pest vs. brute

Pittsburgh Modular has been teasing a new synth, the Taiga, over the past few days and revealed everything yesterday, among the usual host of reviewers/”synthfluencers” on YouTube.

There are some fantastic sounds in the thing. It’s a 3-osc all analog synth where, crucially, each oscillator has its own wavefolder and a selection of hybrid shapes designed to complement them. In several of the demos there are absolutely stunning moments where the sound is just gorgeous.

But the rest of the synth’s features aren’t that impressive to me. A decent mixer section with a preamp, OK, good idea. The standard PGH filter, which sounds nice with some material but not super exciting IMHO. Their LPG, which can sound nice under CV but it’s no Natural Gate. Envelopes about which several reviewers complained about the knob response. A monophonic BBD which sounds really dark and a bit metallic, complementing some material but sounding pretty awful with other material. And a pricetag more than twice what I paid for the Minibrute 2S, which it would compete for space with in my setup.

Mmm. Hard sell there. But the nicer end of those sweet spot sounds intrigued me, and reminded me how much I liked the Double Helix when I had it, and how nice some of the demos of the PGH/Cre8audio West Pest demos and recordings are. And… it turns out the oscillator/folder design is really an iteration on the design in the West Pest. And that one is roughly Strega-sized, costs a lot less, and has a patchable audio input for its wavefolder, and a resonance control that other folders lack. Now we’re talkin’.

So I just bought a used WP. It is… kind of doubtful that it will fit on the wee shelves next to the Strega and 0-Ctrl, though that’s where it would be most suitable. But I may wind up deciding that the Pest and some other small bit of gear can take over the space where the Minibrute is, or I may find another solution.

I used the MB2S a few times during Jamuary, but nowhere near as much as the Strega. Which is true outside Jamuary as well, perhaps even more so. What I like most about the Minibrute 2S is the way the filter really warms up and rounds off when Brute Factor is turned up to maybe 1/4 to 1/3, and the way the filter interacts with the two oscillators. The oscillators themselves aren’t super thrilling. The sequencer is not that fun, but tolerable for simple short sequences.

So, we’ll just see how this goes.

5 days ago I ordered some dog food and cat litter from Chewy. This has resulted in a total of twenty-one (21) emails. 9 of them were from Chewy, 11 from FedEx, and one from PayPal. Part of the excess was due to a one-day delay due to weather conditions, but… geez.


It’s the 30th and I’m still on track for Jamuary. In fact I have #30 mostly set up even before 9 AM (several instances of Aalto that are set up for 8-voice drones with linear frequency detuning…).

I’ve been evaluating my recordings to try to decide what to include on an “official” release. So far it’s 12 Yes, 4 Probably, 6 Maybe, 2 Doubtful and 5 No. This is a worse ratio than typical for me, but I’ve taken Jamuary as an opening to experiment a bit more, and also to rush through a bit more than usual… and outside of Jamuary if something wasn’t working out I’d just delete it instead of bulling on ahead.

Some general lessons I’ve picked up from the exercise:

  • The big one is that I can do it. I really can record and finish and post a track every day. Some days it’s easier than others, of course.
  • The weakest of my tracks are the ones that feel too random. Generative sequences without enough repetition, or ostinatos without a good contour to them, or takes when the improvisation just didn’t result in a good “story arc” for the piece and couldn’t easily be fixed with some editing.
  • The other weak tracks are the ones where I tried too much to go rhythmic. It seems to me like for those to work, I need to keep it dead serious and fairly droney. Getting even a little bit whimsical usually doesn’t work so well.
  • I feel like most of my mixes are good (especially considering they’re done “live”) and I’ve gotten comments about that in the past. But sometimes I go overboard on sound design with one of the voices — usually too brash or too distorted — and it doesn’t sit well with the rest. When I distort hard I probably also should be filtering hard by default.
  • My fadeouts are often a bit too fast and need some fixing afterward. This is not a new realization, but I might have been a little worse with it during Jamuary or simply encountered more of them. Maybe the lesson will stick now though?
  • I’ve been dipping into Bitwig’s Note Grid a bit more, and I think it has a lot of potential as an interesting hybrid between modular and DAW sequences, not to mention generative potential. If I tame it, that is… just randomness into a quantizer isn’t great. Anyway, it’s something I plan to explore more in the future.

