some assembly required

I say it every time, but: every album has its own style that emerges on its own. It can become a matter of conscious choice — but first I have to notice it already happening.

This one has a bunch of loops and drones and noises sampled separately and then incorporated either into the improvisation while recording, or mixed in during the editing phase — and I am keeping them and reusing them in subsequent tracks. I’ve also been overlaying unwanted noise with more desirable, cooler noises. Overall it lends a certain kind of continuity. There’s also a continuity in tempo, because the length of one loop determined the LFO time to drive it in Bitwig Grid, from which I derived triggers to clock 0-Ctrl, and then captured a loop from that and used it to drive an envelope follower to filter some noise, which became another loop… so without the explicit “everything is X BPM” rule I followed for Pulse Code I still have a steady rhythm. My plan for the next track is to simply have a drone that I solo over and keep it simple — but I may use that same tempo as either an inaudible guide, or the basis of some modulation, just to keep it going.

Aside from set of related beats from 0-Ctrl modulating Synchrodyne, there was a brief improv in OPS7 which became a sort of shifting chordal drone, a sustained note on the bass with an EBow, Strega feeding back through Peradam, and some bits sampled out of finished takes and then pitch shifted. It’s not like any of this is completely new to me, but the way I’ve been approaching it, and saving the pieces for later re-use, has sort of become a “thing.”

let’s engineer some noise

I just wrote up a page of Noise Engineering Plugin Tips if those interest you. And if they don’t, well, I wrote it up anyway.

It’s some stuff I’ve found with their various offerings from the Freequel Bundle, Bundle 1 and Bundle 2, particularly with Ruina but there’s a bit there for everything.

Why? Because someone happened to post about it on TalkBass, and it got me trying things and learning a few things, as well as recalling stuff I’d discovered before that this time, I wanted to make sure I remembered. And writing a big post about it was the best way to do that.

consult the bones

I am a horrible singer. But otherwise, instruments whose pitch is unquantized are fine by me — I was quite good at violin (for a student), fairly comfortable with fretless bass. I was no worse than anyone else without thousands of hours of practice on a theremin. My kazoo playing is… fine I guess. I use unquantized sequencers more than quantized ones in my electronic music.

But Trombone Champ? That’s humbling. It’s like QWOP meets Guitar Hero.

Thankfully the primary emotion that results is not frustration, but joyful hilarity. I’ve played it enough over the weekend to have some of the songs stuck in my head now — original ones like “Trombone Skyze” and “Baboons!” as well as songs like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (which I dislike pretty strongly actually, along with the sport itself) and “O Canada” (which is fine).

I’ve been trying to keep up semi-consistent bass practice, but I find if I play for long enough — which happens more often when I’m recording and want to keep going until it’s done — it leaves me with a pretty sore index finger. Something about the angle I’m playing the Miezo or the strings (round-wound) is doing a number on that one particular spot, instead of building up calluses. And once it’s in that state, I really don’t want to play on it until it heals.

Possibly playing other stringed instruments in between would help. But another option is, surprisingly, a glove. Intuitively this seems like it’d interfere, but apparently, with the right kind of glove it can make playing smoother and easier. There are a few professional players with nerve issues, excessive sweating etc. who wear them regularly. Nickel allergies are another reason… and oh hey, I do have a mild nickel allergy, which is why we have titanium wedding rings now instead of white gold like the first set. I wonder if that’s contributing to the issue?

Musicians’ Practice Gloves are the most common brand and people seem to like them, so I’ll give them a try.

After multiple shipping delays, the USB power cable for my Pod60 arrived. That makes it a handy portable, and more importantly, stowable overflow case. Right now Inertia and Afterneath are in there — I may still wind up selling them after a while, but I appreciate having access to all the modules I own, at least.

I have a Cosmotronic Peradam on the way. It’s a fairly complex distortion module, which phase-shifts its input and uses that to amplitude modulate itself, then goes through a two-band drive stage with an offset, then it feeds back. I like what I hear in demos, and it seems like there’s a lot of potential to inject and combine signals in interesting ways.

