The last book I finished was Iron Widow, very Chinese-flavored future fantasy. Society reverted to the bad old days of feudalistic, deeply racist and even more misogynistic warrior culture complete with foot binding, with alien “spirit metal” beasts held off by giant mecha powered by qi, and controlled by the “spirit pressure” of a male (hero) and a female (usually a sacrificial concubine). The protagonist is an intensely powerful young woman who suffers a lot, gets her vengeance and beats the system, only to find out the system was rigged (against women, and against everyone) on even more levels than anyone suspected.

It wasn’t an easy read.

But the day after I finished it, the news was full of the so-called “Supreme” Court giving its opinion that Roe vs. Wade was a mistake, conveniently ignoring the Ninth Amendment for the sake of Republican culture war fuckery in a way that could easily apply to many other rights that we have taken for granted.

Democrats supposedly “control” the White House and the House of Representatives and the Senate is divided. But somehow this is still a weak position and the curse of Trump lingers. I’m convinced that most Democratic politicians don’t care about the issues or winning, as much as they do about fundraising and personal wealth and power. The ones that do care are stuck in the same broken, corrupt system and can’t build up the momentum to break loose.

Just yesterday morning I was in a rare good mood from the morning commute. Feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction over the new album, some spiritual something where there has been a lot of fog that I hadn’t been looking at… just general good feelings. Until, of course, I opened my browser.

It is difficult, or maybe impossible, not to despair.

better than 8-track

I’m done recording for the next album, titled Diversion. 9 tracks, an hour and 3 minutes. I’ll master it over the next few days and plan to release on Bandcamp Friday, May 6.

The artwork is already taken care of thanks to Wombo Dream, an “AI” art app that creates stuff based on a text prompt. How it responds to various prompts varies a lot. I would describe it as vaguely, inhumanly impressionistic with a lot of accidental surrealism. It does interesting textures and gives the vague idea of something, but the specifics so often just don’t work. It’s great for inventing glyphs and sigils, making piles of machinery or forests or mountains, or an impression of a spreadsheet or chart. It’s not so good at putting together a non-nightmarish animal or human, or a “story” in a scene or knowing when to stop. For instance:

“businessmen shaking hands” in “fantasy art” style
“boiling pasta” in steampunk style
“clown juggling bowling pins” in synthwave style
“robot walking a dog” in ukiyo-e style

So in some sense it’s like what I’ve said about the “ambient” aspect of my music — it gives a sense of a scene, a time and place and general events, but despite some depth of detail and texture, it does not tell a specific story.

  • But is it art?”
    • Oh please don’t. That is the most tedious question ever.
  • “Is it good?”
    • This has no objective or meaningful answer.
    • But if you find the images somehow compelling, then… sure, it’s good.
  • “Will this replace human artists?”
    • Entirely? No.
    • But if you just need something whipped up ridiculously fast and cheap? Particularly with a more sophisticated tool like DALL-E where the specifics aren’t so hilariously broken? Yeah.
    • Maybe think about this in terms of drummers vs. drum machines. The “replacement” is not total. Drum machines that sound pretty dull are easy; to sound good, you need a human to work it like the creative tool that it is. Drum machines enable new creative directions that live human drummers couldn’t (or at least, didn’t) go, but they don’t mean people don’t value a good human drummer or enjoy drumming anymore.

A couple of weeks ago I watched the documentary “Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons & Dragons.” The better fantasy artists could convey a lot of story, a sense of character, in a single still image scene. You could see it and easily imagine you knew some things about that Halfling thief’s personality, what her voice sounded like, how she got into this mess and the kind of tricks she’ll pull to get out of it again. I have my doubts that any AI in the next 10-20 years will be able to do that, at least not without a human pulling a lot of its strings… in which case, we’re still talking about a human making art.

At any rate, I think the wonkiness of Wombo has a sort of combination charm/creepiness and it will make at least one cool album cover for music like mine.

T-Bone Burnett (whoever that is?) and Bob Dylan have teamed up to announce “the pinnacle of recorded sound.” Which is basically, a lacquer analog record that is recorded in a one-off way, no duplication. So it’s like an NFT but a physical thing.

There are all kinds of reasons to hate and mock this. But mostly I am amused to be able to say my releases have outsold a Bob Dylan record, as well as Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.

