I decided to actually do a proper study and writeup of Akemie’s Castle, after going over it so many times throughout my modular journey to judge it (and always finding it worthy).

Unless I come to a point where I consider getting away from Eurorack entirely, I don’t think it’s going to be subject to that kind of trial again. It’s proven itself too many times.

I’m glad I went through the semi-formal process this time. I tried to take nothing for granted, and wound up learning some new things about this module that I’ve had for years.

I think I will proceed across the top row and hit the rest of the modules as I go. I’m not sure I have much to say about Xaoc Tallin, so I might write up a combined page with the “trivial” stuff. But next to that is Drezno, and that’s going to be an interesting one: a real chameleon that depends greatly on how you patch it. I’ll have to work out a strategy to cover it.

mythic proportions

The long(ish) awaited Dawesome Myth was released a few days ago, conveniently after my album release. Despite a lot of words on the website about how easy and intuitive it is, it’s a synth you can go very deep with, which is reflected in its generous 90 day demo period.

Looking at the GUI and some of the hype, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the raison d’etre of the plugin is its resynthesis engine. But:

  • you can leave this at a default sine wave, and using only a handful of “transformer” parameters, make several radical changes to the sound using FM and really intuitive waveshaping
  • you can add modules to the oscillator, filter or FX sections of the synth which allow for multiple types of FM as well as ringmod, AM, subtractive, distortion synthesis and physical modeling
  • you can entirely disable the “iris” and add an oscillator module with a choice of classic waveshapes and then use that for most of the other synthesis methods

It’s not a standard FFT analysis, additive resynthesis thing like Alchemy and many other predecessors, where it produces a similar-but-slightly-worse version of the input. It produces something that is kind of related to the input, but not always recognizable. Some people think “it’s crap” and give up right there. But as far as I can infer, the point isn’t to sound like other synths but to provide feed stock for those transformers.

On the one hand, different strokes synths for different folks. On the other, the people dismissing it because it isn’t the thing that they thought it should be are missing out.

I almost had talked myself out of getting Myth before digging very far into the demo myself, not because of anything about the synth itself, but because I looked over my gear usage for the last four releases and it was a bit surprising. The breakdown for voices (looking strictly at their origin, not effects/processing) is about like this:

50% Eurorack
20% software synths (VST/CLAP)
15% software modular (VCV Rack & Bitwig Grid)
5% Strega/Minibrute 2S
5% bass
5% other hardware / physical instruments

Within the softsynth category, usage was spread out between several different plugins. My absolute favorite softsynth, Aalto, got used 2.5% of the time. My second most used was, to my surprise, Manis Iteritas. I had a 5-way tie for third-most. There are plenty of excellent synths I like that got used just once or not at all… so does it make sense to get more softsynths?

After trying the demo of Myth though… yes, it does. It’s almost closer to the VCV Rack category than any other synth I have.

Also, now I don’t feel so bad about not playing the bass more. That’s just how it goes for me, and that’s OK. (But this is something I’ll come back to think about with each potential new gear purchase…)

Also the new Mystic Circuits Ana 2 was released. I kind of thought about skipping it after all — I don’t really need the additional utility it provides after all — but the greatly expanded potential for fun modulation made me decide to go ahead and grab it.

let the chips fall…

I’ve now finished recording on the next album. Like Parallax it’s in two parts, each consisting of multiple sessions that blend together. I was originally planning to go for two 30-minute parts but the second one wanted to end where it did… and that’s kind of the theme here. Making the music and just letting it work out the way it does. Not exactly a new concept for me, but the way the first couple of sessions just sort of automatically fit together hand in glove made me feel that the album’s theme should be, loosely, serendipity and trusting in fate and a relaxed attitude toward certain aspects of the process and outcome. So I’m calling this one “Where They May.” Thankfully I’m finishing it before May — it’s taken a while (by my standards) due to life events and illness etc.