I’ve “beaten” Soulstone Survivors… that is, I have completed all the in-game achievements, and all the Steam achievements except three related to a “secret” holiday level. I feel like I’ve gained a pretty good understanding of the game mechanics, which are more complex than you might expect from this sort of game and certainly worlds beyond Vampire Survivors.

I’ve found that classes that lack access to at least Holy, but preferably Chaos and/or Arcane, can struggle — so it’s best to use Mastery runes to unlock those. Arcane Power and/or Bloodlust are incredible multipliers for any attack that stacks debuffs on the enemy. Chaos Golems are a great tanky distraction. There are several great Arcane and Holy attack spells, too.

I relied on guides quite a bit at first, but some of them make ridiculous claims of success with them which I think came down to luck of the draw, and were pretty disappointing in actual use. One of my favorite builds was my own discovery. Sentinel with Storm of Arrows, Spread Shot, Frag Shot, Bloodlust and Chaos Golems — and if you’ve unlocked it, add Chromatic Bolt and take the Executioner and Generalist runes. This is the build where I got the sub-8 minute completion time achievement (7:32 — the best I did with a build from a guide was 8:11), and also completed Dhal Zhog with all curses through Tier 6 without even needing a revive.

Anyway, I will probably keep playing the game, but a bit more casually and sporadically now that everything’s unlocked. It’s too soon to go back to Guild Wars 2 I think. What next, then?

I’ve been reading Too Like the Lightning and I don’t know why I haven’t given up on it. It’s pretentious. The narrator comes off as a smarmy creep all too often, and that’s before (spoilers). I can’t tell if it’s the author’s honest version of a utopia but with obvious flaws they didn’t see, or a sort of transparent straw man argument against wokeness, or both.

To name a couple of things: churches and proselytization are 100% banned. There’s a kind of counselor who can talk to people about matters of faith — only in the most abstract ways, using very cautious language full of hypotheticals — but any three people talking about faith is categorized as a “church.” And yet this is in a world where people choose their own governmental/societal affiliations regardless of geography; can you imagine there is nobody who insists on freedom of religion, at least for themselves?

Gender, in this future, is also an outmoded and somewhat distasteful concept. Everyone is a “they” whether they like it or not; gender identity is not a factor. And it doesn’t work, because the creepy narrator keeps interrupting the story to apologize to the reader for gendering people “he” or “she” based on the narrator’s own perceptions of their personality traits making it supposedly obvious. The person’s own identity or preference of pronoun is never a factor — which just makes things worse.

I feel like both of these completely miss the point. People want freedom both of and from religion, not to ban everyone from being able to worship in private or among like-minded people. People want freedom both of and from gender and its complications, not to deny both identity and choice and declare that nobody is masculine or feminine.

Maybe the author agrees with me, and there’s a sort of double irony thing going on here. But the book comes off a bit as “this is the future that woke-ists want and it’s a disaster.” Really, it’s the ambiguity that is bugging me… and again, maybe that is the author’s intent. That’s pretty much the opposite of what I want in my escapist fiction though.

Add to that a conflict that honestly doesn’t feel like it has any credible stakes, and some plot points that stretch credibility quite a lot, and did I mention the narrator turns out to be REALLY gross? I honestly don’t know why I haven’t given up. There’s something compelling and I’m not sure what it is. Or maybe I’m just being stubborn about it — usually if I give up on a book it’s in the first couple of chapters.

Not recommended.

still jamming

Still going strong with Jamuary. It was a struggle a couple of times, but never for lack of ideas. Creative block is really not a problem for me, as long as I have the motivation to start. Apparently “try for a full 31-day Jamuary” is enough motivation to overcome sickness, tiredness and ennui.

Then there are technical issues. With one particular jam, I wanted to actually use Bitwig’s clip launcher as intended, with short MIDI sequences in different columns, cuing up the next clip to be switched to. But it interfered with my usual recording method (just record the master channel to an empty clip cell), and something — I never figured out what, why, or how to stop it — kept switching me to column 4, and not at the end of the currently playing clip. So I tried setting up the handy loop recorder module in VCV Rack, played what I thought was probably a fantastic take (despite the scrambling of my selected sequences)… and discovered I’d recorded 7 minutes of utter silence. I yelled at Bitwig in ways that I usually reserve for Microsoft products at work, downloaded the old Voxengo Recorder and tried again. The result was actually pretty good, at least.