My current read is Adam Roberts’ The This. Not counting the introduction, it seems to be set in two time periods: a near-future gig economy dystopia with a suspicious new social media service, and a farther future in which said cult (oops, did I say cult?) is a hive mind breaking away from the “individuals” to terraform Venus. The writing style is certainly unusual, occasionally gimmicky but clever enough to get away with it. For instance, one of the chapters splits columns between the actual story and a Twitter-like social media feed, filled with clues, puns, and spam. Reading both feels distracting, just like trying to check one’s phone while reading a novel.

Before (the) that, I read Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, thanks to many recommendations on the Lines forum and a very cheap sale price. It was kind of fascinating but also really not my thing. I generally feel like magical realism is a cop-out — trying to write magic without the stigma of being a dreaded genre writer, and managing to omit the actual fun of tales of other worlds, gods and spirits and magic, leaving only a drug-like weirdness. Just not my thing.

near miss?

Several years ago, I went through a couple of months with arthritis in my left wrist. Part pain, part a feeling of wrongness/weakness, like it just wasn’t going to work properly.

There was a round of painkillers, but the problem went away on its own and the wrist has given me very little trouble since.

Last night it came back, and was partially responsible for waking me up early. (That, plus some sinus congestion and the cat getting his usual pre-dawn energy burst.)

It was annoying enough before, particularly with typing or driving. It would definitely get in the way of bass playing, even with the Miezo. So that got me worried (which also contributed to getting me out of bed early).

Thankfully, after Tylenol it’s at least 95% better, which tells me it’s not like that first time at all, and is probably going to continue being okay even after the Tylenol wears off.

I’m pretty annoyed at Biden casually saying “the pandemic is officially over.” Community transmission is still high in a lot of the US. Deaths are way down but not zero. Catching it once does not grant immunity, getting vaccinated improves your chances but doesn’t grant perfect immunity (especially if you don’t get boosters) and vaccination rates are still lower than they should be. There have been several horror stories online recently about Long Covid and how it affects cognitive function, and frankly that scares me the most.

I know this president is much less awful than the previous one where it comes to off-the-cuff foolish statements, but he really should have paid attention to the words of the philosopher Benjamin Franklin Parker: with great power there must also come great responsibility.

it rolled away

You know how music fans are sometimes disappointed in a favorite band’s new album because it’s a creative departure from their previous ones? Sometimes you never really get over that, and sometimes you come to appreciate their newer stuff almost as if they’re a different group. But either way you should at least respect that musicians don’t necessarily want to — and in fact, probably can’t — keep doing the same thing forever.

It’s like that with books to. It is very much like that with Tamsyn Muir’s The Locked Tomb series.

Spoilers ahead….

Gideon the Ninth had a snarky protagonist who was easy to like, or at least to laugh with, some great dynamics with other characters, a dark and intriguing setting where you could feel the weight and dust of history, and both magical mysteries and murder mysteries to unravel. Not everyone loved it, but it sold a ton and won piles of awards and will be on my top ten list forever.

The sequel, Harrow the Ninth, barely included Gideon, instead focusing on her partner/frenemy Harrowhark, who is not so charismatic. Her memory has been tinkered with (mainly to erase Gideon!), she’s not entirely sane, she’s being kept in the dark about a lot of things, there’s an imminent threat that’s way out of her league, and there are conspiracies afoot. It’s confusing as hell — it’s probably more confusing in some ways to people who have read the first book. The people around her are mostly awful and manipulative or outright murderous. But it’s still intriguing, a very different read from the first book but enjoyable in its own way.

The new third book, Nona the Ninth, is different again — though it also features a protagonist with memory/identity issues who’s being kept in the dark about almost everything, there’s an imminent threat way out of her league, and conspiracies afoot. Where Harrow carried guilt and responsibility though, Nona is an innocent, and the people around her are fascinating. It’s hard for either her or the reader to tell who might be a villain, or against “the good guys” even if not villainous — but she loves and/or admires almost everyone anyway — pretty much right through the entire book. I read a review that said it’s a book where we’re waiting for things to happen, but… believe me, things do happen. I think I like this one more than the second book, but I can’t recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read the others because you will be hopelessly lost.

Nona came as a surprise (apparently to the author’s agent and editor as well as fans) because the third book was originally going to be Alecto the Ninth. Instead, we got an extended story of the freeing of Alecto, more about the Blood of Eden group, and the flashback story of how The Emperor Undying got his start. And you know, I think there are plenty of stories in this universe, we don’t have to go back and revisit the first episode. Sure I loved the first book, but that story has been told — if I want more of it I can read it again. Let’s not get too Star Wars with sequels and prequels rehashing the same plot points, shall we?