As for the phrase “let the chips fall where they may,” I always thought it was an odd turn of phrase referring to gambling, with chips “falling” to the winners of a hand — or perhaps a pachinko-like game with literally falling tokens of some kind. But the internet says it comes from chopping wood. Not so much about gambling, as focusing on the broad strokes and dealing with the details after (if it’s even necessary)… that’s not unlike my musical approach.

So, yep… on to mastering, artwork and publishing my notes. The notes have some neat detail that reveals how many recording takes there were per session, or at least I think it’s neat anyway.

The art… hmm. I had an AI-generated image I thought would be cool, but my general attitude is a lot more frosty and skeptical toward AI art now, even when it doesn’t really look like AI art. Maybe especially when it doesn’t look like AI art, because I start wondering whether there is a specific artist’s work that it does look like.

I thought maybe there was something to be found on the borders of glitch art and AI art, where you give it nonsensical prompts and it produces something uniquely weird. While I’ve had a little luck keeping things extremely abstract (the cover of Daydream Network for instance), often a style still imposes itself, one obviously cribbed from human-made art or stock photos.

I’m not saying I will 100% swear off of using AI art tools, but I’m at least going to tread very carefully with them.

What else? Still coughing, and it’s annoying. I’m feeling 90% better for the most part, but once in a while a cough sets in, stops me from taking deep breaths and is generally uncomfortable and tiring. I got really tired of sugar-free lemon-mint Ricola, and then really tired of sugar-free Werther’s Original hard candies (though they taste much better and honestly seem to be no worse at cough suppression) and am now resorting to sugar-free wint-o-green Life Savers mints that frankly taste kind of weird — our grocery store doesn’t really offer anything else suitable. But knock on wood, today seems to be better so far.

Soulstone Survivors updated its update, mainly just increasing the pace of leveling streamlining away a couple of the more awkward new boosts. It feels much better. That said, I’m hitting a point where it’s kind of just passing time, grinding to get the costume unlocks and I could probably do something else instead. That something else would have been a lot more music if I’d been feeling better, but perhaps now?

My Guild Wars 2 experience has stabilized/stagnated too. I have a main now, my dual mace Soulbeast. Quite tough and somewhat helpful at background-supporting nearby players. Very respectable burst damage, but it peters out after a while — if I were willing to give up the bow for a second melee weapon set I could fix that, but I’ve found it useful for some situations; maybe I could experiment though. I’ve gotten into the habit of logging in, doing all of the daily/weekly Astral Acclaim tasks that aren’t too annoying, and then back out. I’m kind of thinking I should go ahead and do the End of Dragons story with this character.

Deep Rock Galactic Survivor is fun for the occasional round, but that’s about it. And that’s fine.

After The Silmarillion, I reread Paper Mage, a fantasy novel set in China that has some neat aspects to it. And then when searching for the next thing, accidentally discovered that I have a second copy of it, as well as finding my own paperback copies of The Silmarillion (I’d read my spouse’s) and Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’d read it on my phone via Hoopla). Checked with the county library again and now I’ve got a couple of books with similar themes on my Kindle:

  • The Dead Take The A Train is a Richard Kadrey / Cassandra Khaw novel. Generally trashy and gory but fun, it’s a world where the big financial players in NYC have deals with horrific eldritch entities, and the protagonist is a freelancer caught up in their plots. I would not want to see this as a movie and am maybe a bit glad for my visual aphantasia, but it does make an entertaining book. I’m about 3/4 of the way through it.
  • Season of Skulls, from Charles Stross’ Laundry Files universe (where a secret government organization was meant to protect the world from horrific eldritch entities), the third in the New Management trilogy (where they failed and Britain is currently ruled by one such entity). Generally this series has less gore (though there are times) and general scumminess than the other book, but better dark humor and more bureaucratic/late capitalist absurdity (though the New Management kind of wiped away a lot of that) and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most of what’s in the setting.

turn around, bright eyes

For the 2017 eclipse, where we were in Hermann, MO, we took photos with our humble phone cameras using the lenses removed from a spare pair of eclipse glasses. And they were… not awful? Not award-winning but reportedly better than some experienced photographers got with fancier equipment.

