I’ll skip “Things I’m Not Interested In” for 100, Alex

Just got back from a session at an infrared sauna. My second one; the previous was in 2018 or so. I don’t believe the ridiculous “detox” claims — that’s what peeing is for, not sweating — but it does relax the muscles. Even though I don’t like heat, bright light, direct sunlight, put me in a dim room and bake for 40 minutes at 140 degrees F and I’ll come out happier.

I do have a couple of specific back pain areas that it only marginally helped, and I really wish the infrared robot massage bed place was still open because that was awesome. Following it up with the sauna would be great. Alas. But as it is, I let go of tension in places I didn’t know it was, and my back does feel better overall than it did this morning.

I started working on a track before the session, and got it to the point where I’m ready to play and record it. You can’t keep a prolific musician down I guess. I’m kind of tempted to try dubbing in a (very simple!) u-bass part… we’ll see how that goes after the initial recording. I don’t have enough hands to really do it all, but perhaps in the future I’ll set up something easier to control to feature the u-bass in one take.

Dear Universe,

I am not interested in the following things, no matter how much they are promoted, spammed, presented by algorithms, shoved into various internet feeds, featured prominently in the very operating system I use at home and at work, included as a specific button on my phone, or otherwise attempt to get my attention with them.

  • Selling our house. Let me put it plainly: fuck off, we live here. And if we ever do decide to move for some reason, I’ll go to a realtor, not a spammer.
  • Microsoft OneDrive. Give up, already. I have a third-party, secure cloud storage service that does not shove itself into my face in every Windows dialog at home and at work.
  • Donating to your political campaign. If you’re somebody I’ve never heard of from a red state I’ve never been to and your entire campaign is “I’m not a Republican,” forget it. If you’re Nancy Pelosi or whoever keeps pretending to be her in text messages, use your own damn pocket money. If you’re an actual socialist running for a position where you actually have a fighting chance of making real change? Then I’ll consider it, but I’m not made of money.
  • Joe Rogan.
  • The Kardashians, the Jenners, and anyone else who is only famous for being famous. Caitlyn at least played professional tennis, but she is also basically a horrible person from what I have heard and in no way a good representative for trans people. P.S. eat the rich.
  • Kanye West. Elon Musk. Anyone else who maybe did one or two cool things and a whole lot of dumb shit and has an ego the size of Jupiter and a bank account the size of one of its moons and thinks they’re an expert at everything.
  • Radiohead. I. do. not. care. about. Radiohead. Contrary to some claims, they did not invent modular synthesizers, they were not responsible for the Eurorack explosion, and I don’t like the guy’s voice or any of their songs. No doubt I like some music you don’t like too, but I have never tried to claim that it is the inspiration for everything everyone else in the world does.
  • Facebook/Meta. No, I’m not coming back. You make me want to quit Instagram too.
  • Boxing/MMA. Why any algorithm thinks I am even remotely interested in it, I have no idea. I don’t like sports in general, but on the spectrum from “would watch this unusual sport with lukewarm interest for a few minutes” to “just ban it already”, boxing is right near the second one.
  • Over-the-top drag queen makeup. I have nothing against drag queens in general, and I’m sure it’s an art, but it’s an art I just don’t like. It’s eyeshadow, not entirefacevortex. Here, I figure the algorithm decided that since I have supported some LGBTQIA+ representative types and nonbinary/genderfluid people in particular, I must like everything even remotely associated with it.
  • Black mens’ hairstyle trends. Seriously, (A) I happen to be white and (B) I haven’t been able to grow hair on top of my head since I was about 22 and (C) am not a barber/stylist and don’t want to be. Why does this keep getting pushed at me?
  • Architectural firms. Really Instagram, wtf is this?
  • Cryptocurrency, NFTs, web3, and blockchain evangelizing. If you’re so smart, try solving an actual human need.
  • Phone games that send notifications to nag you to play them. Instant uninstall right there.
  • Samsung Bixby. I have only ever launched it accidentally.
  • “Unsubscribe” links that go to a 404 page or other errors, or require signing in. Nope, “Report Spam.”

this is kinda stupid

On a harpsichord, pressing the key triggers a hammer to strike a string. It doesn’t matter how hard you play the key, or how long you hold the note down, you will always get the same hammer strike from it. So all that matters, in terms of musical events, is which key you pushed down. In the MIDI standard this is a “Note On” message.

