap hardware. If you get more selective and ask for options more comparable to their competitors, the advantage disappears and even inverts. And while FingyBass owners generally seem happy, they have also mentioned the instruments are a bit “rough and ready” and “DIY-ish”, and one was planning to have a second instrument built with upgraded hardware.

The standard FingyBass body shape is not super appealing to me in 16″ and 18″, though at 22″ it’s a bit more graceful — and the B-style comes with added cost.

Wing Instruments (Wing NT): It seems a solid choice, but I did not contact them. They have a fairly long lead time (and I’ve heard, can be significantly longer than their website says). Their prices slightly higher than MรœB (and more still for custom options), and while they do look cool, they’re not quite as cool-looking; they seem more like an abbreviated bass guitar rather than their own sort of thing.

Maurizio รœber Basses (Miezo): This was always one of the most eye-catching and classy small basses out there. Their prices did go up a few months ago, but are still significantly less than full-scale custom basses tend to be. There are a number of Miezo owners in the (subjectively) best thread on TalkBass, “Ambient/Post-Rock/Textural bass playing”, and they all love it. The luthier, Maurizio Caduto, has a great reputation, and there is a lot of attention to detail.

Communication with Maurizio has been great — he’s very friendly, has an obvious love of what he’s doing, and gives helpful advice about the various options based on my interests and concerns.

So I’ve gone ahead and put down a deposit on a Miezo 18, 5-string, with raintree body and ovangkol fretboard, and double-coil pickup.

This photo is not the exact one (different pickup I think, fancier electronics, and 6 strings), but a sample image he sent to show what those wood choices generally look like.

The wood choice was between raintree (aka monkeypod) and nyatoh for the body, and ovangkol or ironwood for the fretboard (other options possible for a fee). Maurizio gave some description of their (alleged) tonal qualities. I’m personally somewhat neutral/skeptical on the importance of “tonewood” when the pickups are electromagnetic, but he’s the experienced luthier and I’m the relatively new and casual bass player. All the choices are valid ones though and I don’t think there’s a wrong combo. So I made my choices due to the woods’ appearance and sustainability, partially influenced by Maurizio’s apparent enthusiasm for raintree.

The tuning with regular bass strings is B1-G3 (one octave above a typical 5-string bass) or A1-F3 (a fourth above a “hi C” 5-string). This is basically cello range. It’s pretty common to use octave pedals with instruments like this; I have find that the free Pitchproof VST plugin works extremely well.

I didn’t ask for a time estimate on the build. I’ll be patient — there’s still a lot of music to make in the meantime!

here’s my political statement:

ModWiggler’s policies suck. That is my informed “political” opinion.

I changed my avatar on the site to a square cutout of this piece of art:

The illustration by the artist Boris Groh shows a Ukrainian defender with his middle finger raised.

It’s been that way for weeks. This morning I got this:

The funny thing is, MW itself has specifically posted in support of Ukraine. They donated 100% of their income to the Red Cross last month.

My speculation is, either a poorly paid employee of Behringer or a superfan out on social media patrol, saw that I posted something less than complimentary about their new announcement, and since the content of my post was entirely within forum guidelines they reported the avatar as “political” — which some of the moderators have an instant knee-jerk shutdown reaction to. Not that it stops the obvious right-wing types (…including one of the moderators…) from being obviously right-wing and openly mocking “SJWs and snowflakes.” But then, at least one user got away with having an anarcho-syndicalist flag as their avatar for several years, so… beats me.

I considered just telling the moderator to go ahead and ban me. But I wouldn’t be the first and it accomplishes nothing. I may take a self-imposed break from the site for a while though. Meanwhile, this is my new avatar for now:

User avatar

…patience…

building new Boost libraries gives you this lovely piece of advice.

Been working on an issue at work that doesn’t happen in development builds, only in executables built on the build server. Which means no catching it in the debugger, and very slow iterations where I make a code change, add a crapton of log messages, save it in source control, start a test build, wait about 46 minutes, install it on my secondary development machine, run it, and then look for the log messages. This has been going on for 4 days now — four very long, boring days. I identified exactly which function call is locking up, but not at all why; I attempted multiple workarounds and updates to third-party libraries and no luck. Today I at least figured out which code change from two weeks ago caused it to happen, but still not why. There’s a huge pile of stuff to finish for this release (including planning for the next one) and a couple of things I have to do on a side project contract and ugh, this is the worst time for this sort of thing.


