that time again

It’s October 28, and definitely a good time to break out the scary music. I’ve never wanted to watch the movie a second time because it just wasn’t that amazing, but every year I break out the 30 Days of Night score. The composer invented several new instruments for it, some of which involve objects whirling dangerously at high speed…

For Halloween, I’ll be staying home, wearing a t-shirt with a skull-faced mermaid lounging by a pool, and keeping an eye on the end of the charity auction. Though the bid totals are quite good (over $22.5K so far), there are relatively few hardware offerings this year. I’m not interested in any of the sample or preset packs. There are a few software items I could go far — but in many cases they are bundled with a bunch of stuff I’m less interested in, so bidding competitively doesn’t make sense for me. Right now I am only trying to win one particular item, though I might throw a bit more money at something for the sake of the charity. And in the secondhand auction, there’s one minor plugin that I have a $5 bid on that’s on sale for $7 anyway.

Although… maybe on Halloween I may have to drive over to Lake Creve Coeur and walk around for a while, if it’s not too crowded. Hopefully the fall colors will be somewhere at peak, though it might be late for that. I’m probably too out of shape at this point to walk the full distance without overdoing it, but some semblance of “forest bathing” will probably do me some good. Unless it’s raining of course, in which case it would be a forest shower and not quite so pleasant.

With COVID cases hitting new records, we are following the advice to not risk travel this Thanksgiving. It’s a shame we will miss out, but it is not worth anyone getting life-threateningly ill.

I finished watching Neon Genesis Evangelion, and… I was not really prepared for how broken the ending is. I feel like the state of the series kind of reflected the apocalyptic events in the story and peoples’ mental states, but it also apparently was a reflection of the writer’s depression and the exhaustion of the overworked production team and pressures that were hitting the studio in general. Things just sort of fell apart, and aside from some (disturbing) hints, we lost perspective on events other than Shinji’s inner voice in the process of merging with everyone else’s…

There was a movie that presented sort of an alternate viewpoint and alternate ending, called appropriately enough End of Evangelion. Where the original series ending was, in its odd way, “the good ending”, this is the bad one in terms of Shinji’s personality and which conspirators “win” the apocalypse. There is also a remake slowly in progress called Rebuild of Evangelion, which apparently makes the main character more macho and has a lot more fanservice. I’m going to eschew those, and consider the original series and all its flaws a complete work of art. (Granted, one that doesn’t quite stand up on its own without a little support from outside explanation.)

I’ve sent the DAFM synth back to Kasser in Spain for repairs. Given that it took a month to arrive here in the first place, I will not be surprised if it doesn’t get back to me in 2020.

The album is up to 57 minutes of material. I feel like I’m on a roll and have more to say here, but an album shouldn’t be overly long or it challenges the attention span and does the music a disservice. If my next set feels like a continuation, I could always call it a Part Two.

Listening to what I have, I think it needs something to close it right, and I’m considering dropping one of the songs. But I do expect to release it on Bandcamp Friday on November 6.

I did do another recording with three parts rather than one or two, although the third is just using the other output of Akemie’s Castle which was used as the first voice, and some different processing to make it a simpler, background part.

anything less would be unCVilized

I’m basically completely used to the new headphones now, and appreciating the extra detail I’m hearing with them.

Voxengo just released a plugin called TEOTE, an acronym for “That’s Easier On the Ears.” It adjusts the spectral balance of the input to bring it closer to a theoretical ideal — with minimal adjustment it just magically makes stuff sound better. This one uses multiband dynamics, which is a bit fancier than Soundtheory Gullfoss, and to my ears it seems to sound better on most material.

Tools like this are great for me. My mixing process isn’t the meticulous, surgical adjustment and perfect fitting together several individually recorded parts — rather, it happens partially as I build up my parts in preparation to record, and partially as a big part of the recorded performance itself. A tedious manual search for places in the spectrum that could use a tiny boost here and a narrow cut there would take me out of the creative flow, but slapping an automatic plugin onto the channel to see if it sounds better does not. (If there’s a drastic improvement, that means there was a lot to correct in the first place, and it’s probably worth a little of my time to investigate.)

