shout out

I have to admit, I was pretty excited that the Black Mirror special “Bandersnatch” had a rockstar game developer suggest both Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra and Tomita’s Bermuda Triangle to a fellow game dev.

“I had both those albums!” (Tomita is better, though. We picked Tomita. TD was all over the movie later anyway.)

group does not include living sandwiches

A short story I really enjoyed:

When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis

Nitpick: the Loop is near Wash U, and there are some pretty swanky houses on one edge — but mostly it’s a funky, diverse historic district street with cafes and international restaurants and bars, music venues, interesting-ish shops etc. Blueberry Hill and a monument to Chuck Berry are there. Lots of foot traffic, lots of panhandlers and people being fashionable and whatnot. Drum circles on weekends, street musicians, etc. It’s a lot more interesting a neighborhood than the story makes it out to be.

I wonder if Janelle in the story is named after Janelle Shae (who keeps the AI Weirdness blog) or Janelle Monae (queer futurist singer/songwriter/producer/actress/visionary) or both or neither.

release the brain clutch

One of the reasons I like the Lines forum so much is to get peoples’ random insights. Sometimes those come in the form of quotes by other artists. Sometimes they are in the form of art itself. This time it was both:

Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, 1967

I don’t know if I agree or disagree with this statement. I reflexively flinch at “true artist”, I don’t think mystic truths can be revealed except by themselves (and mostly they defend themselves), and “helps the world” can sound more than a little conceited. But at the same time… yeah, kinda.

It turns out the artist thought the same thing.

Anyway, the thread where that was posted, along with some other thoughts about what it means to “figure out how to be an artist”, had my head spinning but also inspired me to overcome the lethargy of the last several days and record something.

Four minutes into the first take, which was going excellently, the phone rang. Oops. Gotta remember to put it in airplane mode next time. The next several takes were flubs, but then I finally nailed it.

I’ve decided that the next album will definitely have no theme. In fact, no-theme kind of is its theme. Action over contemplation.

Some time back, while I was Kemetic Orthodox, I was unsure about my musical direction at the time and did some divination to get unstuck. What came to me were the words “use force.” While a lot of music is about control and dexterity (either physical or mental) and is often a very intellectual exercise, sometimes you just have to pull out all the stops. (This phrase refers to the controls on a pipe organ; pulling them all out makes the thing as loud and dense as it can get. It’s like turning the amp up to 11.)

That’s… not exactly what my plan is here, but the idea is: just turn the synth on and do something.

the true meaning…

I guess I’m of the school of thought that says things don’t have inherent meaning, beauty, or purpose; we find them ourselves. (Likewise, things don’t have inherent meaninglessness, ugliness or pointlessness.) But so much about the way we think is transmitted socially, we can take that for granted.

Our society obviously attaches a very large accumulation of ideas and traditions to Christmas. It’s an important marker of the year, with far-reaching effects even for those who don’t celebrate it. Sometimes the reach is too much — “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” comes over the speakers while it’s still 75 degrees out; big hardware stores dedicate acres of space to trees and lights and inflatable Santas in mid-October; the whole economy rearranges itself.

I’m not feeling the wonder as much this year — partially because we’re staying home rather than visiting family as we often do, I expect — but I really don’t want to be too cynical. I do enjoy some of the decoration — when it doesn’t take the form of suburban homeowners competing for the brightest display or the largest number of inflatable light-up Santas. The lights at the plaza where my office building is — strung expertly in the trees, suspended above the plaza, and in the Christmas tree — are a lovely contrast with the dark early morning sky.

Some of my favorite childhood Christmas memories were of simply sitting next to the decorated, lighted tree, gazing at it in reverie. Not thinking of Jesus or of gifts so much as the… specialness, I guess, of the season. The feeling of people united in celebration, making something of this particular time. Hanging up some lights to change a dreary scene into a colorful glowing fantastical one. Interrupting the normal everyday flow of things in small ways or big ones.

So while I don’t think Christmas needs to take up three or four months every year, and particularly not with endless covers of 80 year old children’s songs, way too much artificial pine scent, hordes of shoppers not demonstrating peace and goodwill as everyone gets in everyone else’s way, and a little too much of the mandatory about things… I do wish our culture had more actual celebration. More holidays that count. More whimsy, more reminders that love and charity should be commonplace. More color and light. (But not too much light pollution…)

Whatever you celebrate, I hope for happiness and peace for you and yours. And the same during all the rest of the year.

2019 plans/goals: the rest of it

1. Keep making music.

Well, yeah. I’ll keep recording stuff, releasing albums, and entering into compilations.