Recent reads:

Robert Jackson Bennett, Foundryside and Shorefall: fantasy set in a Mediterranean-esque city ruled by merchant houses whose magical “scrivings” bend the rules of reality. E.g. self-propelled carts that roll because its wheels believe they are going downhill. There’s a sort of programming language behind it — and a deeper language behind that, with more permissions to rewrite reality (and humanity) that is the source of all kinds of trouble. A decent read and clever system, but didn’t really have the emotional pull for me that some authors do.

Brandon Sanderson & Janci Patterson, Skyward Flight: Technically three novellas in one book, but it’s a continuous timeline from one into the next with different protagonists. Set in the YA series with spaceship dogfights, psychics who can teleport entire space stations, a scumbag empire called the Superiority that wonders why the (heavily oppressed) “lesser races” are so gosh-darn aggressive, and Doomslug. I was well entertained.

Charles Stross, Quantum of Nightmares: a novel in the horror/comedy Laundry Files series, where at this point, the UK is ruled by a god/demon called “the Black Pharaoh,” the US narrowly avoided a coup by Cthulhu cultists, and superheroes and supervillains are running rampant because reality is very… leaky. This one involves the attempted kidnapping of a quartet of spoiled rich superpowered children, the worst possible supermarket chain to work for getting a bit Sweeny Todd with 3D meat printers, and of course a cult. It was probably the grossest of the series so far, though not necessarily the scariest, but still funny and clever and riveting.

Charles Stross, Escape from Yokai Land: this was billed as “Book 12 of the Laundry Files.” But it’s a short novella for the price of a novel, and it’s set between books 7 and 8 — practically ancient history at this point. It doesn’t advance the plot or tell us anything about good old Bob that we didn’t already know. It lacks almost everything that makes the series so good. There were a couple of chuckles in it at best. I am disappoint.

Reading now: Charlie Jane Anders, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak: so far it’s early yet and it has not yet got its hooks in, but I’m giving it a chance. It’s the sequel to Victories Greater Than Death, a YA “chosen one” space opera where the characters were refreshingly considerate and kind, and was as much about about emotional struggles and internal conflicts as galactic ones. The sort of thing the Sad Puppies would absolutely hate, because people respecting each other’s boundaries and gender identity is just the worst.

half pint

I’ve been consistently happy with the U-bass aside from the tuner repair issue (probably self-inflicted when I wrapped the new strings too many times). It feels comfortable, it’s compact enough to use while sitting at the corner desk, and I love its mellow sound. It doesn’t cover all the bas(s)es, though, thus the Mikro, for a fretted, metal string, brighter sound and feel.

But the Mikro isn’t quite micro enough to be fully comfortable to me. Sometimes it’s absolutely great but sometimes things just don’t flow. And the overall body length can be awkward to maneuver without bumping the headstock into stuff. So I’ve searched for alternatives, and over the last week it came down to the finals.

MihaDo (FingyBass): they answered my Reverb message very quickly even on Easter Sunday. They are quite flexible about custom work, so they get some points there. But the price they quoted me for the selection I made, helped me realize that their lower prices come from corner cutting — specifically from simplified designs and cheap hardware. If you get more selective and ask for options more comparable to their competitors, the advantage disappears and even inverts. And while FingyBass owners generally seem happy, they have also mentioned the instruments are a bit “rough and ready” and “DIY-ish”, and one was planning to have a second instrument built with upgraded hardware.

The standard FingyBass body shape is not super appealing to me in 16″ and 18″, though at 22″ it’s a bit more graceful — and the B-style comes with added cost.

Wing Instruments (Wing NT): It seems a solid choice, but I did not contact them. They have a fairly long lead time (and I’ve heard, can be significantly longer than their website says). Their prices slightly higher than MÜB (and more still for custom options), and while they do look cool, they’re not quite as cool-looking; they seem more like an abbreviated bass guitar rather than their own sort of thing.

Maurizio Über Basses (Miezo): This was always one of the most eye-catching and classy small basses out there. Their prices did go up a few months ago, but are still significantly less than full-scale custom basses tend to be. There are a number of Miezo owners in the (subjectively) best thread on TalkBass, “Ambient/Post-Rock/Textural bass playing”, and they all love it. The luthier, Maurizio Caduto, has a great reputation, and there is a lot of attention to detail.

