closing arguments

New album is almost there. I have a little bit of editing to do on one track, then the art and mastering and release. This will be #7 for this year… there’s still time for an eighth!

You can still see how things were slower at the start. There were gaps where I’d recorded something, had major doubts about it, tried to rework it into shape, gave up and rejected it, then reconfigured my mind’s idea generator.

There is a common claim among musicians that “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” gets in the way of being creative. My last round of gear rethinking/trades ran October 7-25, so… not so much. (One of those tracks was recorded on October 7, though its last edit was a bit later.)

the happiest place on earth?

Naturally, scant days after I chose to give up on it and go for the Marble Physics, Inertia is now shipping and has an overview video. But I have no regrets. It can join a very long list of cool modules that I don’t have and I’m fine with accepting that reality. And I fully expect MP will be a lot of fun anyhow.

This sounds awful:

Disney’s Pay-to-Skip-Lines System Launches: 10 Crucial Discoveries from the Reactions

What a way to ruin what should be a fun experience.

I have fond childhood memories of WDW and Epcot Center in Orlando. My family used to go a couple of times a year, thanks to stacked discounts (AAA, Florida resident, special events for families of government employees) — usually day trips but occasionally with a 1-night stay in a nearby motel. And often those discounts happened when crowds were smaller anyway.

There were no phone apps in the 70s to early 90s of course; we just waited in line like everyone else. For wildly popular rides we either waited or skipped ’em, and that was that. (Although there were a few times when we brought my grandma, rented a wheelchair for her because no way was she going to walk a few miles in the Florida sun — and that also got us line-skipping privileges in many cases. On the other hand, this meant having to push a wheelchair up and down the park’s completely artificial hills, and through crowds of people who mainly don’t pay attention to their surroundings.)

I’m trying to imagine spending half an hour fiddling with a buggy phone app in order to pay $15 a person (on top of the already exorbitant Disney ticket prices now) for the privilege of skipping half an hour of waiting in line IF you show up at the scheduled time, instead of just… going around enjoying things.

Ugh, I sound old-fashioned don’t I? Honestly, as much as I’d like to do the new Star Wars stuff, if I had the opportunity to visit a Disney park now I’m not sure I would bother. It’s a lot costlier, I am a lot more cynical than I was back then, have less patience for crowds (even before COVID), and most of the rides are slightly amusing (and air-conditioned) at best. And even back in the day I was dismayed when they would “update” rides to tie them in to more recent properties (or because their sponsor went kaput or the technology just seemed old).

So, uh, favorite Disney rides, from then?

  • Space Mountain. I was too chicken as a younger kid, and that kind of worked to our advantage because the lines were long. But once peer pressure got me on it once, I loved it. Great atmosphere, ironically.
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. A bit tame for a coaster, but really smooth and still quite fun. For more intense coasters, there was Busch Gardens in Tampa.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean. (Note that I did not ride it post-movie update.)
  • The Haunted Mansion. Obviously.
  • If You Had Wings, which had a catchy song and a sense of humor. After Eastern folded and it became “If You Could Fly” that was a step down; when it became Delta Dreamflight it was just garbage.
  • Mission To Mars, before it got replaced by Alien Encounter which was just super cheesy. I mean, it was always cheesy, but the 70s-era effects did not get better in its 90s update, while the disbelief became too much to suspend.
  • At EPCOT: Spaceship Earth, World of Motion, Journey Into Imagination, Maelstrom (Norway). More geeky I suppose, but hey. The interactive art/music toys in Imagination were super fun and the stupid catchy Imagination song still runs through my head sometimes, decades later.


After Later Audio Tilt arrived Saturday, and I gave it my usual treatment, which doesn’t seem weird to me at all: try out the various features, put it on a scope and see how it responds to various things, etc.

