off to the races

I got my Spectraphon shipping notice Tuesday, and decided to race its arrival to finish the current album — when it shows up, I stop recording new material for it. I’ve got 53:35 recorded so far and it’s due to arrive tomorrow, so it’s in good shape even if I don’t get anything else done.

This album’s particular vibe, besides the synthesized choirs, has been heavy saturation at times, and making a kind of melange of parts that don’t necessarily have a specific harmonic relationship but which work anyway. Like the deli near the office with its “Mad BLT” that includes red onion and peanut butter and it’s amazing. The usual response to “this isn’t quite working” is to strip out elements and realign, do something more pure. But there have been a few places with this one where my response instead was “add something else” or “go heavier.” It might bridge the gap, or add enough different kinds of clashing that it transforms the feel into something else. A dent in a smooth surface is unfortunate, but dozens/hundreds of overlapping dents is texture (and millions is shot peening).

The battery charger I ordered brought my car’s battery from about 25% to 100% in a couple of hours. That struck me as strange because I was expecting it to take a full day. But the charge doesn’t hold and I had to do it again last night. It’s going to the shop Saturday.

Yesterday we had our regular HVAC maintenance/checkup. I mentioned to the guy that when the AC kicks in, the lights dim a bit. He recommended a surge protector for the compressor and wrote up an estimate — but that didn’t sound quite right to me, and Google confirmed my understanding. A surge protector prevents damage caused by excess voltage/current, which can happen during brownouts or lightning strikes. Lights dimming when the compressor starts are because it’s drawing a heavy load. The surge protector doesn’t do anything to even out that load — that’s what the start capacitor is for.

Apparently a little, brief dimming is fairly normal, and more common with older, slightly worn units than newer, smoother ones. It only indicates a possible problem if the dimming lasts more than a second or is “more than 50%” (however you’re supposed to measure that with your eyes in the span of a slow blink). I don’t think ours has crossed that threshold, and those problems tend to be the very things the guy was inspecting, plus possibly wiring or the breaker panel.

And today, we’re supposed to have the driveway resealed. Supposedly you’re supposed to have that done every 3 years. We’ve never had it done, and to be fair, the surface is a little crumbly in spots. Why the driveway is asphalt rather than concrete slabs I don’t know… although as our back patio can attest, that’s also vulnerable to wear, weather and weeds. Nothing’s safe from entropy I guess.

quick coffee review

I used to be an occasional coffee drinker — maybe if I felt like I wanted the caffeine for work or driving, or if it was something a bit more dessert-like. Working with a bunch of engineers, in an office with a good automatic coffee machine, increased my coffee consumption considerably. Black, sugar substitute, milk or cream, flavored, iced, frozen drinks, whatever.

Then one year various family members wanted flavored coffees from Christopher Bean for Christmas, and I got a couple of them myself out of curiosity. Not bad, not world-changing though. It took me a while to get through those.

Once the pandemic hit I started drinking coffee at home a lot more. This increased once I got a handy single-serving machine (I don’t use disposable K-cups though — first I used a reusable K-cup, then when that machine gave up the ghost, I got a better one for my birthday which has its own internal scoop). The nice thing about flavored coffees is, there’s little to no actual sugar unless you add it, just the flavor. Some overall ratings in the Japanese style:

S Tier:

  • Cameron’s Highlander Grog
  • New England Coffee Sabro blend (cinnamon/vanilla/nut, inspired by horchata!)

A Tier:

  • New England Coffee Butter Pecan
  • New England Coffee Blueberry Cobbler

    B Tier:
  • Christopher Bean, just in general
  • Cameron’s other flavors that I’ve tried

    C Tier:
  • New England Coffee Pistachio Ice Cream
  • Entemann’s Chocolate Donut Coffee

    D Tier:
  • Bones Coffee, except for Electric Unicorn

    F Tier:
  • Bones Coffee Electric Unicorn
  • Tortuga Rum Cream

So with that in mind, I’m putting in my next New England Coffee order: Strawberry Shortcake, Chocolate Cappucino, Coconut Almond Candy Bar, and Swiss Chocolate Almond. Don’t tell the engineers I’m not drinking plain black coffee…

summer rhymes with bummer

The days are getting too long, the sun too bright, the air too warm. I’m mostly staying inside, and the air conditioner has been keeping up so far. But it’s still getting to me. The sun and the cat (the reason we don’t have blackout curtains) are both up well before my alarm clock and usually wake me up too.

