It was three weeks ago that Gearslutz changed its name to Gearspace and I wrote:

Your move,

Yesterday, the name was officially changed!

And not only that, they’re working on codifying standards for member conduct as well as moderator conduct and accountability. So hopefully it will continue to be a useful, helpful resource while losing the middle school boys’ locker room odor that has occasionally arisen to make it a less than welcoming experience for all.

If they can get their merch store prices figured out rather than charging “worst case shipping cost prices” like they have set right now, I might even buy a mug and stickers or something in support.

strangish things

My dentist replaced an old cracked filling yesterday. Silver fillings are supposed to last for “20, 30, 50 years” and this one was on the younger end of that span, but oh well.

The weird thing though is my tongue is still all tingly and weird after 24 hours. Das Internet says this is “very rare” and usually associated with wisdom tooth extraction. One likely possibility is the anesthetic needle came into contact with or penetrated the nerve that connects the tongue to the mouth. Another is inflammation. Either way it should clear up in a couple of weeks.

(It’s also a possible sign of a stroke, but, come on, I just had half my face numbed to oblivion on purpose and some basic dental surgery.)

The other bit of weirdness today is, on April 20, after some nice 70+ degree days, it’s snowing moderately heavily here in St. Louis — and it’ll be below freezing tonight. This breaks a record set in 1986 for late wintry weather.

I’m pretty satisfied with the Xaoc Katowice… even if I had no idea how to pronounce it until just now. (More or less “kat-o-VEET-seh” (almost like “pizza”) if this guide is correct, which is more plausible than my first guess of “KAT-o-weese” (like “geese.”))

There are multiple uses:

  • Almost a sort of typical lowpass, bandpass and highpass filter simultaneously, on separate outputs. It’s not resonant but it’s a full 24dB/oct slope. And stereo.
  • A mix of those, so you can do notch filtering or low/high shelf stuff. The mix levels are under CV control, so you can modulate the frequency while also modulating relative levels, which can lend some accents to what would otherwise be a more basic filter envelope.
  • Band separation, for additional processing and then optional mixing back together… more on that below.
  • With the three levels maxed and a narrow width, modulating the mid frequency gives some nice phasing effects which can be a little subtle or drunkenly wobbly depending on how far and how fast it’s done.
  • Audio rate modulation — of frequency (and thus phase, or filter FM) or of width or amplitudes are all possible of course. I haven’t even gotten into feedback or self-patching much yet.

On the mixing front, After Later 3:1 does what it’s supposed to — but I don’t think I like it very much. Cramming 6 or 8 patch cables into one 2HP module makes for a pretty crowded area! I am contemplating alternatives. I don’t want to take up too much of the remaining space, when I handle most routing/mixing in the DAW — nor do I want to use 6 of my 12 inputs for a single voice after splitting with Katowice. I will probably keep 3:1 as a compromise, unless there’s a stereo mixer that can add useful functionality to my setup without taking up too much space.

titanic madness

We’ve been rewatching all the MCU movies in chronological order. From the start, I semi-dreaded getting to Infinity War and its stupid, ridiculous villain and its bumbling, completely-off-their-game heroes, and ultimately, a crushing and emotionally devastating defeat that we all knew had to be reversed somehow in the sequel. And stupid Vormir (with its stupid ghost of stupid Red Skull) and its stupid “sacrifice” which was not all credible in this movie and deeply unfair and painful in the next. Overall, most of the MCU movies are thrilling, entertaining, and sometimes hilarious, but aside from a few laughs and a few small triumphs (which then feel like they didn’t matter…) this one just pissed me off overall.

In the comics, Thanos wanted to kill half the universe to impress Death because he was in love with her. (This storyline was even hinted at in one of the end-credits scenes, where a Chitauri said “to attack Earth is to court death” and Thanos’ eyes lit up.) It’s crazy, and kind of dumb, but here’s the thing: it was acknowledged as crazy and dumb.

In the movie, he wants to kill half the universe so that the other half has enough resources not to starve. People just sort of accept that and even relate to it as if it were good intentions gone very wrong, as if it somehow compares to Killmonger’s rage over racial injustice and oppression in Black Panther.