We did get a bit of Gideon snark in the second and third books — in a series about necromancy, you shouldn’t be surprised when dead people show up and insult everyone — and I’m okay with that. Nona was a neat character and I enjoyed reading her story. So there.

build order

Last night’s music making attempt did not end with a recording that I want to share with anyone, but I realized afterward, it wasn’t fruitless either.

In real-time strategy games, build order especially during the early game can be extremely important. You need the right balance of resource gathering, exploration, research, defense, strike capability, and expansion. Your units have to be able to counter enemy attacks and support each other, so you need to have the right units. The wrong bad build order might mean getting crushed quickly, or it might mean holding on for a long while but never being able to win.

I think build order might be vital to my music-making process too. I noticed this when I first got the 0-Ctrl and was smitten with it. And of course, now I have the new bass. Yesterday’s session started with a sound that I like, essentially a single drone with a rhythmic element, and immediately I wanted to add a bass part to it. And I wanted to keep it a clean sound to show the tone of the bass, rather than looking for the next sound that fit. For five hours, I kept trying to add elements, change them up, piece something together — another drone, a more chordal sound I could vary with the BeetTweek, a stronger rhythmic pulse. I tried playing low parts on the bass, I tried higher “solo-ish” parts doubled with Aalto, I tried middle parts. I tried adding reverb and delay while still trying to preserve the clean sound, and fiddled with the EQ. I never found something to play on it that fit. I recorded 11 takes and deleted them all.

Yes, it was frustrating, and I would have liked to have created something nice. But I got some bass practice in, I built up the calluses, and I had this realization about build order. That makes it still time well spent. Finding out what doesn’t work is seriously valuable.

So that stuff I said about hypophantasia, and how it’s not absolute, how bits of mental images sometimes get through? During part of that session yesterday I had this half-formed visual that I’m not sure I can put into words. It was extremely synthwave, with an orange-brown sun baking a landscape that was simultaneously black flat planes (but glowing and saturated with that received heat), and a sort of a beachside road scene. It doesn’t make any particular sense. I had saved my project as “Sun Something” hoping I could find a better title after finishing it. Deleted files don’t need names, but maybe the image will inspire something else.

Last night I also had a realization about my relationship to the TalkBass forum: I’m proud to be weird. The membership trends toward conservative (in a general sense, not necessarily politically) rather than experimental in a way that itself is very unusual for the music forums that I normally frequent. So I guess I want people on the forum to realize there are more possibilities than playing the root on 1 and 3 in a dad band on an “FSO with tort” (Fender-Shaped Object with a tortoiseshell pickguard). That all those great players they like to name-drop got famous because they developed their own style and sound rather than imitating everybody else. But also, I just like being weird, and maybe I have been posting at times just to establish myself as the weird one in their midst.

There was a recent thread, “What’s the weirdest music you listen to?” This is a dangerous question to put before me in any case, but of course, most of the membership’s answers were just not weird enough for my standards. I legitimately tried to answer, but found myself drifting more toward “I’m weirder than you” instead. I backed off a bit. But I still wound up listing an eclectic bunch of about 40 albums. Maybe I should have just posted a couple of my own tracks. Or… just not.

It’s not like I’m scoring points — I want to make sure I’m not being obnoxious about this.

enner G

About three different conversations on different forums were talking about the Soma Labs Enner last night, and the one that said it was about halfway between a Strega and a Lyra-8 got my attention. I really don’t need another instrument, and after watching videos, I can skip it. It seems more of an instrument to play/explore on its own rather than with other synth gear, a bass, etc.

But that inspired me to fire up the Strega in some of the free time I had this morning before needing to log in to work. Between Strega, Afterneath, and 0-Ctrl I have quite a nice patch going, just a sort of droning loop that I can add subtle variations to with touchplates or small knob movements on one of the 0-Ctrl rows. I’m curious to try that with some bass improvisation, and find out how the Miezo’s pickup reacts to touchplate stuff. I’m looking forward to that as soon as I’m done with work!