I might consider submitting music to netlabels, or otherwise doing some actual promotion-ish activity. No promises though. That’s not really what I’m about.

I have no specific theme in mind for the next album. (While albums may be old-fashioned or may simply fit my favored genre range best, I still prefer albums over singles and will keep doing that.)

I still have no plans to perform live. As a thought experiment I considered “patch from scratch” performance style with “tape” running the whole time — maybe I will give that a go sometime and see what it brings me. Maybe it’ll be the basis of an album. If I can do that, I might feel more comfortable with the idea of actually doing that live in front of people.

Attending KnobCon Eight is a possibility. I skipped Seven, because Six was overwhelming at the time and because I felt I didn’t really need the “gear show” aspect of it every time. We’ll see.

2. The gear plans.

I have a different idea of the music gear I plan to buy and sell than what I posted three weeks ago.

Early in the new year when orders open again, I’ll pick up an Orthogonal Devices ER-301 Sound Computer. This is a highly versatile programmable module — something like the Teletype except for audio signals rather than control, and programmed largely by arranging and connecting “units” rather than terse lines of code (though Lua and C will also be opened up to users). It can act as a six-track digital audio recorder while also doing sampling/delay/looper/granular duties, FM synthesis, more experimental things, a VCA matrix, and so on. Its capabilities aren’t totally limitless, but continue to grow as the firmware is developed further and its users contribute to its library. And it works closely with Teletype via a behind-the-panel connection.

I expect the ER-301 to replace some — potentially a lot — of my current modules, leading to a “Version 2.0” of my system that is markedly different, and perhaps smaller, than the current version. I don’t know for sure until I use the module in practice for a while, though.

I do still intend to get the 16n Faderbank or something like it, as it will open up the Teletype and the ER-301 (and anything else really) to more hands-on interaction.

Whatever else happens, I will start actually tracking money spent and received on gear trading — not with a specific budget, but just to stay mindful of it. I expect to fund new gear mainly from old gear. For instance, the ER-301 is already half paid for with gear sales; selling the minimum of two modules that will make way for it will offset the rest.

3. The health plans.

I don’t realistically expect to lose significant weight. But I do want to nudge my appetite into being quieter, and not give into dessert-related temptations on the kind of regular basis that it can so easily turn into.

I want lower blood sugar. At my recent eye exam, the fancy camera thingy found the signs of (I had to look it up) mild nonproliferative retinopathy — microaneurysms leaking tiny amounts of blood into the retina. It has no effect yet but is a warning sign, and is reversible with better blood sugar control. So there’s some motivation.

As for mental health, I already outlined the online stuff and I wrote a little about anxiety. Keeping clear of trouble there is my goal. I’d like a bit more equanimity about things in general, whether it’s the constant flow of idiotic political news, the bad habits of local commuters, or the cat parking his butthole directly on my forehead for the umpteenth time. I’m considering some sort of spiritual/mindfulness practice to help with that (and I just find aspects of Zen as well as Taoism intellectually and emotionally interesting). Or QiGong to loosen up both physically and mentally.

4. The house plans.

Out of necessity, we did a bunch of work to maintain and clean up the house this year, but overall we do tend to let things slide. I want to put some effort into keeping up with that on a semi-regular basis. I have a continuing list of areas of the house to reorganize and things that need to be repaired. Some of it we can’t or shouldn’t do ourselves, like replacing the deck with stairs leading from the back door down to ground level, but some of it is stuff that we can and should, like finally finishing the last, most awkward section of cutting out carpet and replacing with vinyl planks.

5. Other.

Keep remembering that nobody else really fits into this world either, even if they are better at pretending so than I am.

Keep it weird.

Keep a weather eye on the horizon.

Just keep swimming.

2019 plans/goals: the complicated bit

I’ve come up with a tentative set of “stuff I want to do” for 2019 — not calling it “New Year resolutions” because those tend to get left behind. In fact it’s really more “ongoing things I just happened to contemplate before 2019 starts.”

One of them is a bit complicated though: do not engage in unhealthy online interactions. “Unhealthy” is a wide term, but mostly I mean unnecessarily upsetting or contentious, or the sort of habit I used to have where it was uncomfortable not to check Facebook several times per day.

There are some places I frequent online which can get unpleasant and I want to change my relationship to them.

KvR Audio: a website about music production on a computer, most specifically about VST plugins and the sequencing software that hosts them. It was a valued resource for several years and still serves some purpose, but I use software synths a lot less now, am pretty well set for software effects, am happy with the host I’m using (Maschine), have my production techniques and sound design down, etc.