On the plus side, the envelope shapes are excellent, with separate rise/fall curvature plus sustain, and easier to dial in than ADSRs on Stages. On the minus side, black knobs on black panel (I will for sure change the knobs) and wonky RISE and FALL gate outputs. I wrote to After Later about that, and I was the first to report it — it’s an issue with the stability of the slew core, and can’t be retrofitted in existing modules. But I can work with this using other modules, so it’s not a big deal.

Speaking of tilting, I’ve decided to sell the Maths, and ordered a used ADDAC Marble Physics. It models the two-dimensional motion of a ball inside of a tilting box, with control over the angle, simulation speed, elasticity, and bumping the box to get it moving. The outputs are the marble’s X and Y coordinates, velocity, and an edge detector. With this and some clever patching, one can create unusual (or not too unusual) envelopes and LFOs, slew and quasi-slew, and some other effects. If it runs at audio rate, maybe even a resonant filter! It should be both lots of fun and very useful. If not… I’ll just resell it, and get Loquelic Iteritas without further thought put into the matter. The little bit of remaining space not reserved for Xaoc Erfurt will be distributed among a few small blank panels. And that’s iteration 6.0 “The Leaning Badger”, done.

cheap turpentine

I’m reaching a point (again) where I want to think in less of a gear-centric way. But I’m still making a few changes first.

I’ve bought a used After Later Tilt, a small but full-featured function generator that is pretty well liked among function generator aficianados. I’m giving it a try to see if I want to replace Maths. Tilt and Inertia was the original idea, but unless there is a very impressive demo video for Inertia in the next few days, my current thinking is may just be Tilt. Or 2x Tilt, or Tilt and Bog (an alternate and seemingly improved version of Wogglebug). If that leaves free space, I’ll probably just grab something cool without putting a lot of thought into it. Loquelic Iteritas, or just whatever is at the intersection of opportunity and whim.

I thought about replacing the Microfreak with a Pittsburgh Microvolt 3900, or perhaps a Make Noise Strega. Microfreak is sometimes very fun, sometimes a weird combination of fun and not-fun; my thought was that a weird analog semi-modular would always be fun. But on further review I’m going to hang onto it — I’m not sure the other options wouldn’t be a bit redundant.

And then, I will stop, at least for a while, taking notes about the gear I use in my recordings. That means I’ll have a lot less to write up for each album release, but that’s fine. It also means when I personally get curious about what I used to make a particular sound, I’ll just have to embrace the mystery. When someone asks about a technique with Drezno that I know I’ve used, I won’t necessarily be able to point them to an exact example. And I won’t be able to track numerically how much I’ve used various modules. And that’s fine! That’s kind of the point.

I may have less to say on this blog, or I might have more interesting and varied things to say.

Writing about music is hard — harder than making it, for me. Writing about gear is all too easy. But not thinking about gear all the time sounds pretty good to me!

On the drive to work this morning, I turned the corner and THERE WAS THE MOON. Right in my face. I mean, quarter million miles away from my face, but still, front and center, just a little above the horizon, a big and full and bright Hunter’s Moon. One of those moments one is oddly thankful for.

A few days ago I found a PDF copy (of indeterminate legitimacy) of an omnibus of a particular epic fantasy, not one of the particularly well known ones, which I’d been looking for. Converted it to MOBI, put it on my Kindle, and… big meh. It opens with maps and several pages of dramatis personae, and I already found myself just not caring. And then an intro which failed to set the hook, failed to clarify the relationships of any of the characters or their factions, or the importance of the events that were happening. Then a confusing scene and a very bloody aftermath. Then a couple of scenes that should have been really cool, airbrushed-on-the-side-of-a-van moments but went awfully low-key about the cool parts. Then another bloody aftermath. Then I just gave up, without feeling like any of the characters were sympathetic or had much interesting about them other than nicknames, but there sure were a lot of them.

So instead, I’m rereading The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. which is much more entertaining.