I have 38 minutes of music ready for the next album, after thinking things were going slow in that department. And there’s some decent ambient bass noodling in it. So that’s okay then.

The back pain has been gradually relenting. The realization that it’s easing off came shortly after I realized that some portion of it is probably arthritis, due to the occasional weird feeling of “wrong” rather than pain per se, that reminded me of when I had it in my left wrist, like those body parts are just not going to bear a load anymore. So, hmmm. The body and mind are complex and don’t really understand each other very well sometimes, I think.

Behringer (may they rot in corporate hell) today made about the 49th new product announcement/teaser of the year: the Enigma, a clone of the Buchla 208, the main part of the famous Music Easel, with an estimated price about 1/8 of the real thing. At first I was thinking if there’s anything they could clone that could possibly tempt me to give them another penny, it’d be a 208. But their mockup of it looks like they’ve made some ill-advised design changes, and when I think about what the Minibrute 2S offers, and how relatively decent the Arturia emulation of the Easel is… nah.

slow?

When I’m not recording something every week or so I start feeling like my music-making pace is slack — even last year when I released 8 albums and participated in two compilations.

But this time, things have been slower. I started to do the math, but instead I will say: that’s okay. I don’t have to be super prolific, it’s not as if any income is riding on it.

(Speaking of income: I collected my 2018-2019 royalties from DistroKid last year, all of $14, and they diligently reported it to the IRS. Which means I had to fill out extra “self-employment” paperwork, which meant TaxAct charged me $50 or so more on top of the $40 in DistroKid fees that I already paid to earn that $14. I don’t consider what I do a business, and if I did, I would report a loss — but it wouldn’t be enough of a loss to push us over the standard deduction. So it’s all pointless bureaucracy, and someone else is profiting from my mistake of thinking I might offset the cost of my hobby a little bit.)

Why slower? Partially it’s been the bass thing. Sometimes I’ll fire up my stuff and just jam, practice, or experiment and not record something. I expected some of that when I got into it.

But some of it has been motivation. The late winter/early spring mood has combined with back pain ever since our road trip, and that doesn’t encourage creative efforts. I’ve spent more time sitting in the big chair in the living room with the shiatsu massager (usually helpful in the short term), or just playing video games. (The usual Noita and Art of Rally; I’ve moved from Dirt Rally 2.0 to WRC 10, and recently started up Guild Wars 2 again thinking I might pick up the End of Dragons expansion but I don’t know whether I’m feeling it.)

Regardless, I’ve recorded four good tracks in the month since the last release, so maybe I should just stop worrying about my pace. Two of those tracks were Ambient Online compilation submissions, but if I play the four of them sequentially they sound like they’re meant to be on the same album in that very order — so I’ll include them all. And I have a name for the album in mind, and a couple of ideas for next tracks.


I started to read From Scratch: Writings in Music Theory which was posthumously compiled from several writings by James Tenney. Whoever is missing their tea, I’m sorry, I grabbed the wrong cup because this one is not mine. In retrospect I’m not sure why I thought it might be. There’s a lot of analysis of Schoenberg (blech) and I feel like what Tenney did was creating a set of rules with some arbitrary definitions and vaguely statistical concepts, to describe something that was already created using a set of rules using vaguely statistical concepts. Did Walker Farrell recommend this, or was it someone on Lines, or an Amazon or GoodReads suggestion based on other books I was looking at? I will go ahead and blame an algorithm I think.

I tried to give it a chance, but it’s not just dry and academic. It’s dry, academic, completely irrelevant to my process, and unable to generate any sort of insight or inspiration I can work with. I feel like for all that I’ve read through it, it came to the conclusion that “stuff can be grouped together if it has similar characteristics, and separated into different groups if it has different characteristics”… not exactly life-changing stuff.