On an organ, pressing a key opens a valve, releasing a key closes it. Playing the key harder or softer doesn’t do anything. In the MIDI standard, it needs Note On and Note Off messages.

On a piano, the velocity at which you press the key determines how fast the hammer swings, and therefore how loud the note is. Also releasing the key will dampen the note, though it won’t ring out forever. So you’ve got Note On messages with velocity, and Note Off.

On a synth, you might also have pressure as well as velocity — while holding a note down, pressing harder might increase the volume or brightness. This comes in two formats:

  • Channel pressure: the overall pressure across the keyboard, regardless of which notes are played. This was somewhat common on mid-range controllers, being relatively cheap to implement.
  • Polyphonic aftertouch: the pressure of each individual key on the keyboard. So if you hold down C2 with a lot of pressure but lightly press E3, they two notes will have different pressure values. This used to be a high-end feature since it required many more sensors, but with modern tech you’ll find it on much cheaper controllers now, like the Launchpad X and Microfreak that I have.

Going newer and more expensive with specialized controllers, there’s also MPE (Midi Polyphonic Expression) — which can send not just pressure but position, tilt, or other messages per note. Each of these is sent on a separate channel. For instance, you can bend notes or have individual vibrato per note like on guitar strings.


Some people demand MPE support on newer software synths. But a lot of them either don’t directly support pressure, or only channel pressure. Bitwig can assign channel pressure to a parameter of any synth even if it doesn’t directly support it (and its own native synths can support polyAT).

When you have a controller that sends polyAT and you want to use it as channel pressure, the correct thing to do is use the maximum pressure of all the keys. That is what the Microfreak does internally, if you assign pressure to the filter for example. There are many keys but only one filter, so it uses the strongest pressure to control that.

But in Bitwig, it converts polyAT to channel pressure by more nefarious means. If you’re holding down C2 with strong pressure and you lightly play E3, the “channel” pressure will suddenly drop very low. Worse, it may get stuck after you release E3. Or it may wobble back and forth rapidly between the different pressure values on the two keys. It’s also likely to get stuck on some non-zero value if you release a key — because polyAT messages are no longer sent at that point, although channel aftertouch = 0 would have been — which is a problem if you want to directly control note volume with pressure.

Enter this stupid workaround in VCV Rack:

  1. Polyphonic aftertouch and gate data is separated into its individual notes.
  2. The aftertouch and gate values are run through a VCA, so that when the gate is released, the pressure gets cut off.
  3. The separate notes are merged back into a polyphonic data stream (it’s a shame poly cables, which are not a real thing in Eurorack, don’t look different in VCV Rack).
  4. The Poly Min/Max module finds the highest of these resulting levels and outputs that as a monophonic value.
  5. It’s slewed a bit to smooth out sudden jumps in pressure.
  6. It’s reassigned to MIDI Mod Wheel messages, because while the VCV plugin can add messages to the MIDI data stream it can’t filter out the existing polyAT messages.
  7. The actual synth I want to play is assigned next in the Bitwig channel, and it uses the mod wheel as if it were pressure. This hack is acceptable-ish because neither the Microfreak nor Launchpad X has a mod wheel.

This shouldn’t be necessary — Bitwig should be smart enough to do this on its own. But here we are.

3, 2, 1 let’s jam

I find playing the u-bass very satisfying, in an “unproductive” sort of way. Playing the simple but very catchy riff from “Seven Nation Army,” or a stereotypical boogie-woogie bass line with a I-IV-V chord progression, isn’t useful for my more serious musical pursuits but it sure is fun.

