some of those who wander are sometimes lost

It’s been a while since I finished a recording and then dropped it into the “no” folder.

When I switched from “post everything” mode to releasing albums, at first I was probably throwing out 60% of my recorded work. As I refined my process I reached the point where if I recorded it, there was a good chance it was going to be a keeper. There have been several times when the editing process felt like rescue, where I had a diamond in the rough and it needed some effort to make it shine.

But this year until now, there has only been one rejected “finished” recording: “Zen Spiders” which I had made for The Sky Above the Port. It had some sound design that I really like, some lovely moody drones and a simple improvised line that works for it, but it opens with a rhythmic part I decided is just too monotonous. That part drops out after a while and I think “oh, I could rescue this just by cutting that out!” but then it comes back in during what would otherwise be the emotional apex of the piece.

This is the consequence of how I work — only the full stereo mix is recorded so I can’t just drop out a layered part that I don’t like. Maybe there is some not too disruptive way to record individual channels in sync, I’ve really not looked too deeply at the possibility yet because usually I can work with what I have.

Also, the patch and performance are ephemeral, never to be fully recreated — but to me that is a necessity, a requirement for getting the kinds of results that I do when things turn out well.

Anyway, now the spiders have company. I recorded “Contaminalia” for the currently unnamed album in progress and… I just don’t like it. It is rhythmic in nature, and more than a little industrial-sounding, and that falls outside my comfort zone for creating (not for listening). The baked-in effects don’t sound good to me now, and the overall feel is not right. I feel like the ideas behind it mostly worked and another musician could have pulled it off but this one is not for me. My plan is to go back to the very basic outline of what I was trying to do and execute it completely differently. If that fails too, then I will drop the idea and go elsewhere with it.

More generally, right now I don’t have a guiding vision for my next project. Sometimes things are like that, and I just create until something comes to mind that unifies it. So far, that unity is lacking, and I feel like I’ve been experimenting rather than just laying down one solid track after another. A couple more recordings might wind up in the “no” folder before I get much further.

new module day

The new stuff I was waiting for arrived yesterday, and I got it set up and did some of the experiments I had queued up.

Boredbrain Optx is excellent. It looks and feels classy (even has black PCBs behind the front panel and a black power cable with dark grey stripe), it gave me no issues setting it up and it performs flawlessly. Highly recommended… even though I’m still trying to sell my ES-3 and probably not helping my case by repeating how much more I like the Optx.

Joranalogue Compare 2 is also quite good. Tools are often compared to a Swiss Army knife, positively (versatile) and sometimes negatively (individual tools might be awkward or inferior). This is like a zoomed-in version, a specialized cork removal tool but which has surprisingly more uses.

Something like a window comparator can be fiddly to set up, matching levels to the incoming signal and tweaking it so it’s just right. It’s designed to help with that. I do think dedicated LEDs for the output gate would clarify the (also helpful) blue/white/red for low/match/high when things are cycling rapidly… but at some point to really understand signals you’ve got to put them on a scope anyway.

Klavis Mixwitch gives me mixed feelings so far. It’s a clever design for sure. The mute switches are good to have rather than needing to patch an offset and manual switch together. The positive/negative toggles are handy, and the switching capability extends its capabilities and makes it something more.

However, it’s displaced Shades, which is a beautifully simple module with great layout and feel, very familiar to me. I’ll have to build up some new habits/muscle memory before I decide whether I like the new module’s paradigm and feel. I may try replacing the knobs, but I will certainly give it some time to decide. Meanwhile, I plan to keep Shades and the Ladik P-075 switch on standby for a good while in case I feel the need to switch back.

I had a few patch experiments saved up for New Module Day:

  1. Can Compare2 & Mixwitch imitate Loose Fruit (switch between normal and inverted at zero crossings?)

    Yes, readily. In a nutshell, this patch allows a bit more smooth variation in the sound, but it sounds a bit more brittle and edgy and less pleasant than Loose Fruit does (possibly fixable with some filtering) — and Loose Fruit can do it twice, in parallel or series or independently. So I plan to keep the Fruit for now.