So that makes me more susceptible to a kind of mild depression and anxiety both. Enter into that: yearly performance reviews coming up, and with it the silly SWOT thing I have to fill in with basically the same text every single year. I’m very good at what I do and always get heaped with praise but that doesn’t mean it’s not a nerve-wracking mess until it’s over.

Also, my Prius C, which has been perfectly trouble-free for nearly 10 years now aside from tire pressure, doesn’t start and does kind of random weird things when I try. I figure it’s almost certainly the 12V battery. (10 years is a pretty great run for a car battery, honestly.) It isn’t in the usual place, it’s under the backseat in a little compartment. First I read that it’s difficult to get to and requires professional installation, which boosted my anxiety, then I saw some stuff about how it’s really not hard, which didn’t lower it that much. I bought a charger online that’s supposed to arrive today; if I can get the car started I’d rather bring it to the dealership to fix. If not, I guess I’ll buy a battery and install it myself to avoid having to pay for towing. At least I work from home most of the time and we’ve got the other car to fall back on.

Other than that… I guess things are OK. Progress on track 6 was a little slow, because I was just not in the mood to follow through on my ideas until I made myself put in some time. Right now it’s several pieces of audio that need to be put together like a collage, then I’ll figure out what else it needs (and if the idea worked at all). I think I prefer just recording pieces live in a single session as much as possible.

I’ve got to say, I’m pretty happy with the sound of the album overall so far.

Waiting on that Spectraphon shipping notice. I’m not quite going to my email and hitting F5 every few minutes, but I *am* in suspense. I don’t know what a tenterhook is, so maybe I am on them…

I’ve read a few things recently, but what has stood out is Hannah Witten’s The Foxglove King. It’s almost a “you can’t spell necromancer without romance” sort of thing, but the main draw is the intrigue and magic and dread.

Sidrax the Sidestroyer?

Spectraphon is officially supposed to ship later this week. I have been waiting semi-patiently, only twitching a little bit. Likewise, Bela Gliss is due any minute now. I’ve been occupying myself usefully and not so usefully with other things meanwhile.

I received my Mystic Circuits 0HP Blinkus. It’s a pretty clever little passive circuit with four inputs and four LEDs interconnected in a ring; any jack can be either an input or an output, and it serves as a waveshaper, psuedo-rectifier, psuedo-ringmod, psuedo-logic, psuedo-panner, psuedo-jam-CV-sequences-together-to-make-new-sequences sort of thing. A true chameleon. I wish I’d bought two, and will probably pick up a second if Eli is at KnobCon.

I’ve recorded a couple more tracks, and have some bits ready that might form the backbone of the next.

I’ve been paying more GW2, and have gotten more used to the Reaper playstyle. It’s higher risk than a minion master, but still has fairly decent defense while doing ridiculous amounts of damage very quickly and with style. I’ve eaten dirt a couple of times to nastier Champions due to mistimed spells, and one damage reflection shield (ouch, lots of ouch) but otherwise am kicking ass. I have about 92% world completion at this point, and enough hero points to also fill in a second specialization and switch off, and finally got myself a jackal mount. I went ahead and bought the End of Dragons expansion while it was on sale, but I’ll probably go ahead and do Heart of Thorns first, which I’ve never done with any of my characters, and get the glider and flying mount.

And I’ve been considering future changes to my music setup. I expect Spectraphon is going to replace Akemie’s Castle. I don’t know whether it’ll also displace Shapeshifter and trigger a bit of other shuffling. We’ll see. But on the other side of the desk, I’m kind of thinking BrutePest just isn’t as compelling for me as I’d hoped.

I was kind of thinking about the Lyra-8 again. It’s an expressive and, dare I say, soulful instrument, but the sound itself doesn’t always appeal to me, and there are limited options on board to change it. I let go of it originally because that sound was feeling a bit stale. Since then I’ve heard some musicians who filtered it heavily as well as treating it with other processing, and I could do the same. But what if I could find a different, non-traditional, polyphonic, freely tunable, expressive instrument that had a sound I liked a bit more and was more flexible?

