let’s go

In my last entry I was also going to mention how I’d seen a couple of people mention recently getting the Walrus Slöer and praising it. I’ve been curious about the original Slö for quite some time, and Slöer even more so since it’s stereo and can be downsampled a bit. And having picked up Hypnosis after last Knobcon and making a spot for it (both interface routings and desk space), there’s a natural place for a stereo pedal to go.

On further review though… nah. The software reverbs that I have are doing a bang-up job at the exact role that the pedal has. I don’t feel like the clock rate control goes far enough into lo-fi territory to be really exciting.

Speaking of exciting. US political news over the past couple of weeks has been a hell of a rollercoaster. I didn’t much like the rumbling over whether Biden should drop out of the race, but now that he has, I think things are looking up.

People are actually uniting behind Kamala Harris — not just the party establishment centrists, not just the Squad, not just Black people or women, not just labor unions, but basically anyone who would ever consider voting Democratic anyway. Record-breaking funding with 60% of it coming from first-time donors.

Yes, in 2020 we were saying “Kamala is a cop and all cops are bastards.” Wouldn’t I rather have someone more progressive/leftist on the ticket? That’d be ideal, but let’s run with what we have.

  • Bernie is too old (82) and part of the renewed energy right now is getting someone younger on the ticket.
  • Elizabeth Warren is also getting up there (75)
  • Ilhan Omar was born in Somalia, so she doesn’t qualify.
  • AOC is slightly too young to qualify (34) and needs more experience.
  • Cori Bush (49) also needs more experience IMHO. Plus she is currently under heavy attack from her competitor Wesley Bell, for doing exactly what we elected her to do (light fires under slower Democrats to make positive change happen). This is not the right year for her to run for VP.

I also read a bit about how Harris wound up as a prosecutor. Her parents met in a study group that led to the rise of the Black Power movement; it’s not like she grew up wanting to keep other people down. Rather, she wanted to get in and effect change from the inside, to change the balance. I’m not sure what I think of that story, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

One of the criticisms a lot of people rightly have against Biden is his stance on Israel/Palestine. Harris apparently wants to pressure Israel to stop doing a genocide, supports humanitarian aid for Palestine, and is going to kick out some of Biden’s appointees who have been so pro-Israel on this.

I’d like someone more on the left but this actually looks like a step in the right direction, a possible starting point for a real shift.

So yeah. I’ve gone from “I will hold my nose and vote for Biden because the alternative is horrible” to “I’m actually pretty glad to be able to vote for Harris.”

(Right now. Something might ruin that. I was pretty excited for Obama’s first term, buying into the entire Hope thing… and that kind of shifted toward “he’s not actually that progressive” by the time the election came around. For his second term I voted Green instead. But where I stand now, Harris looks like an actual decent choice and not just a lesser evil.)


I pre-ordered a DecadeBridge Sn (aka “Tin”) — a small desktop lo-fi FM drone synth. It’s kind of redundant and kind of not; obviously I have a great deal of FM capability among my hardware and software but this is a lo-fi example, with a couple of unique tricks. There is a small chance I’ll decide with this I don’t really need the Akemie’s Castle, but I’m not particularly counting on it. So this is probably just another flavor of that thing I like a lot.

MW now has banner ads. When SynthCube took over, they said they weren’t going to. As a Patreon supporter of the “Memorial Initiative” I was offered the new Power Wiggler status, which removes the ads but otherwise seems to be about the same. On my desktop I already don’t see them (thanks Adblock) and it’s a tiny strip on my phone. I’m not sure if I want to accept the new thing, continue as I was, or drop the Patreon. The proceeds were supposed to pay for a nice memorial gift for the McGrath family and also some kind of tchotchke for the supporters, but we haven’t heard anything about either yet. Kind of leaning toward dropping it. MW has been a helpful resource, and it’s also a pain at times, especially the way it tends to be administered.

Quite some time back, a reader of my blog recommended a book by Dr. John Sarno about back pain. I never did approve that post, because I looked into it and it seemed like quackery. The medical establishment pretty much thinks it’s bunk and the supposedly amazing results he’s gotten are a placebo/coincidence.

I saw another reference to it, and since my back was actively hurting at the time, I thought… OK, I’ll give it a shot. My thinking was: Qi Gong is not based on science at all, but the exercises feel pretty pleasant to do.

