Patch Notes: Grounded


The initial spark for this album was Peter Kingsley’s In The Dark Places of Wisdom. I have mixed feelings about the book as a whole, but what touched me was the ancient Greek practice of incubation, or going underground — literally into the underworld — to quiet oneself and seek wisdom.

But as I engaged with the project I found inspiration elsewhere as well — storms, more open caverns and their denizens, spaces between, and the mysteries of sleep and dreams.

The word grounded has many meanings.

  • “Sensible, down to earth” is what you’ll find in the dictionary. In touch with reality, “feet on the ground” and so on. It can have connotations of a firm foundation of practical knowledge or wisdom — “grounded in science” and “grounded in faith” are both common phrases.
  • In the electrical sense, being connected to “a common return path for electric current, or a direct physical connection to the earth.” (Thanks Wikipedia!)
  • Disallowed from flight, usually for safety reasons. This is still relevant, as it ties in with the storm theme.
  • Disallowed from leaving the house or other entertainment activities, as a form of punishment. This doesn’t really apply here, but this usage does derive from flight restrictions.

Instrumental metamorphosis

At the start of this album, the core of my modular synth was the Orthogonal Devices ER-301 Sound Computer, which had replaced several modules and freed up a lot of space. I had filled that space with heavy-duty effects modules, to play with resonant feedback loops and the blurring of sound through time.

But about halfway through, I realized I had some regrets. I missed the particular charm and feel of some of those replaced modules. There was overkill and redundancy in some areas, and working with the synth as a whole was more of a struggle. In pursuing a somewhat erroneous ideal of flexibility over other virtues, I had made the wrong sacrifices.

The best-loved electronic instruments have a specific character, encircled by hard limitations — these are not “missing features,” but structure. Replacing your bones with soft tissue might make you more flexible, but is not a good idea!

So I began a rapid and intense series of module trades, which has not quite settled down. Some of the gear that I traded for appeared in a single recording before I decided it wasn’t what I wanted in the long term. I expect it to take a few more weeks to settle, but it’s already a leaner, more focused instrument. It feels more… grounded.

If you’re interested in the specific changes:

  • In: IME Hertz Donut mk3, Delta Origami, Bastl Dynamo, Grayscale Supercell, SynthTech E352
  • Out: ER-301, DPO, Rainmaker, Erbe-Verb, the A-188-1 BBD, Befaco Sampling Modulator, Bubblesound cvWS, Pittsburgh DIF, Korg Volca Modular, SynthTech E370
  • Thru: Rossum Panharmonium (an earlier preorder), Jomox T-Rackonizer, Qu-Bit Prism
  • Still Evaluating: 4ms SMR
  • Likely to Acquire: Make Noise Mimeophon, Mannequins Cold Mac, WMD MSCL

Throughout the album

My DAW is Native Instruments Maschine 2.7.7 with Maschine mk2 controller hardware, and I use a Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820 audio interface. The computer itself is an 11 year old Intel Core i7 960 @ 3.2Ghz, and this is its last album. For control, I regularly use a 16n Faderbank built by Michigan Synth Works.

During recording I nearly always use ToneBoosters EQ4 and Barricade limiter, HASound MSLR, and Unfiltered Audio G8 noise gate; post-processing often includes ValhallaDSP reverbs, u-he Presswerk compressor and a couple of my own plugins, so I don’t mention them specifically below. I also sometimes omit specific utilities or modulation sources and routings in my notes.

01: Lichen

Most of the sound and feel of this one comes from Intellijel Rainmaker acting as a metallic resonator, fed rich FM and waveshaped timbres from Make Noise DPO. A complex shaped LFO from The Harvestman Kermit gives it its rhythm by modulating the comb filter feedback amount, and the falling pitch comes from Make Noise Maths modulating the comb size. Monome Teletype handles the clocking and some stepwise modulation. Processed by Klevgrand DAWLP, Valhalla Plate, and Klevgrand Freeamp.

There’s also a drone voice: the SynthTech E370 through Mutable Instruments Rings in modal mode.

02: Cascade

The original recording which became this track was sequenced by Mutable Instruments Marbles. It was the DPO through Rabid Elephant Natural Gate and Doepfer A-188-1B BBD. Klevgrand Brusfri removed some of the BBD clock noise, while Audio Damage Ratshack Reverb, Aegean Spirit Reverb, u-he Twangström and Valhalla Delay pushed it into a distant and damp space.

I felt it needed something else, so I resampled and slowed the whole recording, EQ’d it and added a layer of FreeAmp and Valhalla Delay to give it a “tape” feel.

On top of that I layered in four drone parts, some of them quite subtle: Yamaha Reface CS through Elektron Analog Drive; The Harvestman Kermit through Joranalogue Filter8; Mutable Instruments Rings in FM mode; a filtered sawtooth in Sound Forge Pro 10 added in post-production.

03: Soliton

The opening, relatively clear drone voice is Madrona Labs Aalto.

The rougher, noisier voice is Kermit through Rings, sequenced by Teletype and FM’d by a sine output from DPO, through Instruo tanh[3]. It’s processed by TBEQ, MSLR and Valhalla Plate.

Another layer is provided by the DPO final output through Natural Gate and Make Noise Erbe-Verb, with u-he Colour Copy.

All of the percussive and echoing parts are trigger pulses from Teletype through Rainmaker, with TBEQ, d16 Frontier and Valhalla Room. Rainmaker is working hard here.