(Lesson learned: limit my clip launcher sequencing to exactly zero or one clips. That doesn’t seem to be how the software is intended to be used, but it works without a hitch and it’s how I’ve used it 99% of the time anyway…)

I’m listening to my first 15 jams at work today and thinking that a fair number of them are album material. At the start of February I’ll most likely curate, name, master, and publish them as my first 2023 album, then go back to working on the project I’d started in mid-December.

Someone else’s Jamuary entry mentioned Lancinantes, a drone-oriented VST plugin which had escaped my notice before. It’s just three additive oscillators with gradually shifting random harmonics, plus a sub oscillator and noise, with a filter and delay and reverb. While I might have wanted more control over the harmonics, each section can be overdriven, and the result turns out to be something I’m not sure I could patch as easily as I might have guessed. It was cheap, so I picked it up.

I don’t think I mentioned that I picked up a Lite2Sound PX from Rare Waves. From the description and samples, it’s sensitive enough to “hear” the wind disturbing the sun or pick up the sound of a radio from reflections on its surface. In my experience though, whether you get a loud or quiet, interesting or boring signal, or silence can vary despite the automatic gain correction — and sunlight seems to be silent, amybe thanks to our windows blocking UV? So far the best thing to point it at has been the Nixie tube clock, which plays a sort of rich chord drone. But I should grab the little Olympus recorder and take it on an excursion; I want to see how it treats sunlight ripples on Lake Creve Coeur among other things.

Speaking of recorder, my brother gave me a vintage Hohner melodica for Christmas. It’s a bit more solid than other melodicas in my experience and has the sound to match. Some lovely chords, which would be great drones if my breath held out. I’m going to have to record that and make use of it for sure.

Aside from music, I’ve been occupying a little of my time with anime — because the delicious chicken tortilla soup I love so much isn’t so easy to eat perched in a easy chair while also reading a book. After a couple of failed “pick something on NetFlix” sessions I settled on Orbital Children and have been enjoying it quite a bit. I started to describe the plot to my wife and she wanted to know if it was basically like Assassination Classroom, where the premise seems ridiculously bizarre and yet it’s surprisingly heartwarming. Well… not quite that bizarre, and not quite as heartwarming, but still satisfying.

I really was hoping I’d love Exception, with an adventurous far-future SF premise, gorgeous visual design and style, and music by Ryuichi Sakamoto. But I was irritated by the writing, on multiple levels. Eh.

I’ve been spending more time playing Soulstone Survivors. You have a low-polygon fantasy character who runs around autoattacking, as you move and aim. It starts off with your basic dungeon crawl goblin stabbing, and ends up with speeding around like a greased pinball setting off explosions and lightning and holy wrath and poison clouds all over the place like a mech pilot whose Alpha Strike button got stuck, while leveling up about six times per minute and increasing your damage, area of effect and attack speed every time… and you have to turn the effect opacity down to about 10% to see the HUGE red warning zones where bosses are doing the same right back atcha. It’s frankly kind of ridiculous and stupid, but it’s compelling somehow. And I think it’s going to let me ignore the Diablo 4 release because I’m still not happy with how Blizzard treats its employees.

plenty of jam

It’s Ja(n/m)uary 7 and I’ve managed to record and post something for each day so far. While I’m generally prolific, starting and finishing something daily is on another level. It’s a musical marathon.

I sold my BeetTweek to a local in person (and we used the short trip to the meeting spot as an excuse to get some Greek food for dinner, cupcakes to make up for not getting them on our birthdays, and the international grocery store).

I’ve got Function and Mini PEG installed now. Function of course is exactly as I remember — great feel and knob ranges, everything just right. Mini PEG is a little on the odd side, but I think it’ll be quite useful. It syncs the total length of a rise/fall cycle to the tempo of an incoming clock, regardless of the shape and curvature. You can get some interesting things happening by combining cycling with the trigger input. Basic usage (which is already quite flexible) is intuitive and needs no manual or cheat sheet, but a look through said manual reveals a bunch of hidden features which honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever use.