Moderation on the forum is mostly hands-off. There are a few members who continuously snipe at each other and regularly turn threads into pointless bickering between themselves. There are others with strong opinions and perhaps little imagination, and no qualms about calling everyone else idiots. After 17 years or so of discussing things there are a lot of very tired topics of discussion and memes that are just not funny anymore which still pop up regularly. It can be a little bit of a boy’s club though it’s much less so than it once was.

Mostly it’s not too bad; I just need to not get drawn in to arguments about what kinds of things are “useful”, valid, “best”, what music and art are, that sort of thing. There is nothing to gain in defending my opinions or preferred instrument makers, nor in trying to pry the blinders off people who should be much more imaginative and open-minded, and there are certain people I should never read or reply to at all. If I keep that in mind, all is well.

MetaFilter: a sort of community link blog that shares interesting stories from around the internet, and covers a lot about politics and criticism of media coverage (from a generally left perspective). The community has turned generally more socialist-friendly in recent years, which is great. But it still has a particular hate-on for Bernie Sanders and for the Green Party.

They’re willing to blame literally everyone for the mess we’re in now: obviously the Republicans and the media and Russia and a broken system, but also white women in general, progressives, Baby Boomers, Millenials, and your pets. In fact, they seem to believe that everyone is to blame for the defeat of Hillary Clinton except for Hillary Clinton, her supporters, and the Democratic Party.

For the most part there’s a ban on “relitigating the 2016 primary.” But in practice, moderators often allow people to make snide comments about it and then crack down on progressives’ response to it. I called them on it once and now apparently at least one moderator has it in for me. In the past couple of months I’ve had so many posts deleted with no explanation or notice — regardless of the actual content — that I’ve given up posting and logged out of my account. I lurk but I’m a little bitter about it and might see if I can get my news fix elsewhere.

MuffWiggler: yes, embarrassingly enough, it’s actually called that. You might never guess it’s the biggest forum on the internet for modular synthesis. There is a ton of information and discussion about equipment and DIY, direct from the designers and engineers and experienced users. There’s a very large market in used gear and occasional prototypes. There’s a lot of advice for beginners and occasional discussion of advanced techniques.

The name is a sort of “locker room talk” passed off as “just a joke, you should relax” while being inherently and intentionally exclusionary. A lot of people dislike it, and the environment it comes from and fosters, and would like it changed — or just stay away entirely. Most of the prominent musicians in the modular synth, ambient and techno communities do avoid it and can be found on other forums instead.

The one guy running the site, his moderator crew, some alt-right types and “PC culture has gone too far” types, don’t see a problem — and are likely to delete your complaints as being “politics,” which is off-limits.

After some consideration, prompted by a recent call for extra donations to cover a rather larger shortfall on what’s purported to be suspiciously high hosting costs, and questions about transparency and community representation, I’ve stopped my $3/month Patreon support and am backing off in my participation a bit. I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing if the site went down and got archived somewhere and replaced by something a bit less toxic.

As with KvR, I feel that I’ve passed my peak “need” for the site’s resources anyway. I know what I’m doing in modular, and when I have questions, there are other places to ask them. (I give a lot more advice than I ask for, though there’s certainly a factor of learning through teaching.) My setup is relatively complete and I’m not doing as much research into what’s out there and how to work with it. There are other places for news and announcements, and other places to trade gear. But it’s still useful, more so than KvR, so I’m not completely getting out.

sharing leftovers

The year being at an end and all, I went through my “2018 album candidates/other unreleased” folder looking for treasure. A lot of stuff got moved to “2018 album candidates/NO” and one was promoted to 2019 because it might show up on the next album.

Share with, no. Burn, maybe.

There were three survivors, all recorded in January and February. At the time, I didn’t feel they fit in with either Nereus or Shelter In Place. I deemed them not dark enough, or 2% below the standard of the other tracks, or something that escapes me at the moment because now I think they’re all right.

Here they are, with the original patch notes and translations to English (more or less).


1: E370 2OP through NG; gates into Wogglebug modulate Z + Index; Replika
2: Microbrute; PianoVerb
3: BEV
4: Donut, both oscs mixed in uFold & NG, Uhbik-G + Ratshack
4b: NG out from above through A-189; TBEQ, Ratshack, Val Room

The first voice is SynthTech E370 in 2OP FM mode through Rabid Elephant Natural Gate. I’m sending sequenced gates into Make Noise Wogglebug to generate weird little envelope-like things to modulate the wavetable morph and FM index. Through Native Instruments Replika delay.

Second voice is Arturia Microbrute through PSP PianoVerb.

Third voice is Arturia Buchla Easel V (approximately $4900 cheaper than the real thing, and good enough for me until I win Powerball).

