interim

Between projects. I haven’t felt quite like jumping into the next album’s recordings, just doing some experimentation for the moment. Reading some depressing books while my spouse is on a weekend trip probably was a poor choice. But the books are done and she’s returning tomorrow.

I may have chosen cables for the AA.1 poorly; they’re awfully short. But since I’m not actually using the physical controls on Particle I can probably turn it on its back, so they may still reach. The AA.1 should also arrive tomorrow.

I’ve ordered a Happy Nerding FM Aid from Schneidersladen — sort of the unofficial home store of Eurorack, and the only store in the world that claimed to have them in stock. But I haven’t heard from them yet about shipping, so I hope that was actually true… anyway, their prices without VAT are often low enough that, even with international shipping, they beat some American prices anyway. I had FM Aid a couple of years ago and it was cool, but let go of it when I acquired my first Hertz Donut mk2, thinking I wouldn’t need it anymore. With increased understanding of FM, PM and waveshaping and no “real” wavefolder to work with, I want one again. Some of my experiments in Bitwig Grid with sine shaping have told me that the HD mk2, with this sine shaping method of PM, can sound remarkably like old-school Yamaha OPL FM… which is one reason I like the Akemie’s Castle.

The other reason I like the Castle is its “super doomful” chords. As it turns out, the Sync3 firmware for the Starling Via platform can do moderately doomful chords, and those can be enhanced into super doomfulness by applying phase modulation from another source or giving it more complex input to work with. Sync3 is sort of a digital hyper-PLL, latching perfectly onto a signal and generating other signals at selectable frequency ratios. And that makes it an excellent potential partner for the FM Aid.

So I see a path where I might let go of the big ol’ Castle and its thirst for -12V current, without losing much capability at all. That remains to be seen after I work with it throughout Album Thirteen though. I could potentially drop a 4ms Ensemble Oscillator in there instead — a recently announced hybrid additive/waveshaping oscillator — or something weirder like the Beast-Tek P239 Hyper Fist, or just let the space sit empty and see if anything really pulls at me later.

I’m also wondering, idly at the moment, about how the Xaoc Timiszoara will turn out. From here on out, I will simply call it Tim. It’s based on the Spin FV-1 effects chip, which is commonly used in guitar pedals and has a massive open-source library of DSP code. Unlike other Eurorack implementations of the Spin though, you can load stuff onto it via an SD card and it has a lovely interface with a small LCD screen. I’m considering it as a possible replacement for the Supercell in my post-E520-arrival rack. I’ll see what people think of it once it’s released.


I’ve been listening to some of my moderately older albums — still Starthief stuff, but from 2018 and early ’19 — and surprising myself. A lot of it really does not meet the criteria of what I think of as Starthief music, in terms of structure and flow and the sound palette, and isn’t something I would create or release today. I think getting away from MIDI sequencing on the song level, and having form flow from improvisation, is the biggest part of that.


I’m still kind of hunting a roleplaying game to get into. I briefly tried Secret World: Legends this evening, and while it’s kind of intriguing in terms of story (at least for the chaos faction and perhaps the Illuminati, but not the stodgy Templars) I found the combat to be pretty bleh and disjointed. Sort of like a sloppier and more vague Neverwinter (which I also thought briefly about getting back into).

I saw an announcement today about Torchlight 3. More action game than RPG really, but I had several hours of fun with Fate, Torchlight and Torchlight 2 before getting bored with each of them in turn, and then coming back to them a few months later. I suspect about the same from TL 3, and that’s okay.

I really would like a decent, properly funded, with enough development time and clear design goals, and fully polished and balanced, remake of Hellgate: London. I want to shoot zombies and demons with explosive darts, weird tentacle guns, psycho-cybernetic insect swarms, plasma grenade launchers, a personal squad of drones, and spooky dark spells. An enchanted katana or two would also be nice. And I want more than three different looking streets in all of London. And I don’t want quests that have me gather 7 “things” (literally labeled “thing”), or play capture-the-flag against demons for no explicable reason, or slooooowly burn out all the pus-filled gunk from a section of town with a weak-ass flamethrower, or remotely send orders to a hapless squad of weak, disobedient and poorly armed soldiers. And I don’t want monsters that it takes approximately 17 minutes worth of full-auto fire to the eyeballs to bring down but doesn’t provide any actual challenge aside from the boredom factor. And I don’t want the whole game to be bought by a third party who cares even less, rips out half the game, converts it to multiplayer and shuts it down a year later.

