consult the bones

I am a horrible singer. But otherwise, instruments whose pitch is unquantized are fine by me — I was quite good at violin (for a student), fairly comfortable with fretless bass. I was no worse than anyone else without thousands of hours of practice on a theremin. My kazoo playing is… fine I guess. I use unquantized sequencers more than quantized ones in my electronic music.

But Trombone Champ? That’s humbling. It’s like QWOP meets Guitar Hero.

Thankfully the primary emotion that results is not frustration, but joyful hilarity. I’ve played it enough over the weekend to have some of the songs stuck in my head now — original ones like “Trombone Skyze” and “Baboons!” as well as songs like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (which I dislike pretty strongly actually, along with the sport itself) and “O Canada” (which is fine).

I’ve been trying to keep up semi-consistent bass practice, but I find if I play for long enough — which happens more often when I’m recording and want to keep going until it’s done — it leaves me with a pretty sore index finger. Something about the angle I’m playing the Miezo or the strings (round-wound) is doing a number on that one particular spot, instead of building up calluses. And once it’s in that state, I really don’t want to play on it until it heals.

Possibly playing other stringed instruments in between would help. But another option is, surprisingly, a glove. Intuitively this seems like it’d interfere, but apparently, with the right kind of glove it can make playing smoother and easier. There are a few professional players with nerve issues, excessive sweating etc. who wear them regularly. Nickel allergies are another reason… and oh hey, I do have a mild nickel allergy, which is why we have titanium wedding rings now instead of white gold like the first set. I wonder if that’s contributing to the issue?

Musicians’ Practice Gloves are the most common brand and people seem to like them, so I’ll give them a try.

After multiple shipping delays, the USB power cable for my Pod60 arrived. That makes it a handy portable, and more importantly, stowable overflow case. Right now Inertia and Afterneath are in there — I may still wind up selling them after a while, but I appreciate having access to all the modules I own, at least.

I have a Cosmotronic Peradam on the way. It’s a fairly complex distortion module, which phase-shifts its input and uses that to amplitude modulate itself, then goes through a two-band drive stage with an offset, then it feeds back. I like what I hear in demos, and it seems like there’s a lot of potential to inject and combine signals in interesting ways.

My current read is Adam Roberts’ The This. Not counting the introduction, it seems to be set in two time periods: a near-future gig economy dystopia with a suspicious new social media service, and a farther future in which said cult (oops, did I say cult?) is a hive mind breaking away from the “individuals” to terraform Venus. The writing style is certainly unusual, occasionally gimmicky but clever enough to get away with it. For instance, one of the chapters splits columns between the actual story and a Twitter-like social media feed, filled with clues, puns, and spam. Reading both feels distracting, just like trying to check one’s phone while reading a novel.

Before (the) that, I read Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, thanks to many recommendations on the Lines forum and a very cheap sale price. It was kind of fascinating but also really not my thing. I generally feel like magical realism is a cop-out — trying to write magic without the stigma of being a dreaded genre writer, and managing to omit the actual fun of tales of other worlds, gods and spirits and magic, leaving only a drug-like weirdness. Just not my thing.

near miss?

Several years ago, I went through a couple of months with arthritis in my left wrist. Part pain, part a feeling of wrongness/weakness, like it just wasn’t going to work properly.

There was a round of painkillers, but the problem went away on its own and the wrist has given me very little trouble since.

Last night it came back, and was partially responsible for waking me up early. (That, plus some sinus congestion and the cat getting his usual pre-dawn energy burst.)

It was annoying enough before, particularly with typing or driving. It would definitely get in the way of bass playing, even with the Miezo. So that got me worried (which also contributed to getting me out of bed early).

Thankfully, after Tylenol it’s at least 95% better, which tells me it’s not like that first time at all, and is probably going to continue being okay even after the Tylenol wears off.

I’m pretty annoyed at Biden casually saying “the pandemic is officially over.” Community transmission is still high in a lot of the US. Deaths are way down but not zero. Catching it once does not grant immunity, getting vaccinated improves your chances but doesn’t grant perfect immunity (especially if you don’t get boosters) and vaccination rates are still lower than they should be. There have been several horror stories online recently about Long Covid and how it affects cognitive function, and frankly that scares me the most.

I know this president is much less awful than the previous one where it comes to off-the-cuff foolish statements, but he really should have paid attention to the words of the philosopher Benjamin Franklin Parker: with great power there must also come great responsibility.

it rolled away

You know how music fans are sometimes disappointed in a favorite band’s new album because it’s a creative departure from their previous ones? Sometimes you never really get over that, and sometimes you come to appreciate their newer stuff almost as if they’re a different group. But either way you should at least respect that musicians don’t necessarily want to — and in fact, probably can’t — keep doing the same thing forever.

It’s like that with books to. It is very much like that with Tamsyn Muir’s The Locked Tomb series.

Spoilers ahead….

