My newest album is released! Patch notes are here.
I had the perfect name chosen for the next album, appropriate to the nature of the music and yet based on a disturbing and eerie concept from a dream my spouse told me about. And I had an idea for the album art which was sort of an homage to something else that I like.
But it turns out, it is also the title of a story and short video, and also someone’s kind of clever invention.
One month after I released Shelter In Place, a Nora Roberts novel by the same name was published. I got their first but it still felt kind of weird. Not as weird as when COVID-19 hit and we got actual shelter-in-place orders, but still.
I would be surprised if my second-choice name isn’t already the name of a novel, a movie, a band, an album, a wine brand or something. But it’s also a generic enough sounding thing, rather than an unlikely and distinctive combination of words. I’ll give it a bit more time to ponder, though.
While looking into my controller options, I watched LoopOp’s video on the Novation Launchpad X and thought “yup, that’s the one, right there.” Grabbed a half-price one. And it is, indeed, the one.
I’d ignored it and its kin in the past because they’re advertised as controllers for Ableton Live, for clip launching and general navigation through the software. I know controller scripts for Bitwig are available, but I just wasn’t interested since it doesn’t much match the way I work with Bitwig. But it’s also a performance controller, an oddly shaped 64-note keyboard that can be configured in several different ways, and has both velocity and pressure (though not the horizontal/vertical wiggling that the Medusa’s grid has, which is honestly good for vague wobbles and not much else).
Note mode gives you the choice of Scale mode or Chromatic mode (all notes available but the scale is highlighted). It also lets you set the span between rows to “sequential” (octaves for Scale mode, or 9 half-steps for Chromatic) or to 2-5 fingers — that is, how many notes “right” are equivalent to one note “up”. It probably sounds more confusing than it is, but the grid will light your way to finding equivalent notes and it’s pretty easy to navigate.
There are also four slots for custom layouts. With an online tool or downloadable PC software, you can set up combinations of scale pads, keyboard-shaped sections, drum pad sections, vertical or horizontal sliders that send MIDI CC, etc. The one thing that I feel is missing is the ability to use a single pad’s pressure to send a CC, instead of an on/off button. But still, it’s really flexible.
I haven’t used it with the Minibrute or modular yet but have played software synths a bit with it, and it’s great. With something like Aalto, Buchla Easel V, Bitwig Grid or Bitwig’s basic FM or phase modulation synths, you can directly assign pressure to an LPG or VCA… no envelopes needed. So good.
I’ve now recorded all 7 tracks for the upcoming album, and am ready to do the mastering and art. Things are a bit nuts at work again and I’m kind of worn out so I’m not going to rush it, but… soon!
I’m rereading the Lord of the Rings trilogy for… I don’t know how many times this will be now. We watched the extended edition trilogy a few weeks ago and a few documentaries, and I just felt like it’s time again. It definitely qualifies as a comfort read at this point, but there is quite a lot of craft to admire!
I’m still enjoying Elder Scrolls Online quite a bit. Sticking with that bow-wielding Bosmer Nightblade and following through the story. The writing and the voice acting do vary a bit in quality, but overall it’s pretty compelling. There are several recurring characters I really like (Razum-dar, Queen Ayren, Lyris Titanborn, Azura) and a few I love to hate (Abnur Tharn, Molag Bal), rather than simply not caring about most of the NPCs as in Guild Wars 2. Once I get through the main story I plan to start a Breton Templar, burning through enemies with sunlight (mostly because the special effects are freaking awesome) and see how the story goes with one of the other factions. I don’t know how much the main quest line changes with faction, but I’ll find out!
After watching several demos, reading more reviews and thinking more about how I make music — and then seeing someone selling a MiniBrute 2S for considerably less than average — I wound up going for that.
It’s bigger than I was expecting, pretty much like the Microbrute was smaller than I expected when I got it. In the 2010s slang size scale, it’s not quite an absolute unit, but it is thicc. It feels really solid and good, though in appearance it’s a weird anachronistic smear of decades — faux wood sides like an 80s home appliance, but the big numeric LCD is blue rather than red, and there are 2010s style colorful light-up rubber buttons.
The sound is great, defaulting more to “beefy” than other things but there’s so much versatility there, it refuses to be pinned down. The patch bay is an extremely powerful tool compared to the extreme limitations of the Microbrute’s few patch points, and I haven’t even patched it to my Eurorack gear yet. Maybe I just haven’t used the right oscillators before, but its main VCO will do dynamic expo FM combined with sync without sounding gross, and that’s pretty notable. It also does linear FM, AM patching is possible, and this time you can feed any signal through the metalizer.