After some research (listening/watching a lot of demos, reading a bunch of forum posts), that’s what the Ciat-Lonbarde Tetrax Organ and Sidrax Organ are. So I’m strongly considering selling off the Minibrute 2S, West Pest, and auxilliary modules for that. Both instruments are played via wooden “barres” with piezo sensors, which are said to be wonderfully touch sensitive and issue separate attack and release stages, each of which controls a tunable oscillator. A “chaos” knob routes FM circularly between barres, while “glitch” inputs reroute the modulation. Sidrax has 7 barres; Tetrax has just 4 but gives separate control over rise and fall. I’m leaning toward the Sidrax though for more melodic options.

My initial fear of this stuff was that it’d be a gateway drug to more banana-format semi-modular gear. But considering what’s out there… I am not too tempted. The other Ciat-Lonbarde instruments, as well as Lorre-Mill and Bugbrand, tend to replicate things I can already do with my current system but in more esoteric and limited ways. I might get (or build) a format jumbler to patch the Sidrax to Eurorack stuff, or just leave it as a standalone.

too spicy

Yesterday morning I woke early, annoyed by the cat (this happens a lot). I was sitting in the big easy chair in the living room, not really dozing but not ready to be officially awake either, messing with SynprezFM on my phone. That’s a surprisingly okay Yamaha DX7 emulator which a whole bunch of presets (but limited editing). I happened to find a pad sound I liked in that moment, and wanted to record it on the computer.

So I grabbed a stereo-to-dual-mono splitter cable, which didn’t fit with the case on. Taking that off, I noticed the back of the phone was peeling away… uhoh. I’m not 100% sure that battery swelling was what did it, because it wasn’t the super dramatic “spicy pillow” look, but it seems like the most likely cause. So I found a place that does same day battery replacements (got lost on the way, then got quasi-lost again on the way back to pick it up…)

After reading up on it, it turns out a little swelling isn’t unsafe, but charging a battery that’s a little swollen can lead to a battery that’s a lot swollen, and at that point it’s at risk of a “thermal event.” And nobody wants a thermal event.

So I got to experience, for just part of a day, what it’s like in 2023 to suddenly not have one’s phone available. My spouse still had her phone, and I could still turn mine on briefly when absolutely necessary… so I wasn’t completely cut off from civilization. But still, reaching for the phone is a reflex.

Want to know what time it is? What the temperature is officially? Want to use GPS? Play music in the car? Check if you have a message from the repair shop? Kill a couple of minutes with a puzzle or web browsing? Look up an unfamiliar Korean dessert? Log in to work (we use two-factor authentication)?

I had thought about replacing my phone. My Samsung S10e is now 4 years old, which is about 80 in phone years. But this cost a lot less, and aside from needing the battery I don’t really feel like my phone is insufficient in any way. When it’s slow, it’s not the processor but the network; when photos don’t come out well it’s not the megapixels but the teensy lens. (Granted, lenses are more typically dime-sized now rather than notebook paper hole sized… but still far from the bazooka-sized lens for decent astrophotography.)

Anyway, I got my recording done, and the next album just passed the 25 minute mark so far. The “synth choir” thing is pretty abstract in places, but that’s fine; it’s serving more of a sort of ritual purpose than anything else.

I’ve been doing another round of Guild Wars 2, with my usual pattern of deleting an old character, starting a new one, leveling to 80 and quitting. I thought I was going to run a Ranger next… but the current Necromancer absolutely breezed through 1-80 with zero deaths and soloed several open-world Champions, and did it in style as a gender nonconforming Sylvari. So I switched to Reaper and that’s a new experience — new skills and rotation to learn. I’ll probably stick with them for a bit.

so much yes

Superbooth is over, and the wave of slightly delayed videos from it has crested. (It’s hard to be at a huge awesome event like that, shoot video and also edit and publish it immediately if you’re not relatively big like Sonic State.) The wave of videos about Spectraphon is continuing. Oh and yes, I put in my pre-order.