A “pad” voice is provided SynthTech E370 in cloud mode, combined with another E370 voice into the sawtooth shaper of Bubblesound cvWS, with the incomparable Valhalla Delay acting as a reverb.

04: This Looks Like a Bad Choice

“It looks like we’re making a bad choice,” my spouse said as we drove from a relatively bright and sunny world into a sinister, gloom-shrouded one, where night fell three hours early and the wind whipped leaves from the trees, “…but this is where we live.” Neither of us realized at the time that she had just named a song.

The first voice is the E370 in wavefold mode, FMd by a second E370 voice, through Natural Gate and Rainmaker, processed by Valhalla Delay, Frontier and Valhalla Room. Korg SQ1 does the sequencing, and Marbles modulates morph and fold on the E370.

The second voice is the DPO through Pittsburgh Dynamic Impulse Filter with ValhallaPlate. SQ1’s second line sequences, and a Stages envelope modulates the fold amount while its decay stage alone controls DIF.

The DIF output is separately run through Red Panda Tensor and Chase Bliss Dark World, with a feedback loop and TBEQ, mixed as a separate voice.

Kermit, with one of its voices PLLing the other, is recorded in mid-side stereo with TBEQ, u-he Runciter, Audio Damage Ratshack Reverb, and Valhalla Delay. It’s playing a 2-note sequence from Teletype.

During post-production, additional noise layers were added along with the usual reverb, dynamics, etc.

05: Storm’s Herald

I was still thinking about storms when I put this one together.

“Voice 0”, the starting point for two audible parts, was noise mode on the E370, articulated with Dynamic Impulse Filter, into Rings. Teletype triggers the filter and randomly modulates Rings’ structure parameter each step, and a Kermit LFO modulates Rings’ position parameter.

The “chime” voice runs voice 0 into a second Rings and through Rainmaker. In the DAW, NI Transient Master sends the transients through to Unfiltered Audio SpecOps to pitch them up, and the sustained parts through d16 Syntorus and u-he Twangström.

The bass part pushes voice 0 through tanh[3], FreeAmp, Audio Assault Head Crusher, and Valhalla Delay.

Some of the drones are from Reface CS through Analog Drive, Sugar Bytes WOW2 and Valhalla Plate, layered with a sub triangle from Plogue Chipsounds.

The rest comes from heavy post-processing: timestretching sections of the recording, NI Transient Master, d16 Decimort2, and reversed Valhalla Plate.

06: Sleep Mode One

The soft and fuzzy opening part is Kermit’s two VCOs cross-AMing each other in stereo, with TBEQ, Valhalla Plate and Valhalla Delay.

Its more intense partner is the E370 through Rossum Panharmonium, fed back into the E370’s phase modulation, processed by Sonic Charge Permut8, Valhalla Vintage Verb and Valhalla Delay. These first two voices are sequenced by Marbles.

A background drone comes from two taps from a self-oscillating Joranalogue Filter8 in stereo are processed by Melda MWavefolder and Valhalla Plate.

Right at the very end, there’s a touch of a drone from the Reface CS with Valhalla Plate.

07: Syrigmos

Nearly everything in this piece came from the 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator through Jomox T-Rackonizer, in a feedback loop mediated by Bastl Dynamo and Xaoc Tallin, into Unfiltered Audio SpecOps, Valhalla Ubermod and Valhalla Room.

There’s a bit of background drone from the Industrial Music Electronics Hertz Donut mk3 with Valhalla Plate.

08: Rat Facts

That deep bass — admittedly possibly slightly lost depending on your listening equipment — is Rings. Its squirrelly metallic halo comes from Plogue Chipcrusher, UA SpecOps, TB EZQ, and AudioThing Fog Convolver. It’s sequenced by Korg SQ-1.

Some background noise is provided by Kermit VCOs through Instruo tanh[3], filtered by Stages and processed by Boz Digital Bark Of Dog, u-he Twangström and TBEQ.

A drone sidechained to the melody part comes from Reface CS and its friend Analog Drive, with TB Barricade, Unfiltered Audio Fault, Valhalla Vintage Verb, and Valhalla Delay.

The melody line is IME Hertz Donut mk3’s main output through Natural Gate, with feedback through Qu-Bit Prism kept in check by Bastl Dynamo, which also modulates the cutoff and decimation. Teletype clocks Prism and Marbles, which sequences the melody.

A supporting pad comes from HDmk3’s mix output (mid) and aux output through the Doepfer A-196 PLL and Joranalogue Filter8’s “BB-N” output (side). Through Fault, TBEQ and Ratshack Reverb.

The entire track was re-recorded through my headphones into the built-in mic of an old Sony M-100MC microcassette dictaphone, wrapped in a towel. This version was crossfaded in with the original mix at times. Near the end of the track you can hear some aquarium noise it picked up.

09: Sistema Huautla

The primary drone is IME Hertz Donut mk3’s main output, alongside its aux output through Delta Sound Labs Origami. An LFO controls Donut’s mod level and Origami’s fold amount. MSLR, u-he Colour Copy, Valhalla Plate (with its size modulated), Izotope RX6 DeClick (to fix glitches caused by the size modulation), and Fog Convolver.

The accompanying pad is LHI Audio Cadmium, Sugar Bytes WOW2, Valhalla UberMod and TB Barricade.

The metallic bit at the end is Kermit stereo cross-AMing itself, Qu-Bit Prism, Ratshack Reverb, TBEQ, and Twangström.

This is the only track where I used MIDI, other than to force Aalto or Reface to drone.