Two things arrived on my doorstep today. First the bad news: after nearly a full month of shipping, the DAFM synth arrived from Spain. Its wonderfully crisp OLED display showed something for about 6 seconds and then died, the USB power cable unusually warm. Switching cables and chargers didn’t help.

Since I have had second thoughts about even needing another synthesizer, I’ve written to request a refund rather than a replacement. We’ll see how this goes.

The other thing is much happier: u-he CVilization. I spent about 90 minutes playing with the matrix mixer mode before even looking at the others, and… it’s a game changer honestly. It handles audio quite well, and is as easy and intuitive to dial in as I had imagined and hoped. But it also encourages taking control voltages to new places, and that seems to be its major strength.

It is a very good friend to a sequencer, especially something with multiple channels and not necessarily its own quantizer, like the 0-Ctrl.

Mode 1 can mix audio of course, but also CV, with handy muting, inversion, quantization and sample and hold. I had a patch going where it:

  • served as a feedback mixer for Mimeophon-as-resonator (with mutes for the original input, the feedback, or the final output, and the option to invert the feedback for a different character)
  • selected between or combined (using mutes) two pitch CVs from 0-Ctrl, with sample+hold and quantization. And also, allowed for mixing in some audio from another channel — which served to slightly randomize the pitch while staying within the scale and maintaining the overall melodic contour. It was gated by 0-Ctrl’s dynamic gate output, so I had control over the rhythmic pattern as well as swing/timing.
  • routed both pitch and audio to Mimeophon’s frequency control, so it simultaneously tracked pitch and added FM… again with a mute switch.

That’s a heck of a lot more than an analog mixer can do. And also, since it’s 4×4 rather than the AI008’s 4×3, it’s easy to set up stereo feedback matrices with ping-pong and so forth.

Mode 2 is the sequencer and sequential switch, and though it took me more time to grasp it, it’s also a very powerful friend to 0-Ctrl. Rearranging incoming control signals and interposing other values (fixed or random) into the sequence, driven either by a clock division or using a different sequence length, can really extend and bring variations into what would otherwise be a short and very repetitive sequence. I didn’t even mess with self-patching, which could potentially be really useful with the sample+hold feature. (It can also route audio, switching different sources and destinations around or silencing it, and that is probably going to have some use as well.)

Mode 3 is the “Mucorder”, which is purely for control voltages. It’s less like Marbles than I first thought — but again, a really good companion for 0-Ctrl. Record up to 16 steps, and let it mutate either by overwriting with values from its own input, another channel, a random shift up or down, or harmonization with the first channel. Each channel can have a different recording length, which allows a lot of polyrhythmic interplay. It’s another winner.

I haven’t tried mode 4 yet, but rather than manipulating CV quite as much, it pans/routes its four inputs smoothly across four destinations. Planar can either pan one signal to four outputs, or four inputs to one output… but I suspect it will be a good controller to rotate multiple things around the world with CVilization, and likely a powerful tool for drones.

So, wow. I was expecting a mixer and a quantizer, but I got quite a lot more than that.

On the album front: I have 41 minutes of material recorded so far, and I’ve been sticking with the minimal voices theme. One of the tracks does have three voices rather than a max of two, but since one of those is just a sub drone than blends with the chords of another voice, I’m letting myself get away with that. I figure I will probably release before Thanksgiving.

Speaking of which, we plan to visit my spouse’s parents at their new house for Thanksgiving, if we can arrange for dog sitting. We’re both a bit worried about traveling during the pandemic, and plan to avoid public spaces as much as we possibly can on the way. It’ll be nice to go do something though, spend some time with family and see my nephew and the new place.