I’m pretty confident I understand how the module works:

  • Where most additive synthesis uses large numbers of sine waves from separate oscillators, this is using the method from the rare Buchla Touche: Chebyshev polynomial waveshaping. When fed a sine wave with a particular amplitude, these not-too-complex mathematical functions will result in a sine wave at a multiple of that frequency. You can put those formulae in a lookup table and it’s super efficient. With several of these in parallel, you can create a whole harmonic series from one oscillator, then mix them together at the desired levels.
  • That means that unlike some additive synthesis, you don’t have any inharmonic partials. (The equivalent on Odessa would be no Tension knob.) Note though, just because all partials are an integer ratio of the fundamental, they’re not all integer ratios of each other
  • Conjecture: this means you don’t need to do an FFT analysis to get the spectral data, just a series of bandpass filters tuned to harmonic ratios, with envelope followers. Much like the Buchla 296, one of the other major inspirations for the module. The advantage here is lower latency and “clean” data that fits exactly the needs of the oscillator.
  • In SAM mode, Slide tunes the filters, and Focus slews the amplitudes. Pretty simple.
  • In SAO mode, instead both knobs move through the stored array of amplitudes (as coarse and fine controls). I’m curious why they didn’t keep Focus as a slew for changes between array locations, but perhaps it does interpolation, and most likely the design choice will become clear when I start using it in practice.
  • The FM seems most likely to be implemented with phase modulation. This is super efficient in digital modules, and allows the sine output to go unchanged (which is important for how it feeds the FM bus, and also useful in patching).

That said, a solid theoretical understanding is different from the actual sonic consequences and the feel of using it. The module is very chamelonic, and aside from the obvious vocoder stuff, the Sarah Belle Reid video sounded like SBR, the James Cigler video sounded like Cigler, the Cinematic Laboratory video sounded like Cine Lab. I’ve little doubt that, while it will influence and shift my music making, it’ll still sound like Starthief.

I feel like the last couple of years have been big for delay effects, at least personally.

  • Inertia Sound Systems Hinder from September ’22. A BBD-ish plugin, it features a filter, compressor and overdrive in the feedback path
  • The plugin version of Imitor is from October ’22. It’s greatly expanded in features from the Versio firmware, with much more control over the taps and can make a nice psuedo-reverb, wobbly chorus etc. among other things.
  • The Moogerfooger plugin bundle was also from October, and includes a very nice delay.
  • In January ’23, the Humble Bundle let me pick up Objeq Delay super cheap. A modal resonator inside of a delay… neato.
  • Retronaut was from February ’23. It’s not marketed as a delay, but a “lo-fi nostalgia machine” with vibrato and chorus. But it’s implemented with delays, and you can increase the “lag” time to reveal that, and get warbly reverby echoes; it does the same sorts of thing one often wants a “retro” delay for anyway.
  • I picked up Jroo Loop in February as well. It’s designed as a sound-on-sound looper, but keep it recording and feeding back and it’s effectively a delay. (a nicely lo-fi one too if you slow down its sample rate).
  • Dedalus Delay is from March. It’s got optional granular features for modulating delay time, plus filters and overdrive and just generally nice mojo.
  • Yester Versio dropped in April. A lovely 3-tap delay with chorus and folding.
  • So did Phonolyth Cascade. It lives somewhere between delay and reverb, as it has extensive control over diffusion.

There were a couple of other promising delays that I passed over because it just gets to be too much. Keeping in mind that this list joined the power team of Mimeophon, Beads, Stega, Echo Cat, PlexiTape, RatshackReverb, Rift, Stardust 201, Sandman Pro, Valhalla Delay, Wires, and Bitwig’s flexible Delay+.

I hope plugin developers delay development of delays for a while!

I’ll point out though, the plugins were cheap (in some cases with early bird discounts), Yester Versio was a free firmware for a module I originally got as a beta tester (but I bought the front panel), and Jroo Loop was pretty reasonable. Up until I ordered Spectraphon, I had sold a bit more gear than I bought this year, including software. I’m not sure what I might wind up selling as a result of getting Spectraphon, but it’s likely to balance out pretty well.


Superbooth 2023 began yesterday, and with it a flood of new product announcements, demos, and so on. This year it seems the synth industry is bouncing back from its relative slump with a vengeance.