I do kind of want to get into a well-written epic fantasy though — one that is new to me, or at least something I haven’t read in a while. I want both quality and quantity. Hmm, maybe I’ll try rereading the Mercedes Lackey stuff?

badger tears

It’s another post about my Eurorack gear changes, wheee!

Out: Gozinta, FX Aid XL, CVilization, Pico BBD, Loose Fruit, some minor bits I had in a drawer.

In: Mutable Instruments Ears, Befaco Crush Delay V2, and some exciting new firmware from Noise Engineering which convinced me to grab a second Versio…

Where Gozinta was boring, and not even all that useful very often, Ears is a delight. It’s great for feeding into Rings, sure, but it’s also a controller which encourages patching in ways that normally I might not think of. Injecting a little bit of scratchiness into an FM input, or a dynamic envelope into a timbre control that would usually just kind of sit there. So that’s a win.

Crush Delay can get super noisy super quick, if you set its delay time more than a little bit — like many BBDs or PT2399-based delays. There is a big golden sweet spot though where there’s just a little bit of fizzy effervescence. And there are some handy controls, including CV over the input, the internal feedback, and an external feedback loop. That loop is great for inserting a second delay for multi-tap stereo goodness, or a filter (particularly Katowice) or even something odd like Maths. This module is much more fun to me than either the Pico BBD or the FX Aid (and unlike Pico BBD, it doesn’t need a filter to stop clock whine when you slow it down).

Lacrima Versio is an auto-wah firmware for the Versio platform. Auto-wah is not something that normally gets my attention, since I’m not a 70s funk guitarist. But this one will morph from low to band to highpass, and has a nice-sounding saturation, a sort of self-mod thing that just sort of adds magic, and a Juno-like chorus switch, and it just sounds great overall. More than the sum of its parts.

Melotus Versio is a real stunner of a granular delay. Comparisons with Beads were inevitable, but it works differently and has a different character.

Beads was designed for the Curtis Roads “microsound” style of granular synthesis with very tiny grains of sound that are triggered rapidly and overlap, and it excels at that. It can also use larger “grain” sizes and manual triggering, so it’s quite versatile. It does this with one buffer, which multiple playback pointers can access simultaneously. (It also has a more traditional delay mode, though that mode still offers pitch shifting.)

Melotus is more like a Gatling gun made of delays. As far as I can tell, there are independent buffers for each grain, and it rotates through them on a smooth crossfade. By reversing the grain direction (randomly or always) and/or randomizing the time and panning, varying textures can be achieved. Also, changes in delay time have a much different result than a typical delay line, and either using sparser grain density or changes in delay time writing into the feedback loop, interesting rhythmic patterns can be achieved.

Also, Melotus has a combination filter and octave up/octave down knob (with a slight detune), which can add more gloom or shininess. Normally I am not into “shimmer reverb” and don’t particularly like it on Desmodus Versio, but I think here it really plays well.

Beads can do a wider variety of things, but I feel that Melotus sits comfortably in a role where Beads is often awkward.

Asking myself if I’d rather simultaneously have Melotus and Lacrima available, or Melotus and Loose Fruit, or Lacrima and Loose Fruit, it was pretty clear to me that two Versios was the way to go.

The album is progressing, in a sort of unassuming way — I realized yesterday I have 37 minutes of material now. Some of it might get cut, more will certainly be added, but it’s not languishing and being neglected. 🙂

red light green light

I’m not in full-speed-ahead music recording mode, but I did record something that I definitely want on the next album. Pretty sure I’ve broken the curse. 🙂

People have been talking heavily again recently about materialism and “commodity fetishism” and so forth as it relates to modular. To me, general thoughts about this, and other peoples’ attitudes and issues are less fruitful to consider than an honesty check on my own part.

I could sell off all my Eurorack gear and still make music — at this point, it would even be fairly similar music. There are some specific sounds I wouldn’t achieve, sure, but I’d stick with modular-ish techniques (and hardware controllers) to a large extent, making use of Bitwig Grid and probably integrating some other software modular. The real question is, why would I? The only answers I can supply for that would be desperation, a radical change in living circumstances, or wanting to make a clean break artistically, I suppose.

