mama said…

We had a nice Thanksgiving trip to visit my in-laws. They have a very entertaining 5-month old puppy who defies gravity to lick faces and ears, and we’ve got a cute nephew, and the food was all good and the drive wasn’t too bad. So that was pretty pleasant!

Teenage Engineering announced some ridiculous, mysterious overpriced thing (executive desk toy maybe?) called the Grip Car that caused people to make fun of them again… and then the very next day, announced the “EP-133 K.O. II” sampler/drum machine, which expanded on the very small, flimsy, toylike Pocket Operator sampler. But this incarnation is a hybrid of retro desktop calculator, toy, and modern groovebox. Compact and yet generously sized for playing. Those buttons have velocity and pressure sensors, and there are built in effects, the ability to record unquantized, record fader movements, built-in filters and effects and a live performance sort of attitude overall. It is exceedingly clever, and priced at the bottom end of sampling grooveboxes. The first production run sold out very quickly but I went for it. It also shipped almost immediately and was waiting for me when we got home from our trip.

Apparently the project was conceived by buying a whole bunch of available off-the-shelf parts while hedging against parts shortages, then designing something around it. So that’s part of how they kept costs down. The display, aside from the text segments in the center, is just plain LEDs with a color overlay. (There’s kind of an overwhelming amount of status lights going on at times and I end up tuning out most of it, but it doubles as a fun light show when using the punch-in effects.) Weird as this is to say, it is partially Lego-compatible — the pot shafts and slider are axles, the nameplate/battery cover and the speaker grill are attached with Lego-like studs and there are holes on the side where connectors could snap in (maybe for a stand or to link multiple units together — this is supposedly the first in a series using this form factor).

There have been several reports about non-working faders. This is probably due to the packaging — it’s an extremely tight fit, single-wall thin cardboard box, not as rigid or generally protective as it should be. Some people have been able to DIY a repair with a bent paper clip. Thankfully mine works without issues.

The sound is great at the price, and it’s a lot of fun to play and put stuff together. Hip-hop producers are having a field day with it, and I’m able to get some wonky droney ambient stuff going as well as deep dubby beats and the like, just with the included samples. Sampling the modular, DAW, and other toys should work out very nicely.

It doesn’t do x0x style sequencing, where you pick (for instance) the hi-hat and press buttons to choose which steps they land on. Instead, if you don’t want to record live, you can navigate to the step you want using the +/- buttons and then choose which pads are played on that step. It kind of makes sense, it’s just like live recording but paused. For live stuff, it’ll record unquantized if you want it to, and you can punch in time-correction and even swing, which is pretty unique but really nice to have. You can also manually and very precisely shift steps to nail down just the right groove.

There are a few things that seem weird until you get used to them, but the adjustment period is pretty short. There are also inevitable hidden button combos and config settings with cryptic code numbers, so it’s not a 100% manual-free experience by any means. But for the most part it’s simpler and more immediate than Elektron boxes tend to be.

There are limitations, most of which don’t concern me. 64mb of total memory, which is tiny in 2023 but is really more than sufficient for what the box does. Apparently no way to transfer patterns/scenes to a computer — since I’ll just be using this for screwing around or for temporary things I don’t mind that. No resampling but that’s not common in cheaper devices anyway. No sample loop points for sustained sounds, but apparently that’s coming. There’s only one master effect at a time (delay, reverb, distortion, a resonant LPF, or compression) plus the LPF/HPF per group and live punch-in FX; I feel like the distortion and reverb would have complimented each other nicely, but since I’ll be integrating it with my other gear when not just goofing around with it, that’s no big deal anyhow.

The only real shame is the way the packaging has caused all these slider failures in transit. They probably paid a good bit to license the Muhammad Ali photos and make the box look very nice, it’s just not functionally protective enough.

The closing for my parents’ house is Thursday. We need to do a lot of little things to help out — the final walkthrough, getting the keys, changing locks, taking some detailed measurements, picking up packages and delivered furniture (from Black Friday sales), being there for the alarm guy, etc. I’ve also got to do a bit more Christmas shopping, and take my car in for service this weekend (Check Engine light, but it’s also nearing the 80K mile service.)

flavors of beauty

In a discussion of Seqund over on Lines, the concept of polyrhythm vs. polymeter came up. This is terminology that people often get wrong, including myself if I’m not thinking about it too hard. In both cases, you’ve got concurrent musical stuff happening, but they are counting to different numbers.