  2. Crazy sync patches with Compare2?

    Yes. Definitely crazy sync patches with Compare2. Some of them sort of related to PLL patches in that they do very brief frequency modulation bursts. Weird shit ahoy!

  3. Can Compare2 & Mixwitch & Maths imitate Schlappi Engineering Boundary (set an upper limit to the rise stage, causing both lower amplitude and faster cycling?)

    Maybe, but (A) my patch design was flawed, and (B) it’s a bit awkward. It requires Compare2 to act as one window comparator and an RS flip-flop while Mixwitch acts as another window comparator. More experimentation might get me to what I was looking for.

    Given certain limitations, Maths and a VCA can certainly do “bouncing ball” patches. But if I wanted to use, say, velocity CV from a keyboard or a sequenced CV to control the boundary instead, it shares the “dynamic gates” problem of sudden changes in level affecting more than one would want.

    At any rate, I’ve decided against replacing Maths with Boundary even though I couldn’t replicate it.

  4. Can I imitate NSI Inertia with Maths, using some kind of serial slew patch?

    …no, or else I’m just not smart enough. I don’t know how two slew limiters are creating overshoot and resonance. It seems like feedback has to be involved somehow, but I’ve been completely stymied.

    I’m really curious to see some demo videos of Inertia. It seems like it has some cool potential… though the real question is, would it be practical and/or inspiring for me or should I just stick with Maths?

Really the only other thing under consideration now is Xaoc Erfurt. Again, I will want to see some demo videos to be sure. I really like the weird variety of stuff I can get Drezno and Jena to do, and Erfurt seems like a good addition. But I wish it had a front panel switch to isolate it from the other Leibniz modules so it could act as a counter/divider on its own, rather than having to pull out ribbon cables.

one more for good measure

Schlappi Engineering Boundary was just announced. Like Momentum, it is a slope generator in the tradition of DUSG, Maths etc. with a little extra — in this case, a built-in four-quadrant VCA (like Mini Slew), a full-wave rectified input (for envelope follower purposes) and a Bounds input. Bounds sets the maximum level that it rises to before switching to the fall stage without changing the slope — meaning it affects not just the output level but the rise and fall times.

This can be used for “bouncing ball” patches more natural than the usual Maths version, and perhaps also very natural vibrato. That by itself isn’t enough to convince me, but I’m curious about other uses. How does it behave with audio?

With these interesting function generators becoming available, I’m realizing I could probably replace my Maths with one of these, or perhaps another, smaller option. With Stages and Just Friends, I don’t think I necessarily need the dual aspect. Hmm.

[ALSO] Joranalogue officially announced its new stuff. Orbit 3 is a chaos/strange attractor oscillator, Enhance 2 is a stereo processor, but the really interesting one to me is Step 8.

They call it a Sequential Tracking/Sampling Register. It’s an 8-step sequencer that can be addressed by clocking or with CV, but each of the steps samples or tracks a common input while active. It can also be set to shift the register values rather than advancing the step. It’s super versatile, and could be fun to play with but I will need to decide how the next wave of changes will look and whether I would want to dedicate 16HP to something like this.

on the loose

Loose Fruit arrived today, and at first I felt a little bit disappointed. It isn’t quite what I thought, but rather, a sort of digitally controlled inverter. Once I started to understand it though, possibilities started to open up.

Most waveshapers are some kind of nonlinear function: level X goes in, level Y always comes out. The shape of that function, and the shape and dynamics of the input entirely determine the output.

This one is time-based. Each time the signal crosses zero, the module decides whether to invert the signal based on values in its internal shift register. The “state” knob sets the contents of that register. Everything else is based on the frequency of zero crossings — which if it’s not a simple wave, is not the same thing.

