still afloat

There is a potentially cool, big, positive thing in the works for me, about which I’ll celebrate and explain if it happens.

But the process has been both exciting and stressful (sometimes it’s hard to untangle those two emotions!) There’s the ordinary social anxiety stuff, but more so, irrational worries of the sort where I know they’re irrational, but knowing is only about 20% of the battle.

Add that to the early 2021 background level of stress. And a problem where water was dripping from the first floor ceiling below the second floor bathroom, as the crazy weather started to thaw… was it a frozen pipe, leaking toilet or roof problem? (At this point it’s either a roof problem or ghosts.) And a mysteriously appearing magazine subscription buried in three layers of obscure companies with no web presence, which I think turned out not to be a scam maybe. And an Android update that broke four different things on my phone (some of which interfered with each other). All together, it’s been kind of a lot.

No full-blown panic attacks, thankfully! Those have a distinct feel to them, and I haven’t had one since about this time last year when COVID was getting really scary but I still had to physically go to the office.

To get to the point: there are certain albums that I find very soothing when things get overwhelming, and my own Float is one of them. It was intended for that purpose, and I’m happy to say that it works. Given that I’ve decided not to pursue the Beads study as an album but as a personal set of experiments, I think the next project will be a sort of sequel to Float. I think I’ll call it “Adrift,” because other connotations of the word fit how things have felt so far this year.

Calming music does not have to be boring. In fact, I find some kinds of boring music cause stress because you want it to stop! Some people listen to death metal, industrial, or HNW to relax — maybe it’s cathartic, or maybe the solid impact of it just drives away everything else, like standing under a waterfall. Other people prefer really thinky intricate jazz, or more soulful heartfelt blues, or old favorite pop from their youth, to untie the knots in their nerves. Whatever works! I’m still basically going for “dark” “ambient” here though with this.

because it’s Mardi Gras

Mutable Instruments Beads was released today, and I can finally stop being cautious about taking photos of my modular, and stop putting “[beta module]” or just “Clouds” in my patch notes. 🙂

I’m having second thoughts about my current project to explore it — I think it’s doing me some good to think about and discover other techniques and patches with it, but so far I’m not producing particularly musical results, just experimental ones. So it doesn’t really make much sense to release it as an album. Besides, as wildly popular as this is going to be, and as many demos have already appeared for it, I don’t think it needs something else that is also kind of a demo.

So I’ll probably just get back to making music the normal way (with occasional explorations interspersed, for my own benefit) and stumble into a theme accidentally, as so often happens 🙂 I do have another Ambient Online compilation piece to record, as well as that invitation from the Sonic Sound Synthesis show to consider.

good news, everyone

Our Gretta does not, it turns out, have cancer! Which came as a big surprise to the four vets who looked at her x-ray and said “that’s osteosarcoma.” And to the first oncologist who ran the biopsy and couldn’t quite believe that it came back negative, and sent it to a second oncologist.

As it turns out, they believe our doggo had a fracture sometime in her past that healed up wrong, without giving her any trouble running around normally — and then more recently, fractured again worse and was an untenable mess. The vet who did the surgery she said that if we’d chosen to do a bone biopsy first, she would still have recommended amputation, given the state it was in and Gretta’s age. So basically she got to get it all over with faster and with less stress on her body.

My parents have now had both their COVID-19 vaccines, so that’s a relief. My brother and his wife, both grocery workers, are waiting for theirs and I hope they can get them soon. My “aunt” (really a family friend, but like a sister to my mom) is apparently afraid of it because she’s had some bad reactions to flu shots in the past (and of course, the disinformation out there doesn’t help at all) but promises to ask her doctor. And as for my wife and I, well… the vaccine situation has been Extremely Not Great in the St. Louis area; last I’ve heard there have been zero doses sent by the state in the last three weeks. I’m signed up on three different pre-registration lists. I’ve also read news that Walmart is taking appointments, but I checked and they’re not doing it in our area, at least not yet.

We’ve been “enjoying” ( ಠ_ಠ ) real winter weather lately, with temperatures in single digits, snow flurries or light ice most days, and quite possibly a wind chill of -25F to look forward to this weekend. One advantage of not leaving the house very much is I’ve not once broken out the heavy coat, gloves, snow boots, and such and done very little driving in questionable road conditions.

We watched all four seasons of The Good Place over the course of 3-4 days, and it was great fun. We both agree that Janet is the best. The next time I have some excuse to hand someone a cactus I’m going to say, “I have the file.” It might be a while though.

I’ve just finished Charles Stross’s Empire Games and Dark State and am eager to jump into Invisible Sun. This is the second series in the Merchant Princes setting. Where the Laundry Files are a crossover of horror/SF/comedy/spy thriller, this setting is more fantasy/SF/alternate history/political thriller/spies. And these two books start pretty heavily into the spies and land on all fours in science fiction.

I forgot to add a title here

More demos and interviews about the Make Noise Strega have come forth, and I’m more convinced than ever I would really love one if I had it in my studio. And… at least for now I am sticking to my resolution and not buying it. If there is a golden opportunity to pick one up at a steep discount, I might not resist. But I don’t expect that for a while anyway.

MetaFilter has shared a couple of good posts lately on the subject of the attention economy and its titans:

Goodbye 2010s: techno-optimism edition

Though yes, the article does have some optimism for the future, it also points out a possible double-whammy explanation for why everything is terrible now: the combination of zero interest rate policy and algorithmic social media.