So the idea is, back pain (and a lot of other pain, fibromyalgia, etc.) are psychosomatic in nature. Real pain, but not mechanical damage. The physical cause is restriction of oxygen to certain muscle groups; the psychological cause is anxiety, anger, etc.

The book says both that (A) you should always see a doctor about pain in case it indicates a physical problem and (B) doctors don’t know what they’re talking about and will diagnose injuries that aren’t real, making your anxiety and thus your pain worse, and (C) if you have this “TMS” you should discontinue any physical treatment and just fix yourself by, essentially, being told that’s what’s wrong and telling your brain to stop it. The author is not a psychologist or psychiatrist and seems to be a fan of Freud, whose ideas are not terribly well respected today. And the book also keeps citing ulcers as a well-known and accepted example of psychosomatic effects, except oops, ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection. (This was proven before the book was published, but to be fair, the stress = ulcers thing had been believed by medical science and society as a whole and it took years for the new science to be widely accepted).

I’m not at all willing to discount the idea that the mind affects the body. Maybe a lot of cases of back pain are psychosomatic, and maybe by reading the book and thinking about it, that’ll help. I am not an entirely scientific, rational person and maybe this is magic that will work. I guess I’ll see.

meine Schreckenswelt, deine Schreckenswelt

I’ve finally gotten all the way through The Big Book of Cyberpunk.

I’ve seen people say “this isn’t the cyberpunk dystopia I signed up for” as a response to various news` about privacy and surveillance, social media, NFTs/crypto or whatever. (The converse being “this is the cyberpunk dystopia I signed up for” about military robots, police drones etc.)

We had Black Mirror with its uncomfortably close to home, disturbingly prescient stories. William Gibson continues to write, although “The Peripheral” had some pretty outlandish tech along with the entirely too plausible omnishambles of a near future. But as a whole I was generally unaware that there was a whole set of 21st-century spawned cyberpunk which no longer takes place “15 minutes into the future” but 5 minutes or less. Tactical neural implants replaced by social media, yakuza forgotten but corporations and corrupt officials stronger than ever, street samurai replaced by influencers and trolls, and AI trying to become human (and vice versa) replaced by people trying to use AI to cope with the pain of being human.

I am more of a novel reader than a short story enjoyer, but some of these stories really hit hard.

Not long after my post about Duolingo, I did in fact switch languages. It pretty much sidelined the regular practice to get me to work on hiragana, with the threat of katakana and kanji next. Not what I wanted to do. So I picked German.

That’s mostly been going pretty well. German and English are cousins, and sometimes you can guess. The grammar seems relatively straightforward, as grammar goes. Gendered words are odd (why is pizza feminine? Why is a male cat still eine Katze?) but aside from a few mistakes it hasn’t been too tricky. Some of the pronunciation is unfamiliar, and the app’s ability to judge that pronunciation is mixed (allowing some definite mistakes and sometimes flagging things I felt I got right). There are certainly a few long words… entschuldigung!… and a few places where the gendered versions are tricky (der Arzt, die Ärztin) but I find it more distinctive and easier to memorize than Japanese.

That said… Duolingo is doing some serious dark patterns / enshittification. They really, really want you to subscribe to Super Duolingo. The difference between the free and paid versions is all friction: frequent advertising, limits on usage (though you can earn “hearts” through practicing earlier material).

They don’t want to tell you how much this will cost until you get close to agreeing to pay it; even “how much does Super Duolingo cost?” in their FAQ does not answer how much Super Duolingo costs. A third-party site said it’s something like $12 a month or $155 a year — not cheap. But it could very well be a customized price determined by your usage patterns and whatever other data they can scrape about you from your advertiser ID, email etc. Das ist cool nie.

They keep offering free trials, but considering all of the rest of this, I bet cancelling is a hassle, so I do not want to do this. But then there was a screen that said I unlocked Super for three days (“you will not be charged”) and there was no option not to accept, only a single “Continue” button. It doesn’t ask for payment info, at least. And the experience is so much smoother… finish a lesson, move on to the next without sitting through ads (and the additional delaying screens before and after the ads). No “heart” system to slow me down. Am I going to hate it when that expires?

I miss the shareware days. Get that Commander Keen floppy and you could play the entire first game (which was substantial) without restrictions. If it entertained you enough, you’d mail-order the sequels.

Rice and water, please. He’s a cool lawyer.

I’ve been getting a bit tired of playing sudoku on my phone, and thought… how about Duolingo? Spanish because I took it back in high school? German, because I started to sort of learn a little German before (and tried to struggle through an Egyptology book in German, and listen to industrial music some of which is in German)? Or Japanese, because… taiko and anime? Right, Japanese it is.