Recent reads:

  • Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky was mostly great fun, with a few grim bits. A witch and a mad scientist whose lives are entangled wind up on opposite sides of a conflict over two horrible plans to save the world.
  • I gave up partway through The Book of Strange New Things. A Christian missionary is recruited by a megacorporation to minister to aliens on a dreary remote planet, after the previous pastor went missing. I found most of the characters tedious and/or unlikeable, and the mysteries not very compelling either to the reader or the characters experiencing them. Despite the title, it feels like a book that had its sense of wonder surgically removed.
  • I’m currently enjoying The City in the Middle of the Night (also by Charlie Jane Anders). Misfits living on a tidally locked planet on the border between the always-day side and the always-night side, with various culture clashes paralleling that same opposition. And most importantly, compelling characters.

I’ve also started watching Neon Genesis Evangelion and I am finally, 25 years after its original release, going to watch it all the way through. It’s on Netflix, so there are some unfortunate changes including the loss of “Fly Me to the Moon.” Now that I know that the original English subtitles weren’t quite so awkward, I can deal. If they had replaced “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” too, then I’d be annoyed.

Right now I’m listening to my previous album on a new pair of headphones: German Maestro GMP 8.35 D. I picked them up because they were very highly rated by those who’ve used them, and they’re closed-back style with fairly good isolation. That’ll be helpful when I need to concentrate on work or music making and need to block out other noise. While I can still hear, for instance, the sound of my own typing on a clicky mechanical keyboard, the ticking of the desk fan behind me, and cartoons that my spouse is watching, it does block quite a bit more than the semi-open HD 668Bs I have used for years.

In general I don’t like closed-back headphones as much — they feel more “boxy” and when there’s no music (especially when you first put them on), you can hear the rush of your own blood. But I found it really didn’t take long before music started sounding right in them. Comparing between the two pairs of headphones, I think the GMPs are either revealing more detail, or it’s just not getting lost in the low hum of fans. The frequency response is a bit different, but I will probably not wind up using corrective EQ, opting instead to listen to a lot of music for reference in both sets of headphones so I have a proper feel for them.

I write music with the assumption that my listeners will use headphones, but it’s probably a good idea to check with two kinds of headphones anyway (as well as the wireless earbuds I usually check with on my phone during the mastering stage).

I did go ahead and preorder a CVilization, after the matrix mixer video dropped and a couple of beta testers commented about how friendly and flexible it is to work with. And it shipped this morning, so there wasn’t a lot of “pre” in that order. I’m not going to sell off my AI008 until I know for sure I like CVil, but… I probably will.

I’ve put the Doepfer 256-stage BBD on my birthday/Christmas wish list. The new Mutable Instruments modules are planned for a 2020 release but may or may not make it due to production schedules, so I’m holding out for that. If it’s not a must-have, I have a few options to consider.

I’m still waiting for that DAFM Genesis synth to arrive. The last update from Correos (Spanish parcel post) was “Leaving the Exchange Office” on October 2, but from a quick check online these sorts of delays and/or a failure for USPS to show any tracking data isn’t unusual. If another week goes by I will write to the seller.

AO Themed Compilation 11: Mars

The 11th Ambient Online (I keep wanting to call it Anarchy Online) Themed Compilation has been released:

I have two songs on it: “Red Dust” and “Syrtis Major.”

Either I’m in just the right mood for it this morning, or this compilation seems like the best one so far. Maybe it was the extra time allotted for submissions, maybe just people were really feeling the theme for whatever reason — a lot of people had been talking about being inspired by classic sci-fi.

On a not very exciting side note, I also updated my home page so the albums are all just image links instead of Bandcamp embeds. Embeds are neat, but they were breaking, maybe because I had too many visible. Also, the compilation albums were picking one random artist name to show per album,, which is pretty dumb when you’ve got 40+ musicians on the thing.

“I think it would be a good idea”

An addendum to my modular planning:

u-he is a company that makes some pretty great plugins, and they announced a foray into Eurorack a couple of years back. CVilization is:

  • a 4×4 matrix mixer (with optional sample+hold & clock divider)
  • a sequencer/ sequential switch
  • a “Mucorder” (mutating CV recorder, something like a different take on the “x” side of Marbles)
  • a quad panner
  • quantization and clock divisions per channel on the first three modes.