A wavefolder (and most waveshapers generally) tends to sound its best with simple material that has few harmonics, such as a sine or triangle, and works poorly with square waves. Loose Fruit, on the other hand, works fine with squares and gets much more interesting with more complex shapes, stronger harmonics, chords and inharmonics. It prefers things like Rings, Odessa, or EnOsc.

What I’m not certain of is whether it will hold its own against the combination of Compare2 and Mixwitch. I could certainly detect zero crossings (or whatever range), use it to trigger a gate sequencer, which then decides whether to switch to normal or inverted. The need for a sequencer in the middle does make it more involved, although I suppose I could pick up a Bin Seq. With more control over the comparator it might be worth it though? We’ll see.

pumpkin spice and synth show season

First, the usual complaint that summer can’t end quickly enough. The days are getting shorter, the pumpkin spice flavored everything is taking over, and we are well into the -ember months, but the high temps are still in the low 90s. Bring on the gloomy skies and the hoodies!

Knobcon 9 was this past weekend. I didn’t go, because I didn’t know how the COVID situation would be and because of some work uncertainties. I’ve heard it was about 2/3 the usual size, and honestly that seems like the perfect size to me, since the full experience is a bit overwhelming and crowded. But I wouldn’t have wanted to spend the entire weekend stressing over COVID, so I’m not sorry I missed it.

This coming weekend is Superbooth. Knobcon and Superbooth are the two biggest synth-specific conventions (though there are bigger music industry shows, such as NAMM and Musikmesse), and usually there are a lot of announcements about new products. Despite parts shortages, there have been some of those.

VCV Rack 2 is coming — first another free version, then a commercial one in VST plugin form. I was excited for that until I started hearing about toxicity in the developer community, and now I don’t think I can support it. One writeup about it is here. The rebuttal from Andrew Belt basically calls it a “smear campaign,” there is no attempt to address any of the concerns brought up, and there is indeed a “anyone questioning the moderator will be banned” policy, and I’m just not getting a good feeling from that. Honestly, I have gone this long without using VCV for more than a few minutes, and I can continue without it given how well Bitwig integrates with modular hardware.

Joranalogue has two or three new things that they’ve teased but not announced. It seems like one of them is a chaotic/random generator of some kind, one seems to be some kind of stereo tool (with a phase correlation meter, balance/width knobs but we haven’t seen more) and there’s something with a lot of faders that could be a number of different things. I look forward to seeing what these turn out to be, but probably not something I’ll feel like I need.

Shakmat Mod Medusa seems like a neat concept: a Euclidean (and other algorithmic patterns) LFO. But I have that covered with Teletype.

I’m more curious about New Systems Instruments’ upcoming “Intertia” module. It seems to be a function generator (a trigger causes a signal to rise at some rate, then fall back to zero, or it can cycle, or follow an input level with maximum rise/fall rates). But this one has momentum — it can overshoot its goal, then when it gets turned around, accelerate too much and overshoot again, and so on — also known as resonance. It can oscillate without retriggering, and it can act as a filter as well as an oscillator or envelope. It’s sort of unifies some related concepts that never quite connected before in modules. That said, you can run a function generator (or any other CV source) through a resonant filter and get this sort of wobble. I’m curious if having it all in one unit offers any advantages other than convenience.

Xaoc is not disappointing either, with three new modules: a stereo filter, a stereo spatializer and mid/side converter, and more relevant to my interests, a new entry in the Leibniz┬áBinary Subsystem. “Erfurt” is, on the surface, a simple binary counter with +1, -1 and reset inputs, and outputs for each of 8 bits. Binary being what it is, if you clock one of the increment inputs you get /2, /4, /8, /16, etc. divisions. But the part I’m trying to wrap my brain around is how it interfaces with other Liebniz modules. When it receives input from that bus — such as from Drezno’s ADC, or Jena’s wavetable lookup — it uses the value as a guide for how much to increment or decrement by. I’m not sure what it sends out to the Liebniz system though — its own register value, or is it an offset to the input, or what? The implications could be lots of different things and I think I need some explanation/demos to puzzle this out.