The patch bay does have some limits, and there are a few design choices that seem odd (but mostly reveal their purpose with a little experimentation). I’d gladly give up the Inverter for direct filter input and output — great for using the filter as an oscillator, patching the metalizer post-filter, filtering the square but not the triangle, etc. The two onboard attenuators have other inputs normalled to their outputs, so sometimes you need an extra dummy cable to rein things in. And for some reason pad velocity doesn’t affect volume unless you patch it through the extra VCA; it could have defaulted that way. But overall, it is hot stuff indeed.
The patch I have set up right now is pretty reminiscent of one of Isao Tomita’s “baritone singing voice” patches, and is quite beefy. It’s using expo FM, the metalized triangle, and lowpass filter with a lot of resonance and fair amount of “Brute Factor” (a sort of drive/feedback patch), with pad pressure controlling the filter cutoff. Just a particularly great sweet spot I stumbled into.
With its nifty sequencer, it’d make a fantastic friend to a groovebox, with mad 303-esque bass/melody lines (but a better sound than the 303 which I’m honestly pretty tired of). I’m unlikely to use that style in my own music, but it’s fun to jam with, especially given that the arpeggiator can interrupt the sequencer and keep playing in time with the rhythm, and you can also temporarily hold loops in the sequence, and tweak it live. It’s very performable, which is great.
The plan is to replace the Medusa. Now… there are things I like about the Medusa that I will probably miss:
- Medusa’s synth engine may be a lot more plain overall compared to MB2S, but that does kind of highlight its expo FM and filter FM possibilities. Which simply means that I need to show restraint sometimes with my synthesis techniques.
- Medusa is paraphonic with up to 6 voices, where MB2S is monophonic (or duophoonic if the oscs are separately controlled/sequenced, which is possible even internally). That being said, I still have the Microfreak and software synths, Just Friends can be paraphonic and many of my digital oscillators will produce chords or clusters or swarms.
- Medusa’s grid controller is very clever, with 8×8 pads that support X/Y movement and pressure, and selectable scales and adjustable layout. MB2S has just one chromatic octave of note pads, so it’s not something for solos with big leaps. I do like those leaps sometimes…
- Medusa’s sequencer is also cool, with its parameter locks. But they are also a little unfriendly to edit, and I wasn’t really using the parameter lock that stuff much in my music. MB2S’s more groovebox-like sequencer does offer a couple of extra CV channels that will give me a decent amount of variety though.
I appreciate that the synth engine on this is 100% analog, totally knob-per-function. The sequencer is digital of course, but its output is four signals available in the patch bay — pitch and gate, plus two more CVs that can be velocity and pressure (synced to pitch/gate) or generic unipolar CV, additional pitch and/or gate, AD envelopes (with adjustable attack/decay per step) or LFOs of various shapes (with adjustable speed and amplitude per step).
I’m going to ponder controller possibilities while I get to know this instrument both on its own and integrated with my modular.
I have latched onto a scheme for the next album: I will stitch each session onto the front of the previous, instead of the back. That is, the first song I record is the last on the album, the last song I record is the first, but it will blend into one continuous mix. It’s not really a theme, thus my choice of the word “scheme.”
Even before Stridulation-Yukon-Relay and Luminous Phenomena when I began stitching sessions together, I was already keeping the track order of each album pretty close to the order of recording because it mostly felt right to do so. Once in a while a track would really cry out to be first or last, or I felt like changing the order would improve the flow a little, and I’d renumber.
I decided arbitrarily that “Multiversal Solvent” — the first track I recorded — is number 7. I’m going to try to stick to that, just because. 6 and 5 have been recorded, and I have a good idea of what I would like to do with 4, as well as a name for the album and a possible album art design. So it’s moving right along!
I have been thinking about trading the Medusa. While I do occasionally like its grid sequencer/controller, I can easily imagine just not using it anymore and being fine with that. So I guess it’s sort of on trial now?
- I know a Make Noise Strega would fit my music extremely well.
- The Moog Grandmother was just plain thrilling to play when I tried one briefly. It is a simple synth but sounded so smooth and beautiful. And it’s Eurorack compatible, so it wouldn’t have to remain simple by any means. But it’s pretty large.
- Minibrute 2S would bring back that filter I liked from the Microbrute, plus considerably more features and more Eurorack connectivity.