I’m planning to submit a couple of tracks for the next Ambient Online this time. It seems like a good time to do it since I’m between albums and exploring the new bass, and some of the vibe I was getting while playing with it and the MIDI Bass plugin and Aalto really lends itself more toward “regular ambient” than my spookier stuff.

Trevor of SubMatrix Audio was kind enough to send me the flipped front panel for BeetTweek — I’m not sure why, but I appreciate it! Let’s call in a beta test, since in the process I found an error in the manual (the nuts around the encoder are 3/16, not 3mm). I do think the knob is better positioned this way, though some people might be offended that flipped mode doesn’t rearrange the jack order, so they’re now DCBA, WZYX instead of ABCD, XYZW πŸ˜‰

I don’t think I’m cut out for this thing where I have more good Eurorack modules than active rack space for them. So I bought a MyVolts Ripcord to power my 4ms Pod60 via USB. I can put a couple modules in there and run them off a battery, moving the little case out of the way when not needed.

Having finished the four extant books of the Stormlight Archive, I found myself wanting to reread more Cosmere stuff. I chose Warbreaker and then Elantris, since:

  • These are standalone books. Nona the Ninth is going to be released in a few days (whoooo!) and I don’t want to be deep in a series when that hits πŸ™‚
  • I’ve only read those once each.
  • The scenes with certain characters (Zahel, Azure, Nightblood) in Stormlight made me more curious about them. Ditto for the Seon in Stormlight (possibly the only Elantris reference in that series).
  • Hoid. In the books written so far, everyone’s favorite worldhopper is far more active and more fun on Roshar than elsewhere, and I couldn’t remember much about his other appearances. But I haven’t encountered him in Elantris yet, and it’s possible he’s not in it at all given that the Cognitive Realm around Sel is supposed to be super messed up.

not a theremin

I found this YouTube video delightful. Not just because he turns a Commodore 64 into a theremin using a spoon, and I am nostalgic for the C64 and its ahead-of-its-time sound chip. More because he explains the process quite clearly. I finally understand capacitance and why its symbol on schematics is β”€β”€β”œβ”€ .

I commented the other day on just how hard-hitting the end of Oathbringer was. Well, after my second reread of Rhythm of War I have to say that it’s no slouch either. Several big things happen all at once, including a main character’s personal victory over depression and PTSD that he can leverage into a wider victory, several reconciliations, a cascading series of rewarding payoffs and a shocking surprise twist or three. Overall it’s still not the grand moment from the third book, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Some weird vivid dreams last night. For some reason I found myself needing to wield four knives simultaneously, so I took a drug called Prehensyl to be able to, uh… hold and move them with the backs of my hands, somehow. And I was thinking about that as I was started to wake up and ease into consciousness. I imagined hands growing from my fingers, climbing skyscrapers in gecko fashion, and all sorts of other effects and side effects of Prehensyl. That wasn’t the only weird and vivid bit, but it’s what I remember and wrote down as soon as I woke up.

Normally I can’t really visualize things in my “mind’s eye.” According to the VVIQ test, I am hypophantasic — I have very little ability to “see” things in my imagination and usually it doesn’t happen at all. I grew up thinking that “mind’s eye” was metaphorical and was surprised to learn otherwise. Aphantasia/hypophantasia has only been researched in the last couple of decades, and some of the information I’ve read about it online doesn’t really match my experience. For instance, they claim that you’re less likely to have nightmares or vivid dreams, or to daydream and be distracted. Ha. When I’m dreaming I have no trouble seeing things without my eyes, and as I wake from a vivid dream I still have some capacity to do so. When the dream goes a little bit lucid, that can be really neat — as long as my primary emotion at the time isn’t frustration at having a particularly repetitive dream or pointless efforts, at which point I simply wake myself up. Or that’s how it feels; perhaps lucid dreaming only feels like you have control over it.

(After all, consciousness itself might not be a real thing. The decisions of our conscious mind might just be rationalization for what the nervous system has already started doing deterministically anyway.)

New Bass Day

Big day for packages yesterday. First… the Miezo!


Maurizio Über Basses (MÜB) Miezo 18. Raintree body, ovangkol fretboard, mother of pearl side dots. 5 strings, 17mm spacing, ETS headless tuning system. Bartolini dual coil pickup, simple volume and tone knobs.

