Make Noise announced their new piece of gear today, the Strega. It’s in the same form factor as the 0-Coast and 0-Ctrl, and was developed with musician Alessandro Cortini (who is associated with Nine Inch Nails but has quite an impressive catalog of his own solo instrumental work on modular synthesizers).

Mr. Cortini was interviewed by Sonic State and also played a couple of live sets on Instagram with it. It’s a lovely analog synthesizer with a noisy “karaoke delay” (probably the PT2399) on the back end. There are a lot of PT2399s out there, including in the Lyra-8, but this one also has a filter, reportedly three delay lines (assuming that’s for longer delay times but possibly other shenanigans) and seems modulation-friendly. The instrument also has some touchplates to temporarily connect modulation sources with destinations, and we haven’t gotten details yet about the waveshaping or whatever else is going on with its oscillator, but some great textures were emerging from those demos.

This honestly feels like it was aimed right at my heart (and my wallet). It’d fit in great with the music that I make. After the first demo and interview I had mixed feelings, but my resolution to stick with my current gear in 2021 is a guiding principle here. I can get some similar, though not identical, sounds with the gear I have and there is no lack of inspiration to be found there.

The second demo convinced me that I would really enjoy one of these.

I’m going to be firm though. I might figure out where to put one in 2022, but I’ll worry about that when the time comes.

Gretta is recovering nicely from her surgery — getting onto and off of furniture and up and down steps without assistance. She even trotted through the snow a little this afternoon, which was really encouraging to see!

released: The Sky Above The Port

New album release!

The first recording was made on November 22, so really the amount of time I’ve spent putting this album together hasn’t been that much, but it still feels like it’s been a journey. There were a couple of tracks I recorded that just didn’t work at all, as I pushed beyond boundaries where I just don’t have much artistic confidence and the results were not great. There were a couple others whose inclusion I debated, and then finally dropped one and kept the other at nearly the last minute. I had to adjust my headspace a few times to work on this project after doing other things. I spent more time than usual on the patch notes/commentary, trying to decide how much or how little I wanted to quote from or comment on Neuromancer and the cyberpunk genre in general.

But I am pleased with the finished product, and as happy to release it into the wild as I am to move along to the next project.

Our older dog Gretta had her surgery Thursday, and has been resting and recovering. When she wants to, she can stand up and walk on her own and even made it up the stairs back inside the house without being carried. She’s had some interest in at least a little food, too. Mostly she just wants to rest, with one of us nearby as a comforting presence.

Today I finished reading Musimathics Volume 2. Compared to Volume 1, it is much more relevant to music synthesis, especially digital. But the math is, by my standards, brutal — complex numbers and a lightning-fast introduction to calculus — and I wound up just skimming over a lot of it. There was still quite a bit of revelation though about how certain things work and are connected.

I don’t know if any of it will translate to actual practice, or synthesis experiments. The main lesson I took from Dr. John Chowning’s talk at KnobCon in 2019 was to try using a spectrum analyzer a bit more, but I haven’t really made it a habit. Much of the same material was presented in this book in a briefer form (and without the live audio examples) in its section on FM.

The book does make me wonder why there aren’t more modules out there to let people experiment with waveguide synthesis. Simple Karplus-Strong is okay, but having scattering junctions — simple bipolar mixers — would allow for modeling plucking or bowing in the middle of a string with two ends, and all the reflection and radiation of sound waves that happens. I suppose Rings, Plonk and Surface do this in a closed system (though Rings does have an input, which is a big deal), but I’d like to see a module designed for experimenting with it. Just using Mimeophon allows me to have a terminated string, but the impulses go into one end and radiate from both ends, rather than being able to pluck the string in the center. So it’s a little off, but still useful.

Also I feel inspired to play more with distortion synthesis, though probably a lot of that will be in Bitwig Grid as I’ve done already. The many kinds of shapers and phase distortion modules, and the wavetable oscillator are all good for that.

Unrelated to the book, I might reinstall FM-8 and start using more clean FM patches in my music. If it weren’t for my 2021 pledge I would consider trading the Kasser DAFM synth for an Elektron Model: Cycles, a Volca FM or even the new Korg OpSix, but software might honestly be just as practical and I might still want that noisy YM2612 anyway, so I’m glad I have the brakes on.

The other thing I finished reading today was Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. If that sounds a bit familiar, there was a widely circulated article a few years ago. This is a greatly expanded discussion of the phenomenon, the causes, the likely political two-way feedback and a potential fix (UBI).

One reason why bullshit jobs are tolerated — rather than automation and efficiency allowing us to have a 15-hour workweek or most people being able to lead lives of leisure and independent projects, as was predicted in the early-mid 20th century — is a culture where working, though widely hated, is also considered necessary to be a full, functional human being. Behind this work ethic (and disdain for the unemployed poor and living “on the dole”) is the idea that work is punishment, but punishment is good for you.