On Christmas Eve my spouse and I went through her list of Christmas songs she’d arranged for dulcimer — with me awkwardly just playing the melodies by ear rather than reading the music, or trying to figure out a proper bassline on the fly. It was pretty awful and I didn’t even realize just how goofy that was until she pointed it out, but again, it was fun. I still have to think about what notes are where, and even which strings are which notes — after my violin indoctrination it’s hard not to think GDAE from low to high, rather than EADG on the bass. But I’m developing a pretty decent sense of relative intervals, which is useful for playing by ear and improvising.

I’ve got the u-bass downstairs in a case, under my desk, so I can plug it in and process it in the DAW. The Musician’s Gear baritone uke case is exactly a perfect fit for a Hadean UKB-23, though without a strap attached, so I’ve bought a Fender Quick Grip strap because the current one is a pain to attach/detach. But I’m still considering a wall hanger as a more convenient alternative.

I’ve worked out a pretty good default effects chain with noise gate, compression, EQ and some optional subtle “vibe” modulation. It brings out the tone that I like while de-emphasizing finger noise (which can be quite a lot more than a standard bass due to polyurethane strings and piezo pickup), and it makes a good starting point if I want to add additional FX. Certain kinds of convolution and spectral processing are more to my liking than distortion/fuzz, which surprises me a bit. Reverb/delay really only work for slow stuff plunked out in higher positions on the upper string. I have yet to try running it through the modular — I expect Lacrima Versio will suit it very well, Beads might, and Rings could be extremely fun if I can get it to track the pitch.

Other things I’ve found satisfying:

  • A new office chair that hasn’t had its padding and upholstery completely worn out. Plus the arms raise up to get out of the way of desks, dogs, and stringed instruments. Thanks dear 🙂
  • How the heating pad melted the tension out of my lower back this morning. It’s been increasingly painful for the last couple of days, but heat made it much better.
  • Having a pile of books to read (between Christmas gifts, preorders that came up, and the Spectres series of essays on music and sound).
  • “Completing” my Isao Tomita collection — at least covering the eight albums I had on 8-track, cassette or LP when I was younger, plus Daphnis et Chloe, Storm from the East and Nasca Fantasy. If I happen to run into Sound Creature somewhere I might grab that.

I’m turning my attention next to collecting other music I used to have:

  • Jean-Michel Jarre: Oxygène, Équinoxe and Rendez-Vous. I already have the wonderfully weird Zoolook. I find a lot of his other stuff much less compelling, honestly.
  • Kraftwerk: when I was a kid I had a cassette called Robots which was a Capitol Records compilation of several of their hits up to that point. (It took some searching to find that version; it’s not in the Wikipedia list.) I could just go for that, or individually pick up Radio-Activity, Trans-Europe Express, and Der Man-Maschine (since there are a few more good ones on those).
  • The Yellowjackets: Four Corners. The group wobbled between jazz fusion and smooth jazz — as opposed to Spyro Gyra, which pretty much did both at the same time and sometimes it worked. I generally prefer my jazz chunky style. But this album is far more on the fusion side, closer to an updated Weather Report, with a bit of funk and more synth. These days I mostly prefer the jazz and metal-influenced chiptune prog rock (!) of Seajeff, Kartmaze, Danimal Cannon, Stemage etc. — but I can has a nostalge.

read any good books lately?

Here is what I’ve read in 2021. So now you can do the thing where you look at someone’s shelves and judge them.

I can’t guarantee I didn’t forget anything, but this should be every ebook I read, and every physical book I’ve mentioned on Lines or this blog or Instagram, or is sitting in a place that reminds me that I’ve read it this year. There may be some additional ones (especially re-reads) that I just didn’t mention anywhere.

Rereads are in red, favorites in bold.