In other gear thoughts, BoredBrain is about to release an ADAT interface called optx which improves on the Expert Sleepers ES-3/ES-6 combo, by being a single module and offering 8 inputs instead of 6, all in 8HP. From what I have heard, it doesn’t have the DC offset issues that ES-6 does. I’m strongly considering going that route.
I went for the custom XBox controller. This newer generation uses USB-C, but more importantly, has a better grip texture everywhere (only the ABXY buttons are slick, which works pretty well) and a slightly better overall feel to the trigger/throttle controls on the back. And of course, it doesn’t have a dead button.
Arriving on the same day was the Kenya update for Art of Rally, so that managed to distract me from Elder Scrolls Online for a brief time. But ESO is really good y’all.
I said before that I was done with Guild Wars 2 for a while. I’ve been playing some Dirt Rally with the XBox controller, and have found it a good time. Still thinking about whether to sell off the wheel or hang onto it.
I gave Rift another try, and didn’t last long in the tutorial before deciding it just felt too clunky and I wasn’t enamored with the idea of dealing with its skill system. I also gave Lord of the Rings Online a brief try with my spouse, and just wasn’t into it. I seem to measure every MMO against the extremely smooth and slick GW2 experience, and most of them come up short.
I wound up going for Elder Scrolls Online instead. Everything I’d read promised an experience similar to the single-player Elder Scrolls games: extremely solo-friendly, very strong in world-building and story, the right blend of action and not being too twitchy, interesting crafting and many ways to play. And it’s true. If anything the characters and plots are more interesting in ESO than I remember from Oblivion (I never played Skyrim for some reason).
I started three different characters on the first day, thinking I was going to stick with a staff-wielding orcish Dragon Knight whose direct approach to combat (and everything else) is the opposite of most of my prior characters. But then as I understood the systems a little better, I started a fourth, a bow-wielding Bosmer Nightblade, and I’m enjoying it quite a lot.
ESO’s combat system is a little unusual, and made to be console-friendly without being too dumbed down. The skill bar only has 5 skills plus an “ultimate”, but weapon(s) (including magical staves, which are primarily ranged) can do light and heavy attacks, blocks, interrupts, etc. Like GW2, enemy area attacks project red danger zone indicators onto the ground — but these can move, change size and shape, and spawn new zones, keeping you more on your toes.
The skill system is pretty open-ended; you can choose skills from a set of three class skill trees, or from weapons, armor, your race, the Fighters or Mages’ guilds, and so on. Not all skills are combat-related; some affect dialog, finding crafting materials, picking pockets and so on. Any class can use any weapon style, can freely train in Stamina, Magica and/or Health, and can set themselves up as a damage dealer, tank, healer / support character, etc. as they see fit. (Staves come in “destruction” and “restoration” varieties with different skill sets available on them.)
Overall the gameplay feels exciting without necessarily being as dangerous as many MMOs. Level scaling is in effect in most of the world, so you can just follow storylines and know you won’t be way over your head. This is also kind of a downside since you can’t really challenge yourself that much. But mostly it suits the way I want to play.
- The brief combat tutorial didn’t quite make it clear to me how the game signals which attacks can be blocked, which can be interrupted, and which require a dodge. Sometimes the game will prompt you with text popups, sometimes not. As a highly mobile ranged attacker, I often find stepping outside visible danger zones is more effective than blocking anyway.
- Kiting doesn’t work very well in some areas. I’m used to some enemies in GW2 giving up the chase and running back to home territory, healing rapidly; in ESO sometimes they just disappear instead. Sometimes their territory is significantly smaller than max bow range. There was one quest step where I had to resummon a particular daedra four times before my movement didn’t just make him vanish.
- Sometimes, the single-player aspect of much of the gameplay collides with the fact that it’s an MMO. Usually this works well and people see their own versions of events, NPCs present or absent as it should be for your storyline. Once in a while there are snags.
- Inventory space is limited, and like every Elder Scrolls game, you will want to pick up and carry a ton of stuff. In ESO this is mainly about crafting items. There’s blacksmithing, woodworking, clothing/leatherworking, cooking, alchemy, enchanting, and furnishings; each has different raw materials, style materials, trait materials, other enhancements, and the goods themselves which you probably want to save to break down into raw materials (which can also teach you how they’re made, increasing your skill). It’s very easy to fill your backpack and/or bank with this stuff. The crafting bag that ESO+ subscribers get may be its biggest perk, and indeed that makes me think crafting/items were intentionally meant to sell subscriptions. I’m considering it (you can pause and unpause the subscription if you go through periods of not playing, like I have with GW2).