I have played a bit with stretching the bounds of hardware/software integration. Warps in VCV Rack as a wavefolder sounds pretty great, but honestly in the context of a mix the difference from the analog folder in Shapeshifter is minimal. With some patching techniques, the latency going into, out of, then back into the DAW can present challenges. I will probably play with the other effects a bit more before deciding whether I want a hardware Warps again — honestly it could just be I miss that sweet glowing knob.

I got Marbles in VCV Rack successfully sequencing Eurorack stuff, but dealing with the routing was a bit awkward; I had to put VCV in a PreFX chain of a Grid device to sort it out, and also carefully tweak levels so the signal coming out of Optx was still one volt per octave. I can’t see myself using it this way on a regular basis, so whether I keep the hardware Marbles depends really on… whether I want to use Marbles in hardware. I just got some good use out of it in today’s Jamuary jam, but I could have easily used 0-Ctrl instead. But I’ll just hold onto it for the foreseeable future, keep working it and decide whether it’s pulling its weight.

In a couple of the jams I’ve been using the Thingamagoop 3000 again, and really enjoying it for drones. I’m glad I never sold it off though it sat idle for a good while — it’s back, baby!

Jamuary 1

I haven’t posted much to my YouTube channel in a long time, but decided it made as much sense as anywhere for posting my Jamuary entries. (Also posting on Instagram, but I trust it slightly less.)

And now, to crawl into bed. zzzZzZZzZzz

here at the end (of 2022)

I’ve worked out the next minor set of changes to the modular:

  • Sell the BeetTweek and Wogglebug.
  • Sell the Inertia and Tilt, and replace them with a 4ms Mini PEG and a Make Noise Function.
  • Replace the Softwire Press with Bela Gliss once it arrives.
  • Unrack Marbles but don’t sell it quite yet. See if I feel like the VCV Rack version is enough to cover my fairly rare usage of it.
  • Maybe sell the Compare 2.

BeetTweek was a fun toy and a very nice light show. It has some practical usage too, but with all of the other controllers I have it just wasn’t getting much of a workout.

Wogglebug is also pretty neat. While I had some fun with it, again, I just didn’t use it much and don’t reach for it unless I’m specifically thinking “how can I use my Wogglebug?”

Inertia, too. I just haven’t been getting much usage out of it as a modulator or modulation shaper, nor as an oscillator (where it has a great deal of competition), nor even as filter where I think it is at its best.

Compare 2 is another one that’s neat but not getting much use. Bitwig Grid is admirable as a comparator when I can live with the latency, which is nearly always anyway. But there’s nothing specific I want to replace it with. If Wogglebug doesn’t happen to sell first I might just put that in instead.

Tilt gets more use, but I have never gelled with its ergonomics. I don’t really need an ADSR envelope very often. I think Mini PEG’s synchronized rise and fall (something even Just Friends won’t do) will be very suitable, and I know I like Make Noise Function’s feel and response.

I like Marbles, and I used to use it pretty heavily but it’s really fallen off over the past several months. 0-Ctrl handles the great majority of my minimal sequencing. I expect the VCV version will cover the occasional patch.


Partway through our holiday road trip. Winter storms and extreme cold have made this a very eventful Christmas, a difficult one in some places in the US and a tragic one in others. We only had about an inch of snow at home, but it was bitterly cold on our travel day. The roads were mostly clear and traffic was mostly not bad, but stopping for gas and restroom breaks was mighty unpleasant with windchills in the -30s. It was still a long day and we were glad to arrive safe at our destination.

Christmas feels pretty low-key in general this year. But it’s good to be with my parents again without it being medically related, and share in food and just sitting around talking.

MSNBC has been going back over the year’s top stories and showing a couple of documentaries of recent events (the Jan 6th mess, the ridiculous press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping and how it affected that business) and it seems weird that these things were only a couple of years ago — at the same time it feels like it’s been years and yet unresolved. The idea that Trump could wind up in office again is surreal and disturbing.