Magazines / Zines:

  • Black Panels Only
  • Computer Music
  • Electronic Sound
  • Waveform


  • Bullshit Jobs
  • Cracked Media
  • Drone and Apocalypse: An Exhibit Catalog for the End of the World
  • How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems
  • Microsound
  • Monolilthic Undertow
  • Musimathics Vol. 2
  • Solutions and Other Problems
  • The Beep Book
  • The Little Book of Stoicism
  • The Order of Time
  • The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • Until the End of Time

SF + Fantasy (individual books)

  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built
  • Autonomous
  • Bacchanal
  • Black Sun
  • City
  • Constance
  • Cytonic (Skyward #3)
  • Gearbreakers
  • Glow
  • Hard Reboot
  • Howl’s Moving Castle
  • Innate Magic
  • Nophek Gloss
  • Requiem Moon (Scarlet Odyssey Book 2)
  • Solid State Memories
  • Song of the Forever Rains
  • Star Mother
  • The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers #4)
  • The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina
  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey
  • Tithe (Modern Faerie Tales #1)
  • Victories Greater than Death
  • Wings of Fury

Trilogies / Series:

  • Alchemy Wars (The Mechanical, The Rising, The Liberation)
  • Aurora Cycle (Aurora Rising, Aurora Burning)
    • (I have Aurora’s End on my Kindle, as yet unread)
  • D.O.D.O. (The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., Master of Revels)
  • Embers of War (Embers of War, Fleet of Knives)
  • Empire Games (Empire Games, Dark State, Invisible Sun)
  • Greatwinter (Souls in the Great Machine, The Miocene Arrow, Eyes of the Calculor)
  • Lord of the Rings & The Silmarillion
  • The Murderbot Diaries (All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, Exit Strategy, Network Effect, Fugitive Telemetry)
  • Nanotech Succession (Tech-Heaven, The Bohr Maker, Deception Well, Vast)
  • Southern Reach (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance)
  • Spectres
    • (currently reading Composing/Listening; also have Resonances, Ghosts in the Machine)
  • Teixcalaan (A Memory Called Empire, A Desolation Called Peace)
  • The Red (First Light, The Trials, Going Dark)

On the u-bass front, I feel like things are moving fast. I adjusted the truss rod (something I’ve never done before, and I didn’t even know what it was for or that it existed until recently) to reduce buzzing on lower notes on the two lowest strings. I wasn’t super confident about it and didn’t want to apply much force — I feel like a little farther would have nailed it but it resisted turning, so I stopped.

And then I decided to go ahead and put the Thunderblack strings on. It wasn’t hard, except getting the little back panel off without fingernails (it hides the lower end of the strings under the bridge), and remembering that the top two strings need to wrap around the “inside” of their tuners, in the opposite direction from the lower two strings. From online tutorials I’ve seen three different ways people string their u-basses, including some ridiculous sailors’ knots and so on, but these were already trimmed to the exact right length for the simplest and neatest style.

Those strings do certainly feel a bit more sticky than the flat-wounds, not super easy to slide with. But I really do like the sound. I might switch to Pahoehoe strings (slicker, less stable tuning but that same mellow sound), or wait to see what reviewers think of the updated Thunderblack formulation over the next several weeks.

goals for 2022

Each year on the Lines forum, members list their goals (rather than “resolutions”) for the coming year, and check in with how well they did in the previous year. This isn’t far off from what I was doing before — it led to the “recording per week” project of 2016 that proved so pivotal for me. Anyway, my list for next year:

  • Road Chill. This is the opposite of road rage (or maybe, roadkill?) Don’t be provoked by people being senselessly aggressive and unkind — whether it’s on a literal road or a metaphorical one (the information superhighway? the road to the future? okay I’ll stop).
  • Practice and jam on the bass at least once a week (more is better). More about this below.
  • Remember how much I like my synth setup exactly like it is, and don’t look for opportunities to trade stuff just out of habit or curiosity. Remember that it’s not gear that makes my music, it’s me.
  • Keep getting in a bit of walking at work, and try for walks around the lake on weekends when weather permits. Maintain better posture. If the pandemic ends,  maybe another Qi Gong class. Keep testing my blood sugar at least weekly.
  • Look into making meditation a daily practice.

All about that bass: it struck me that we have a bunch of instruments sitting around unplayed. I don’t really have time for them all and still be able to carry out my primary synth mission, but surely there is room for a side quest?