The interface seems as clever and useable as is possible for something with so many different functions, and from reading the manual I expect the cheat sheet is mostly needed for occasional/rare config options.

In fact, the matrix mixer mode seems like it is probably more clear than my AI008. You deliberately select an input and then adjust its output routings, or you select an output and then adjust its input routings. It seems to me like this method reduces the impact of the “geometrical transform” issue the AI008 has.

So I could see replacing the AI008 with it, and then I’d also have another quantizer, which is something I was considering. And something else to complement Marbles, which is something else I was considering.

I do think I’ll wait for the other videos beyond the intro to make sure usability looks as clear as it seems from the manual, but chances are pretty good I will pick this up.

rosin up, and put on your speculation spectacles

Listening to Unfolding this morning, I was struck by how “strings-like” many of its voices are in general timbre, regardless of what was producing those sounds. I kind of wish I could take credit for brilliant imitative sound design, but honestly: I didn’t actively set out to imitate string ensembles. There’s just something that really works about that kind of sound though.

The basic formula for a synth string ensemble is fairly simple: sawtooth waves, preferably from a stack of detuned oscillators or a chorus effect later, with a lowpass filter to tame it a little, a sustained volume envelope, and typically some reverb. Playing chords helps with the illusion, as does vibrato. To get a little fancier, a fixed filter bank or physical modeling can be employed, or a modulated wavetable that adds a bit more motion. None of this will necessarily fool the ear into thinking it’s actual strings being vibrated by actual horsehair stretched across actual wood, but it can definitely put the sound of a string section in mind.

While I also approximated strings with the Hertz Donut, Lyra-8 and others — thanks mainly to generous chorus and reverb — most of the points on the album that sound most convincingly like a string section or a double bass were Ensemble Oscillator. It’s not really any wonder; the right shapes for it are easy to dial in, the self-FM can add just the right kind of growl and bite so you can practically hear the rosin gripping the strings, and it eats detuned chords for breakfast.

ENOSC of course can do pipe organs with embarrassing ease — so much that when you first try it, it feels difficult to avoid them. It can also go to all kinds of astonishing, unexpected places. You can tune it so its lowest oscillators drop down to LFO rate but set the spread so its highest sing soprano and are modulated by those LFOs. You can coax patterned static bursts and growly flutters and metallic resonant hums and all kinds of oddities.

I am leaning harder toward “I have plenty of oscillators” because the likes of ENOSC, Shapeshifter, and Akemie’s Castle are each just so much in themselves already. And there’s Kermit, Rings, Mimeophon, Angle Grinder, Zorlon, Phonogene, Clouds, Maths etc. to act as sources. And the Medusa, the Microfreak, and the incoming YM2612 synth. And software integrated with the modular.

Mutable Instruments announced a new revision of the Veils quad VCA last week, and also that there will be two more releases. It’s been more than strongly hinted that one of these is the successor to Clouds. The other — which sounds like it’s going to be another successor-with-a-new-name sort of thing — is unknown. So I’ll speculate baselessly!

Edges/Yarns: Edges was a quad chiptune-inspired oscillator, discontinued some time back. Yarns was a MIDI to CV converter that also could act as simple oscillators, discontinued recently due to relatively low sales (and a general decrease in demand for MIDI-CV converters). I could see some kind of quad oscillator with a minijack MIDI input as well as CV perhaps, but I wouldn’t rate it as highly likely.

Peaks: Arguably, this LFO/envelope generator/drum voice was supplanted by Stages as a much more powerful modulation source and Plaits as a more powerful percussion module. With plenty of more basic EG and LFO modules out there I can’t see a compelling reason for a more direct Peaks successor. So I’d rate this as even less likely.

Streams: It could be made non-modal, with a VCA/VCF balance and some integrated compression ability. Maybe not the strongest contender for a remake, but not impossible.