Fourth is the two VCOs in The Harvestman Hertz Donut, mixed, through Intellijel uFold and Natural Gate, through (A) u-he Uhbik-G (granular pitch shifter) & Audio Damage Ratshack Reverb, and (B) Doepfer A-189-1 Bit Modifier, Toneboosters EQ, another Ratshack Reverb instance and Valhalla Room.


1: SH-01A – Runciter, FogCon, HY Delay
2: Donut, uFold, NG – ValRoom, GMonoBass, TBEq
3: Microbrute – Ratshack, Uhbik-T, Replika, Uhbik-F

This should be easier to decipher. The actors here are:

  • Roland SH-01A (which I had briefly, before deciding LuSH-101 was really just as good after having a little perspective and teaching myself some tricks in the hardware)
  • u-he Runciter filter/distortion
  • Audiothingies Fog Convolver reverb
  • HY-Plugins HY-Delay
  • GVST GMonoBass (prevents low frequencies from causing stereo phase issues and kind of sounds more solid)
  • ToneBoosters EQ (I actually use it so often I skip putting it in my notes)
  • u-he Uhbik-T Tremolo
  • Native Instruments Replika delay
  • u-he Uhbik-F Flanger


1: Plaits 5 through Disting synced delay (using note trigger as sync source)
Horse, Permut8, Val Plate
2: Busy noise from self-modulated E370, Transient Master (favor transients), TB
EQ, Replika, UberMod
3: Kermit stereo cross-modulating table pos, dynamix, SpecOps, Val Room
4: Lush-101, Ratshack Reverb, TB EQ
5: Hertz Donut, mod square and XOR mixed through NG, Haaze, MTransformer, Replika

The name for this probably came from

First voice is Mutable Instruments Plaits’ Harmonic Oscillator model (the fifth LED lights up green), through Expert Sleepers Disting mk4 in clockable delay mode. I’m giving it the note triggers to sync to, so the delay time continuously adjusts to the time between the last two notes. Through a VST chorus plugin I wrote and named “Horse”, Sonic Charge Permut8 glitch delay, and Valhalla Plate.

Second voice is the E370 with some self-patching going on (there are no voice samples here) through Native Instruments Transient Master and Replika, and Valhalla UberMod.

Third is both voices of The Harvestman Kermit, each modulating the opposite’s wavetable position, recorded in stereo through Unfiltered Audio SpecOps and Valhalla Room.

Fourth is self-explanatory. Fifth is Hertz Donut, with the modulation oscillator’s square output mixed with the XOR output in Natural Gate, with Klevgrand Haaze, Melda MTransformer and Replika.

2018 in review

The year started off with our basement getting flooded with sewage.  This was just one of many home maintenance issues that needed our attention (and money) throughout the year, including the sump pump and furnace.  We replaced some furniture too.

Our little dog Roxy had some expensive surgery that unfortunately was too late to stop cancer from claiming her. 🙁  But we do love our new pitbull Lady, who seems to be settling down a bit from her days of eating shoes, photo albums, books, TV remotes, automated aquarium feeders, and the like.  She and Gretta are actually getting along really well now and playing nicely.  If only we could prevent her from taking a running leap over the fence gate, and from smelling incredibly foul, that would be great.

My spouse has gotten into keeping blue neocaridina shrimp — tiny little gems of things — and after some initial difficulty that has been going pretty well.  So I couldn’t really answer how many pets we have in the house now.

We stuck pretty well to our plan to cook at home more, breaking a years-long habit of eating mostly in restaurants.  That no doubt has saved us some money, though my weight isn’t really any better for it.  My spouse makes fantastic curry, and I’ve picked up a handful of acceptable recipes myself.  I have spiralized more zucchini in 2018 than the previous years of my life combined!

I released five albums during the year.  I’m generally pleased with what I have put out there.

When I first sold albums, they were intended for a particular small community and no real promotion was required.  My most recent release had built-in appeal to the modular synth community, which helped it along, too.  (Materials has been doing decently well so far and enticed a few people to look into my other music as well, which is gratifying.)  But in between, it was just my weird music.  With little to no effort dedicated to promotion, my first albums of the year didn’t get a lot of attention, and even expecting that, I admit I suffered a few pangs over it at first.

The release of Nereus hit about when my anxiety was starting to peak, and I was an emotional mess.  I confronted that anxiety — particularly after realizing that there was a link with caffeine.  I went from drinking two big cans of sugar-free Monster plus strong coffee plus a lot of Diet Coke in a typical workday, to avoiding even iced tea for a while.  I read a few books on anxiety, and another called The Highly Sensitive Person which fit me surprisingly well.  I started taking magnesium taurate supplements, which may help too (though I think the combination of greatly reduced caffeine, and being mindful of the anxiety, have been the most effective).  Overall I was doing a lot better by summer than I was at the start of the year.