Most of those instruments are sitting upstairs in the second bedroom, and I just don’t have the habit of going there and playing them. But habits like that aren’t too hard to start (e.g. my 2016 “finish a track every week” project).

My first serious stringed instrument was violin, and that seems to have set certain parameters which feel right and others which don’t.

  • Guitar confuses me, with too many strings and weirdly inconsistent intervals between them (unless you go for some custom tuning method, which may also require different string types…) And the neck is too wide and too long and it just feels huge to me.
  • Ukulele is pretty friendly, with 4 strings and many chords are relatively easy. The string intervals are very weird for playing melodies on, but then, it’s not really much of a melody instrument anyway. Soprano and concert ukes are too small for me, but tenor is relatively comfortable. And it is, let’s face it, twee. Fun and easy, but twee.
  • Mandolin is only slightly more difficult with chords, has a nice sound, and consistent intervals, a decent size. But then…
  • Bass has consistent intervals and is monophonic. Easy to jam on. There’s a cool factor. I really like the sound of a fretless bass, and I feel like of all these instruments it’s the one I would most likely be able to work into my “serious” synth music. But even a short-scale fretless (30″, as opposed to the standard 34″) is quite an awkward reach, and it takes some effort to play.

So for a few years now I’ve been considering an Ashbory bass — a funny little 18″ scale length fretless instrument with thick, low-tension silicone rubber strings. It looks like a weird science-fiction toy but sounds akin to an upright bass. I wish I’d grabbed one when they were more widely available and cheap, because nobody is building them now and prices have gone up.

Ukulele maker Kala, inspired by the Ashbory, invented the U-Bass in the late 2000s — also using those thicker, denser, lower-tension strings and relying on amplification, though there are both acoustic-electric and solid-body designs. The instrument, strings, and techniques have gone through a few iterations, attracted some competitors building copies and unique takes, and though it’s still pretty obscure it seems to be growing fast.

After doing my research, I found:

  • The strings seem to have more influence on tone than anything else. Generally, I think the winners here are Pahoehoe or Thunderblack for the upright bass sound, and Gallistrings round-wound for a more electric sound that in some ways isn’t as cool… but a more familiar feel and they definitely work better with some techniques. So it’s hard to choose between them!
  • Aside from the Ashbory, none of the solid-body U-basses has sounded as good to me as the acoustic-electric styles. (Which is kind of a shame because some of them look cooler.)
  • On acoustic-electric, the wood really doesn’t seem to matter. Laminate, solid wood, bamboo… it’s all extremely similar. Probably because it’s not expected to carry acoustically on its own, just drive the pickup.
  • The fancier Shadow preamp on the more expensive Kala models just seem to amplify string noise more than the standard ones on their cheaper models, which seem to be the same ones other builders are using.
  • Fretted vs fretless: I gravitate to fretless, and the coolest sounds seem to come from them. In some demos they do have more string noise, but that varies a lot with string choice and preamp and technique.

Anyway, to kill the indecision I bought a used Hadean UKB-23 FL (fretless). The original strings were replaced by the seller with Kala/Gallistrings round-wound, though it’ll come with the originals. (Hadean’s marketing copy always says “Nylgut” but that’s the line for standard ukes — they have shown Thundergut, Thunderblack and Thunderbrown in their official photos.) I’ll see how that plays and make any string-changing or “I need a second U-bass to cover both ends of the spectrum” decisions after 😉

released: White Bear

New album is up on Bandcamp! As usual it’s pay-what-you-want.

A lot of Eurorack, a lot of software (including a little VCV Rack), a good amount of Minibrute 2S, a little bit of Microfreak, a little bit of Model:Cycles and a smidgen of kalimba.

And that makes 8 albums released in 2021. Whew!

