wiggle room

Naturally, the Asus Transformer Mini which I was going to use yesterday for videoconferencing in my performance review, has kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. It is an ex-computer.

I used my phone for the meeting, which worked fine (and the review went great). I’ve also ordered a ChuWi Hi10 X, budget Windows tablet that is winning a lot of reviews right now. I kind of wanted to just get a Kindle, because 90% of what I did with the Transformer was read ebooks but it’s a bit bigger and heavier. But then there’s that other 10%, and my eyes do appreciate having a larger screen, and anything that doesn’t put money directly into Jeff Bezos’ bottomless money pit is a small victory.

I’m keeping my 0-Ctrl for sure. I found I can use the clock and envelope functions in ways that enhance it as a controller rather than necessarily a step sequencer; I also find that other touch controllers tend to either lack the same immediacy and freely tunable values, or cost a lot more, or both. Both avenues of research led me to believe 0-Ctrl really is my best choice, and also to have some fun and make some noise 🙂

I went ahead and ordered the Planar 2 I’ve been pondering for a while. It’ll replace my mostly-unused second Stages, and in many ways replace the Touché SE I was planning to sell. Planar is a joystick controller and motion recorder, mixer, crossfader, panner, VCAs, and some other things besides thanks to a clever design.

In preparation, I rearranged my case to fit the controllers at the bottom, rebalance the power consumption, and make space to test the two incoming fixed filters while I decide which to keep and whether to sell off my pedals. In about 3 weeks when the E520 arrives, I’ll make some further decisions about remaining space. I’m kind of thinking about an Erica Pico BBD (if I don’t feel completely full of delay effects) and an SSF Autodyne compressor, or I could just leave some empty space for future stuff.

I kind of accidentally — thanks to a sharp-eared listener when I was testing the noise issues the Mimeophon has — discovered that the unshielded cables between my modular and my audio interface are picking up interference. It’s pretty low level, unless there’s a quiet part in the music and I’m boosting the level quite a bit in the computer. Some modules, if they’re the last in the chain, act as an antenna and pick up weird signals either from other modules, or some other source of interference.

Now of course I tend to make messy music, and usually my gain staging is such that this sort of noise would be too quiet to notice or hidden by other things. But I had always intended to replace this jerry-rigged mess of cables — mostly short right-angle patch cables plugged into adapters plugged into cables plugged into other adapters. So I did some research — important to avoid spending ridiculous sums or getting something unsuitable, especially when search engines often are really terrible at showing you the exact kind of cable you’re looking for — and ordered a custom snake of 6 cables, double-shielded, in an appropriate length and with the correct connectors. There’s of course no guarantee it will solve interference issues, but it’ll at least be tidier and less likely to fail.

out of sequence

As of Wednesday, I’ll have been working from home for four months. Later this week I have a performance review meeting, and it’s the first time they have asked for me to use a camera. My desktop doesn’t have one, but I’ve set up my tablet for it.

Work’s mostly been going smoothly, but music making less so. Ever since getting the 0-Ctrl I have found myself somehow following paths that just don’t bear fruit for me. There were more rejected songs than usual while working on the last album, and I haven’t done anything I particularly like since then. I think I might have finally figured out why — I’m starting the process with a sequence, instead of starting from sound as I usually do.

Some of my work has sequenced parts, but regardless of when those appear in the recording, that usually comes later in the process. My best work tends to happen as a result of exploring sound and finding something that wants to have a piece of music built around it. It seems that if I begin by patching the 0-Ctrl, I look for some kind of “interesting” sequence and try to build around that instead, and the result really doesn’t remain interesting.

So I’ll avoid doing that, and see if that gets me out of my rut. I might also consider reselling the 0-Ctrl and maybe the Lyra-8, in favor of assembling a controller skiff with an Intellijel Tetrapad. Maybe even replace my 16n with the Eurorack “Sweet 16” version for one integrated controller. Hmm.

These thoughts kind of went along with rereading Art & Fear last weekend, which talks a lot about the (highly personal and individualistic) process of artmaking, and how its importance to the artist is paramount but its relevance and transparency to the audience is almost none. This issue for me is definitely a process thing — start with sound and I’m good, start with notes and rhythms and I’m not. It’s a bit weird, but there it is. Just like my decision 3 years ago to

Alongside these thoughts about sequencing, I’ve also been pondering questions of quantization and generative/algorithmic composition. I could babble on about it here as I have elsewhere while getting my thoughts together, but I think it comes down to using my pals Marbles and Teletype in some fresh ways rather than needing anything new.

I think I could easily let go of my second Stages. One of them covers many handy roles within my modular and shows up in more patches than not, but the second isn’t really getting tapped very much. I don’t have a candidate in mind to replace it right now though, so I will wait a bit and see.

Last weekend I tried to cancel my order for the EMW Fixed Filter Bank, since its shipping has been delayed over a month due to coronavirus, and I ordered a Make Noise FxdF which I had thought was unavailable. It turns out, EMW just shipped it. So both of them are on the way, and I’ll compare them and keep the one I like most. This is also the last chance for my pedals; if they don’t do something special for me in a feedback loop with one of these fixed filterbanks, I’m selling them off.

misc. pt. 2

The Kraftwerk 3-D 2020 tour in North America was cancelled. I’m not surprised, I am somewhat disappointed but mostly relieved. I don’t think even at the end of next month I’d be particularly comfortable packed into a room with 2300 other people, and traveling so much would no doubt be a big risk for the performers.