Short of that, I could certainly reduce to a smaller case, but again, why? I like the case I have, with my spouse’s pyrography on the side, and just the right amount of space to be “a lot” without being overwhelming. Any pressure to reduce comes mainly from other peoples’ discourse about materialism.

With that said, I have been kind of wanting to lock down the gear again, stop thinking about making more changes and dig deep into some of the modules that deserve more exploration. But with a couple of caveats.

I reviewed the modules I have, categorizing some as “expendable” (with no surprises) and some as a sort of borderline, “interesting enough for now” (with a few surprises). In that group there is:

Loose Fruit: lackluster with some material, but very lustrous indeed with other material. A bit nicer than trying to patch the same effect with comparators and a switch. But it may be a bit of a one-trick pony at that. Not going to sell it off now, but it won’t surprise me if I let go of it later.

FM Aid: it’s cool, but I don’t use it a lot. I have a lot of FM capability among my various synths. I could consider it more for alternate waveshaping duties though, where it has some potential.

(Desmodus) Versio: some stunning effects, but there are also stunning effects in VST plugins — and in fact Noise Engineering is releasing some of the same effects that way. However, there’s new firmware on the way and the demo they gave was very much my spooky cup of tea, and there’s still potential for third-party firmware (or my own if I were to dig into it).

CVilization: The thing with this isn’t as much the cheat sheet necessity beyond basic operations, as it is a lot of functionality that I just don’t find myself wanting/needing much. The most common is the matrix mixer, though I am quite far from needing that in every patch either. After some further thought, simpler feedback patching tends to work pretty well; two 2:1 mono mixers can either do mono feedback with separate wet/dry and feedback control, or stereo feedback without the separate control, and that seems adequate to me. As it happens, Blinds can easily be two 2:1 mono mixers (and Shades one more, or other stuff…). So maybe this module, rather than Shades, is what I should sell off next.

FX Aid XL: it’s certainly a good module, with many fine sounding FX and constant updates! But again, VST plugins are my argument against it. I don’t really feel like there are unique and vital things it will do for me better than I can get elsewhere. It’s 6HP, Erfurt is 6HP, so if the Erfurt demos convince me I’ll make that change.

On my “expendable” list was Gozinta. I use it rarely, and can substitute other options when signals need a boost. I’ve decided to swap it out for Mutable Instruments Ears, which can boost a signal, has an internal piezo mic with textured panel and an envelope follower/gate — people love it with Rings and I’ve never tried it, and it seems like it could also inject creepy noises when processed in other ways (Beads, Mimeophon, reverbs) and act as a controller for other purposes.

New Systems Instruments Inertia is supposed to be released tomorrow; there are still no demos. There’s still some chance I may want to replace Maths with it, or it plus Tilt or Contour 1 or something. I really want to see those demos.

Otherwise, I’m on the edge of declaring a freeze again, for no specific duration. And then I may line up some projects to highlight specific modules, like I’ve done with Rings and Akemie’s Castle — the Ensemble Oscillator certainly deserves that treatment.

some of those who wander are sometimes lost

It’s been a while since I finished a recording and then dropped it into the “no” folder.

When I switched from “post everything” mode to releasing albums, at first I was probably throwing out 60% of my recorded work. As I refined my process I reached the point where if I recorded it, there was a good chance it was going to be a keeper. There have been several times when the editing process felt like rescue, where I had a diamond in the rough and it needed some effort to make it shine.

But this year until now, there has only been one rejected “finished” recording: “Zen Spiders” which I had made for The Sky Above the Port. It had some sound design that I really like, some lovely moody drones and a simple improvised line that works for it, but it opens with a rhythmic part I decided is just too monotonous. That part drops out after a while and I think “oh, I could rescue this just by cutting that out!” but then it comes back in during what would otherwise be the emotional apex of the piece.