With the remaining time in this year I will be doing a few experiments and perhaps kicking off a new musical practice. And writing here about what that practice is… another day 🙂

a bit windy

Last night was a record-breaker for tornados. Possibly the longest single tornado touchdown in US history (a 240 mile streak, if it’s confirmed) and only the third EF-4 tornado on record. It flattened Mayfield, Kentucky and smashed up a relatively new Amazon warehouse not far from here. It threw debris 30,000 feet into the air, in the way of any commercial flights that were otherwise busy trying not to be near any giant tornadoes. An old photograph from Dawson Springs, Kentucky flew 125 miles to New Albany, Indiana (and is still intact; it’ll be returned to the family that it belongs to).

Here in our home in a St. Louis suburb, we had a “tornado confirmed on the ground” warning that got extended. Less than an hour another warning (“rotation confirmed” right over our town) sent us back into the basement. But thankfully, not a single branch down; even the flimsy shed roof is in no worse shape that it had been.

Completely coincidentally, as my spouse started watching the 1970 Scrooge with Albert Finney, I was recording a replacement for a song I’d titled “Apparition.” I promise it is not about Ghosts of Christmas (Era).

Overall, I feel like the album also coincidentally — though vaguely, at most — fits Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, which I’m halfway through reading now. Again, not really an intended connection — but I am using it as inspiration to rename one of the silly temporary names I had chosen for a track.

Anyway, the new “Apparition” is a radical remix of the original, with a few bits of the old material anchored by a lot of new. The overall shape and tone of it is very different, an appropriately ghostly beginning.

This is the most I’ve reworked my music so close to release — I thought I was going to spend the weekend mastering the album and publish on Monday night, but I made the decision to change it last night between tornadoes.

(some) favorite albums of 2021

Here are some of my favorite albums that were released this year. This isn’t a complete list — MusicBee shows I have 54 of them. 54! Um, 7 of them were by me, but still, that was a lot of supporting artists on Bandcamp.

These are in no particular order alphabetical by album title. I’m not going to try to pick “the best” because they are all different, and maybe some other 2021 albums I’ve listened to are “better” in some ways. But these are the ones that stand out in my mind and I enjoy listening to them.

Buchla Now

Some of the tracks on this compilation are just okay — the sort of abstract, too-random noodly things that “West Coast” synthesists often indulge in — but many of them are brilliant and beautiful. I feel like it generally gets more engaging as it progresses, but honestly, I really love Suzanne Ciani’s “Empty Skies” and that’s just the third track. Overall, I can confidently list this as one of my favorite West Coast albums. Even if I kind of don’t like the term “West Coast” anymore.

Nathan Moody: The Damage Diary

The first Nathan Moody album I encountered — still one of my favorites! — was Etudes I: Blue Box, an exploration of a small, focused Eurorack synth he had put together featuring Mannequins modules and a touchplate keyboard. He has since released many more synth works on various interesting systems, a fantastic album entirely made with self-built electroacoustic instruments, and has been moving in a sort of hybrid direction with acoustic and electronic instruments. I was honestly not into A Shadow No Light Could Make, but whatever he is doing on this one, works. It’s emotional and complex and just overall excellent. I’ve had this less than a week and have listened to it at least three times. I do hope he’s not done with pure synth works like Blue Box or Chrysalis — but I suspect not.

Trifecta: Fragments

Back in the 80s I got into jazz, and more specifically, jazz fusion with synths: Spyro Gyra, the Yellowjackets, etc. This is like that but for 2021, with an unbelievable bass player, a fantastic drummer, and a keyboard player who is absolutely no slouch and makes some interesting sound design choices. When I’m in the right mood, this album is a total joy. Even when I’m not, it’s hard not to be impressed at how good they are at what they do and how tight their groove is.

Dream Division: Legend of Lizard Lake

I’m guessing this is “dungeon synth”? Retro style, lo-fi, low-budget rock/synth stuff good for exploring dungeons without leaving your basement. It’s definitely reminiscent of somewhere between D&D 2nd edition and NES adventure games — in one of the tracks you can practically hear the slimes/oozes bopping along with cartoony squeaks. Anyway, it’s charming and weird and yet it kind of rocks. I’ve been into the general genre of retro, synthy soundtracks for horror/”mysteries of the unexplained” style stuff, and this one seems the most authentic of them all, in its way.

