The new album is now available on Bandcamp for free/pay-what-you-want.
The new album is now available on Bandcamp for free/pay-what-you-want.
I had another very musical weekend. Did a little “mise en place” cleaning and rerouting and relabeling stuff. Finished a track Friday night and another Saturday morning. Received the Hypnosis Saturday afternoon, set it up and explored it a bit. Made the album artwork and then mastered the entire album, which generally went extremely smoothly.
I realized that this album is less “dark ambient” than it is Berlin School. There’s a certain similarity to older Tangerine Dream stuff: proto-ambient with (sometimes deceptively) simple looped sequences and slow improvised parts. It’s really not that much different from what I’ve been doing for quite some time, just a continuing drift that carried me from one region into another. Maybe this time there’s a little more emphasis on sequences, a bit more percussive action, and something a little different in what I’m playing on the Seaboard vs. 0-Ctrl touchplates or Minibrute pads. Maybe some of the influence is from the creative (and technical) limitations imposed by 18edo. It’s also very possible that some of my other albums should have been categorized this way too.
My general impression is that in 70s Germany, disaffected youth who wanted to break away from staid German traditional music started playing prog rock on synthesizers with a kind of techno-utopian vision: that was Kosmische Musik aka Krautrock. As genres went it cast a pretty wide net, with no two groups that sounded alike (and some groups that never sounded like themselves). A branch of that mutated into Berlin School, getting away from the rock/pop song structure and combining drones with repetitive sequences and improvisation. That in turn was a huge influence on ambient music. I also feel like it’s a natural place to return to
The other main branch emphasized rhythm and dancing, merged somewhat with disco and became techno. That of course influenced hiphop and spawned 934 different subgenres of house, trance, electro, IDM, EBM, etc.
In the post-Knobcon glow of hearing such great live techno, I think I may actually poke a little bit into that side again, on a trial basis. I feel like there must be a way to make it work for me. If not, no big deal, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve been doing!
The Dreadbox Hypnosis is a very neat thing, and I’m glad I got it. Having run out of other places, I’ve set it up on the left side of my desk on an Ikea laptop wedge. Stereo routing in and out from the audio interface is convenient to work with in Bitwig: I can either add an HW FX device, or a Grid preset I’ve saved that also includes a feedback path (with a little auto-limiting).
Various stages of the device can overdrive easily, and both the Chorus/Flanger and the Delay can stack up strong resonances fast. So you’ve got to keep an ear out for clipping and back off the levels, much more so than with plugins or most Eurorack effects. Worth it though.
With the three effects, wide parameter ranges, different delay modes etc. it has a wide repertoire — it’s not just dirty spring reverb and 80s wet chorus, though it excels at those. I think if I’d gone for the reissue version instead, that would still have been useful and cool, just with a lesser repertoire and less cool. It wouldn’t have had the sound that grabbed my attention so quickly at Knobcon. And there’ll definitely be times I use that Freeze feature (as well as feedback control with an expression pedal) while playing a part. I’ve already recorded a drone with an electric kalimba and feedback…
I believe I’ve just finished recording the album. I had been very much on a roll before Knobcon, and a few days after, picked it back up again with one track recorded last night and the final drone this morning.
Since both Micro-Pitch and Entonal Studio present scales in a radial graph, the theme for the album art suggests itself.
On Monday I almost bought a used Dreadbox Hypnosis, but hesitated because of confusion over which version it was.
On Tuesday, Dreadbox announced a Hypnosis Reissue.
Now for the bad:
I feel like the reissue is a pretty nice thing if you don’t compare it to the original Hypnosis. A BBD chorus/flanger, vanilla digital delay and a spring reverb with a unique predelay feature, all for about what a plain spring reverb driver would cost? Not bad at all.
But it doesn’t have the same vibe, mojo, etc. as the original Hypnosis. That chorus needs to be stereo. The delay needs to be ping-pong stereo (normally not something I am into, but at short delay times and high feedback and with the other stages in here, it works very well). Those aren’t really negotiable.
So for me, the reissue misses the mark. They could have gone two other ways with it:
After some pondering I went ahead and bought the “real” Hypnosis.
Nobody at Knobcon had the Dreadbox Hypnosis for sale. After more research, I found that there was a revision after the original release, and the one I tried was that new version, and I should make sure that’s the one I get. Also I’m still thinking about the details of connections and placement in my rig. But it’s definitely on my mind.