This is the consequence of how I work — only the full stereo mix is recorded so I can’t just drop out a layered part that I don’t like. Maybe there is some not too disruptive way to record individual channels in sync, I’ve really not looked too deeply at the possibility yet because usually I can work with what I have.

Also, the patch and performance are ephemeral, never to be fully recreated — but to me that is a necessity, a requirement for getting the kinds of results that I do when things turn out well.

Anyway, now the spiders have company. I recorded “Contaminalia” for the currently unnamed album in progress and… I just don’t like it. It is rhythmic in nature, and more than a little industrial-sounding, and that falls outside my comfort zone for creating (not for listening). The baked-in effects don’t sound good to me now, and the overall feel is not right. I feel like the ideas behind it mostly worked and another musician could have pulled it off but this one is not for me. My plan is to go back to the very basic outline of what I was trying to do and execute it completely differently. If that fails too, then I will drop the idea and go elsewhere with it.

More generally, right now I don’t have a guiding vision for my next project. Sometimes things are like that, and I just create until something comes to mind that unifies it. So far, that unity is lacking, and I feel like I’ve been experimenting rather than just laying down one solid track after another. A couple more recordings might wind up in the “no” folder before I get much further.

new module day

The new stuff I was waiting for arrived yesterday, and I got it set up and did some of the experiments I had queued up.

Boredbrain Optx is excellent. It looks and feels classy (even has black PCBs behind the front panel and a black power cable with dark grey stripe), it gave me no issues setting it up and it performs flawlessly. Highly recommended… even though I’m still trying to sell my ES-3 and probably not helping my case by repeating how much more I like the Optx.

Joranalogue Compare 2 is also quite good. Tools are often compared to a Swiss Army knife, positively (versatile) and sometimes negatively (individual tools might be awkward or inferior). This is like a zoomed-in version, a specialized cork removal tool but which has surprisingly more uses.

Something like a window comparator can be fiddly to set up, matching levels to the incoming signal and tweaking it so it’s just right. It’s designed to help with that. I do think dedicated LEDs for the output gate would clarify the (also helpful) blue/white/red for low/match/high when things are cycling rapidly… but at some point to really understand signals you’ve got to put them on a scope anyway.

Klavis Mixwitch gives me mixed feelings so far. It’s a clever design for sure. The mute switches are good to have rather than needing to patch an offset and manual switch together. The positive/negative toggles are handy, and the switching capability extends its capabilities and makes it something more.

However, it’s displaced Shades, which is a beautifully simple module with great layout and feel, very familiar to me. I’ll have to build up some new habits/muscle memory before I decide whether I like the new module’s paradigm and feel. I may try replacing the knobs, but I will certainly give it some time to decide. Meanwhile, I plan to keep Shades and the Ladik P-075 switch on standby for a good while in case I feel the need to switch back.

I had a few patch experiments saved up for New Module Day:

  1. Can Compare2 & Mixwitch imitate Loose Fruit (switch between normal and inverted at zero crossings?)

    Yes, readily. In a nutshell, this patch allows a bit more smooth variation in the sound, but it sounds a bit more brittle and edgy and less pleasant than Loose Fruit does (possibly fixable with some filtering) — and Loose Fruit can do it twice, in parallel or series or independently. So I plan to keep the Fruit for now.

  2. Crazy sync patches with Compare2?

    Yes. Definitely crazy sync patches with Compare2. Some of them sort of related to PLL patches in that they do very brief frequency modulation bursts. Weird shit ahoy!

  3. Can Compare2 & Mixwitch & Maths imitate Schlappi Engineering Boundary (set an upper limit to the rise stage, causing both lower amplitude and faster cycling?)

    Maybe, but (A) my patch design was flawed, and (B) it’s a bit awkward. It requires Compare2 to act as one window comparator and an RS flip-flop while Mixwitch acts as another window comparator. More experimentation might get me to what I was looking for.