It’s been going okay so far, but it just had me start learning some hiragana and that’s a bit more of an intimidating prospect. I’ll try trusting in the process for now but I might switch to German if things get too dicey.

Finished up my study of Morpheus, except I didn’t quite… I am going to look into the idea of using the filter sequencer, a feature I’ve completely ignored, as a kind of categorization system.

The other project has been to find an approximate software substitute for Djupviks Box of Angels, or at least, something that gives me similar vibes. The requirements are three bandpass filters — fairly steep ones I think — in parallel, with a gain control for each. There seems to be surprisingly little software that can do this, either feature-wise or to the satisfaction of my ears. So that’s meant cooking up stuff in Bitwig or VCV Rack.

Most of the filters I’ve tried need to be doubled up in series to get a steep enough response. I’ve had better luck with a couple of VCV Rack modules though:

NOI Sinensis is an all-in-one parallel multi bandpass filter where the tuning spread is controlled by a ratio. It needs a quiet input to not distort, and is not quite as steep as I’d like, but the results are excellent.

Prism Droplet is not to be confused with Sinevibes Droplet which is a reverb, or Finn Mitchel-Anyon’s Droplets, a generative sequencer. This one is a steep-Q bandpass that has a switch to engage a “second pass” built in, removing the need to put another one in serial, plus an envelope follower output.

While I was slowly writing and editing this, Bunker Archaeology arrived. It is definitely “the Bruxa of reverb”… except where Tony and Alessandro put a lot of thought and refinement into design and details, this module is punk AF. The knob ranges are bizarre, the white LED for the tremolo side is a blazing strobe light, it distorts easily, the tremolo sometimes seems to let the dry signal through. I stuck a bit of colored label over the bright LED but I kind of feel like it should be a Band-Aid. It’s great though. It’s raw, but with the rest of the modular plus the DAW I can “cook” it a bit to serve whatever my needs are at the time.


“it’s not the gear,” I said.

With all my recent exploration of “broken” lo-fi delay techniques I started wondering: what’s the reverb equivalent of Bruxa or Tyme Sefari or a Doepfer BBD, or a cassette tape loop?

There honestly isn’t much. “lo-fi reverb” tends to be something of a different nature:

  • spring reverbs
  • the Belton/Accusonics digital “bricks” that are supposed to emulate spring reverb
  • terrible algorithms like Freeverb
  • 80s budget reverbs
  • the Radio Shack Realistic (brand) Electronic Reverb should not count, because it’s very obviously a BBD delay and not a reverb
  • guitar pedals with built-in bitcrushing and/or distortion

Honestly I don’t think those 80s reverbs are that bad, just vaguely “electronic.” And Freeverb doesn’t sound bad in an interesting way.

Anyway, the hunt led me to Djupviks Bunker Archeology, which is based on the Belton brick but with some “attacking itself” feedback shenanigans. It’s paired with a frequency-driven VCA for stuttering/dropouts, which is post-reverb by default but can be patched the other way or used independently (and controlled with CV like a regular VCA). After watching demos and seeing what I could do in software — which was a lot of fun stuff but not quite there — I decided to go ahead and give it a try.

It will displace Peradam (which is kind of neat but I think I favor other forms of distortion more) and Zero-2 (which just hasn’t been getting much use).

Djupviks makes a lot of cool stuff. I’d like to try several of their modules, but especially Box of Angels and Sleeper Awakes. BOA is a triple bandpass filter with VCAs per filter and a noise source, which doesn’t seem like it’s that fancy, but it really sounds beautiful in demos and people who have it seem to love it dearly. I’m in the process of looking for that vibe without buying the actual hardware; we’ll see how that goes. Sleeper Awakes is a dual ISD-chip sampler/looper — very lo-fi, with a pronounce pop as it loops, and full of great vibes. The thing is, it might be kind of a one-trick pony, and I’ve previously replaced W/, Tyme Sefari, Phonogene and jroo Loop so I’m not convinced another sampler/looper would stay in the rack either.