I drove home, feeling pretty exhausted and not really having a lot of interest in food. Getting home gave me a bit of an energy boost though, so after telling my stories and putting stuff away, I racked up the Harmonic Shift Oscillator and gave it a go.
It sounds gorgeous on its own, with FM-like-but-not-exactly-FM tones. FM produces sidebands potentially above and below the fundamental, and increasing the modulation index brings in more sidebands — this is described by “Bessel functions of the first kind” as discovered by Dr. John Chowning. It’s complex. Whatever HSO’s technique is, cranking up the Level doesn’t bring in more bands in the same way. You can dial Stride down to very near zero, so it’s not like it can’t produce undertones, but you have more control. It never goes all the way into noise like FM does, and you can modulate Stride with an LFO without generating a whole pile of weird aliasing madness. You can get some nice bell-like tones and deep percussive oddities, and a decent variety of other timbres from it, as well as slow beating and tremolo.
The two outputs are 90 degrees out of phase with each other, and you don’t have to worry much about mono compatibility issues with it — any cancellation is temporary and limited to some of the harmonics but not the fundamental, and in fact just blending the two in mono can be useful. There are a lot of other things you can do with the two outputs — combining them in Mystic Circuits Ana is fruitful, using one to modulate a delay or filter on the other works nicely, using one to switch the other on and off to create new shapes, etc.
It also has an expo FM input and handles it beautifully, with or without combining it with Level/Stride. Modulating Level or Stride at audio rates can also work well.
It gets up to high enough audio rates to clock Drezno or Interstellar Radio — while it’s not perfectly stable up there, the whole point of using those modules in this way is to add noise and grunge anyhow. In fact, setting Level and Stride can add additional flavors to it and thus it’s more flexible at this than Synchrodyne was. It doesn’t go quite as high in frequency, but I could always gain another octave by ring-modulating the sine and cosine outputs.
So, it’s a winner! I have not yet tried it with distortion, or Koszalin to attempt to bend the partials back into harmonicity (it would have to be tuned very carefully!), or explore what Spectraphon does with it. But I will.
I didn’t take a day off work tomorrow for recovery and I hope I don’t regret that.
…I should have taken a day off work today for recovery.
Overall thoughts about this Knobcon:
The answer is two hours, I could do two hours of the Big Room performances even sitting through most of it. There were 6 performers on the slate, and two hours was half of them. I’m sad to have missed POB’s set especially, but yesterday was intense and I have a long drive today.
Space Racer was good, modular techno. She kept things varied, she had a bit of structure to it — I think there was actually a lot of improv going but it all worked. One continuous rhythmic flow, with different parts joining in and always keeping it fresh, and an interesting variety of timbres. I fully enjoyed her set and it felt short to me — she successfully left her audience wanting more.
Next up was Dub Station Zero. Obviously had a strong dub influence. Good transitions, solid and occasionally very funky rhythms, fun basslines with occasionally wild buzzing timbres. He has mastered his craft for sure. His set was longer but it felt 100% right. Good stuff. It sounded like I was listening to an album, not someone who just brought a drum machine and small Eurorack case to a hotel. I would buy that album.
And then, Vamp Acid. The dark side — driving rhythms and more than a little industrial and gothic flavor, I was totally on board with it. When it’s almost 10 o’clock and I’m that tired it takes something special to make me want to get up and dance. (I don’t dance.) She seemed to have specific songs she was doing, though not without improvisation too. Changed the tempo up a few times, including some fakeouts and surprises which worked super well. She sang, and my only complaint is that her vocals could have been louder in the mix (not that this isn’t common with goth acts). My favorite of a very good three, and I’m happy to learn she does have an album out too.
This morning I’ll go eat breakfast, check out of my room, see about that Dreadbox Hypnosis and head for home. I didn’t take a day off work tomorrow for recovery and I hope I don’t regret that. 🙂
Today was the “real” Knobcon, when the exhibit hall (and supplementary rooms) opened and some of the workshops and afternoon performances and jam sessions.
I like watching people perform weird music on synths (and other things as described below) but the stuff is kind of the main attraction. I tried many of them! In approximate ascending order of how interested I would potentially be in actually owning one:
For the Abstract Afternoon performances, my timing wasn’t great and I missed most of Cory Flanigan’s piece, which is a shame — he was playing a gong that was resonating a 6-foot long “beam” monochord he built, minimally processed by electronics, and it was awesome. It sounded entirely electronic and otherworldly.