Branches/Grids: in a sense, Marbles does some of this. I honestly don’t have any experience with Grids, but it seems fairly robust already and there’s a lot of other competition out there for pattern sequencing stuff. It’s a possibility, though.

Rings/Elements: my wishful thinking here is that there’s room for another resonator in the Mutable lineup. Perhaps something that emphasizes the pure resonator aspect more, while offering new resonator models (perhaps a continuous morph between models) — or something that leans more to the bowed/breath side as opposed to Rings’ pluck/mallet. Not a “replacement” or “successor” to Rings so much as a complementary module. I can’t even guess if this is likely or just my own daydream though.

Warps: maybe? There are a lot of ways a revision could go and I don’t really have a clear vision of what that would be. I can tell you though, I would go for it.

Frames: I feel like it was a brilliant concept but it suffered somewhat in the implementation. If I were designing my own keyframe-based CV mapping module, it’d have an LCD display on it — but there are other ways in which the interface could be redesigned for clarity. It could also perhaps add individual CV inputs, making it (in some minor sense) a sort of fusion with Blinds, yet remaining at or below 18HP.

Regardless, my plan is now:

  • Continue to wait on the charity auction to see what else comes up.
  • Plan to pick up a Doepfer A-188-1y (256 stage BBD).
  • Reserve the remaining space for Mutable Instruments gear, at least until I see what that’s going to be. And if it’s not a must-have, don’t fill in that space with another oscillator, but consider other options.


I don’t want to write about the whole election/COVID/”president” thing right now or give it any more attention than it needs. I’ve voted. I don’t need to have dreams about this crap or wake up immediately wanting to know the current status of… things. Gah.

I have four recordings so far that might appear on the next album, and they suggest a theme by each having only one or two voices. I think I will continue in this vein. There are a couple of ways I could go with a title, but I’ll decide that when I get closer to a release.

I finished reading Harrow the Ninth and… whoo boy is it different from the first book in tone for the most part, and confusing for a while, which reflects the protagonist’s state. Excellent though. Such a unique setting for these books, and enjoyable characters. I look forward to the third book, and will have to start a new necromancer in Guild Wars 2, even though they’ll be nothing at all like Harrowhark and her rivals/comrades.

I’ve now color-coded my matrix mixer, and it does indeed provide a better visual cue to the inputs-knobs-outputs relationships, reducing the cognitive load when patching. Not quite as straightforward as having inputs in a vertical row and all jacks aligned with the knob matrix, but good enough!

I also received the Ana and Blinds, and sold the Shades. Ana is great as a waveshaper, as a general thing to plug multiple signals into and get a variety of other things out. Even with Shapeshifter’s multiple combination modes, plugging the 1 and 2 outputs into it, maybe with an envelope too, yields some fun variations. And Blinds is pretty much exactly as I expected; if it had bipolar/unipolar switches and maybe mute buttons/toggle switches it would be perfect, but it’s at about 94% as it is. But I’m going to hold onto the matrix mixer I think, as it seems a little more intuitive for feedback patching than Blinds.

I have my Starling VIA and its 4 faceplates up for sale now. META doesn’t sit entirely well with me due to its modes and unclear interface, SCANNER doesn’t fascinate me like it used to (and I have plenty of waveshaping options now that make more sense), OSC3 has some neat tricks but I crashed it a few too many times to want to rely on it, and SYNC3 is cool but I feel like I have enough tools that will cover its range of abilities.