Thanos Fotiadis: The Light Ark

That other Thanos couldn’t be more wrong, but this one is right. The mood overall is darker and heavier than the album and track titles might suggest, but there’s a kind of positivity in it. More contemplative than brooding, as such. An acknowledgement that this is where we are, and we accept it.

Chaz Knapp: Organ Drunes

This album is a series of performances wringing beauty and truth from a not particularly beautiful Yamaha organ picked up in a yard sale. It’s… no particular genre, it’s its own wonderful and unique thing, and it moves through a variety of emotions but mostly I would call it both playful and sensitive.

Leisure Prison: Sustained Tones

A set of synth drone pieces, with rhythmic elements wending through some of them, most of them constantly under emotional and almost physical tension. It really makes one wonder how an obviously completely sound can seem so creepy and ominous just because it is, as the title says, a sustained tone. Something relating to liminal spaces maybe? At any rate, this simultaneously feels like the study of a phenomenon and a strong musical statement at the same time, plus it just sounds cool.

Ryou Oonishi: Tokyo Rain

Rain plus some chill electronic music. Maybe technically ambient, but kind of lives in a place between “chill lo-fi beats to study to” without the beats, the kind of ghostly, sun-faded, warbly tape music that a lot of people (yes me too) like, loneliness and peacefulness. And yes, rain. Probably in Tokyo, but at 3 AM and not particularly close to any cool clubs or whatever. It’s not particularly weird, maybe not even that original, but not boring either — and effective. I have put this album on many times.

I can just barely hear you

Good to know it’s not my ears:

Here’s Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult To Understand

A big part of it comes down to sound being a second-class citizen compared to visuals — the same story in film as it so often is with video games.

I won’t rehash my complaints about how poorly considered sound has been in game projects I’ve worked on… much. When an often-heard dialogue line done by someone in the studio can’t be re-recorded so it doesn’t have an annoying rhythmic cadence, when the dialogue is a combination of professional voice actors recorded in a studio and programmers mumbling into a budget headset mic, when you can’t spare two minutes to tone down a particularly loud sound so it doesn’t overwhelm everything else, when you ask for music and don’t inform the composer it’s going to be limited to 8kHz mono WAV so they can make appropriate sound design choices… and none of that is considered a quality problem? It’s pretty obvious how much regard the studio leadership has for sound… and how much better an experience competing games will be.

Anyway. When watching streaming shows we usually have captions on. Sometimes there is dialog in the captions that isn’t unintelligible but 100% inaudible, to the point where it makes me wonder if the line was cut from the audio. I’ve also found captions can reveal character names that we are not explicitly told, and spellings that would otherwise be difficult to guess at, which can be nice for someone who’s more of a reader than a movie watcher. But I feel like this shouldn’t be necessary if the story were being told well, and than includes both dialogue writing and good clear sound.

Speaking of sound, I think I’ll record one more track for the next album and then go into artwork/mastering.

Every album is at least a little different from the previous, but some definitely have their own flavor. Sometimes there’s an intentional creative direction — but this time I think it just happened that way.

Overall, this one has been a little less droney. There’s a bit more interplay between parts — call-and-response, off-grid sequences that trigger something else, generative parts based on the audio from another source. The Model:Cycles comes out to play a little, though you won’t find any four-on-the-floor techno or indeed many “drum” parts. Software has a bigger role than I’ve given it in a while, with Grid and VCV patches, plus a little bit of OPS7, Vital, and Quadra. Part of this is because the Launchpad X makes it a joy to play expressive parts on software synths, and VCV’s ability to send MIDI spices up the sequencing and tuning, so I’m using software synths for more than a few supplemental drones. I’m doing more with xenharmonic tunings, making them battle 12TET-tuned parts, and slipping between quantized and unquantized (and “semi-quantized”) tunings. And we’re hearing more Noise Engineering here, with Melotus and Lacrima frequently adding something, a bit of Loquelic Iteritas, and finding my way with the Ruina plugin without necessarily pushing it to extremes.