The other day I ordered a Synthwerks MG-1 manual gate — basically a big chonky arcade button for my modular. They were already cheap and knocked down to half price for this year to celebrate the company’s anniversary. I don’t have big plans for it or anything, but it’s better than a blank panel for the remaining space. If I wind up unracking it, I’ll still have a satisfying arcade button to smash when I feel like firing lasers at someone on the internet…

More powerful than what I posted yesterday: an ex-cop talks about how they are indoctrinated to be the way they are, and what can be done.

Confessions of a Former Bastard
“I was a police officer for nearly ten years and I was a bastard. We all were.”


I’m happy with Carefully Introducing Problems from a musical standpoint. I was hoping for a few more sales, but honestly — for the minimal promotion, my own obscurity, the limited audience for this genre, and being released with a lot of other new stuff on #bandcampfriday, I think it did okay. And I was happy to see a lot of people promoting black musicians’ work and a lot of other folks donating their proceeds too.

Speaking of current events, I have been swayed from my previous position of “cops have a serious culture problem — and Black and Latino people, the poor and the mentally ill bear the consequences. But abolishing the police can never work.” I thought that some amount of defunding made sense — take away the military hardware and most of the handguns for sure. But this twitter thread does a pretty good job of summarizing why rebooting the whole concept of policing makes the most sense.

we have taken almost every single one of our country’s most pressing social issues and handed them over to the police to fix with guns and handcuffs and charges and prison.

In some ways, the problem we have police is akin to the problem we have with health care and the environment: a sort of illusory cost saving that only results in eventual higher expenses, and more importantly, suffering.

For an example of how to do it right, apparently — as with health care — the Nordic countries have it figured out.

I’m happy that the Minneapolis city council, with a veto-proof majority, has resolved to disband the MPD and replace it with something else. Perhaps other communities will follow suit.

I have been on a big Brandon Sanderson kick since nearly the beginning of the stay-at-home orders. I read the extant books of the Stormlight Archive, and then continued to Mistborn. Reading various Cosmere books serially helps one piece together the (so far relatively sparse) connections. It’s kind of like finding out that not only are there whales living under the ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa, they havea different mathematical system than we do but they speak perfect French, and 500 years ago they were personally acquainted with Taika Waititi. I kind of expect something of a “grand unification” to happen by the end of those two series…

In terms of character-driven story and emotional weight, I think Stormlight is the better series overall, but before the end of The Hero of Ages things start falling together like a chain of “I” pieces into their slots in a Tetris game and it’s really something to behold. I was hoping to continue to the “Wax and Wayne” era of the Mistborn world, but I seem to have misplaced those books. For now I’m reading Warbreaker, which is one I hadn’t gotten to before, and am amused to see a little few more hints of connection between the Cosmere worlds. I haven’t read Elantris yet either, so I’m going to have to fix that.

As I’ve no doubt made clear, I am crazy about FM synthesis. One of the quirky things I like about it is how old Yamaha FM synths got kind of crusty and noisy on lower notes. It’s a bit similar to the character I love about Kermit and to a lesser extent Hertz Donut mk2. I think it has to do with low resolution sine lookup tables maybe?

Akemie’s Castle, despite using OPL3 chips and having several other odd and noisy characteristics, doesn’t do this. Hmm .

The SynprezFM app for Android phones does it faithfully. I couldn’t get MIDI to work with it though, so it requires resampling. I did that for one of the tracks on Carefully Introducing Problems, but the processing I did to it took the texture of that noise away again.

I was half thinking about acquiring a classic Yamaha FM synth. I used to have a DX100 back in the day; there’s also the little FB-01, or the YM2612-based DAFM Synth. But any of these would be one more thing to plug in and take up space, and these are not synths that are friendly or fun to program.

Plogue Chipsynth MD — a Megadrive/Genesis/YM2612 emulation plugin — sort of does it. It has selectable noise (and filter) impulses that change with the note frequency, but not quite in the same way. I think it’s probably an acceptable compromise, given that it’s less of a chore to design sounds with it (though got some quirks I don’t yet understand!) and it takes up no space and I already own it.


The next Ambient Online compilation has the theme “Unity”, and proceeds will go to the ACLU. (I’d personally have chosen a different organization, and in fact I have done so personally… but protesters definitely need their rights protected right now.) So my second-most-recently finished track will be going onto that instead of the new album.

And my most recently finished track was a Drone Day 2020 project. In hindsight I don’t really love it, so… go hit my Soundcloud if you want to, but meh.

This Friday, Bandcamp is doing another one of its #BandcampFriday things where they waive their fee. Can I record one more track for the album, put together the artwork, do the mastering and release it so quickly? Even with a dentist appointment tomorrow evening? If so, great! If not, well… the release should still be soon. Either way, I will dedicate 100% of proceeds on the album to Reclaim the Block.