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.