I also watched Donny Darko today. I’ve seen occasional references to it online, and there are samples from in it a few songs, but I’d just kind of skipped over it until now. It’s 20 years old now.

People have said it tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it movie, but I thought it was entertainingish and not necessarily brilliant and thought-provoking. It’s got its funny bits, but some don’t really hold up in 2021 that well I think. But at least now I get the references.


I’ve been “almost done” with the cyberpunk album for quite some time, and I’ve probably recorded 4-5 tracks since then. But I think I am finally ready to move on to mastering, and finishing the artwork that I started.

I already have a thought about what I might work on next. I’ve done “studies” (more or less) of Rings, Akemie’s Castle and the Lyra-8; this would be a study of… a particular eagerly anticipated module that has been in beta for quite some time. A very versatile module which I know is capable of more than I have used it for, and the point is not just to demonstrate it but to advance my own mastery of it.

Yesterday, Arturia released a firmware update for the Microfreak. It includes three new oscillator types created by Noise Engineering — “Bass” based on an Electronotes circuit, “SawX” based on the Manis Iteritas, and “Harm” very loosely based on the Basimilus Iteritas. The lineage of SawX is pretty obvious to me but none of them really feel like NE modules in a keyboard any more than the original oscillator types felt like Mutable Instruments Plaits in a keyboard — the context makes them different. In particular, SawX doesn’t sound as crushingly heavy as Manis — but it is very good and works well with the Microfreak.

Along with some other changes that don’t concern me much, the update also added a Unison mode, layering 2, 3 or 4 oscillators and allowing them to be detuned up to an octave relative to each other. This allows for not just typical “supersaw” stuff (already possible with a couple of oscillator types) but some truly scary inharmonic drone clusters. I love it!

I still have not heard back from Doepfer about the possibly defective A-110-4. I know they took a holiday, but this should be the 5th day they’ve been back from that. Are they really that swamped with email, or did all email from that time just get pitched and I’ll have to ask again? How long should I wait to send another? Hmmph.

I’ve decided that if the A-110-4 is defective and they advise me to return it, I’ll get a Manis Iteritas instead (and not count that against my “no changes” goals). Some great, doomy music from a couple of Instagrammers I follow that uses it has made me miss mine, and I feel like SawX is more different from Manis than the A-110-4 is from other FM options I have.

Recent/current reading has been:

The rest of Thinking, Fast and Slow: after a while it seemed to drag as the major interesting points had already been made by the time the book was half done, and it got increasingly repetitive. But the first half was pretty interesting, showing just how much we shortcut mental effort in ways that bias our decisions and beliefs… including biases that bias us against recognizing our own biases.

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory: a study of jobs where the employees know that they perform little to no useful work. “Duct tapers” is one of the categories — people whose job it is to do some nearly mindless task that only exists because of a problem that could easily be fixed. My first job involved a lot of that: for instance, hours spent manually turning a plastic gear to advance the ribbon on an old printer because the boss wouldn’t buy a replacement motor; clearing frequent jams in an envelope printer because they stored the envelopes in a humid warehouse; doing manual data entry from an address list that a customer printed from their database because they didn’t trust us with a floppy disk with the data and our OCR software couldn’t read their font.

That was also arguably a “second-order bullshit job” because the company itself did something of no real value to society: pre-sort, address, and drop off bulk junk mail at the post office.

The Order of Time: a rather poetic book about the science of time in physics, from the major proponent of loop quantum gravity theory. Every so often, there’s a book or article about how weird time is, either due to relatively or subjective perception or other reasons. There are no things, this book says, only events; time is not as serial, universal or “real” as we tend to believe, and it emerges as a phenomenon entirely from entropy — the most fundamental equations of the universe do not have time as a variable. And entropy itself is probably relative in some way…. honestly this book is not what I would call clear and illuminating. But the main point is to illustrate that the subject itself is not clear — and in fact, the “blurriness” of perception is a major feature of both how the universe works and how we perceive it.


When I was a kid, we had this board game that I barely remember. It was science fiction themed. At the center was this black plastic thing — a tower, in my memory — with a spinner and a small flashlight bulb. The spinner had a nice mechanical feel and made a satisfying thunk as it moved, and thanks to some kind of spring arrangement, always landed in one of a few directions. When it stopped, a light would flash a few times from a window at the base of the tower. I loved fidgeting with this thing.

The game pieces to move around the board were translucent, brightly colored spaceships with “pods” that stacked on top. They would catch the light from the central tower dramatically, letting you know you’ve been hit.

Several times over the last few years I’ve searched online to figure out what this game was called, and I kept failing. It’s not Dark Tower, which was something different — a fantasy game, recently reissued via a Kickstarter campaign, that used a more sophisticated (by 1981 standards) electronic tower to drive gameplay.

Last night I finally found it, by going through the entire list at boardgamegeek.com.