Communication with Maurizio has been great — he’s very friendly, has an obvious love of what he’s doing, and gives helpful advice about the various options based on my interests and concerns.

So I’ve gone ahead and put down a deposit on a Miezo 18, 5-string, with raintree body and ovangkol fretboard, and double-coil pickup.

This photo is not the exact one (different pickup I think, fancier electronics, and 6 strings), but a sample image he sent to show what those wood choices generally look like.

The wood choice was between raintree (aka monkeypod) and nyatoh for the body, and ovangkol or ironwood for the fretboard (other options possible for a fee). Maurizio gave some description of their (alleged) tonal qualities. I’m personally somewhat neutral/skeptical on the importance of “tonewood” when the pickups are electromagnetic, but he’s the experienced luthier and I’m the relatively new and casual bass player. All the choices are valid ones though and I don’t think there’s a wrong combo. So I made my choices due to the woods’ appearance and sustainability, partially influenced by Maurizio’s apparent enthusiasm for raintree.

The tuning with regular bass strings is B1-G3 (one octave above a typical 5-string bass) or A1-F3 (a fourth above a “hi C” 5-string). This is basically cello range. It’s pretty common to use octave pedals with instruments like this; I have find that the free Pitchproof VST plugin works extremely well.

I didn’t ask for a time estimate on the build. I’ll be patient — there’s still a lot of music to make in the meantime!

here’s my political statement:

ModWiggler’s policies suck. That is my informed “political” opinion.

I changed my avatar on the site to a square cutout of this piece of art:

The illustration by the artist Boris Groh shows a Ukrainian defender with his middle finger raised.

It’s been that way for weeks. This morning I got this:

The funny thing is, MW itself has specifically posted in support of Ukraine. They donated 100% of their income to the Red Cross last month.

My speculation is, either a poorly paid employee of Behringer or a superfan out on social media patrol, saw that I posted something less than complimentary about their new announcement, and since the content of my post was entirely within forum guidelines they reported the avatar as “political” — which some of the moderators have an instant knee-jerk shutdown reaction to. Not that it stops the obvious right-wing types (…including one of the moderators…) from being obviously right-wing and openly mocking “SJWs and snowflakes.” But then, at least one user got away with having an anarcho-syndicalist flag as their avatar for several years, so… beats me.

I considered just telling the moderator to go ahead and ban me. But I wouldn’t be the first and it accomplishes nothing. I may take a self-imposed break from the site for a while though. Meanwhile, this is my new avatar for now:

User avatar


building new Boost libraries gives you this lovely piece of advice.

Been working on an issue at work that doesn’t happen in development builds, only in executables built on the build server. Which means no catching it in the debugger, and very slow iterations where I make a code change, add a crapton of log messages, save it in source control, start a test build, wait about 46 minutes, install it on my secondary development machine, run it, and then look for the log messages. This has been going on for 4 days now — four very long, boring days. I identified exactly which function call is locking up, but not at all why; I attempted multiple workarounds and updates to third-party libraries and no luck. Today I at least figured out which code change from two weeks ago caused it to happen, but still not why. There’s a huge pile of stuff to finish for this release (including planning for the next one) and a couple of things I have to do on a side project contract and ugh, this is the worst time for this sort of thing.

I have 38 minutes of music ready for the next album, after thinking things were going slow in that department. And there’s some decent ambient bass noodling in it. So that’s okay then.

The back pain has been gradually relenting. The realization that it’s easing off came shortly after I realized that some portion of it is probably arthritis, due to the occasional weird feeling of “wrong” rather than pain per se, that reminded me of when I had it in my left wrist, like those body parts are just not going to bear a load anymore. So, hmmm. The body and mind are complex and don’t really understand each other very well sometimes, I think.

Behringer (may they rot in corporate hell) today made about the 49th new product announcement/teaser of the year: the Enigma, a clone of the Buchla 208, the main part of the famous Music Easel, with an estimated price about 1/8 of the real thing. At first I was thinking if there’s anything they could clone that could possibly tempt me to give them another penny, it’d be a 208. But their mockup of it looks like they’ve made some ill-advised design changes, and when I think about what the Minibrute 2S offers, and how relatively decent the Arturia emulation of the Easel is… nah.


