This might take several minutes

Oops — Needle releases July 13, not June 13. So I have a month to forget what happened in the other books in the trilogy and need to find more reading material.

I’m settling for rereading, for now. I just went through Emily Devenport’s Shade for the… maybe 4th time? It’s all right, sort of cyberpunk with very little cyber and a lot of punk, plus aliens. But I don’t really want to read the related books in that setting now.

So Decomposition: A Music Manifesto is on the list next. I don’t remember having read it; maybe I started and didn’t get very far, or maybe it got put in the wrong pile. More likely I’ll recall it once I get a few pages in.

Since Modular Addict is open again and actually has a lot of their skinny cables in stock, I have shored up my supply of blue 12″ cables and filled in my pink 18″ and green 24″ so they can all be the same brand. Should have gone for some 6″ too because I’ve got a mismatched group of Control Crono and Arturia Minibrute cables in that length, but that’s OK.

So the new ones are currently being stretched on the rack. They arrive with some curls due to the packaging, and need to be worked and stretched until they’re straighter… I know this is a horrible thing to do during Pride month 🙂

I’m finally getting a new computer at work (thankfully still Windows 10), and while it’s fresh in my mind I figured I would list all of the things I had to do to make it not annoying.

  • Use Edge to install Chrome. Ignore the desperate pleading of Edge that I don’t have to do it, because yes, I have to do it.
  • Uninstall OneDrive. This used to be difficult but they have made it much easier now.
  • Uninstall the XBox stuff. This is an enterprise Windows machine that is used for businessy business things, and I don’t even have at XBox at home anyway.
  • Hide the search bar and disable the news and weather thingy.
  • Clean up the junk out of Quick Access and do the registry hacks to hide the extra folders from “This PC” that aren’t actual drives.
  • Install these on any machine I use:
    • Bandzip
    • Open Shell
    • Process Monitor
    • Listary
    • Agent Ransack
    • Notepad++
    • WinMerge
    • Greenshot
    • WizTree
    • MusicBee for my music library, VLC or MediaMonkey for random other stuff.
    • Icedrive to securely sync some personal stuff. VeraCrypt so I can use my USB drive while following workplace cybersecurity requirements (it’s 99% my music library).
    • WinSCP to upload stuff to my web server.
    • I kind of like 7Stacks to categorize my taskbar a bit, but it’s not perfect and I don’t bother with it at work.
    • For work, Visual Assist X. I got way too used to it at my old job and Visual Studio does not feel right without it.
    • For home, Steam, Bitwig, Sound Forge, Paint Shop Pro. SyncTrayzor to sync my music library to my phone over WiFi.

small things

I’ve started writing a bit of a guide to Mutable Instruments Beads. Granular synthesis can be unintuitive and fiddly, but there are a whole bunch of relatively simple uses for Beads. If I were the type to make video tutorials I’d do that, but I’m not, so I’m writing up some text and recording a few audio examples.

So far I have 16 patch ideas described that don’t even use grains at all.

I bought a used Dreadbox Antidote. This is an all-analog “Karplus-Strong Strings” module — a BBD with short delay times with a noise burst generator and 1V/OCT tracking, as well as a filter.

Karplus-Strong synthesis simulates a vibrating string by “exciting” a short delay line with an impulse (a click, a short noise burst, etc.), and then feeding the end of the line back to the beginning. The delay length and clock rate determine the frequency of vibration, while the feedback (and any filtering) determines string damping. With a very clean delay and careful parameter choices it’s a decent simulation, though it can potentially be a bit harsh and bright. With a rougher circuit like this BBD, it can be really gritty, not particularly string-like and not musically useful in a lot of contexts. But K-S is definitely not the only trick this module has up its sleeve.