Given my thoughts about my musical near future, the albums of 2022 stand a fair chance of shifting yet again. More on that as it develops!

rack ’em up

I think the current stand situation is going to be okay, for now, once I put the anti-slip mat between the Minibrute’s guitar stand and the metal base of the laptop stand. I may still go for the KVGear stand eventually though.

I tried VCV Rack 2 standalone. Of all modular software, it is probably the closest it comes to Eurorack. But it inevitably just doesn’t feel the same, and I would generally rather patch the hardware.

However, using it as a plugin inside of a DAW changes the story. After reading a few users’ experiences (positive and negative) I went ahead and got the full version at its intro price.

I feel that its role is different not just from the hardware, but from Bitwig Grid.

Bitwig, without Grid, is still mighty. You can route audio and control signals around not quite willy-nilly but more flexibly than in other DAWs I have used. A very handy part of that is that the audio and control signals can cross over: if I want to modulate one of the drawbars in an Organ device with the output of a Eurorack oscillator coming in on hardware input 5, I can do that. If I want a tempo-synced LFO in Bitwig to modulate something in my Eurorack gear, I can do that too.

Grid sort of coalesces that into a view where you mostly connect inputs, modules and controls, and outputs a little more directly. There are still a few invisible hands turning virtual knobs, where in Eurorack you’d have a patch cable. And there are a few places where you need somewhat silly workarounds to get signals between Grid and elsewhere in Bitwig.

Some of Grid’s big limitations:

  • Feedback patching is disallowed under most circumstances. You can work around it with some of its routing tools (though this adds an unknown, if small, amount of latency.)
  • Grid can’t generate MIDI. You can work around this (imperfectly) using the Replacer device.
  • Grid’s audio outputs within the DAW are limited. This too can be worked around. (However, the hardware I/O is wide open, which makes it great for working alongside hardware modular.)
  • Getting modulation sources out of Grid to control other things can be a little awkward depending on where those “other things” are, but again: there are workarounds.
  • Grid cannot host other VST plugins… although (again!) there’s a workaround. A very awkward workaround which gets worse if you want stereo.
  • Only Bitwig can create more Grid modules, there’s no third-party development.

And VCV:

  • Allows feedback patching. There are matrix mixers and so on. There’s one sample of latency in feedback, which is as tight as digital can get.
  • Can generate MIDI — convert V/OCT pitch signals and gates to MIDI note on/off messages, or CV in general to CC. It’s pretty cool having Marbles and Stages playing Aalto!
  • Can assign VST automation parameters to knobs, or use MIDI CC to CV conversion.
  • Its audio I/O is limited to whatever the host DAW allows — no direct hardware access. Unfortunately in Bitwig, this means a total of four audio inputs (two if stereo). This limits just how much weaving back and forth between hardware and software one could do within a single instance.
  • VCV can host other VST plugins inside itself as a module, but that’s an additional $30. With that I suppose one could use ReaStream or Senderella to work around the previous limitation. And yes, you can host an instance of VCV inside of VCV if you want to. Unless I find a specific need for it though, I won’t go this route.
  • There’s robust third-party development. Not without some community issues which I’ve mentioned before, and not without more than a few ugly designs, weird panel layouts and kind of pointless things (but the same could be said in Eurorack to no small extent).

There are definitely some gems in VCV’s free library, and that’s before some of the major players like Instruo and Alright have updated their modules to work with version 2. If I want 8 parallel instances of Rings, now I can do that. Supercell, with its very different vibe from Beads, is back on the menu. Two Befaco spring reverbs for stereo — why not? The kind of garish-looking Plateau delay/reverb sounds impressive, I’ve found some tasty waveshaper/distortion options, and there are some microtonal quantizers I’ll definitely be making use of.

So VCV isn’t a “replace my hardware” option nor as much of a “shore up the weak spots in Bitwig Grid” as I might have thought, but it’s going to pull its weight.