Here’s why it’s stupid.

  • If you have all those infinity stones, you could solve the problem so many other ways. Create more resources! Change life so that it requires less! Whatever!
  • It’s not even a universal problem. There are, presumably, planets where nobody is starving or struggling. There are, no doubt, planets and colonies where killing half the population would cause collapse and probable starvation.
  • Starvation on a civilized world is almost certainly not a simple “too many consumers, not enough resources” problem, but one of inequitable distribution and poor resource management. (On a more primitive one it’s probably more a matter of ability to extract those resources.)
  • Killing half the population without regard to economic status seems like it would be far less effective than specifically targeting the rich, who consume more than their share.
  • Population is not a static number. On Earth, the human population doubled from about 1925 to 1971, and doubled again from 1971 to 2020. Thanos is something like 1100 years old, right? You’d think he would have some perspective here.
  • Which species get killed and which ones are “resources” themselves? Often the movie states it as “half of all life” and yet we don’t see trees, shrubs, grass, or any animals getting dusted, only humans. What of other apex predators? What about invasive species? What about the sort of livestock that put a strain on other resources while being resources themselves?

There are no doubt more, but this is what I came up with in half an hour or so this morning. The writers really should have stuck with the original motivation for Thanos — with no actual personification of Death for him to impress, just his own belief. (Or maybe he confused Hela with Death, and Thor could catch him up on events from the Ragnarok movie…)

under the influence

As it does every so often, the topic of “influencers” or “synthfluencers” has come up on forums again.

I’m not interested in ranting about the unbalanced level of resentment that some people have over it — instead I want to consider actual influence. And that’s personal.

When I was a child, my dad had eclectic tastes in music and I picked up on them. Isao Tomita, Wendy Carlos, Synergy, the Beach Boys with that sweet Tannerin solo on “Good Vibrations,” Pink Floyd, the Alan Parsons Project with some very clever production tricks (and solid funk, and of course vocoders were awesome to a kid who loved robots and space). Really Tomita was the big one for me though, and I appreciated his sound design and aesthetic sense more and more as I grew up and started to find my own favorite musics. Dad has never been a musician, but Mom played the piano a bit, and both encouraged me.

I should also add that Dad encouraged an interest in electronics and how things worked, and also his job with a chain of video arcades exposed me to a lot of games and some sense of how they worked on the inside. Mom as a computer programmer did all kinds of mysterious magic with big cool machines. So it’s not really a surprise that I wound up as a programmer, in the video game industry for quite a while, and of course computers are a little bit important in electronic music.

Some credit to my brother too: though much more of a visual artist, he had some interest in synths too and is the one who introduced me to FL Studio and VST plugins originally. And while I’m on family and out of chronological order, my spouse has been supportive and tolerant of my weird noises and weirder devices. 🙂

I had a fantastic music teacher in elementary school, Helene Malpede, who later was my violin teacher. I strongly suspect that the joy she shared in music and the emphasis that everyone can be involved in music in some way, really made a difference.

In middle school, as a science project I tried to build a TI talking clock chip-based speech synthesizer and interface it with a Commodore 64. It was only partially successful, and unstable in fun ways and I wish I still had it (“elevennn.nn.nn.nn.nn.nn.nn.nn.nn EIGHT oh”). My science teacher at the time gave me an old oscilloscope of his, hoping it would inspire me further. I hooked it up to the 8-track tape player and watched Tomita’s waveforms dancing across the old round tube, in rapt fascination. So I think it inspired me more musically than to go further in electronics.

I started on the violin in middle school, and while it can certainly be a frustrating and difficult instrument, there was joy when things came together. The sense of control and expression… I know electronic musicians often talk about a collaboration with the machine, but even with acoustic instruments there is a similar feeling. And playing in an ensemble, there’s also satisfaction when the group is tight and creates something greater than the sum of its parts. So, I might add the conductors and instructors who taught me, quirky as they each were (and in many cases, biased against electronic music or anything outside their own comfort zone).