There’s a lot and I’m not interested in all of it, but:

  • WMD which went out of business last year, is kind of coming back in the form of AMMT, a partnership of four designers including William Matheson. They’ll make some of the more popular WMD modules and possibly create new versions of some of the good ideas that could use an update, as well as creating new things. So that’s pretty promising.
  • Noise Engineering announced the Roucha firmware for their Legio platform. It’s a filter and wavefolder, which I thought might be redundant since I like Lacrima Versio so much already. But no, it’s a great combination and my new favorite Legio firmware. Legio and Versio just keep on giving!
  • Korg showed the Acoustic Synthesis Phase 5, a very cool little box that’s like a miniature Rhodes electric piano with an Ebow for every tine, for haunting sustained tones. It’s just an R&D prototype, but maybe they’re showing it to gauge the public interest. This particular public is very interested.
  • TipTop has a couple of big Buchla collaborations, as expected… but they also announced a new thing called ART that carries polyphonic note messages on a cable within Eurorack. It is kind of crazy, apparently proprietary and incompatible with anything else. Personally, I don’t much like the trend of polyphonic MIDI stuff masquerading as modular, and this is worse because they’ve invented a whole new format for it that can’t talk to anything else.
  • Out of Xaoc’s new stuff, the one item of interest to me is Rostock — a shift register or delay line for the Liebniz system. It has a max of 64 stages, which is decent-sized for sequencing but miniscule for an audio delay. But the potential here is high. You can loop the data, and optionally XOR it with incoming data. There are independent clock inputs for each bit, which would be great for mutating patterns and potentially wild for audio. The stage length is constructed from 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, and 1-stage sections, so as you change the length you switch which buffers are active and introduce glitches. It’s the kind of thing I would like to experiment with, but I’m not sure what I would drop out to make room. Not Synchrodyne because it’s also a useful clock for Liebniz.

But the biggest news to me by far is the Make Noise Spectraphon.

This is a DPO-style complex oscillator, but replace the two analog VCOs with digital spectral additive resynthesis…! In SAM mode it works as a sort of vocoder, analyzing input audio and translating it in real time to additive partials, with control over the range of analysis and a sort of spectral blurring or even a resonator kind of feel, with even and odd partial outputs. In SAO mode it uses stored arrays of additive data to synthesize, letting you scrub or step through the snapshots and offset the frequency of the odd and even partials. And in either mode you can FM it (apparently phase modulation since it leaves the fundamental sine output unaffected, and cross-FM is stable).

This sort of module is a serious chameleon, so some of the demos have sounded fantastic and very relevant to my interests, and some have been less to my liking. It all depends on the source material and what you do with it. The potential seems very high to me here. I can certainly see integrating it more with the software end of things, playing sample loops into it or using software drones as the source for its spectral data.

The FM-with-chords thing sounds very Akemie’s Castle to me. But being a complex oscillator with lots of timbral control puts it in Shapeshifter’s zone… and as an additive oscillator it’s also trading on Odessa’s ground. Obviously it’s not a direct equivalent of any of those, and it does some things none of those do either. It’s 34 HP, bigger than everything else I have except Akemie’s Castle. But aside from its size, it has the potential to disrupt more stuff; I feel like the best choice is to get one, try it out, and see what shakes loose.


The new keyboard is here, and the 2.4G dongle doesn’t work with Teletype anyway, so I could have kept the cheaper open-box unit and saved some hassle.

But as it turns out, I prefer Akko’s Jelly Pink switches in this one over the Jelly Purple. The feel is a little smoother and the keys are a little bit quieter. With o-rings it should be fine.

Like I said, the wired connection will work with Teletype just fine, and all connection types work great with the PC. As long as I occasionally plug the USB cable into the PC to keep the keyboard charged, it should be fine.

Typing on it does take a little getting used to, after years with the old one. The keys are the same standard size, but the old one had the Fn key to the left of the spacebar while this one has it on the right — and somehow that makes me want to line my hands up differently on the home row, and makes it feel like Enter and Backspace are a bigger reach for my pinky (they aren’t). I expect I’ll get used to it quickly though.


I read, and will heartily recommend, Light From Uncommon Stars. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but… it reminded me of Steven Universe for a couple of reasons, though the cover blurb calls it “Good Omens meets A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet.” I’m not sure about that description. It does somewhat fit in “cozy SF” territory, while at the same time getting uncomfortably real with the traumatic stuff the main character deals with.

It’s beautiful though, in its take on musical performance and on food. I cried, I sighed, I grinned. I had borrowed the ebook from the library, but I’m going to buy it because I want to read it again and I want to support the author.