(The moon approached from different directions in 2017 and 2024.)

The partial eclipse photos at least show almost what the eye sees: a fairly clean and clear portion of the a smooth, circular sun, whether with a small bite removed or just the thinnest crescent. It’s almost unreal. The totality photo with no filter is much less good, a bit of a blurry and pixelated mess compared to the bizarre clarity of what the eyes see during those moments. But not bad for a camera lens smaller than a pinky nail, right?

You’d think a more modern phone with “better” cameras and “enhanced” software would take better photos. It did not. Orange cloudy pixellated blobs with weird bands of brightness that look like compression artifacts. The sun maybe not even round but weirdly ovoid. I took something like 130 photos (the SolarSpot app can take them in bursts) and a video, and… it’s mostly crap.

Here are the best of them, both taken at totality without the eclipse filter:

(The lights came on in the soccer field in Perryville right before totality; I’m not sure that explains the amount of light seen on the horizon, but it certainly seemed darker than this in person.)

I have to wonder if the camera software now is trying too hard to adjust for unusual lighting conditions, resulting in worse eclipse photos. And/or maybe the quality of the extra eclipse filters made for phones wasn’t up to the level of the ones for our eyes. Or both? Anyway.

Photography aside… it was an incredible thing to witness. Some words that come to mind are awestruck, holy, inspiring, humbling, unreal, wondrous, joyous. Atavistic? “Amazing” is so overused but yes, struck with amazement. Apparently there’s an effect where people who’ve just experienced an eclipse among other people are more likely to use “we” words than “I”, and some psychological studies were among the other science being done yesterday. I can certainly see how people in ancient times would have been terrified by such an event, but with it being predictable and understood, it’s very much a thing to marvel at.

It took us about an hour and 20 minutes to drive to the soccer complex in Perryville, and we went pretty early to make sure we’d secure a spot. There was plenty of parking available then, and a few spots even within an hour of first contact (they filled up by the time things were underway though). Apparently we choose our spot well, because further south in Cape Girardeau (a bit closer to the center of the eclipse path) there was a line for the parking area before 5 AM.

The drive back was over 5 hours. The GPS tried to direct us to a side road to save half an hour, but there was an accident which both halted traffic and forced us back onto the highway. Also we’ve both got some sunburn (mine is limited to my neck, thanks to my big floppy sun hat, so I don’t have post-sun headache on top of still recovering from this respiratory infection). Still very much worth it!

always something there to remind me

I’m doing a bit better with the Silmarillion this time around. I will give some credit to A (Mega) Guide to the Silmarillion, and some to being willing and able to look up stuff at tolkiengateway.net and elsewhere when I forget who the Vanyar are again and where Nargothrond is and what race Borthand is.

(While The Hobbit and the Silmarillion are approximately the same length, there are 42 characters in The Hobbit and 216 in the Silmarillion, according to tolkiengateway… throw in the whirlwind geographical tours of places that sometimes have 2-3 names and gets destroyed later in the timeline anyway, and a little outside help is a very useful thing.)

I mostly don’t participate in TalkBass, except in the “Ambient/Post-Rock/Textural bass playing thread” which has turned into a nice little clique of people doing interesting things. Most of the rest of the site is Boomers in dad bands, and their musical world is not my musical world.

But when I visit the site, it shows the most recent threads, so I see what those strangers are up to. Today’s is “Anybody else came to terms with the fact they’re just not fan of effects?” My answer is “LOL no.”

I can certainly see in that in a typical band playing live, the bass guitar is going to want minimal effects. The amp probably takes care of overdrive and EQ. It’s not unusual to have a compressor, maybe fuzz or a phaser — but it’s also not unusual to plug straight in.

I’m not in a typical band playing live. Stack those effects, chain them, pile them on. Sometimes the bass doesn’t sound at all like a bass when I’m done with it, more often it’s a kind of electronic hybrid.