Other than that, I can write off the other announcements (so far) as stuff that mainly doesn’t seem particularly innovative, or at the very least, just not relevant to me. Which is good, because I don’t really want to shake up my plan.

Last night I finished reading Glow by Tim Jordan — there are many novels with that title, I have just discovered. A sort of cyberpunk horror, with a setup similar to Repo: The Genetic Opera and perhaps Deus Ex: Human Revolution with a touch of Terminator, but also spies getting literally into peoples’ heads, robot nuns both worshipping and trying to create the “Future-Lord,” and a protagonist who literally doesn’t know whether he’s a human or a dog at times. It was mostly enjoyable, though I’ve just realized it has a “fridge logic” problem. But the main issue I had was that the copy editing seemed to just stop about 2/3 of the way through the book. Grammar started to stumble, and punctuation dove off a cliff. It’s like the nicely bound novel with a very well-designed cover, bought in a nice brick and mortar bookstore, suddenly became a self-published ebook.

Now hang on. I’m not against either self-published books, or ebooks! But too many of them suffer from lack of an editor.

I know my grammar on this blog and on forums — the only places where I really write anything — is far from perfect. Sometimes I cringe and correct things quietly when I notice what I’ve posted. But when I read a novel, I have expectations, and I’m often disappointed. These things detract from the experience. It’s like listening to a bootleg of a live show rather than a professionally produced and mastered album.

everybody cut fruitloose

I have been pondering minor changes in my modular rig.

First: changing from the Expert Sleepers ES-3 + ES-6 combo to the upcoming BoredBrain Optx. Less power consumption, 2 additional inputs, a single module, no DC offset on the inputs at 0V, and I free up half my Mazzatron Mult+PassThru for Minibrute connections. And the price looks to be less than or equal to what I’ll get reselling the old modules.

Second: TipTop Fold Processor goes out. The folder itself is one I don’t especially like. What is groovy about it is the sub output, which is done with a window comparator on the spiky/offset folded bits, and some dividers and a mixer. So why not ditch the folder and go for the king of comparators, Joranalogue Compare 2 — which I was wanting anyway, and which can do /2 (possibly /4 with clever patching) right on board?

(Folders I like: Intellijel uFold and Shapeshifter, Antimatter Crossfold, saw-to-sine converters like FM Aid, Warps (though it’s a bit rough in some ways), Blades, basic geometric folders like in the E52, the Arturia metalizer. “Serial”, Serge-like folders in general, I think. Folders I don’t like as much: DPO, 0-Coast, Origami, TipTop; the “parallel” Buchla-style folders generally.)

Looking at various logic module options, I figured an SR latch might be cool to have, particularly with a comparator. As it happens, you can patch one using a side of the Compare 2. So that’s a win.

Third: also while looking at those options, I happened to investigate the Klavis Mixwitch, and discovered that it’s flipping brilliant. The basic part is two 2-input mixers (A and B), the inputs normalled to +5V, invert buttons for each input, a mute button for each output, and A output normalled to mix with B. Already a super useful set of things that could replace my Stages/P-075 combo.

The even better part is that the B output can go into switch mode — which can be CV addressed or sequentially/randomly clocked, and can flip through all 4 inputs or just the two B inputs.

So this one module is a mixer, offset/attenuverter, CV source with on/off switch, transposer, signal booster, sequencer, sequential switch, random selector, flip-flop / clock divider, window comparator, AND/NAND, OR and XOR logic…

Fourth: back up to the part where I’m replacing a wavefolder. I thought about Warps (my glowing old friend) to replace it, but started poking around and… hmm, God’s Box Loose Fruit seems interesting. It’s a dual digital waveshaper with an analog crossfader built in. Something a little different here…!