Daniel Anez played a Therevox, along with… somebody whose name I didn’t catch on a Buchla system with the new Kilpatrick Audio Sextuple Quadraphonic Spatial Director. It was a fantastic piece, varied and constantly moving (and I don’t just mean quadrophonic sound sweeps) and full of fire and beauty. I’d have been happy to hear them keep going for another hour.
Sine Mountain was next. He had some lovely timbres, combined with a pretty gimmicky slow spin around the room. (I feel like that’s the main thing quad sound is good for; I don’t even like autopanning that much in stereo if it’s not subtle.) His piece was nice but it did maybe go on a little too long. Still, this format I think worked better than last night’s.
And now I’m about to go downstairs to see how much of the Big Room performances I can take in. I am rested, fed and feel ready.
So, a fire alarm went off last night in the Knobcon hotel just after midnight. SUPER LOUD and startling, as I guess it needs to be. I very hastily got dressed, pocketed my phone, wallet and car keys (but not hotel room key!) and for some reason, a pair of socks, and and went down the stairs… for not very long before the FD showed up, checked it out and cleared everyone to go back in.
This morning I have one sock 🙁 I of course didn’t bring another pair with me. They were nice merino wool Icebreaker socks too. It’s probably on the fire stairs or outside or something. Yay.
Unless I get lucky and find it on the stairs on my way down, it looks like I will be heading out of the hotel at some point today to buy socks, unless it’s one of the things in the giant CVS vending machine downstairs (I doubt it).
UPDATE: the sock and I have been reunited. It was at the bottom of the fire stairs. Whew!
The first evening of Knobcon, there are always a bunch of performers in a pavillion outside the hotel. Also on the first evening of Knobcon, I tend to be tired after having made the 5-6 hour drive and I might not be able to hang around for the whole thing.
Eric aka Suit & Tie Guy (whose business is now muSonics rather than STG Sound Labs) is the founder/main runner of Knobcon, and usually performs Friday nights. Apparently he is going through some difficult family stuff and had to beg off tonight’s performance. But also, one of the duos that was going to perform was late getting in and didn’t even start setting up until the second performer was almost done. So it was pretty chaotic, the order was rearranged and I mostly don’t know who did what in what order.
Before fatigue set in, I only heard three performers, each with a continuous 30-40 minute long set. And I think given the constraints they were working with, that was too long for each of them. This is a common criticism I have of many musicians: it is better to leave your audience wanting more, than getting bored in the middle. I know when improvising, especially with a limited portable set of gear, it can be difficult to have enough different stuff to do to keep it varied.
I don’t want to sound too negative — I enjoyed each of these, even though they did lose me a bit after a while. And I recognized the artistry and mastery. And… I don’t do this stuff live, I cheat by recording it, and sometimes editing my takes down.
The first performer had a Buchla Easel with a couple of extra modules, a looper and a violin. He set up some nice sequences with a deep, full but simple bass part acting in almost a melodic way, and then would pick up the violin and play along with it — sometimes matching the rhythms and patterns of the sequence, sometimes playing a kind of counterpoint to them. I liked his synth work and he was quite a good violinist, but again, I think it would have made a great 15-minute piece and then move on to something else.
The second performer had a Serge system along with an OP-1, a Jomox T-Resonator and some other bits. Interesting combination of gear. His set was a sort of abstract, rumbling, shuffling, gurgling thing that broke out into shattered drum sounds, evolved a solid if simple rhythm, and then fell back into chaos… which mostly worked well I thought, but given the length I think I’d rather it moved forward rather than back, taking us somewhere else. I felt like the modular and T-Resonator were highly chaotic, and there might not have been much potential to get more order out of it than he did without repatching. But the funny thing is it didn’t seem like people even noticed he was playing at first, it kind of snuck up on them. He had a look of concentration and small movements while playing, which made me think of the word “strategy”.