When I’m not recording something every week or so I start feeling like my music-making pace is slack — even last year when I released 8 albums and participated in two compilations.

But this time, things have been slower. I started to do the math, but instead I will say: that’s okay. I don’t have to be super prolific, it’s not as if any income is riding on it.

(Speaking of income: I collected my 2018-2019 royalties from DistroKid last year, all of $14, and they diligently reported it to the IRS. Which means I had to fill out extra “self-employment” paperwork, which meant TaxAct charged me $50 or so more on top of the $40 in DistroKid fees that I already paid to earn that $14. I don’t consider what I do a business, and if I did, I would report a loss — but it wouldn’t be enough of a loss to push us over the standard deduction. So it’s all pointless bureaucracy, and someone else is profiting from my mistake of thinking I might offset the cost of my hobby a little bit.)

Why slower? Partially it’s been the bass thing. Sometimes I’ll fire up my stuff and just jam, practice, or experiment and not record something. I expected some of that when I got into it.

But some of it has been motivation. The late winter/early spring mood has combined with back pain ever since our road trip, and that doesn’t encourage creative efforts. I’ve spent more time sitting in the big chair in the living room with the shiatsu massager (usually helpful in the short term), or just playing video games. (The usual Noita and Art of Rally; I’ve moved from Dirt Rally 2.0 to WRC 10, and recently started up Guild Wars 2 again thinking I might pick up the End of Dragons expansion but I don’t know whether I’m feeling it.)

Regardless, I’ve recorded four good tracks in the month since the last release, so maybe I should just stop worrying about my pace. Two of those tracks were Ambient Online compilation submissions, but if I play the four of them sequentially they sound like they’re meant to be on the same album in that very order — so I’ll include them all. And I have a name for the album in mind, and a couple of ideas for next tracks.

I started to read From Scratch: Writings in Music Theory which was posthumously compiled from several writings by James Tenney. Whoever is missing their tea, I’m sorry, I grabbed the wrong cup because this one is not mine. In retrospect I’m not sure why I thought it might be. There’s a lot of analysis of Schoenberg (blech) and I feel like what Tenney did was creating a set of rules with some arbitrary definitions and vaguely statistical concepts, to describe something that was already created using a set of rules using vaguely statistical concepts. Did Walker Farrell recommend this, or was it someone on Lines, or an Amazon or GoodReads suggestion based on other books I was looking at? I will go ahead and blame an algorithm I think.

I tried to give it a chance, but it’s not just dry and academic. It’s dry, academic, completely irrelevant to my process, and unable to generate any sort of insight or inspiration I can work with. I feel like for all that I’ve read through it, it came to the conclusion that “stuff can be grouped together if it has similar characteristics, and separated into different groups if it has different characteristics”… not exactly life-changing stuff.

Termination Shock: a novel and a bad idea

I usually enjoy Neal Stephenson’s novels a lot. Termination Shock gave me some pretty mixed feelings, though.

The plot: it’s the near future and the climate has (surprise!) gotten worse. Sea level rise is a serious threat to some places in the world, while others are all but uninhabitable witout air conditioning or cooled “earthsuits.” Lots of ecological side effects, two more COVID pandemics and ongoing supply chain chaos, are really not helping any.

A Texas billionaire oil baron kicks off a desperate geoengineering project to launch sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere — a similar effect that volcanic eruptions have. He doesn’t ask permission, he just rounds up a bunch of other rich people with a stake and shows them the system.

Outside of the fiction, this method has been modeled and is expected to effective at cooling temperatures and even relatively cost-effective… as long as you don’t ever stop. (Stopping causes warming to rebound worse, which is called “termination shock.”) There are also a lot of unsettled questions about how much it would reduce rainfall (and make it more acidic), reduce sunlight available for agriculture, increase ocean acidification, potentially damage the ozone layer, affect atmospheric circulation, and have generally unknown effects on the ecosystem. Whether it’s an extremely bad idea, a questionable one, or something to maybe try out very cautiously depends on who you ask and which models they’re looking at.