- There are an absolute ton of quests, which is great. But the map system has some disconnects that make managing them difficult. You can’t zoom directly from a local map to the world level,
and the name of your current region isn’t shown anywhere[I found it, it’s over in a corner; this does help a bit]. The list of locations doesn’t include city names but region names. Even major cities and points of interest aren’t labeled on the world map. So if you want to teleport to Vulkhel Guard, you have to know what region it’s in (it took a while before I remembered this) or at least start from where it is on the world map (I forget) or poke around randomly until you find it. To add to this, often quests will fast-travel you by cart, boat or portal to some other part of the world — taking you away from other quests in the area you also wanted to finish. And the quest journal doesn’t really keep a history of what you’ve done in the quest so far, just what your next step is. I guess taking copious notes might help, but mostly you just have to embrace the chaos.
ESO is fully voice acted, and oh boy is it voice acted. Malcolm McDowell and Lynda Carter are Daedric princes Molag Bal and Azura. Kate Beckinsale and Bill Nighy are royalty. John Cleese is a knight. Tara Strong is a few voices. And I’m sure people more familiar with Hollywood would recognize a lot more names.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, my previous job was as one of the main developers of HeroEngine (particularly the world-building tools, and several graphical elements). Zenimax, the development studio behind ESO, was one of our licensees. Apparently when it first was announced that ESO was going to use HeroEngine there were some gamers whining that it was going to be (A) just like Star Wars: The Old Republic and (B) horribly broken.
To that I respond: (A) the point of a game development platform is that the developers can concentrate on game content, which means all of the mechanics, all of the story, all of the sound, the GUI, nearly all of the art (they might use a few standard textures for grass or tree bark or something if they choose). (B) When BioWare Austin licensed HeroEngine, it wasn’t even ready for beta yet, we told them as much, they acknowledged it and were desperate to have it anyway because they wanted to get to market quickly; so they bought a source code license to our unfinished product, forked it and bolted on a bunch of other stuff in a half-assed rushed way, and never fully accepted any updates from us as we completed it and made drastic improvements. And that became their game, which was slowly patched into something more functional over the years.
And also (C) Zenimax started extremely small. They were using HeroEngine as a prototyping and area construction tool — which it was extremely suited for — while growing their staff and developing their own totally custom engine which used many of the same features and third-party libraries, but was entirely under their control. And they had the budget to make it really shine and work extremely smoothly. (HeroEngine always had a shoestring budget, and let’s also remember it was begun in the early 2000s several generations of hardware ago.)
However, playing ESO I recognize a few influences from HeroEngine and the sample content we had created for it. The triangular face/body shape controls in character creation. The way grass seems to work (they’re probably still using a variant of my shader). The strange way that characters jumping sometimes “hover” in a knees-up position until they find valid ground to land on (something we improved on later, as I recall). But there’s also no doubt that what’s in the game now is very polished and well tuned overall.
Howl’s Moving Castle is approximately tied with Spirited Away for my favorite Studio Ghibli Movie. (Princess Mononoke is probably next.)
When a recent post on Gizmodo discussed both the film and novel, I realized I probably should just go ahead and read the book, since I seem to be very much into charming and comforting reads at the moment.
I’m most of the way through, and enjoying it, but am on team The Movie Was Better in this instance.
- The art and animation are super-charming and creative and sharp-looking. I like that the movie brings Ingary from “generic fantasy countryside” to a steampunk-while-still-fantastical setting, with flappy-winged airships and a very clanky castle.
- The music in the movie of course fits it very nicely.
- The WOTW’s minions in the movie are so much cooler than a scarecrow. And Turniphead is so much better as the cursed Prince Justin than as an evil minion!
- Howl in the movie: a good-hearted but extremely vain young wizard, struggling with the depression caused by having to fight in a war but trying to put on a brave face. Howl in the book: lazy and a womanizer.
- The stair scene is so much better in the movie, with Sophie and the WOTW both struggling but Sophie managing it better. Not to mention, the hilarity of Sophie thinking Heen is Howl in disguise, when Howl’s disguised as the king, but not actually fooling Suliman at all.
- Heen is better than some weird cursed dog-man. (Who… might be the missing prince? I haven’t finished the book yet but that’s my suspicion. Justin = Gaston isn’t a huge leap.)
- Wizard Suliman as a competent, shrewd woman rather than a dead guy.