I don’t entirely follow the finance argument on its own, but combine that with the ability for someone who already has media attention to exponentially inflate their personal brand through fraud and assholery, which makes investors willing to shovel piles of cash at them because of their fame, and you get Kylie Jenner, Elon Musk and Donald Trump. It makes a certain amount of sense.

I mentioned the article to my spouse and she pointed out the writer’s strike of 2007-2008 and the spawning of reality TV. Without “The Apprentice,” I don’t think Trump would have had nearly as much of a personal brand in the public consciousness, and “creepy old rich guy with no taste thinks Obama isn’t actually an American” might have been good for two minutes of laughter followed by instantly forgetting about it. Of course, Twitter’s algorithm did go on to boost the horribleness. So the whole “running for President to build his personal brand” thing wouldn’t have happened.


On a more down to earth level, the attention economy was predicted in the 80s, before the internet was really even a thing to people not wearing lab coats.

As I said in my first blog entry here, I’ve quit Facebook. But I only recently had an epiphany about Instagram: trying to “train” the algorithm that suggests posts or shows a bunch of stuff on the search page, is worse than futile. Marking things “I am not interested in this” only informs the algorithm that I noticed the thing in question. While breaking my habit of checking my feed frequently might be hard, I should have an easier time just sticking strictly to the accounts that I actually follow.

And speaking of attention theft: any game that sends notifications on my phone to remind me to play it every few hours gets IMMEDIATELY deleted.

I wish I could preemptively block all requests to review products or services, too. Every single thing I buy online, every time I go to the dentist even. I get FOUR surveys each time I take my car in for warranty service.

Anyone who texts me and isn’t family or an unavoidable, legitimate business thing (like “your Grubhub driver is arriving soon”) gets blocked. Again, I wish that could be done preemptively.

Robocalls are the worst. There was a day when I received 15 phone calls from 15 different unidentified phone numbers, all of them leaving identity theft scam voicemail. I finally paid for the Hiya app so I could block a range of numbers. (So if you’re from Bangladesh and have a legitimate reason to call me, sorry.) I’m also constantly getting texts and phone calls from people offering to buy my house, which I have never indicated any interest in to anyone ever; of course may also be total scams as well. I am on the national Do Not Call registry and it doesn’t seem to help at all. I kind of want to ditch my current phone number, give it only to family members and my doctor’s office and bank, and see how that feels.

I use ad blockers in my browser without any sense of guilt whatsoever. Basing “free” websites on advertising revenue has led to surveillance capitalism and greatly worsened this attention economy. I feel like this is another thing that a universal basic income could help out with a lot actually — allowing “content creators” (*) to do their thing without begging for support.

(*) ugh. Can we say artists, entertainers, journalists and teachers here instead? Because good “content” is art, entertainment and/or knowledge, not just grist for the money mill.

Anyway, enough on this, I’m just ranting and making myself unhappy.


I’ve re-read Curtis Roads’ Microsound, which as far as I know is the absolute definitive book on granular synthesis. Roads wasn’t exactly the inventor of the concept, but much of his career has been spent in research and exploration of it, developing granular synthesis software and techniques and music. He is very much into different time scales of musical composition, from the tiniest grains of sound to “mesoscale” musical phrases and structure, and especially takes interest in the vague area where rhythm becomes tone.

Of course I read it for some inspiration and insight into the new project I’ve started. My approach is much less academic and formal, but then, I live in an era where I can pump some audio through a module or a plugin or a pedal. His research began in the days where digital synthesis meant an unfriendly programming language on a stack of punch cards, running a job overnight on the university computer to produce a spool of data tape that had to be carried across town to another university’s computer in an oceanography lab to convert the data to analog signals and record them on audio tape. (I seem to recall a story that John Chowning, the discoverer of FM synthesis, had to build his own digital-to-analog converter because Stanford didn’t own one.)

Roads developed a lot of non-sample-based techniques where grains contained generated waveforms or pulse trains. In a sense, it’s just playing thousands of very short notes very quickly until they blur together and become something else, preferably with some higher level organization on a more typical “notes” time scale. But all of that layering and amplitude modulation has consequences on timbre, and all of those rapid events are blurred together by human perception, so the result can be pretty fascinating. Although I have to say, some of them are more interesting in theory than in practice, compared to other synthesis techniques.

Musicians have generally latched much more onto granularization — sampling audio and then using that as the basis to generate grains through playing back short snippets in layers. That allows nearly total transformation of the sound in some aspects, while perhaps keeping other aspects. Stretching a sample in length without changing its pitch. Or repitching without changing the tempo. Or reversing it, or giving it a growly character, or blurring it in time into something more reverb-like, or modulating the time and pitch into something liquid and flowing, or turning it into a scintillating pointillist cloud. Or cutting it into such small pieces that it changes the spectral content entirely. Or, since the technology is basically the same, cutting it apart on a slightly larger scale and chopping up the rhythm.

My first couple of recordings for this album are pretty raw and experimental, directly revealing what this module is doing, without any other accompaniment or added effects, and with detailed patch notes. In both of them, there are varieties of textures created by changing parameters in a relatively simple patch.

I don’t know if the whole album is going to be like this, or if I’m going to intersperse these sorts of examples between more musical works that still feature granular techniques in some way (more like what I did with Rings, Lyra-8 and Akemie’s Castle on three previous albums).