Tuning is an octave above a standard BEADG 5-string bass, or two semitones down from there (ADGCF, where the lowest string is the same as the second-lowest on a standard 4-string bass). “Cello range” essentially, and very good for my needs since it’s where I tended to play on the other basses anyway. And speaking of tuning, those tuners are a joy to work with, very responsive and precise — I fell in love with those immediately.

It looks even nicer in person than in the photo. The two woods match extremely well, almost looking like a single piece of wood, which is the effect I wanted.

The feel of the instrument is solid; it gives an impression of being heavy but the actual weight is lighter than a full-sized bass, just concentrated, if that makes sense. The balance with the strap buttons is perfect for playing while seated. The instrument is right up against the body, very well suited to sitting at my studio desk and alternately playing the bass and synths.

The sound is 100% right. Despite being a slightly higher register and much shorter strings than a standard bass, it’s not lacking in anything. It’s both solid and clear, a perfect basis for either leaving clean or processing it heavily. The tone knob, which I usually favor going full open, rolls off the top end to a warm glow that’s also pretty pleasant. There is a small amount of electromagnetic hum/buzz despite the dual coil and copper shielding (I think it’s a difficult room) but below the noise level of the Mikro and easy to clean up in the DAW. I haven’t tested to see whether the pickups get signals from the Strega touchplates like the Mikro does.

The strings are round-wound, which means I need to be more precise about fretting or pay the squeaky, clanky consequences. While I find I prefer the feel of flatwound or tapewound, for now I’m not going to change the strings, but try to improve my own technique instead. On the Mikro I feel like the tapewound strings are a little duller in tone.

Going from 4 strings to 5 isn’t much of an adjustment. It’s a little wider area to mute, and I find that playing higher frets on the lowest string is a bit more challenging (but hey, just go up a string and play lower frets). The differently shaped neck means I have to fix the bad habit of wrapping my thumb around the neck, but the overall shape and angle also make that an easy fix. And the string tension feels a bit different but not something that will throw me off.

The instrument came with a nice custom padded gig bag with a velcro strap to keep the neck secure and a flat zippered pocket on the outside. The big padded strap I have on it right now (yanked off the 30″ bass upstairs that never gets played) fits a bit awkwardly in the bag though.

Overall it was 132 days between putting down my deposit and receiving the finished instrument (including 6 days for shipping). From other peoples’ experiences I’d expected approximately 90, with a lot of wiggle room, but I but didn’t actually ask at the beginning of the process. It was well worth the wait, though.

This is going to be my main bass for sure. But I still like fretless too, and I expect the Hadean bass uke will continue to serve me in that role for a good while. πŸ™‚

The other new thing is the WMD Synchrodyne module. I owned one before, found it interesting but chaotic, and gave it up when I was specializing in particular areas of synthesis. I’ve been missing it, and since switched-capacitor filters are so rare in Eurorack and WMD going out of business is only going to make them rarer, decided to get one.

Time tends to blunt the details of memories of things like sound and subtleties of module behavior. This is to say that Synchrodyne is way weirder than I actually remembered. It’s hard to make it pretend to be a clean filter; it’s very easy to make it pretend to be 73 kinds of dirty filters, some of them simultaneously. Synchrodyne and Strega have already sworn a blood pact and are busy summoning a dark horde to take over the rest of the modular. In other words — they are very complimentary in their noisy, scraping, pulsating gloom. I love it.

Compared to Inertia as a filter, it is far more diverse but a little harder to tame or control. Inertia of course is also a slew, envelope generator, LFO and oscillator (varying from sine to saw-like in a fairly smooth way). Synchrodyne has a saw-core oscillator (with secondary pulse output) and PLL. So one does not replace the other completely, which would make life just slightly easier but I suppose, just slightly less interesting. πŸ™‚

it’s opinion time

I’m eagerly/worriedly tracking the shipping progress of the Miezo, and learning a little Malaysian geography in the process. Kuala Lumpur is apparently a huge “greater metropolitan area”; within it, Petaling Jaya is the home of Maurizio Uber Basses and DHL’s airport is in neighboring Subang Jaya. From there, the instrument went to DHL’s hub in Hong Kong and passed through customs. But I just got a notification “Entry has been rejected by Customs Authorities” in Cincinnati. “An attempt will be made to correct the entry and resubmit to Customs. A DHL representative will attempt to contact the consignee/importer or shipper if further information is required.”