The third performer was TamiX. I know that because she was the only woman performing that night, and I’ve seen her on social media before. She is also an “idol” and has this anime schoolgirl style that is really not my thing — but she has talent for sure. The Buchla system she was performing with is roughly the size of my modular at home, was absolutely covered in a rat’s nest of patch cables, but with a Buchla Thunder and a couple of other controllers I couldn’t identify, she seemed to have mastery over it. It was crowd-pleasing, angry robot techno that sometimes felt right on the edge of going completely berzerk. Not really knowing her style and listening to more dark Berlin stuff myself, I kept expecting her to really dial it back into something strict and industrial, but there was always at least a bit of chaos; she controlled the key it was in but parts would just sort of go into flourishes and little micro-solos and brief octave jumps and piercing riffs seemingly on their own. At times it was like there was a mob of 5 or 6 voices improvising on a theme while she directed them, and they were alternate staying with or trying to push or pull the insistent kick drum. What kind of magical sequencers do they have in Buchla 200e setups anyway?
It was really joyful and wild, and it felt like she had developed the whole thing perfectly, and as the kick drum and all but two voices faded away it seemed was bringing it to a very satisfying conclusion, but… it just kept on. She’d bring a bit in and then pull it back out again. It felt lost for almost ten minutes, before she brought the drums back up, pumped up the energy again and then ended it in an okay, but not mind-blowing way. I think if I had recorded that, I would have edited it heavily and shortened it quite a bit. (And I’ve done that sometimes… of course you don’t have that luxury when live, and if you’re supposed to perform for 40 minutes, you perform for 40 minutes even if you came to a very natural end point after 25.)
I didn’t have enough energy to stay for the other three performers, and I think unless they were going to do something really ambient and soothing very much in contrast to that, she’d have been a tough act to follow anyway.
The next performer (who had just barely started when I left) had a small 5U case of muSonics modules and some drum machines. Another setup seemed to be (mostly Roland) drum machines, grooveboxes and pedals, and the late arrivals seemed to have all keyboards. Aside from the video rig manned by a couple of guys providing visuals on a big screen for all the performers, there was no Eurorack in the room at all. Seems a bit odd, when it seems 2/3 of the exhibition hall is usually Eurorack.
But I know that all 6 of the listed performers for the “Big Room” tomorrow night use Eurorack. I hope I have the energy for that because I’d really like to hear Vamp Acid, Space Racer and POB…
The theme of Knobcon 11 — which has previously been such things as “Jack to the Future”, “Number Six” (The Prisoner), and “Knobtoberfest”, was utterly inevitable:
Tired from the drive and a little overwhelmed by the ridiculously noisy lobby (it has the worst acoustics ever, so it sounded like a World Cup match even though there was plenty of space and I maintained about 60 feet of social distancing until I actually checked in), I waited until about 4:30 to go down and do the con registration. There was quite a line. Maybe 1 in 5 people wearing a mask, which is more than average in the general public I think. I’m definitely going to stick with that in any crowded area given that Covid is on the rise again and the new booster won’t be available for another couple of weeks.
Gotta go back tomorrow to pick up my t-shirt, but I got my badge and bag o’ tchotchkes. This time there was no 9-pound dead tree Sweetwater catalog, thank goodness, and only a handful of cards and stickers and paper-thin fridge magnets I tossed out. Here’s the better and/or more bizarre stuff:
In about an hour and a half, the festivities (live music) start up. Right now I’m just chilling in my hotel room and thinking about getting into my snack stash rather than bothering with real dinner.
Yesterday during my work hours, we had an internet outage. When it became apparent it was going to be down for a while, I signed into Teams on my phone’s slow and unreliable 4G connection just in case, and fired up the synths. I believe now I just have one, maybe two more tracks to record to round out the album.
Entonal Studio’s MIDI support works with Univer Inter, so I was able to play Strega in a subset of 18edo from the Seaboard. There was a little bit of wobbling at the attacks of some notes, but I lived with it for the purposes of that one track as it gave some additional character. This is masked when you’re using pressure control rather than an envelope with a relatively fast attack — but since my internet was down I was stuck with the settings I’d last uploaded to the Uni.
Pitch being slower than gates is a thing that happens with Eurorack sequencing at times, which can be solved with a very short gate delay. With MIDI normally you get the pitch and gate in a single combined message — but Entonal Studio is also sending pitch bend messages to adjust the tuning, so between it and the MIDI-to-CV conversion there’s an opportunity for things to get weird. But I can fix it easily enough with short gate delays using Stages or Teletype, no problemo.