I also joined the high school jazz ensemble — starting from a position of not really being able to play the piano, and ending in a position of barely being able to play it and not very well. But I learned some comfort with improvisation and rhythmic complexity, and had an amazing almost out-of-body experience at one show with a wild solo that stunned the rest of the band. As it happens, the group was directed by the same teacher who’d conducted the middle school orchestra, so he gets some extra credit.

The time I spent in the Society for Creative Anachronism, and then more so, the House of Netjer Kemetic Orthodox Church, led me to appreciate hand drums and get a bit into bellydance music. And I also enjoyed other folk music from around the world with “unusual” and complex rhythms. A lot of my own pre-Starthief music was heavily influenced by those rhythms and timbres, and even though I’m so much into drone and use very little of a percussive nature now, I still love an asymmetrical rhythm and they do creep in at times. I also think the trance-inducing nature of some rhythmic music has an influence.

The House was also the impetus for actually releasing music. I first decided to make some music to honor a few of the major gods for a holiday, and then just kept going, and shifted gears to other purposes, and then I was just making music for the love of making music. So, the encouragement I received through my religion was a very big deal.

And back to rhythm: there was St. Louis Osuwa Taiko. I loved seeing them perform, because it seemed so full of ferocious joy, and friends convinced me that I should go ahead and join their beginners’ group. I went on to audition for the performing group and did that as my primary musical (and physical!) activity for a couple of years. There’s perhaps not much of taiko in a Starthief album, but many public performances did give me more confidence. And one of my favorite (yet all too rare and brief) parts of playing taiko was improvisation, and that’s a key part of my music now.

At a time when I was spinning my wheels, Jonathan Coulton’s “Thing A Week” project encouraged me to try the same, and those habits are what really made Starthief happen.

What influenced me to get into Eurorack was playing the Arturia Microbrute, with those fascinating few patch points — and then Émilie Gillet of Mutable Instruments donated some modules to a charity auction I was watching, which really got the wheels turning. And while I’m on that subject, credit to instrument designers in general. The responsibility to create, and to choose the tools, lies with the musician — but building instruments is an art too and one does very much influence the other.

I could name a lot of musicians whose work I have enjoyed, and who opened my ears and mind to what was possible. The more obvious ones to me (aside from Tomita) have been Skinny Puppy, Nathan Moody, Belief Defect, and Caterina Barbieri. But there have been hundreds and I can’t rule out the influence and inspiration than any of them have given.

Inspiration comes from many other places though: many authors of novels and nonfiction books could be named, and many different life experiences. The list could start to get pretty absurd if it were entirely complete.

chaos and noise

It’s the little things… quite literally. I ordered a tin of Befaco Knurlies, specialized screws for Eurorack that have nylon washers built in to prevent scratches, and can be tightened with a flat or Philips screwdriver, a hex driver, or even by hand.

Honestly, I think for someone who doesn’t move modules often, M3 hex screws and separate washers (as I’ve been using, and you’ll see in the image here) are the way to go. They’re a lot cheaper! And low profile, good looking, and more secure if you go to trade shows or live gigs and don’t want individual modules to wander off in someone’s bag too easily. Knurlies are nice for quicker changes, or modules like Desmodus Versio where you need to get to the back to update firmware a little more often.

Also recently arrived: some new knobs to update the look and feel of my Mystic Circuits modules. They came with the sort of knobs that have shiny metallic tops, and the direction is indicated with a shaped bump on the side. Ana did have purple-sided knobs, and purple is sort of this company’s thing, and I think the colors work well here. The slightly larger Wrap knob is “MXR mini style” — pretty much the same as the Root knob on Ensemble Oscillator — and the others are Davies 1900h clones, a common type used in Eurorack.

I also have some Rogan soft-touch knobs on the way — the same kind that Make Noise and Mutable Instruments use, and I like them very much. Noise Engineering’s knobs are classy and have a solid feel, but they have glossy tops where glare obscures the pointer direction. In the past I’ve found they are very firmly mounted and can be challenging to remove, but the increase in visibility makes it worth replacing them.