In the story, the effect on rainfall is assumed to be regional, very dependent on where the sulfur is introduced — in this case, it is the “breadbasket” of the Punjab that is adversely affected, which is a major plot point. Ocean acidification is briefly mentioned as a main reason for carbon capture and reduction rather than continuing to dump carbon into the atmosphere; the sulfur is meant to buy some time for that. Termination shock of course is a serious concern, as is the political destabilization factor of an eccentric, rogue non-state actor having control of a “climate weapon.” But overall, the attitude of the book’s characters — and thus, apparently (?) the book and the author — is that opponents of the geoengineering scheme are either India (facing possible starvation, so their opposition was rational, but misguided because more sites were supposed to balance the first one) or deluded lefty Greens (rarely if ever shown in a sympathetic light). The book’s political stance is kind of unclear, with the US as an example of a nearly failed state thanks to its “Comanche” individualist warrior redneck attitude, but also its choice of protagonists (Libertarian Texan, gun-toting redneck, a literal queen who owns significant stock in petrochemical and mining companies, and… a Sikh martial artist?) It’s weird. If I hadn’t read other books by Stephenson I would really wonder about the politics in it. He’s absolutely not on the Fox News/Trump side, that much is clear. But a lot remains ambiguous — partly because of where it ends, on the assumption that this “solution” is probably going to work and therefore the world is saved by one of the rich white patriarchal Libertarian gun nuts who broke it in the first place.

It’s still a Neal Stephenson book, and therefore a dogpile of crazy fun tangents (although some of them drag on a little bit), absolutely hilarious and absurd moments and characters. I don’t regret reading it like I do some things that turned out to be pretty clear-cut Ayn Rand worship, but I’m not fully comfortable with it either. And it’s a different sort of discomfort from reading Ministry for the Future, which confronts rather than abstracts human suffering, and where eco-terrorism contributes positively to the eventual solutions (a different sort of rogue actor, anonymous agents rather than a protagonist).

Now I’ve started reading She Who Became the Sun, “a reimagining of the rise to power of the Hongwu Emperor in the 14th century.” Which is less dry than it sounds. A young starving girl disguises herself as her dead brother and also takes on his destiny — becoming a monk (narrowly escaping detection) and then attaching herself to a rebellion against the Mongols and eventually becoming emperor. If it sounds a little like Mulan, well… it’s at least 300 years later, not the same situation or politics, and more queer overall (there’s also a general who’s a eunuch and kind of despised by his peers, but who fascinates the protagonist).

I keep GASsing for that Miezo bass or similar, and asking myself why. It’s still essentially a bass, and would provide similar (probably not identical) sound to the Mikro. Most of the time when I want a different piece of synth gear, it’s either for the sound, experimental possibilities, or some aspect of modulation or workflow that I’m confident will suit me well.

The reasons come down to:

  • It looks really flipping cool. It’s distinctive and frankly kind of SF/fantasy-ish.
  • A shorter scale length than even the 28.6″ does have some appeal for me, in that it’d get me solidly to OFPF (one finger per fret) throughout the full range.
  • Shorter overall body length makes it more wieldy. The Mikro’s total body length is 42″, and I do sometimes bump its headstock into stuff when tweaking other things. The U-bass is about 29.4″. Mini-basses range from about 20-26″ in total length.

I still need to put some thought into it though.

  • Is this something that ends up replacing the Mikro, or supplementing it? That depends, I guess.
  • Do I want to go for 16″, 18″, 22″? (Shorter is cheaper; longer is supposed to work better with standard tuning ranges and slapping, but the 16″ have been demonstrated to be decent. The 22″ has 4 more frets.)
  • 4 strings? 5? 6? (On a shorter instrument, more strings compensates for the shorter “reach” of each string. On a longer one it extends the range and adds more fingering options. Would be nice to have a low D for when I’m accompanying my spouse on the dulcimer. But more strings = pricier and more complex.)
  • Fretted or fretless? I’m leaning toward frets because that’s better for slapping and tapping, and the U-bass is covering fretless ground pretty nicely.
  • Why not a second U-bass then, fretted? I’m not sure even with the steel flatwound strings and frets, they are as good at slapping and tapping. And they’re not as short. But it is still something to think about.

where it’s at

Both the Strega and A-150 arrived yesterday. The latter is mostly just plumbing, but the former is a very cool instrument.