  • Antidote can act as a resonator, fed with other audio signals — like a dirty version of Rings.
  • It can act as a comb filter by just keeping that super-short delay time and moderate amounts of feedback.
  • It can act as a flanger or chorus by modulating the delay time.
  • It can simply add dirt, noise and character to a signal by running it through that lo-fi BBD.
  • The filter has a nice “round” character to it, and with an envelope, can act as a lowpass gate.

I’m not 100% blown away by this module, but it’s not without its uses. Future demos of Klavis Grainity may convince me to replace it, or I might choose something else or just hold onto it for a while. I still plan to pick up Xaoc Koszalin when available, and perhaps the Hel expander for Odessa. I do feel pretty confident though in replacing Manis and EnOsc with non-oscillators at least.

The next album is about half recorded. The most recent track was an accidental triumph with the U-bass. I just could not get MIDI controller assignments working with Audio Damage Enso (looper plugin) but a spontaneously recorded loop turned out awesome anyway. A second part using the bass to control Rings fit extremely well. I used the same Bitwig LFO that drove the loop playback to trigger 0-Ctrl with an asymmetric rhythm and got Odessa sounding more like Rings than Rings did. Overall it just came together perfectly and I’m super pleased with it.

I missed an Ambient Online compilation this time, thrown off by the family emergency and then just kind of put it out of my mind, but that’s OK.

I’m about halfway through my expected wait time for the Miezo. I’m very much looking forward to that first encounter and hopefully a lot of joyful playing afterward.

I’m catching up on Linda Nagata’s far-future fiction. I’ve had Edges and Silver in the Inverted Frontier series on my list for quite some time, and finally bought them. This led me to discover Memories (a sort of prequel) and Needle (about to be released next week).

The series is the continuation of the Nanotech Succession, of which Vast is one of my favorite science fiction novels ever. Two surviving characters take the extremely long journey back generally Earthward to find out what happened to ancient humanity, and of course, they find some very strange things. It’s been the same sort of combination of huge and mind-bending ideas (and how people react to them emotionally) and compelling characters that made me love the Nanotech Succession books.

I kind of want to go back and reread the Stormlight Archive. But the first draft of first draft of Stormlight 5 is barely underway and it’ll be a while. This winter the next Wax & Wayne novel should be out, and next year some of the “Secret Project” books will drop, some of which are Stormlight-related but not a continuation of the epic. Maybe I should wait a few months at least, so when the big one is ready it’ll all be fresher in my mind.

I also want to rewatch all of Steven Universe again. It’s just so comforting.

ringing in the new… June

As of today there are 940 albums in my main MP3 library, and I don’t know how many that have been moved off to my “One Star Archive” because I’m not sure I need to listen to them anymore (taking them out of active rotation, not syncing them in the cloud or to my phone).

A while back I decided I would start listening through it methodically — sort of alpha by artist, but allowing myself to jump around within each letter until I decide to move on to the next. (With occasional exceptions for specific works I especially felt like listening to.)

On my drive Tuesday I got through the Rs. On the drive back Sunday, I started into the Ss but there are a lot of those, thanks to it being a particularly common letter for names — there are more Ss than Ts even counting all the “The”s — and especially with Skinny Puppy and… Starthief. 🙂 I’ve been interspersing my own albums between other S-names, mainly starting from my oldest and working forward.

On those older albums I certainly find some things I like, but mostly, I can tell I’ve moved on, developed something a bit different with the structure of the music. I knew that about Nereus (with its tendency toward MIDI-sequenced 0-Coast lines and similar) but it applies to the next few as well. I wish I could put my finger on what changed, but right now I’m listening to Materials, am much more into it, and I feel that shift had taken hold. It wasn’t the stronger emphasis on tactile performance controllers, because the 16n Faderbank was early 2019 and my run with the Lyra-8 was later that year. Hmm.

we interrupt this regularly scheduled program

Why I have no Drone Day recording for this year:

I got a phone call from Mom minutes after I woke up (around 5:30 AM), telling me about a medical emergency Dad was having. It seemed to start with food poisoning a couple of weeks ago, but he wound up going to the ER Monday night, then being transported to a larger hospital 50 miles away, since he had kidney failure and the local hospital has no nephrologist. And naturally, they were already having car trouble…

I told her I’d need to work one day to tie up loose ends — we have an impending version release and I’m the lead developer — but wound up wrapping up ongoing stuff in 45 minutes and taking off the rest of the week. It’s about a 10.5 hour drive each way (plus stops), making it a total of about 31 hours of driving over 6 days (of which 13 was Sunday alone, ouch). My wonderful spouse arranged for her cousin to look after the dogs, and followed on the next day, which helped me to keep it together and which my parents also greatly appreciated.

Without going too much into personal detail, my Dad needed just one dialysis session to clean out the built-up toxins and then his kidney function recovered. It was a 5 day hospital stay though and he was frustrated and ready to bail out on day 3 if not sooner. More follow-up is needed soon to treat what may be the cause of the problem (which is itself somewhat scary), but for now he’s safe and feeling much better.

So that was emotionally and physically difficult for all of us in different ways, but this chapter has, thankfully, ended okay.

glittering in the dark

Vangelis, may he rest in peace, is high on my list of influential electronic musicians. Isao Tomita is at the top for me, for his modular synthesis techniques and classical arrangements (and probably because I listened to a few of his albums over and over at a younger age) — but Vangelis was the more inspiring composer, and a fine multi-instrumentalist, and really had an ear and a talent for many different styles.

Chariots of Fire was everywhere, and the main theme is one of the first melodies I remember learning by ear. The Blade Runner soundtrack is the best thing about the movie (sorry, “tears in rain” monologue, Syd Mead flying cars, “enhance” scene, paper unicorns and Sean Young’s shoulder pads). Music from Albedo 0.39 and Heaven and Hell accompanied our journeys through the cosmos with Carl Sagan — “Alpha” still gives me chills, and Albedo 0.39 also features some killer jazz and rock in places (“Main Sequence” and “Nucleogenesis”).

Vangelis allegedly never learned to read musical notation, and preferred one-take improvisation over “writing” music. That’s pretty gratifying considering that’s how I roll myself 🙂

chill restored

The AC company was able to send someone yesterday at around noon. Apparently they usually have 2 people on duty on weekends, but they had 15 volunteers to work overtime. And yes, it was the run capacitor, it was still under warranty, and replacing it was a very quick job.

Overall the hallway thermostat got as high as 87; it never got below 82 even when it rained and cooled to the mid-60s overnight. Of course the temperature in that particular spot only very loosely correlates to the temperature in the places where we actually spend our time.

The other thing I have cooled off on is the Xaoc Sofia. For most of Superbooth there was no video coverage of Xaoc’s new stuff online, no matter how often I refreshed my searches. 🙂 But this morning two videos appeared, and… eh, I can do without the module really.

But what I’m looking at now is one of Xaoc’s other new things, the Koszalin frequency shifter. I wrote it off originally because a freq shifter — which inharmonically lowers and/or raises the frequency of the incoming signal by some constant Hertz value, as opposed to a pitch shifter which changes incoming frequencies proportionally and keeps them all in tune — struck me as kind of a niche effect. At low ranges, it’s a swirly sound reminiscent of a psychedelic 70s flanger. At higher ranges it sort of sounds like an extra harsh ring modulator.

But as the demos pointed out, one thing you can do with a stereo frequency shifter is to shift up, process the signal with some other effect, and shift back down — causing the effect to act a little differently but staying in tune. That idea inspired me to give the frequency shifters in Bitwig and VCV Rack a try this morning. Okay, cool… but then I want back to watch the original Koszalin announcement video, and that thing really sounds freaking great. The Density control which affects feedback (I think by filling in delayed copies relative to the shift frequency) adds a lot, and it’s also got TZFM which is unique in a frequency shifter. The feedback sits just below self-oscillation, so it can be pinged like a filter, and in some ways it kind of sits the resonator space. So, that’s a strong contender.