But that got me thinking about a project where I avoid using most effects — all the delays, reverbs, granular, chorus/flanger/phaser sorts of things, lo-fi-izers, spectral processing… the idea is a little scary but exciting at the same time. I have no idea what my music would sound like that way! I’d have to make some arbitrary decisions about what gear and techniques are valid to use — the line between, say, a wavefolder as a synthesis method vs. overdriving a filter vs. actually using Peradam or Ruina is a little fuzzy. But I might just take this idea up as my next project. Possibly another half-hour thing like Slow Teleport, rather than a longer one like the current project that is still, I promise, underway. I just need to not be sick, busy, or in the midst of a deep dive into gear.

all at once

Sunday morning I did our taxes — I have to recommend FreeTaxUSA.com, it’s a legit site and lets you file a federal return online for free, plus a state return for $15. And in the evening I watched Everything Everywhere All At Once, which was a coincidence — I didn’t know a tax audit was part of the plot. All I knew going in was “Michelle Yeoh” and “sort of a superhero film” and “people having to do absurd chaotic stuff to break through reality” (which, in general, is a concept I like a lot for a magic system). And it just happened that Netflix had it.

I don’t want to spoil anything for those like me who haven’t seen it, but WOW what a film. What a crazy, stupid, brilliant, absurd, hilarious, touching, multi-layered, fun film. I didn’t even realize that it had a long running time (having a pause button really helps with the bathroom problem).

I would summarize it as: “what if The Matrix, but instead of 90s edginess and lots of guns it had the absurdity and heart and fashion sense of The Fifth Element dialed up to 11, and manic creative energy? And not in the least for kids partly because it’s actually mature (without losing playfulness), and partly because a few moments of immature humor don’t pull any punches. An action/SF movie not about defeating some horrible evil but coping with life’s everyday difficulties.” Someone on Metafilter FanFare said of it “If Charlie Jane Anders and Chuck Tingle had a baby, and the baby was a movie, this would be it.” And yeah, that also fits!

I think I’m going to want to watch it again, probably more than once.

And after that, I was still feeling pretty decent Sunday night, and woke this morning feeling well enough to physically come to the office, and even to a break to walk around a bit. I’m not at 100%, there’s the occasional annoying cough, but SO MUCH BETTER overall. My spouse seems to be doing much better too.

The appendices in Return of the King clarified a few lore questions we’d thought of. Then I launched into The Silmarillion, that combination of beautiful prose (at the very start, with the Music of the Ainur) and quickly decaying into utter slogfest (once it gets into “the begats”, trying to remember which group of Elves followed/rejected which movements, which people are 4000 years old and which ones merely a couple hundred, and keeping track of which placenames are the west, the West, The West, THE WEST or not-actually-on-the-planet). I’ve started reading it several times, and I think I finished a complete serial reading exactly once (retaining very little). Will I finish this time? I dunno.

I mentioned the upcoming Soulstone Survivors update in my last post. It landed, and then it bounced. Apparently enough players complained that they reverted the update within hours (but made that version accessible through beta options).

To keep the story short, there were a TON of changes and the balance was completely redone. It very successfully fixed issues with the difficulty curve (cruising on easy, getting faster and easier, then either WHAMMO into a wall of impossibility or devolving to a tedious slogfest). But it changed the pace of the game, and I think that’s where people have a bit of a legitimate gripe. (Complaining that “Light Beam got nerfed” or “my crit rate is less than 100%” isn’t meaningful if you consider just how much else changed…)

Personally I like a lot of the changes quite a bit, and I think pulling the update was a mistake… but such radical changes could have used more playtesting. I think it could be rescued simply by reducing the XP required to level up, resulting in faster accumulation of buffs. Maybe a very slight base run speed boost, so the slowest characters don’t feel quite so physically slow. And maybe some tweaking of a few of the level-up bonuses to bring them into line with each other.