Patch Notes: Internal Reflections

The concept behind this album was personal authenticity and its relationship to freedom. It began to take shape when I read the article “Resist and Be Free: More than false choices and options, the highest freedom lies in being true to oneself and defying the expectations of others.”

As I read further on the subject of “positive liberty” I discovered that social psychologist / humanist Erich Fromm had written about it first, in his 1941 book Escape From Freedom. He notes that free thought and the responsibility it brings leads to anxiety, and people turn to conformity, acceptance of authoritarian rule, and/or destructive behavior. Many of his books center on the theme of being true to oneself (rather than being a cog in a production machine, a consumer and an uncritical believer) and/or on creating a society that encourages reason and freedom.

Of course, “authenticity” in terms of tradition and culture, is a problematic concept — whether applied to music, cuisine or anything else. The question is whether one can really be personally authentic, and what that means in music.

I had planned to “be myself” on this album by imitating what I thought of as the “most quintessentially Starthief sound” as it appeared on Shelter In Place. Create a drone, and articulate it in an LPG or VCA with a pulsing rhythm, and that forms the core sound and mood of the piece. But with the first few songs, I followed the process yet arrived at a totally different destination than I was trying for. The more forcefully I tried to conform, the rougher things got… until I relaxed my white-knuckled death grip and followed the music where it was leading me.

After the first few songs, I still conceptually included the “drone/pulse” element each time, but surrendered any expectations of where it would go. It turns out that letting the music lead me, like water flowing in a riverbed, is the most authentically Starthief thing to do.

Sartre, Douglas Hofstadter, and Buddha might say — each in very different words of course — that that the phrase “be yourself” is inside-out. The self is a product of being. They might or might not agree on whether the self is real, an emergent property, or an illusion, or indeed on what “real” is.) Perhaps better advice would just read: “be.”

Throughout the album

My DAW is Native Instruments Maschine 2.7.7 with Maschine mk2 controller hardware. I started the album with a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 audio interface but switched to a Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820.

During this period I added a Yamaha Reface CS, which serves as my MIDI keyboard (in rare instances when I use one) and appears directly in two songs. For manual control over MIDI, CV and i2c I use a 16n Faderbank built by Michigan Synth Works.

I regularly use ToneBoosters EQ4 and Barricade limiter, HASound MSLR for mid/side conversion, and Unfiltered Audio G8 noise gate while recording, and don’t mention them in my notes.

Post-processing is done in Sound Forge Pro 10, and in addition to its built-in tools frequently involves ValhallaDSP reverbs, u-he Presswerk compressor and Youlean Loudness Meter 2 to check levels during mastering.

My patch notes may not always mention specific modulation sources and routings or common utilities.

This is the ModularGrid layout for my modular synth as of the final day of recording. At the start I had a Make Noise QPAS rather than the Filter 8, and a slightly different module layout.

01: External Constraints

This complex piece is done with a single synth voice. An aliased sine-like waveform on VCO 1 of the Synthesis Technology E370 is phase modulated by an exponential decaying ramp from VCO 2 on the E370, and passes through Rabid Elephant Natural Gate and Valhalla Delay.

The Harvestman Kermit acts as an LFO over the main frequency, gated by a Ladik P075 toggle switch. Orthogonal Devices ER-301 extracts a gate from the LFO with its Deadband Filter unit and pings Natural Gate.

16n Faderbank provides manual control over Natural Gate, the phase modulation amount and frequency ratio, the FX mix and LFO shape.

Part 1 of the song was manually repitched in post-processing, to turn the LFO-driven pitch changes into a drone with various pitch artifacts and timbral shifts; part 2 was heavily processed in multiple unspecified ways (no specific notes, but I recall reverb, notch filters and a little manual repitching in places) and several samples of mechanically failing hard disk drives were added in the background.

02: Who is This?

This was a complex patch. Voices 3 and 4 here both derive from voice 2 — but the order these chronologically appear in is 3, 1, 4, 2.

Voice 1: Kermit stereo drone, with Sugar Bytes WOW2 filter and Valhalla Room.

Voice 2: E370 VCO 3 driving Doepfer A-196 PLL, through Make Noise QPAS bandpass filter with Valhalla Delay. Mutable Instruments Marbles sequences the pitch and modulates the waveshape, and drives a sequence in Monome Teletype; that sequence applies to E370 VCO 1, which through Xaoc Tallin, modulates E370 VCO 3’s fold amount.

Voice 3: QPAS’ highpass outputs into Mutable Instruments Rings audio input (in Karplusverb 2x polyphony mode with a lowered frequency), Unfiltered Audio SpecOps and Valhalla Vintage Verb.