Less little: I ordered a Xaoc Katowice “stereo variable-band isolator.” It splits the incoming signal into low, mid and high frequency bands. There is CV and manual control over the middle band’s center and width, and over the levels of each band — making it kind of a multiband VCA, or shelving/peaking EQ. There are stereo mix outputs and individual low, mid and high outputs, so you can route or process the bands separately. I also picked up a small, cheap After Later 3:1 mixer, so after such processing I can merge back to stereo without taking up 6 inputs on my audio interface.

It’s basically the hardware version of the Multiband device in Bitwig Studio. Hardware gives it the advantage of direct hands-on and CV control and zero latency. Feedback patches and interesting FM/AM/RM should be possible, and I expect it will also lead to different usage patterns than the software.

With the exception of that tiny mixer, this entire spring 2021 update to my modular has consisted of Xaoc Devices and Noise Engineering modules. Xaoc is apparently pronounced “chaos” and has a very Eastern Bloc, almost-Communist-chic, test equipment aesthetic that looks rather classy. All their modules are named after the Polish names of European cities (really putting the Euro in Eurorack). NE is very much inspired by 90s gothic-tinged dark and yet nerdy industrial music, and their module names are in psuedo Latin. They couldn’t be more different, and yet I think they complement each other well, and really have been suiting my music nicely. This kind of diversity is one of the coolest things about Eurorack, compared to other modular formats.


Just yesterday, Polyend released version 4.0 firmware for the Medusa hybrid synth, adding a digital FM mode among some other things. There were a few unfortunate bits:

  • The “extra” analog oscillator in FM mode is only accessible via external MIDI, not the Medusa’s own grid controller/sequencer which is its primary defining feature. Minor quibble though.
  • The behavior of P1 and P2 (paraphonic) modes changed. Previously, if you set one of the oscillator sliders at minimum, it would be skipped during voice allocation — so the sequence would play all specified notes with whatever oscillators it has available. Since you can set oscillator tuning, waveshape, sync and FM individually, this could be exploited to create polyrhythmic patterns that you could change on the fly. This behavior is unique and what makes me want to keep the Medusa rather than going for something else. But someone reported it as a bug, so Version 4.0 stopped skipping silenced oscillators and just left silent notes instead…
  • A bug in Grid mode where polyphony stopped working and it played monophonically using oscillator 1.

I grumbled, reverted to the previous firmware (which I was very glad I’d kept), and reported it to Polyend. I was surprised to get a message this morning with a new version to try — which fixed the bug and added a “Skip muted voices” option to restore the behavior I love. So… hooray! New FM mode plus it still does the crazy stuff that I like.

At this point I have finished my retrospective, critical listen to all my Starthief releases since 2018. Here’s what stands out:

The first album, Nereus kind of doesn’t fit the rest stylistically, at all. I think of this style as “my 0-Coast period” — plucky bassline/melodic hybrids with particular sequencing techniques, which I was doing a lot of in 2017. I liked it better than the more experimental sounds I was trying at the time, and in fact this is the “my sound” I thought I found at first. But it was definitely a stepping stone I don’t need to traverse again. Also, I’m hearing a generally lower production quality, possibly some stereo phase correlation issues. I’m honestly tempted to remove this one from Bandcamp, because it seems so out of place.

The second album, Shelter In Place, was much closer to what I think of as “the Starthief sound.” I was thinking about a more abstract sort of drone techno that hints at industrial, and that’s where this one went. In the future I might introduce a bit more of this flavor, but I don’t want to push toward it.

The third, Vox Inhumana, I backed off on the drone but went to a more… not quite Berlin School sound, but a “collaboration with the synthesizer” attitude. And I think that one really nailed it and still stands as one of my favorite albums.

After that there’s not so much of a progression as a wandering through different interests. At certain times I had particular near-obsessions, like sustaining feedback or FM, or particular gear I was highlighting.

My music is at its best when I follow it instead of trying too hard to lead it. But also, I need to keep a hand on the reins — some of the more experimental “leaks” into my albums feel like weaker points rather than the breaths of fresh air that I intended.