That leaves up to 36 HP free (34 if I keep the blank next to FX Aid where it’s helping a bit with tight knob spacing). I’m waiting to see what happens with the charity auction, but here are some options I’m considering:

  • Pittsburgh DNA Symbiotic Waves. It’s an older digital oscillator that’s sort of a gritty and lo-fi proto-Cyclebox (which was the precursor to Shapeshifter). It’s a little limited in CV control and flexibility compared to more modern things but I can’t argue with the sound. Again I remind myself, I have plenty of oscillators to go around. But… it’s cool, and with a Rings and Via out, I could indulge this.
  • A real BBD. ValhallaDelay is nice but imitates a “clean-ish” guitar pedal with its filtering, lack of clock whine and inability to underclock to the point of aliasing. The Doepfer BBD I once had offered some delicious mangling opportunity, although I found 1024 stages was an awkward compromise between short resonator lengths and longer echo lengths, not great at either. I’m leaning toward a Doepfer 256-stage, which I could always patch into the feedback path of longer delays if I wanted longer times — but the Erica Pico BBD (4096 stage) has the appeal of being much smaller, a little cheaper, and letting me fit in more stuff.
  • 2hp Freez. I had one before, and while the actual freeze effect is not terribly exciting (Phonogene, Mimeophon, Purple Rain all can do it anyway), its sample reduction had a lovely character to it. This is pretty optional though, as there are some mighty tools in software to lo-fi-ize sounds.
  • A quantizer like Intellijel Scales, Sonic Potions Penrose etc. where individual notes in the scale have buttons, rather than dialing in a scale selection. I could keep using Marbles or Teletype, but the hands-on, instant setup appeals. The important thing here is, something sparser than a full scale seems to work nicer for quantization.

auction action

Luftrum’s 10th annual music industry charity auction is now underway. This time the proceeds go to MusiCares COVID-19 relief.

This one’s just getting started, and it typically takes a couple of weeks to really get rocking. But last year’s auction raised $31,075 for the World Wildlife Fund to help protect rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia. Dozens of plugin and sample library developers and some notable hardware manufacturers contributed a lot of cool stuff to the effort. If you happen to be a maker and seller of music gear, please follow the link and click on “Contact Organizer” to join in.

4 years ago, this auction is what started me in modular synthesis with Mutable Instruments Rings (and a quick purchase of Tides and Peaks to go with it). So it’s like passing a personal milestone when it comes up each year. In subsequent years I’ve seen a couple of others buying their first modules and growing into modular synth buffs.

And if some tempting modular goodies make an appearance, I’ve got 24HP of free space now with no specific plans. As it turns out, what I’ve actually used my Disting EX for in recordings has mainly been crossfading and ring modulation. Mutable Instruments Blinds, which I was already considering as a replacement/consolidation for the AI008 Matrix Mixer and one of my two Shades, can do those things. The Disting sold very quickly, since demand is still higher than production and shipping speeds can handle, and I ordered the Blinds.

I’m holding onto AI008 for now because I’m still waiting on that pinstripe tape to try color-coding it. Could be the available space will expand to 32HP though.

I also decided I don’t need two Rings anymore — the combination of Mimeophon, FX Aid, E520, Shelves, and a mixer are quite potent for resonator purposes. But I’ll always keep one Rings to rule them all. 😀 The spare one also happened to go quickly, traded for a Mystic Circuits Ana, which handles some of the other things I used Disting for occasionally plus a few other fun tricks.

And now, it’s book review time! Only in my usual style of “I read this and I liked it” because being critical is a lot of work and I read for fun.

I had this pair on my wishlist for a while, but borrowed electronically from my local library. A fun, mostly lighthearted fantasy thing that borrows more than a little from D&D monster manuals and surprisingly a lot from rock & roll. There is a wizard named Moog. In the first book, old crusty mercs “get the band back together” to save one of their daughters (and in the process, a city, and the world); the second was said daughter wrapping up her own adventuring career.

I’ve just finished the first of these, and it was brilliant. It’s kind of equal parts fantasy and horror but in a science fiction setting; the writing style and characters are hilariously snarky while the subject matter is as grim and creepy and moody as you’d expect from a story about space necromancers.

The setting is creatively different, mysterious and, well, cryptic — I kind of get a Gene Wolfe vibe from it without the pretentiousness. The characters are the best though. Some of the language is very much present-day slang (e.g. “I couldn’t have noped harder”) but it completely works to convey the kind of attitude the main characters have. These are books that I might want my own copy of, depending on whether I feel like the second one is as strong as the first.