    Given certain limitations, Maths and a VCA can certainly do “bouncing ball” patches. But if I wanted to use, say, velocity CV from a keyboard or a sequenced CV to control the boundary instead, it shares the “dynamic gates” problem of sudden changes in level affecting more than one would want.

    At any rate, I’ve decided against replacing Maths with Boundary even though I couldn’t replicate it.

  4. Can I imitate NSI Inertia with Maths, using some kind of serial slew patch?

    …no, or else I’m just not smart enough. I don’t know how two slew limiters are creating overshoot and resonance. It seems like feedback has to be involved somehow, but I’ve been completely stymied.

    I’m really curious to see some demo videos of Inertia. It seems like it has some cool potential… though the real question is, would it be practical and/or inspiring for me or should I just stick with Maths?

Really the only other thing under consideration now is Xaoc Erfurt. Again, I will want to see some demo videos to be sure. I really like the weird variety of stuff I can get Drezno and Jena to do, and Erfurt seems like a good addition. But I wish it had a front panel switch to isolate it from the other Leibniz modules so it could act as a counter/divider on its own, rather than having to pull out ribbon cables.

one more for good measure

Schlappi Engineering Boundary was just announced. Like Momentum, it is a slope generator in the tradition of DUSG, Maths etc. with a little extra — in this case, a built-in four-quadrant VCA (like Mini Slew), a full-wave rectified input (for envelope follower purposes) and a Bounds input. Bounds sets the maximum level that it rises to before switching to the fall stage without changing the slope — meaning it affects not just the output level but the rise and fall times.

This can be used for “bouncing ball” patches more natural than the usual Maths version, and perhaps also very natural vibrato. That by itself isn’t enough to convince me, but I’m curious about other uses. How does it behave with audio?

With these interesting function generators becoming available, I’m realizing I could probably replace my Maths with one of these, or perhaps another, smaller option. With Stages and Just Friends, I don’t think I necessarily need the dual aspect. Hmm.

[ALSO] Joranalogue officially announced its new stuff. Orbit 3 is a chaos/strange attractor oscillator, Enhance 2 is a stereo processor, but the really interesting one to me is Step 8.

They call it a Sequential Tracking/Sampling Register. It’s an 8-step sequencer that can be addressed by clocking or with CV, but each of the steps samples or tracks a common input while active. It can also be set to shift the register values rather than advancing the step. It’s super versatile, and could be fun to play with but I will need to decide how the next wave of changes will look and whether I would want to dedicate 16HP to something like this.

on the loose

Loose Fruit arrived today, and at first I felt a little bit disappointed. It isn’t quite what I thought, but rather, a sort of digitally controlled inverter. Once I started to understand it though, possibilities started to open up.

Most waveshapers are some kind of nonlinear function: level X goes in, level Y always comes out. The shape of that function, and the shape and dynamics of the input entirely determine the output.

This one is time-based. Each time the signal crosses zero, the module decides whether to invert the signal based on values in its internal shift register. The “state” knob sets the contents of that register. Everything else is based on the frequency of zero crossings — which if it’s not a simple wave, is not the same thing.

A wavefolder (and most waveshapers generally) tends to sound its best with simple material that has few harmonics, such as a sine or triangle, and works poorly with square waves. Loose Fruit, on the other hand, works fine with squares and gets much more interesting with more complex shapes, stronger harmonics, chords and inharmonics. It prefers things like Rings, Odessa, or EnOsc.

What I’m not certain of is whether it will hold its own against the combination of Compare2 and Mixwitch. I could certainly detect zero crossings (or whatever range), use it to trigger a gate sequencer, which then decides whether to switch to normal or inverted. The need for a sequencer in the middle does make it more involved, although I suppose I could pick up a Bin Seq. With more control over the comparator it might be worth it though? We’ll see.