In polyrhythm, you’re dividing the same amount of time into different-sized steps — e.g. 8th notes and triplets simultaneously.

In polymeter, each step is the same amount of time, but the length of the pattern is different. The patterns get out of phase, eventually lining up again after both have repeated enough times.

This is nicely illustrated here. I wanted to point that out because it’s the best explanation I’ve seen, and I feel like I’m less likely to make this mistake in the future.

Tangent: (Polyphonic is something else — it means playing more than one note simultaneously. Paraphonic means it can play more than one note but not independently — they share the same articulation. And multitimbral means the synth that can create completely different sounds simultaneously and independently, controlled by different MIDI channels or whatever.

To add to the confusion, monophonic can mean the opposite of polyphonic — capable of playing only one note at a time — or it can mean the opposite of stereo, a single audio channel instead of two.)

The KVR forum has been having a fit of silliness over a recent spate of “what’s your favorite reverb?” threads, with the parody threads now outnumbering the (possibly) serious ones. Many of them are dumb and it’s getting tiresome, but some of them are a bit clever (e.g. “What’s your favorite winter reverb?” after a “What’s your favorite spring reverb?” thread.)

But I do have some new favorite reverbs. Native Instruments Raum has been at the top of my list more recently, but I just picked up Audiority Xenoverb in a ( s i g h ) Black Friday sale. It’s got a number of algorithms, some of which I don’t much care for but some have a really nice ambient/weird vibe to them.

Bigger though: Valhalla Room, a reverb plugin dating back to 2011, was just updated with a 2.0 version that adds a Space control as well as low-cut EQ. Space is an incredible addition — adding a feedback loop for the predelay and early reflections, which means you can get all kinds of echoes with varying diffusion and modulation. This is part of Raum’s appeal but here it’s better and more varied — you can get a nice retro vibe or a crazy ambient wash just from the early reflection section, and can still blend in the late reverb. This has pushed the plugin to my personal favorite reverb, above Valhalla Plate, Raum, Desmodus, Xenoverb, Twangstrom and the rest. Of course there’s still room (if you’ll pardon the pun) for a variety of different reverb plugins since they all have their own characteristics.

Also Valhalla Supermassive was updated too, with two new algorithms — I missed that originally. One of them is particularly good for me, with relatively sparse taps, putting it in that Imitor/Desmodus space that I like but with its own twist.

And… not a reverb, but the Make Noise Spectraphon is supposed to have a new firmware version tomorrow with two new oscillator modes! It’s like Christmas, but on Thanksgiving!

Zorlon Cannon mkII arrived, and I played with a bit. I actually forgot how great it is. It took a little time to reacquaint myself with its features and I think I actually understand it better now than I did before.

Oh man, I love this thing.

Without getting too deep into details, this has two identical sections. Each can be clocked externally or internally, slowly or at audio rate. Each section has four binary pattern generators with editable pattern length and a tap scheme for generating the pattern. At audio rate, more regular patterns create square/pulse waves while longer and more irregular patterns give crunchy digital noise. There’s a mixer to blend the four patterns into a single CV or audio output. Combinations of different patterns can create octaves or chords…

It’s great fun to mix those four outputs externally with Planar, or crossfade them or treat them as individual voices. I had a patch going last night where the top section was providing the pitch sequence for the bottom section as well as four envelope triggers, so there was a coherent but complex, polyphonic ensemble going on that sounded a lot like Karplus-Strong string synthesis, thanks to sitting somewhere between noise and square waveshapes.

For use as a pitch sequencer, it’s a little more fiddly to dial in than Enigma. The loops that are produced can be more complex, since they come from mixing four different patterns with independent lengths (there’s that polymeter thing again). But overall this is so much more capable and inspiring to me, and I’m glad to have it back in my rack again.

Years ago I had a friend (and coworker, roommate, co-religionist) who was into essential oils — not aromatherapy as in “this will cure cancer” claims, but the art/aesthetics of fragrance, a beautiful thing that makes you feel good. I got into it a little bit, different oils and incense and whatnot. Several years later I tried some stuff from Bath Sabbath, a heavy metal/pagan themed brand of scents and beard oils, and that was fun. But it’s been a while.