The US socio-political background certainly fed the anxiety and continues to be a nasty toxic mess.  I’ve felt more hopeful about that since the midterms and some of the news coming from the Mueller investigations.  I hope for both justice and long-term solutions.

Facebook’s bad behavior increasingly came to light this year, and little by little I disengaged from it.  I cleaned up a bunch of stuff in my account.  I went through my friends list and removed people I didn’t really interact with.  I deleted it from my phone and only used it from my home PC.  Eventually I nearly quit; my account still exists and I check notifications quickly a couple of times a week but I no longer have a Facebook habit.  That has maybe helped my emotional state a bit too.

My music studio went through some technical changes.  I upgraded to running a 64-bit build of Maschine, which meant abandoning some old favorite plugins I’d been using for 5, 10, 15 years — but I found some good replacements.  I tried a bunch of sequencing solutions in my modular synth and I believe I’m closing in toward an ideal setup there; likewise for effects.

I also continued to learn the craft of electronic music; one of the things I love about it is that after doing it for so long there’s always more to discover and room for improvement.  New patching techniques, new combinations of things, new compositional techniques and forms, new technical stuff (like mastering), plenty of the history and culture to learn.

We picked up a quadruple armload of acoustic instruments this year, toward a Gothic Applachian-ish musical project with my spouse.  This hasn’t come a long way so far beyond some research and a little reorganizing of the house to have a better space to play.  But I’ve learned a bit of mandolin and enjoy it, and am not as entirely horrible at the violin as I expected after decades without practice.  The six-string guitar frustrates my attempts to grasp it intuitively, though.  Anyway, maybe we’ll have more news about this project in the future.

I have no real conclusion to come to about the year.  A lot to complain about, a lot to be grateful for.  It is, as they say, what it is.

Material goods

Yippee skippee, the new album is released!

There’s a page of patch notes with a bonus track (which is in the blog sidebar anyway, heh) and some words.  But the important thing is, there’s music.

Any feedback (heh… feedback) is welcome, as is pushing this at your friends who like weird music, your uncle who runs a highly successful dark ambient record label, etc.

It’ll be submitted to streaming services in the next few days (where I get almost a penny per minute of my music streamed… really, Bandcamp is better).

that’s a wrap… almost

I am so bad at gift wrapping.  I think I inherited that from my dad, who is not above using cardboard tubes, newspapers and duct tape to get the job done.  I failed this evening at wrapping a perfectly rectangular package and had to throw the paper out and start over.

I’m doing a better job with the album mastering…. except, it turns out, I’ve been doing it wrong.  

MusicTech magazine’s current issue has a feature about mastering.  I read it, and most of the advice is on the order of “use this $4000 worth software and these $3000 monitors” and uh, no thanks.  But I did learn that editing the beginning and end of a track is “topping and tailing”, and that electronic music technology magazines in 2018 are pretty much overpriced garbage.

I got more specific, up-to-date advice from the first website that popped up on a Google search.  It turns out that in general, you should meter in LUFS (“Loudness Units relative to Full Scale”) for loudness and dBTP (decibels True Peak) for peaks.  Nobody thinks you should compress heavily to make your music as loud as possible, because many streaming services normalize everything to the same volume level anyway.  And while I was being relatively gentle with my own work compared to the previous album, I was still going beyond recommended levels.

I’d been ignoring metering plugins because there’s nothing more boring than that, and I assumed dbFS peak and RMS as shown in Sound Forge were good enough anyway.  But the free version of Youlean Loudness Meter shows the relevant info and how I’m breaking the rules.  (-23 LUFS is a European broadcast standard; -14 seems to be a common goal for streaming audio but the important thing there is more “don’t over-compress”).  And -1 dBTP is a recommended peak maximum so that MP3 converters don’t accidentally cause clipping.

Of course it would have been smart to do this research before “nearly finishing” all 11 songs.  In a lot of cases I think I can just turn it down and be fine, but I’ll double-check I didn’t compress too much.

Sound Forge Pro 10 has been crashing on a semi-regular basis, and it’s a few years old now.  I’m happy to see that it’s not abandonware and there is a new version — though Sony (having bought it from Sonic Foundry) sold it to Magix.  Unfortunately, the demo crashes immediately on startup.  I can use it okay after that as long as I never close the bug reporting window, but it doesn’t say a lot about the potential stability, so I’m not sure I want to pay for an upgrade.  Maybe I will look for another tool in the future, though I do like Sound Forge’s dynamics tool and the ease of crossfading every edit.