To my ears, the other winner of Superbooth is Klavis Grainity — a “granular VCF” which immediately made everyone ask “what is a granular VCF?” It’s an analog multimode filter that has 13 different simultaneous modes, which are sliced and combined under digital control. Something very much like a wavetable oscillator sets the pattern of those slices, and that oscillator automatically tracks the pitch of the input signal, but can be detuned and divided. The upshot is, it adds all kinds of texture and waveshaping and phase modulation along with its filtering, and it sounds pretty amazing. Plus you can just use one of 6 of the filter modes without the fancy granular aspect and mix that in or use it separately.

These would be a total of probably 20-22 HP (the width of Grainity wasn’t announced). I’m still thinking it’d be Manis Iteritas and Ensemble Oscillator that would make way for these — so as of now, they’re both sort of on trial to decide whether or not I can part with one or both.

having a meltdown

Right now it’s only gotten up to 76 degrees F (at 7 AM, in May) but we’re heading for 94 this afternoon (“feels like” 101). And our air conditioner at home failed at some point last night, making a loud buzzing sound for a few seconds and then not starting. Which is what happened exactly 355 days ago, and it cost $300 to have someone come out and replace the run capacitor.

[UPDATE] Apparently the AC company had 2000 calls for service yesterday, and they can’t send someone to look at ours until Monday morning (unless we get very lucky and a spot opens up). I will not be surprised if it passes 100F inside our house before then.

AND it was hot as balls when I got to work this morning. I never use that phrase, but it seemed particularly appropriate. I could practically feel the heat rising up the elevator shaft like a chimney; I could almost see the heat shimmer. It was sweltering on the 8th floor, and if we had working AC at home I’d have bailed out immediately and worked from home. An hour later, it noticeably improved — I could think, and was no longer sweating and sticking to my desk. But two hours later, I still have a fan set on high blowing directly on my head and am not quite comfortable yet.

Superbooth is underway, and in the last week or more there have been a lot of product announcements. I don’t think parts shortages have really been resolved but there’s a lot in the pipeline. Being satisfied with my current rig, there was a lot I could look at and say “oh, that’s kind of neat but I don’t need it” or “I could use that, but I could also just use plugins” or “clever idea, but it’s not my jam.” And a couple that are simply out of my budget. There was one item where the teaser photo made me wonder if it was something really interesting, and it turns out to be something else instead.

There is one new thing that I am keen on learning more about: Xaoc Sofia, a big analog oscillator with what seems to be some unique waveshaping and audio-rate modulation. I wouldn’t buy it based only on the one video that’s been released so far — a mixed bag of some really great sounds, some not very exciting ones, and a bit of ugliness — but it seems like there’s a lot of potential with this one. So I’m eager to hear more sounds, and maybe get a bit of a walkthrough.

Sofia is the same 24HP size as Odessa, but I’m thinking if I got one, it would more likely replace Manis Iteritas and Ensemble Oscillator. Both of those are fine modules that see regular use, but also I feel like I’d be okay replacing them if the new thing was sufficiently interesting.

I now have a phone widget showing me how long it’s been since I put in my Miezo order. Is that sad? It’s been 0 months, 3 weeks and 2 days. My expectations have been set for 3 months, but I would certainly welcome less.

I’ve got one track recorded toward the next thing, and a simple idea to tie the album together. Not too much to say about it yet though.

We saw Steven Universe in the Strange… no wait, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I will avoid spoilers here, but say it was certainly up to the standard for wild visual effects, but there were some disappointing aspects to the story that I think could have been addressed, either with a clever twist or a bit more character focus in a couple of areas. Eh… it wasn’t awful. I do look forward very much to Thor: Love and Thunder though, given what a fun ride Thor: Ragnarok was.


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.