- In the book, the WOTW is the Big Bad. In the movie… she’s certainly mean at first, and puts her own desires above others’ autonomy and well-being. But it’s war that is the real evil.
On the side of the book:
- “Markl” is a pretty awkward name and should have remained Michael.
- The movie didn’t have to take away Sophie’s magic. I really like the idea of her infusing hats and clothing with magic by talking to them, and it gives the WOTW an additional motive for cursing her.
- Sophie’s family relationships are almost nonexistent. She talks to Lettie a little. There’s no amusing Martha/Lettie swap (or Martha at all). There’s no eldest-of-three misfortune which is an amusing thing in the book. Her stepmom who owns the hat shop has approximately three seconds of screen time, and their relationship isn’t particularly clear.
- The ending is exciting and fun! (…now that I’ve finished it, a few hours after originally writing this.)
- Wales. I kind of think Miyazaki made the right call; it feels more escapist and fantastical to not have any connection to the real world.
- The Donne poem as the curse. It’s thematically appropriate… but I don’t think that would work without the Wales connection. And the mermaids and mandrake root encounters in the book seemed awfully random, not particularly clever. And perhaps the poem as puzzle didn’t come across as well in Japanese.
- In both the movie and the book, there are points where events stop making much apparent sense and the plot just sort of meanders for a while.
Next up I’ll be reading Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries. This apparently isn’t what it sounds like! I watched a bookstore’s interview with Becky Chambers and Martha Wells about their recent novels and how “hopepunk” is getting to be a thing — science fiction and fantasy where instead of terrible people and grim settings, it’s sort of comforting and cozy, full of kindness and diverse characters all mostly getting along. Like I wrote a few days ago, it’s not entirely without conflicts and problems to solve and regular human (or alien, or robot) worries. But it’s optimistic — even if its rise means that stories about people not being dicks has become an increasingly popular form of escapism.
(Apparently some people have a different definition for hopepunk, and would include things like Lord of the Rings… basically anything that pits hope vs. despair. That can be good stuff too, but it’s not really the sort of thing I am most looking fro right now.)
The office is closed for at least the rest of this week, possibly longer, because an employee tested positive for COVID.
Officially, management does not get to say who the person is. Unofficially, I was given a clear hint. It’s not somebody I ever have contact with and I think my personal risk is pretty low. Given the timing, I would have shown symptoms if I was going to. So the most likely thing is that I don’t have it. The less likely thing is, I have it, my spouse probably has it and we’re both asymptomatic. And less likely still is it wasn’t Delta, but broke through to infect an unvaccinated person anyway and then the chances that I have it are even less.
Anyway. I’m not worried for myself. I hope my coworker gets through OK and nobody else in the office has it.
But my parents are concerned and think it’s best if I cancel my trip to visit them next week. Which is a bummer, but of course I will respect their wishes. I could simply have not mentioned it, but I don’t think that would have been fair or right.
My expectation is I’ll just take the vacation days anyway and stay home.
The time between an album release and the start of the next one often feels awkward to me. It’s been less than two weeks since the release of Pulse Code but I haven’t felt ready to start recording something new yet. I told myself a few times I was going to wait until after my trip, but with that not happening, it seems like those vacation days would be a good time to work on it.
But there’s no “publish or die” pressure, no contract or deadline or anything. Any feeling of guilt that I’m not constantly turning out products is entirely unwarranted and I’d like to purge that… but not with the obvious step of “don’t make any music!”
Maybe more jamming with the Model:Cycles, the uke, mandolin, bass guitar etc. are the answer? Or maybe, just start doing stuff with the modular and don’t worry about it. Eh.
I’ve played through several character classes in Guild Wars 2 over the past few months and the shine is wearing off again. It’s probably time to uninstall.
I really haven’t been playing much Dirt Rally though. I don’t know if the wheel controller — its increased difficulty, requirement to set things up, extra physical tension and (minor) exertion — is the real culprit or if it’s simply that I like Art of Rally more. Some of each? Art of Rally has a very nice balance between casual friendliness and tricky simulation. Dirt Rally is a bit more hardcore to begin with and the wheel makes it much more so. Maybe I’ll try playing it with the XBox controller again and see how that feels for me, and sell the wheel on eBay if it makes me happier to do so.
Speaking of which, the “RB” button on my XBox controller is dead. This isn’t a problem for Art of Rally, but it is for some others. The cost to have an XBox controller repaired is more than the cost of a new one. I guess I will poke around for third-party or used controllers to replace it, or consider going all-out on a custom color one from Microsoft.