Gideon the Ninth had a snarky protagonist who was easy to like, or at least to laugh with, some great dynamics with other characters, a dark and intriguing setting where you could feel the weight and dust of history, and both magical mysteries and murder mysteries to unravel. Not everyone loved it, but it sold a ton and won piles of awards and will be on my top ten list forever.

The sequel, Harrow the Ninth, barely included Gideon, instead focusing on her partner/frenemy Harrowhark, who is not so charismatic. Her memory has been tinkered with (mainly to erase Gideon!), she’s not entirely sane, she’s being kept in the dark about a lot of things, there’s an imminent threat that’s way out of her league, and there are conspiracies afoot. It’s confusing as hell — it’s probably more confusing in some ways to people who have read the first book. The people around her are mostly awful and manipulative or outright murderous. But it’s still intriguing, a very different read from the first book but enjoyable in its own way.

The new third book, Nona the Ninth, is different again — though it also features a protagonist with memory/identity issues who’s being kept in the dark about almost everything, there’s an imminent threat way out of her league, and conspiracies afoot. Where Harrow carried guilt and responsibility though, Nona is an innocent, and the people around her are fascinating. It’s hard for either her or the reader to tell who might be a villain, or against “the good guys” even if not villainous — but she loves and/or admires almost everyone anyway — pretty much right through the entire book. I read a review that said it’s a book where we’re waiting for things to happen, but… believe me, things do happen. I think I like this one more than the second book, but I can’t recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read the others because you will be hopelessly lost.

Nona came as a surprise (apparently to the author’s agent and editor as well as fans) because the third book was originally going to be Alecto the Ninth. Instead, we got an extended story of the freeing of Alecto, more about the Blood of Eden group, and the flashback story of how The Emperor Undying got his start. And you know, I think there are plenty of stories in this universe, we don’t have to go back and revisit the first episode. Sure I loved the first book, but that story has been told — if I want more of it I can read it again. Let’s not get too Star Wars with sequels and prequels rehashing the same plot points, shall we?

We did get a bit of Gideon snark in the second and third books — in a series about necromancy, you shouldn’t be surprised when dead people show up and insult everyone — and I’m okay with that. Nona was a neat character and I enjoyed reading her story. So there.

build order

Last night’s music making attempt did not end with a recording that I want to share with anyone, but I realized afterward, it wasn’t fruitless either.

In real-time strategy games, build order especially during the early game can be extremely important. You need the right balance of resource gathering, exploration, research, defense, strike capability, and expansion. Your units have to be able to counter enemy attacks and support each other, so you need to have the right units. The wrong bad build order might mean getting crushed quickly, or it might mean holding on for a long while but never being able to win.

I think build order might be vital to my music-making process too. I noticed this when I first got the 0-Ctrl and was smitten with it. And of course, now I have the new bass. Yesterday’s session started with a sound that I like, essentially a single drone with a rhythmic element, and immediately I wanted to add a bass part to it. And I wanted to keep it a clean sound to show the tone of the bass, rather than looking for the next sound that fit. For five hours, I kept trying to add elements, change them up, piece something together — another drone, a more chordal sound I could vary with the BeetTweek, a stronger rhythmic pulse. I tried playing low parts on the bass, I tried higher “solo-ish” parts doubled with Aalto, I tried middle parts. I tried adding reverb and delay while still trying to preserve the clean sound, and fiddled with the EQ. I never found something to play on it that fit. I recorded 11 takes and deleted them all.

Yes, it was frustrating, and I would have liked to have created something nice. But I got some bass practice in, I built up the calluses, and I had this realization about build order. That makes it still time well spent. Finding out what doesn’t work is seriously valuable.

So that stuff I said about hypophantasia, and how it’s not absolute, how bits of mental images sometimes get through? During part of that session yesterday I had this half-formed visual that I’m not sure I can put into words. It was extremely synthwave, with an orange-brown sun baking a landscape that was simultaneously black flat planes (but glowing and saturated with that received heat), and a sort of a beachside road scene. It doesn’t make any particular sense. I had saved my project as “Sun Something” hoping I could find a better title after finishing it. Deleted files don’t need names, but maybe the image will inspire something else.

Last night I also had a realization about my relationship to the TalkBass forum: I’m proud to be weird. The membership trends toward conservative (in a general sense, not necessarily politically) rather than experimental in a way that itself is very unusual for the music forums that I normally frequent. So I guess I want people on the forum to realize there are more possibilities than playing the root on 1 and 3 in a dad band on an “FSO with tort” (Fender-Shaped Object with a tortoiseshell pickguard). That all those great players they like to name-drop got famous because they developed their own style and sound rather than imitating everybody else. But also, I just like being weird, and maybe I have been posting at times just to establish myself as the weird one in their midst.

There was a recent thread, “What’s the weirdest music you listen to?” This is a dangerous question to put before me in any case, but of course, most of the membership’s answers were just not weird enough for my standards. I legitimately tried to answer, but found myself drifting more toward “I’m weirder than you” instead. I backed off a bit. But I still wound up listing an eclectic bunch of about 40 albums. Maybe I should have just posted a couple of my own tracks. Or… just not.