Voice 4: E370 VCO 3 through the Doepfer A-188-1 BBD delay, plus E370 voice 2 (harmonizing with VCO 1), both through Natural Gate into Intellijel Rainmaker. (This, not the voice with Rings, is what sounds like a stringed instrument being strummed.)

03: Dark Corners

Voice 1 pings QPAS as a sound source, and uses E370 VCO #1 as a wavefolder (see: Sine Shaping and You). For additional grunge the E370’s shape is modulated by an LFO from Kermit. The output goes through Make Noise Erbe-Verb and then is fed back into QPAS for sustained tones. Processed in Valhalla Delay and Valhalla Vintage Verb.

Voice 2 is E370 VCO #2 through u-he Twangström. Something is modulated by Erbe-Verb’s CV output but my notes don’t specify what…

04: Void Swimming

Voice 1 is E370 VCO#2 in cloud mode (following the pitch of VCO#1), through Natural Gate, Sonic Charge Echobode, Valhalla Room and AudioThing Fog Convolver.

Voice 2 is the ER-301 running my Complex Oscillator unit, through Pittsburgh Dynamic Impulse Filter, Valhalla Plate and my own Potty Mouth “damaged chorus” VST plugin.

Voice 3 is E370 VCO #1 through QPAS, with Klevgrand FreeAMP and Valhalla Delay.

The sequence is driven by Marbles, Befaco Sampling Modulator and a Teletype scene. I believe the more percussion-suggestive sounds were rhythmic spikes on an otherwise droning voice. The recording was transposed down 4 semitones, and timestretched with very heavy use of Transient Master and drowned in reverb.

05: Internal Reflections

Voice 1 is the Reface CS in Sync mode, using its LFO for FM, with ToneBoosters Barricade and EQ4 and Valhalla Vintage Verb. Technically a MIDI sequence, but it’s a continuous chordal drone.

Voice 2 is the Erbe-Verb self-oscillating, with its CV out through an automated VCA in ER-301 and back into its input; an LFO from Mutable Instruments Stages modulates its internal modulation speed.

Voice 3 is E370 VCO #1 in 2Op FM mode, exponentially FMd by E370 VCO #2 in cloud mode, through Dynamic Impulse Filter, PSP PianoVerb and my own Horse chorus plugin.

Voice 4 is chaotic noise from Kermit through two Natural Gate channels into Rainmaker as a comb filter and delay. The comb filter is sequenced by Korg SQ-1.

Voice 5 is a Harmonic Oscillator unit in the ER-301 (FMd by E370 VCO #3) and a wavefolder unit, with Twangström and Valhalla Delay. The sequence is from Teletype reading fader values from the 16n, but quantized to a 7EDO scale in the ER-301.

06: Basilisk

Voice 1 is two Rings in Karplus verb mode in cross-feedback with Instruo tanh[3] in one of the paths, GVST GMonoBass and Valhalla ÜberMod.

Voice 2 is Kermit VCO B FMd by the E370, through Erbe-Verb and Valhalla Delay.

Voice 3 is Kermit VCO A AMd by VCO B, through Doepfer A-188-1 BBD, Klevgrand Brusfri and Valhalla Room.

Voice 4 is velvet noise from the ER-301 feeding into Rainmaker.

This was recorded for Drone Day on May 25, 2019.

07: Ietsism

Voice 1 is Joranalogue Filter 8 pinged by Marbles, and sometimes fed audio from Kermit via manually controlled VCA, through Natural Gate. 1a feeds that through Sonic Charge Permut8; 1b through the A-188-1 BBD and Izotope RX6 De-Hum. 1a and 1b are mixed through Twangström, Valhalla Plate and Valhalla Delay.

Voice 2a is the ER-301 with a triangle oscillator and sine AM; 2b is a sine oscillator with phase modulation; both are mixed through ÜberMod and u-he Colour Copy.

Ietsism is a nice Dutch word meaning “something-ism” — “an unspecified belief in an undetermined transcendent reality.”

08: Epilogue

Voice 1 is the Reface CS (in sync mode again but working the filter a lot more) through Valhalla Delay.

Voice 2 is Filter 8 self-oscilating, with feedback FM, and feedback input through Natural Gate, with Erbe-Verb, PianoVerb and Valhalla Vintage Verb.

Voice 3 is Kermit into both Rings in mono/modal mode, one through Dynamic Impulse Filter and the other through Tallin (both under Maths envelope control), with Ratshack Reverb and Valhalla Plate.

Voice 4 is the A-188-1 BBD in self-feedback through Natural Gate, through an ER-301 lowpass filter, Valhalla Delay and Fog Convolver.

A slow MIDI sequence of chords controls voice 1, and synchronizes to Sampling Modulator for voice 2 and 3, and Teletype to open the gate and filter for voice 4.