I’ve also been going back and rereading this blog. It’s a slice of my modular and creative journeys, spanning the release of several albums. It’s also incidentally a record of the turbulent times around COVID-19 and the election and changes in my career and such. I’m not really drawing conclusions from it, aside from… life is messy, and it goes on, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Not very profound or original, I know.

2023 goals

I found some inspiration yesterday, and it’s time to write up my goals / plan / guiding principles etc. for 2023.


  • When in doubt, don’t reply to threads. You can’t fix bad attitudes or narrow minds online, and you can’t convince some people with facts, and you probably can’t calm down people who are riled up about a thing. Better to just not get involved.


  • Since I’m 80% working from home and this isn’t a great neighborhood for taking walks… get on that exercise bike!
  • More walks around the lake on weekends when weather permits.
  • Cut back on snacks — the easiest way to do this is just don’t buy them.


  • The best way to expand and improve is through technique, not more/different gear.
  • Whenever I hear a demo of a piece of gear that gets my attention, I’ve been able to patch something similar (or inspired by it) with the gear that I already have. Remember that!
  • There are very few modules I own now that I’m willing to give up to make space to try something else. And I also would rather keep all my modules in the main case than use the overflow pod. So that means… don’t buy any modules unless they overcome those other drives.
    (That being said, I do want to go through a process with each of my modules: work out how I feel about them. Whether they’re just cool, or actively serving me in my music. If they’ve been getting less use, do I just need to work with them a bit and rediscover them — or is there something I could substitute for them that would be more suitable? This has to take software integration into consideration as well.
    For instance: Marbles is nifty, but has been getting less use in favor of 0-Ctrl sequences, and I have Marbles in VCV Rack.)
  • Improve my bass playing — I want to play cleanly and confidently on both the Miezo and UBass.


Did I mention I am backing the Bela Gliss touch controller module? It’s like a vastly upgraded version of the Soundmachines LS-1 Lightstrip. Nicer sensors, nicer (color) lighting, and some smart processing. It can act as a level meter that can also scale, offset and clip the input signal; as an LFO; as a 5-key pressure keyboard; its recording mode can loop, one-shot or scrub (making it effectively a waveshaper) and overwrite on the fly. Nice.

I’m back in the groove after ∞↺ (which you can pronounce as “infinite loop” or “infinite feedback” if you like). I spent a few hours Sunday morning making a new track that I’m quite happy with, without restricting myself to no-input feedback loops. Once more Strega is really kicking butt, as is the combination of Rings and Koszalin, and the new Just Friends firmware is pretty great.

I’ve also been playing with Stable Diffusion a bit, where before I had exclusively been using Wombo. SD I think works a bit better getting as specific as possible, although it still won’t necessarily do exactly what you want. Wombo sometimes generates more interesting abstract images with less effort, though it seems to be somewhat flakier about random failures. In either case it’s just sort of… try things and get basically randomized variations that you can maybe use or maybe not.

At the same time I’ve seen several more articles recently on how horrible it is that these tools (or toys) exist, how it’s not real art, it’s a threat to artists, and so on. I have mixed feelings.

I’m not a trained or particularly talented visual artist, but I’ve made 6 album covers using these things… and 23 others without AI assistance, using Creative Commons images and/or my own photography. (Plus older ones for pre-Starthief releases.) Is it somehow more “cheating” to use an AI tool in the process, than it is to Google for copyright-free images I can manipulate?

I’m not willing to say that what comes out of these tools is not art — that question (besides usually being tiresome, and so often used to describe art that a person just doesn’t like) depends on context and intent. While my fumbling with prompts and curating the results and editing and compositing afterward require less skill than a painter or professional illustrator, it is still not a fully automated process that lacks in artistic intent, by any means.

Can these tools be used nefariously? They certainly can! But so can Photoshop, or a pencil. Faking photographs is nearly as old as photography. Imitating other artists’ styles and infringing on other peoples’ IP are older than copyright law. You can’t tell me that professional illustrators are not asked on a regular basis to mimic some other artist’s style. I’m in favor of trying to reign in the tools a bit to protect artists as much as possible, and maybe don’t permit the likenesses of specific people by name to be used either. But art itself is not inherently safe and polite — the ability to use art in protest and parody is important. It’s just that machines are even less trustworthy than humans where it comes to making some kinds of judgement calls, I guess.