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.