It was baffling for the first hour or so — the design and layout are a bit unconventional, many of the controls are cryptic, and the manual is not entirely illuminating. But it’s not quite as alien an instrument as one might first think. Behind the “alchemical” symbols there are some conventional synth sections, albeit strung together with unusual modulation sources and routings and feedback paths. It has the nicest waveshaper I have heard on any Make Noise gear, and just a lot of cleverness. Well done Tony Rolando and Alessandro Cortini.

There’s no need to worry too much about it having too much of that specific artist’s stamp on it either, or being stuck doing nothing but noisy drones. It’s capable of a lot of different stuff. More so when patching it to other gear, like the 0-Ctrl or more conventional modulation sources, but that is The Way of Modular.

Was it a good choice to replace the Microfreak and 60HP of modules with this? For sure it was.

Here’s the current modular rig:

And here is The One That Is Getting Away:

A Maurizio Uber Bass Miezo 16/5, normally a custom job but this one is just sitting there available, without the wait time.

This is very close to the next bass I want. I think I would prefer the 18″ version, and would probably prefer a different color. And I’m also not sure I am prepared to spend this much on a bass, and there are similar, slightly less stylish but less costly alternatives. And also I think I should probably work on my technique first to help justify such a thing. And also dig in with the new stuff I have recently acquired and get cozy with all of that before jumping into another simultaneous adventure. But seeing this available and not going for it is still causing some proverbial nail-biting.

It’s a bit different to drool over something I could potentially get and would actually play, than it is many of the really pretty basses I see posted all the time now that I know I wouldn’t buy. For now this remains a “someday” instrument, and… that’s OK.

retracting the claws

I’ve decided to downsize my synth setup just a little.

My original thoughts about getting the Strega were that I’d either have to put aside my Microfreak or unload 60HP of modules to empty the Pod60. Now that we come to it, I’m going to do both.

  • Microfreak is now officially sold, I just need to ship it.
  • Mixwitch is being replaced by a Doepfer A-150 — a little smaller, cheaper, simpler, but dual. I honestly have been using Mixwitch rarely and only for transposition and rare switching, reaching instead for the more ergonomically favorable Shades or Blinds for everything else. And I honestly could probably have skipped the A-150 too.
  • Angle Grinder is out. It’s a lovely filter and pretty interesting as an oscillator. But between Blades, Inertia, Katowice, Lacrima Versio, the Minibrute’s filter, Strega’s filter and software I am really well covered here!
  • Jena is out. Wavetable-based waveshaping is covered by Shapeshifter and Bitwig Grid. I can still use Drezno for making audio dirtier, reshaping signals, extracting and generating patterns, and so on. (I also won’t be picking up Erfurt, which would largely just been enhancements for Jena.)
  • Crush Delay is out. Strega has its own, similar but more mojo-fied dirty delay. And I’m seriously not lacking for other delay FX.
  • Plancks is out. I used it rarely, mostly for crossfades I could be doing with Planar or Blinds. I’d put some thought into going for a Morph 4 instead of this downsizing, but nah.

So the Strega will sit right next to the 0-Ctrl, the awkward laptop arm of my monitor stand will be folded back out of the way, and I’ll also put away the towering DJ stand that’s holding up the Model:Cycles. The latter I’ll keep as an occasional toy for drum jams in the easy chair, and a once-in-a-while contributor to my recordings).

Selling off this stuff will also go a long way toward re-zeroing my music gear spending for the year. Which means more leeway later if I decide to pick up that headless travel piccolo bass (a category that needs a more concise, less awkward name).

Speaking of basses, I have found my holy grail: reliable pitch to MIDI conversion (and thus, pitch to CV). Jam Origin Guitar to MIDI works very well and is polyphonic, though it only tracks guitar range (losing almost the bottom octave of standard bass tuning). Bass to MIDI is monophonic — more appropriate for CV anyway — and tracks the full bass range with decent reliability and pretty low latency.

I had all kinds of fun last night not just playing synths with the bass (which can be really nice when doubling it with the original sound), but using it to make filters and oscillators track pitch — nice with comb filters, ring modulation, and some funky stuff with using the amplitude to control waveshaping. But the ultimate was Rings, particularly in the chord modes. It was hypnotic! I’ll also definitely be trying it with other resonator patches using Mimeophon, Beads, Minimal Audio Rift and so on.