That game wanted to be great and never had a chance. Ah well.


Those depressing books? The first was Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty, which was described as “a Soviet fairy tale” — and despite a little bit of framing that tried to link it to Russian folktales about Ivan, Vasilisa, Koschei the Deathless, the Baba Yaga and so forth – -it was using the term in the derogatory sense of wishful thinking doomed to failure. The basic premise is that some of the mathematicians of Kruschev’s day were convinced that, through the proper application of mathematical models, they could set prices and production targets that would optimize the Soviet economy and, in a short few years, grow far beyond the capitalist pigs on the other side of the world, and successfully spread peace and full Communism across the Earth. And even halfway into the book, I was under the impression this was meant to be an alternate history where something like that actually happened. NOPE. Self-interest, personal politics, dogmatic inertia, corruption, and bureaucracy got in the way. It fouled the mathematicians’ models to some degree, but even more so, ensured that they didn’t get to really apply their theories.

And the overall feeling of Soviet life in this book was kind of… squalid. Stalin’s legacy of disregard for current human life and happiness in order to secure some theoretical future, a whole lot of smoking and drinking, disregard for the environment, the criminal underworld, shabby living conditions and (often willful) ignorance just made the whole culture seem thoroughly unpleasant. Worst fairy tale ever.

It wasn’t without some good bits though. To me the most fascinating thing was the notion that Marxism was based entirely on the idea of a workers’ revolution in a fully developed, industrial, successful capitalist society that was already humming along smoothly and had some idea of what goods were worth. Instead, it happened in a poor backward agrarian feudal one. And it was decided at the highest levels that sacrifices would be made in order to jump-start industrial production to catch up with the capitalists. And that meant millions of people were starved for decades in order to ramp up heavy industry that was obsolete by the time it finally got up to speed, and actually wound up subtracting value from raw materials while polluting the environment and failing to provide for peoples’ needs. It wasn’t “socialism” that caused that suffering, it was central economic planning by iron-fisted ideologues with no heart and too little brain and a completely wrong vision of eventual success.

This book isn’t turning me against socialism, but certainly illustrated the folly of Soviet Communism. I still believe workers should share fairly in the fruits of their labor and in decisions that affect the course of their companies; that inequality matters and that rentier capitalism, inheritance and executive pay need to be severely limited; that collectively we have the means and obligation to feed, clothe, house, educate and keep healthy and safe all of our people and not sacrifice them to enrich the 1%. A market economy can partially self-organize, although it needs some regulation and assistance; one has to remember that (A) the theoretical perfect consumer knowledge and perfect competitive environment don’t exist, and (B) when it comes down to it, people are more important than money.

…the other depressing (sort of) but heartwarming (kind of) and strangely uplifting (a bit), book was Moominvalley in November. Yes, a children’s book. Theoretically. I wound up getting it because of a sort of hot take on a gaming website that floated the Moomin setting as one for some interesting and atypical games. It quoted from the “Rain” chapter of the book, in which Snufkin, an itinerant musician and a very contemplative sort, was listening to the rain and trying to recapture the five perfect bars of music that previously came to him at the wrong time but which would now be perfect. I have fond memories of a couple of the other Moomin books from childhood, so I had to read this one. It was a very wistful sort of book, where each character either longed for something or was anxious or sort of empty. One of them actually starts in on the “Swedish death cleaning” thing (which I recently heard about in an “Ask a Mortician” video my spouse was watching) after a frightening event.

I actually don’t know what a child would have thought of it compared to the other books… but now I wonder just how dark some of the other books were and how I’d interpret them differently now. Comet in Moominland was about the impending destruction of the world, after all.

Now I’m on to Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower, which probably isn’t going to be all fun and games either but I do really like her work. It’s got my attention so far — the narrator is a god who remembers the time before life crawled out of the sea and has to abide by particular rules; the story is told more or less in the second person, with the “you” being a trans man named Eolo. So that’s different…

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