It’s not like I’m scoring points — I want to make sure I’m not being obnoxious about this.

enner G

About three different conversations on different forums were talking about the Soma Labs Enner last night, and the one that said it was about halfway between a Strega and a Lyra-8 got my attention. I really don’t need another instrument, and after watching videos, I can skip it. It seems more of an instrument to play/explore on its own rather than with other synth gear, a bass, etc.

But that inspired me to fire up the Strega in some of the free time I had this morning before needing to log in to work. Between Strega, Afterneath, and 0-Ctrl I have quite a nice patch going, just a sort of droning loop that I can add subtle variations to with touchplates or small knob movements on one of the 0-Ctrl rows. I’m curious to try that with some bass improvisation, and find out how the Miezo’s pickup reacts to touchplate stuff. I’m looking forward to that as soon as I’m done with work!

I’m planning to submit a couple of tracks for the next Ambient Online this time. It seems like a good time to do it since I’m between albums and exploring the new bass, and some of the vibe I was getting while playing with it and the MIDI Bass plugin and Aalto really lends itself more toward “regular ambient” than my spookier stuff.

Trevor of SubMatrix Audio was kind enough to send me the flipped front panel for BeetTweek — I’m not sure why, but I appreciate it! Let’s call in a beta test, since in the process I found an error in the manual (the nuts around the encoder are 3/16, not 3mm). I do think the knob is better positioned this way, though some people might be offended that flipped mode doesn’t rearrange the jack order, so they’re now DCBA, WZYX instead of ABCD, XYZW 😉

I don’t think I’m cut out for this thing where I have more good Eurorack modules than active rack space for them. So I bought a MyVolts Ripcord to power my 4ms Pod60 via USB. I can put a couple modules in there and run them off a battery, moving the little case out of the way when not needed.

Having finished the four extant books of the Stormlight Archive, I found myself wanting to reread more Cosmere stuff. I chose Warbreaker and then Elantris, since:

  • These are standalone books. Nona the Ninth is going to be released in a few days (whoooo!) and I don’t want to be deep in a series when that hits 🙂
  • I’ve only read those once each.
  • The scenes with certain characters (Zahel, Azure, Nightblood) in Stormlight made me more curious about them. Ditto for the Seon in Stormlight (possibly the only Elantris reference in that series).
  • Hoid. In the books written so far, everyone’s favorite worldhopper is far more active and more fun on Roshar than elsewhere, and I couldn’t remember much about his other appearances. But I haven’t encountered him in Elantris yet, and it’s possible he’s not in it at all given that the Cognitive Realm around Sel is supposed to be super messed up.

not a theremin

I found this YouTube video delightful. Not just because he turns a Commodore 64 into a theremin using a spoon, and I am nostalgic for the C64 and its ahead-of-its-time sound chip. More because he explains the process quite clearly. I finally understand capacitance and why its symbol on schematics is ─┤├─ .

I commented the other day on just how hard-hitting the end of Oathbringer was. Well, after my second reread of Rhythm of War I have to say that it’s no slouch either. Several big things happen all at once, including a main character’s personal victory over depression and PTSD that he can leverage into a wider victory, several reconciliations, a cascading series of rewarding payoffs and a shocking surprise twist or three. Overall it’s still not the grand moment from the third book, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Some weird vivid dreams last night. For some reason I found myself needing to wield four knives simultaneously, so I took a drug called Prehensyl to be able to, uh… hold and move them with the backs of my hands, somehow. And I was thinking about that as I was started to wake up and ease into consciousness. I imagined hands growing from my fingers, climbing skyscrapers in gecko fashion, and all sorts of other effects and side effects of Prehensyl. That wasn’t the only weird and vivid bit, but it’s what I remember and wrote down as soon as I woke up.

Normally I can’t really visualize things in my “mind’s eye.” According to the VVIQ test, I am hypophantasic — I have very little ability to “see” things in my imagination and usually it doesn’t happen at all. I grew up thinking that “mind’s eye” was metaphorical and was surprised to learn otherwise. Aphantasia/hypophantasia has only been researched in the last couple of decades, and some of the information I’ve read about it online doesn’t really match my experience. For instance, they claim that you’re less likely to have nightmares or vivid dreams, or to daydream and be distracted. Ha. When I’m dreaming I have no trouble seeing things without my eyes, and as I wake from a vivid dream I still have some capacity to do so. When the dream goes a little bit lucid, that can be really neat — as long as my primary emotion at the time isn’t frustration at having a particularly repetitive dream or pointless efforts, at which point I simply wake myself up. Or that’s how it feels; perhaps lucid dreaming only feels like you have control over it.

(After all, consciousness itself might not be a real thing. The decisions of our conscious mind might just be rationalization for what the nervous system has already started doing deterministically anyway.)