In a search for synth stuff on Etsy, I accidentally came across a fragrance named Synth by Cinis Labs. Curious, I looked into their other stuff and wound up getting a sampler pack of four.

  • Synth itself I’m not sure about. I don’t feel like words are a good way to describe fragrances unless you can compare it to something familiar, but even though this a synthetic fragrance (mostly Iso E Super) it seems “perfumey” though not quite floral, almost powdery. It’s not going to be a favorite… on its own. The description does say it can layer with other things, and right now I have it with FNF (below) and that seems to work.
  • This Splendid Vertigo was described as being somewhere between masculine and feminine, so that intrigued me. Mostly I got the floral aspect of it rather than the leathery notes. I feel like it got better as the day went on, though.
  • Forgive Not Forget is better, more incense-like (well duh, it’s mainly frankincense based). I can get behind this.
  • Black Sheep isn’t the fourth one I ordered — that was supposed to be Nibiru, which is vetiver-based. But this is probably my favorite of these four. It’s not even listed on their site but apparently is birch and vanilla.

Other stuff they have is Absinthe IX (I don’t think it’d work for me), Nibiru (which I’d still like to try), Unholy Water (citrus/incense, could work) and… oddly, Fueled Up which is supposed to smell like gasoline, motor oil, metallic notes and some woods and spices. I’ll skip that one.

Fragrances, it strikes me, are a bit like music in that they are non-verbal, non-visual and abstract, but have a deep connection to memory and emotion. Music for the nose, if you will.

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Starbucks isn’t a habit for me, just an occasional thing. Forget PSL, for me it’s the chai. They are known for getting peoples’ names wrong, and this morning they decided my name is “Dae.” I’m finding it kinda cool actually. I’ve occasionally contemplated what I’d want to be called if I were really going to present myself as nonbinary (instead of just quietly being nonbinary and not really thinking about it that much) and that could maybe work. Maybe. But since I’m not really doing that, consider the idea filed away.

I’ve gone and bought a used Zorlon Cannon mk2. I’ve missed mine ever since dropping it for the Drezno — but as much as I like Drezno, what it does is too different to act as a substitute. All the older Harvestman stuff is hard to find and has only gotten more expensive, but this price was significantly less than what it’s been selling for on Reverb. I’m going to let go of the ALA Turing Machine trio, because it hasn’t turned out to be the continuous inspiration machine I’d hoped for based on playing with the VCV Rack version.

Once I manage to resell everything I’ve got posted, I’ll have spent less on synth hardware than software this year. But that reselling is going slowly — people aren’t buying nearly as much as they did during the height of the pandemic, and that includes used stuff. I’ll wait until after our Thanksgiving travel and lower the prices a bit more, but thankfully I’m not in that much of a hurry.

The next album is progressing, in fact I’m pretty close to done, I think. Even after a couple of tracks I decided not to include. I’m still thinking about how to handle Bandcamp, but the tentative plan is to go ahead and release this one there, while holding off on rereleasing my Ambient Online contributions.

My parents’ house purchase seems to be marching on. The details of the final walkthrough (with me) and closing (remotely, via notary) are arranged. I guess the seller did wind up responsible for some repairs as a result of the occupancy inspection, but I haven’t gotten the details on that. It’s unlikely they’ll move during the winter, so we’ll probably still drive down to Georgia for Christmas (and might end up hauling some boxes with us for them on our way back up).

In the world of games, I’ve been continuing to play the same old stuff. Art of Rally got its first (and probably last) DLC, Australian stages plus four new cars, as well as an update which fixes a few things — hopefully including the Unity crashes I occasionally experienced even after resolving the XBox controller driver mess. Soulstone Survivors got a huge update that reworked runes, the Chaos skills, and some interface quality-of-life stuff including the ability to assess skill performance in the midst of a game — so I’ve been remaking my notes on that. The new WRC game by Codemasters, unfortunately published by EA, has been released but I’ve held off — leaving it both as a wishlist item and something to grab once they’ve worked out more performance issues and bugs. And I’ve been thinking about doing another round of Guild Wars 2, probably not bothering to finish Heart of Thorns but I might jump into the third expansion and claim my boat. After that I might get back into Elder Scrolls Online, since I seem to recall they’ve got some new stuff.