I’ve started my deep dive into Rossum Morpheus. There is a LOT going on with this module — 280 filter “cubes” of wildly varying types and characters. I’m taking general notes, but the bigger project is going through all of the cubes and categorizing them in various ways, making a sort of catalog/chart. So far my schema is this:

  • Type: LP, BP, HP, notch, peaks, comb, vowel, resonator, complex, etc. and combinations thereof. (Sometimes these are pretty subjective choices, but it’s still a general guideline.)
  • Distortion? (For some background, Morpheus has true “cubes” with three dimensions of control, and “.4” filters with two dimensions, where Z controls distortion by default. The cubes can still access distortion from the menu, and the .4s can reassign it to flatten the frequency profile.) YES if distortion is rewarding, NEED if the filter is bland/bad without it, and DISABLE for .4 filters if reassigning the Z behavior is especially useful.
  • Envelope friendly? YES or NO or MAYBE, depending on how the filter sounds in motion. (Unless you really like cheezy laser noises, peakier filters sound best when stable, sequenced, or maybe gently wavering than a wild sweep.)
  • Audio rate? YES if applying some (carefully tuned) audio rate modulation to a parameter is especially cool. It depends on the nature of the filter
  • Resonator? YES if (pre-filtered) white noise or clicks/pings cause it to sing nicely (may require distortion); ONLY if it really only acts as a resonator (or is otherwise awful)

I’ve gone through 186 cubes but I have some categories to backfill because I kept adding new things to my list. Everything after “type” came up when I realized I was writing the same notes about several of them.

I would add a subjective rating category of some sort… but I kept finding that “bad” cubes can shine with specific usages/material. Most likely, the ones I still don’t like, I might in the right context. Likewise, some of my favorite cubes turned out to be not the right tool in other patches.

I got myself a new pair of earbuds, after going for years with the dirt-cheap QY8 from (insert about five different forgettable Chinese brand names here). I chose Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro based on price and reviews. I’ve been wearing them today at work and walking around the office complex on breaks (it’s nice to not have to pause my music when I get up to make coffee or go to the bathroom).

These are slick and modern. No cord between the two sides to make tons of noise every time you move. Little charging case that the earbuds magnetically align themselves with, and the case itself does Qi wireless charging. Sensors to tell when you’re wearing the buds, touch sensors on the back for control, sensors for the buds’ orientation and relative angle to the phone, a feature to automatically check the earbud/rubber tip fit by listening for leaking sound. And active noise cancellation, which is… an experience.

It’s made me aware of how much noise is a part of regular home and office life. Air conditioners and fans especially, but everything from refrigerators to escalators to just general ambient room tone. Zap, gone. It’s almost disorienting, like you’ve been cut off from the world. Like I’m not going to compare it deafness, but that background noise carries (mostly) subtle information about the space you’re in as you move through it, which just gets removed. (Apparently a hearing person in a seriously good anechoic chamber can experience vertigo from this lack of cue, and can also hear their own blood and eyelids.) But I don’t want to say it’s a bad experience — there’s something really calming about being able to listen to chill ambient music (or accidentally oddly chill industrial music) all day at work without interrupting it at all (except for those rare occasions when I need to talk to someone). I even made a phone call and took another one without taking the earbuds out.

There’s a feature to reverse the process and bypass the isolation from the earbuds themselves to hear your surroundings better — optionally enabled when someone is speaking to you or you’re on a phone call, and toggled on at the touch of an earbud — and some options for partially hearing-impaired people too.

As for the sound… for my preferences it’s not as good as the GMP 8.35D headphones I use for music-making, but it’s still quite good. Really comfortable, too. These weren’t particularly expensive earbuds either, it’s just that technology has come that far.

turned a corner

Album’s done, mastering’s done, artwork is done, notes page is done… I just need to upload it to Bandcamp and publish, when I get home from work.

Usually after an album’s done, I tally up how much I used each piece of gear and see if there are any surprises or insights. This time I made the spreadsheet and then found I didn’t much care what the results were, so I closed it without even really looking at the numbers. Opening it again… okay fine, I used Harmonia three times and not Aalto, but what’s that mean really? I still like Aalto. I used more reverb plugins than delay plugins this time (but that’s because I leaned hard on Strega). Not really much of interest to learn there.

I guess I’m actually taking the “it’s not the gear” thing to heart.

I mean, it’s also not not the gear; I made the choices I did because I like a particular sound and those modules/plugins/etc. would help me contribute to it — and part of my process is to explore sounds and then when inspiration strikes, go into “music mode” and it’s the gear making sounds. But if you put someone else’s butt in my chair and they’d make something very different with the same stuff. If I swapped setups with someone else, once I got familiar with it, I’d end up making something that sounds like what I make with my own setup.