Now that I know, I’m not actually all that keen to find a copy of it. The Dreaded Enemy Laser and the not-really-fluorescent spaceships were much cooler in late 70s childhood memory than in 2021 reality. Although I suppose if there’s a fancy reissue like there was for Dark Tower, I might consider it.

as if it were just an arbitrary way to measure time

In ancient Egyptian religion, the year is 360 days long — a number that can be factored very nicely. In between years there are 5 or 6 days, each the festival of a particular god, which are a bit chaotic but also holy and celebratory. And then, the new year is like hitting the reset button on a cycle. Everything starts fresh, the slate is wiped clean.

Though in Egypt this happened in summer with the flooding of the Nile and now we celebrate (very approximately) the winter solstice, we still have a weaker version of this idea. Christmas/Hannukah kicks off a sort of in-between-time where school’s out and a lot of people take vacations, have parties, gather with family etc. and then January 1 is supposed to be a kind of reboot, where some people try to live more healthily and so on.

We really needed this for 2020. Close all the programs, install updates, and reboot without any of that old crud in RAM.

But we still have COVID-19, and we still have Trump for the first 3 weeks. January 6 was a stark demonstration of that.

What a weird day. With my health insurance deductible resetting, I paid a $664 copay (after a $200 coupon) for a month’s worth of one of my meds. The Georgia election results were sufficiently counted to declare victory for both Democrats and break Mitch McTurtle’s stranglehold over the Senate. And then of course… the riot, or coup attempt, or terrorist action or whatever it should be called. (Not “protest” though; I will at least make that argument.)

I could say a few things about that event, but I would rather not dwell on it personally. It could have been much more tragic and shocking and had much worse repercussions. It also could have been mitigated much better than it was, and it should have been avoided completely.

The other event of that fateful day was more personal. I took our sweet old dog Gretta to the vet, because she’s been limping and avoiding putting weight on her front left leg, although not actually showing signs of pain when the leg was handled. She even seemed to want us to massage it. The vet thought at first what we did — that it was arthritis or some other kind of soft tissue injury — but an x-ray showed severe bone damage due to cancer. She has to have the leg amputated, and the soonest that can be done is in two weeks. After that, she’s likely to go on some kind of chemo treatment because osteosarcoma is aggressive. Even though nothing showed up on a chest x-ray or in bloodwork, it’s likely there are cancer cells throughout her system. From everything I’ve heard, dogs adapt really well to having a limb amputated and her quality of life should be much better afterward. I hope so, and that whatever time she has remaining with us is free of pain and suffering.

After a little rethinking about what to include in the new album, I believe I have just one more track to go. Finding the motivation to record it has been a little challenging given those events, though.

Patch: The Card Game, announced a little before the holidays, is designed to be played with a modular synth. Each card gives you instructions on either how the patch should be constructed initially (“Abstraction”), or modified (“Progression” and “Disruption”). It’s meant to be a creative nudge, getting you to think of new ways to patch and arrive at places you wouldn’t normally.

I wasn’t sure it was for me, but after watching a couple of videos of experienced musicians playing it, I thought the results were pretty neat. You do have to find a balance between your own judgement/autonomy and just following what the cards (and dice/coins/etc.) say.

Well, my first experiments with it this morning were mixed. The start was promising, followed by the patch immediately getting clobbered by Disruption cards. Sometimes it will just not survive “choose a module and unpatch it” or “for every connection, flip a coin and unpatch if heads.” Maybe I need to build up more complex patches first, or would be better off exploring alternate ways to play — there are a few suggestions for variants on the website, and it is pretty open-ended. Or just stop with the cards as soon as I hear something that inspires me, which might be pretty close to immediately.

This deck was developed by James Cigler with art by Nathan Moody, both of whom have been helpful and inspiring, so I’m happy to have supported them even if I don’t personally wind up getting a lot out of the deck.

I’m about halfway through reading Thinking, Fast and Slow. I put it on my wishlist a few years ago and my sister-in-law gave it to me for Christmas. The general idea is that people can be thought of us having two cognitive systems. The first one evaluates situations continuously and rapidly, alerts us to sudden change or danger, makes snap judgements, is associated with emotion, and operates at a low energy level. The second requires more effort (literally burning more calories), is slower but more rational, and is associated with self-control. The two feed each others’ calculations, but overall we are “designed” to be energy-efficient aka lazy, and tend to go with the intuitive answer, resisting more strenuous thought.

This is the basis behind a lot of cognitive biases and errors we have. We tend to make judgements with available information even if it’s inadequate or irrelevant. If a question is hard, we answer the wrong, related question instead. We search for, or invent, associations and narratives rather than crediting luck and statistical factors. Even statisticians are bad at this, and expert opinions based on individual evaluations are usually worse than a simple statistical algorithm. And we want to believe our first instinct, often even if we know that there’s a visual or cognitive illusion at work.

In other words… people can be rational but mostly aren’t. Not really a surprise I suppose, but in the author’s career he’s found many shocking examples of just how egregious this gets.