Yep, nervous nail biting here. There is a bunch of paperwork for shipping musical instruments — the regular custom form but also CITES and USDA declarations about the wood, because of international restrictions on several protected tree species. There was a problem with some varieties of rosewood which led to confiscated guitars etc. in the past. The laws have been updated a bit but apparently there are still hassles to deal with. Hopefully this gets straightened out quickly.

[UPDATE] turns out the problem was wrong wood declared on the form. Corrected versions were sent to DHL and it should hopefully move along without much delay.

Earthquaker Afterneath arrived a couple of days ago. It lives in the (liminal) space between delay and reverb, even more so than Desmodus, Electus, Supermassive, etc. It can be a little strange to control, with some controls that aren’t super intuitive and some odd choices about which ones have CV control and which don’t.

But the Reflect Send/Return jacks give it a huge advantage over the pedal version. I found that putting Mutable Instruments Blades in that feedback path for combined distortion and filtering bears incredible fruit — whether it’s kept static, or modulated with an LFO, envelope and/or pitch tracking. Beads is also a great choice for a shimmer effect that I actually like. Also the Send makes for a very useful second output for stereo use, and Return can act as a second input to mix in other audio sources. (One could cross-patch feedback from the main output for instance.)

I’m not sure how I feel about the Fluidity modular strategy. To rack Afterneath, I pulled out Mimeophon. But I love Mimeophon, will want it back in there very soon and am curious to see how the two modules play together. So I think it’s Marbles that is going to be set aside for now. With Synchrodyne finally shipping, that’s going to go where Inertia is. I could see things potentially sticking that way for some time and not actually fluidly switching modules around after all. I may put the odd ones out into the Pod60 and occasionally bring that out for them to have a go. Or maybe my habits will change, especially with more options to move around.

The Stormlight Archive books pretend to be about honor, but they are much more involved with trauma, guilt and past mistakes (both on a grand historical scale and a personal level), and functioning despite being broken. They make pretty dark reading a lot of the time. But there are moments of humor and moments of absolute glory.

There’s a point in the third book where a character is dealing with their pain, and somehow through a combination of humility and confidence, acceptance and defiance, it emerges into incredible triumph. It’s intense. It made me want to stop and cry, but I couldn’t stop because it was a super exciting chapter with a ton of stuff going on all around. Brandon Sanderson loves to infuse his worlds with secrets, but his writing is not at all subtle, it’s hammer-blow impactful. And that’s what I like about it.

I know I’ve probably made that point before, but… yowza.

I just got called by the Endoscopy Center. The physician had to take medical leave, and my rescheduled procedure needs to be re-rescheduled. At least this time it wasn’t a last minute emergency and I haven’t gone through the bowel prep stuff.

Are your noodles too long?

I’m not going to call out anyone specific, but when I listen to peoples’ shared musical creations in ambient, drone, and/or experimental areas, I often find they’re just too long. They are engaging for a while. But they keep going after they’ve already said everything they’re going to say.

They say you should always leave your audience wanting more. Leaving your audience wanting less strikes me as a kind of failure.

They say you should always leave your audience wanting more. Leaving your audience wanting less strikes me as a kind of failure.

To me, a piece of music needs to have an evolution or story arc — change in what Curtis Roads calls the “macro time scale.” This may or may not be the same thing as “form” — the verse/chorus structure of pop and folk songs, the forms of classical and baroque music, and so on. Even pure drone pieces should, I think, have some kind of buildup or shift over time, though it may be subtle and gradual. If not, they need some other way to keep your interest up for the length of the piece.

One could argue that ambient music isn’t necessarily supposed to demand your attention. Okay, fine, but… music just shouldn’t be boring. It should be engaging if you choose to pay attention, but that type of ambient music (or music “used” ambiently) may permit your attention to wander.

When I set up for my recordings, I prepare for this evolution in advance by having multiple voices I can bring in; some are fairly static drones, some are modulated or textured a bit more, some have sequences, and some I have to play myself. Sometimes, this still yields a piece that feels like it goes on too long with too little of an arc. Editing can sometimes make it right, and if not, there’s always the delete button.