I’ve been using a Logitech K780 keyboard at home for several years. It’s compact, wireless and can switch between two Bluetooth devices and one using their (proprietary but ironically named) Unifying wireless dongle. That way, a single keyboard can control my PC and my Monome Teletype, saving a lot of desk space.

But I’ve never loved the layout or the feel of that keyboard. With the letters starting to wear off, and increasing frustration with accidental switching between devices, and several other options available, it was time to look elsewhere.

I settled on an Akko mechanical keyboard. Even narrowing it down to those that support multiple devices, there were many options. I chose the 3084B Plus for its relatively complete but compact layout, and because someone was selling an open box unit. Turns out its 2.4G wireless dongle (needed for Teletype) was missing, so I returned it and ordered a new one.

The feel was pretty great. The sound of keys bottoming out, and also springing back, was fairly loud though — so on the new one I decided to go for linear “Jelly Pink” switches rather than the tactile “Jelly Purple” switches. I’ve also ordered some o-rings to soften the bottom-out impact, like I’ve done to the G710+ at work that has Kailh Brown switches. Hopefully that’ll make a difference. I want a nice feel, but I’m not looking for “clack” or “thock” like a lot of mechanical keyboard (aka “keeb”, ugh) enthusiasts. There’s a lot of lubing, taping, modding etc. one can get into, as well as replacing switches and keycaps and such, and there are people who spend thousands building and modding multiple mechanical keyboards. It makes me feel better about my main hobby!

I had the odd notion to start every track on this next album with a “choir” sort of sound. In the first track it’s Waldorf Streichfett, in the second there are multiple instances of Plogue Chipspeech, but also Akemie’s Castle sounding very choir-ish due to its treatment. I was planning on Mellotron and some Kontakt samples as well. (For the odd chain of history behind an iconic Mellotron choir sound, watch this. BRB, listening to Kraftwerk now.)

The second track had a sort of psuedo-arpeggio with 0-Ctrl that just didn’t sit right with the rest of things. To rescue it I wound up sandblasting the whole mix in that section with super heavy reverb and adding a couple of Akemie’s Castle parts over it, and I’m pleased at how well that worked.

life’s a Bistritz

That thing about the next album being comforting? I recorded a first track last night and it turned out spooky and tense. But nice.

My spouse was listening to a Dracula Daily podcast. The story begins on May 3, but on May 4 (*) Jonathan Harker is warned about it being St. George’s Eve and spooky stuff goes down at midnight. And, well, this recording sounds like spooky stuff is about to go down.

(There’s some conflicts about Harker’s Gregorian vs. local Julian calendar having an 11 day difference, which Stoker seems to have simply ignored, and the year is non-specific in the text. There are good arguments for it being 1893, other arguments for it being 1897 when the book was published, and another for the late 1880s. This only matters to me because I was going to use the date for a title.)

Superbooth, by far the world’s biggest and most important modular synth convention for the past few years, is next week and the product teasers and pre-announcements have been flying. Of interest to me:

  • Make Noise is up to something and have been teasing it heavily. There’s a lot of speculation about what it could be, and I’ve personally picked several likely possibilities — nowhere have they specified it’s just one new product they’re announcing. Some intriguing sounds for sure, and they have my attention.
  • Xaoc Devices has previously said they’ve got 6 modules to be released this year, and teased the blank backs of panels. They make some cool stuff and are one of my favorite brands, so the chances that something will be of interest are pretty decent.
  • Noise Engineering, another favorite brand, vaguely teased something new in their “meet us at Superbooth” post. But before that, they showed a photo of a circuit board about the size of a small desktop unit, or else it’s a quite large module. Color me curious…
  • A few other scattered things, and no doubt a couple of items that haven’t been hinted at yet.

Obviously, the modular case is full, and there’s not really a good place for another desktop synth; we’re back on the “anything new has to replace something old” thing. So far, though I hear nice stuff in the Make Noise videos, a lot of the best of it sounds like a cleaner Akemie’s Castle. I just need to remind myself that however cool the new stuff is, my “old” stuff is absolutely great. Maybe I can find inspiration in the new stuff without actually buying anything else. Or maybe it’ll be time to make changes. Either way… that’s fine.