Kraftbrew

So Roland just announced some Eurorack modules. It’s like you’re at some craft brew joint which only sells Belgian konkbrau mixed with rose petals, and they just added Tooheys Old on Tap. If you’re a fastidious drinker of $20 thimbles, you’re not going to switch to Tooheys. If like me you drink from thirst, you’re already not even looking at the thimbles, but a schooner of Old might do the trick.

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Now let’s translate that. The chance of me buying Eurorack has been zero, nada, nuh uh. I am barely convinced by hardware, and in the main I want something that has a single personality I can explore, not a cloud of ideas that give me a headache. I don’t want to lose myself in possibilities, I want to get the sound in my head, and its the limitation of hardware that is attractive, the focus it provides over software.

So when Roland says here’s a set of things that have an identity, it’s the identity that appeals, and the set that I might look at, in a road case that exactly fits. I don’t think that’s uncommon – the oohs and ahs are about a known system becoming affordable. For people like me, it’s unlikely that I’ll start then mixing and switching, otherwise I’d already be at the inevitable bit where I have my Doepfers selling on eBay in the hope of something nicer.

If you sell Eurorack, I don’t think Roland will do you any harm. I don’t think it will do anything much at all. The audience is going to be people that buy Fantoms (and by the way my Fantom patches kick god-damn ass) and might need a woobly noise on one song in their pub set.

I’m also aware that when you put all the Roland modules in a row you’ve managed to create something less interesting than a MOOG Voyager rack or a MS20m for more money. The only reason you’d ever do it is a bad case of I-always-wanted-one-of-them. I always did want one of them, but I can wait for the inevitable second hand disposals.

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Have a good look at an old Korg Ms2000. For the price of a single Eurorack module this old fella will give you a 16 step analogue style sequencer driving four voices of two oscillators through a pretty fine filter and some sensible patching.

And for all else there’s:

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Oompa Loopma Riot – Release!

First read this.

In the years 1979 to 1983, Terse Tapes was a cassette label. It ‘released’ a few bands that continued onward, it made a few compilations, which are currently the subject of reissues and books.

Mysterious Kitchens was made in 1980.

This gives the impression that there was a ‘period’ when this happened, and that time is now safely past. I hate that ‘safely past’. It reminds me of museums and stuffed animals. So the best way to stop that idea is another compilation!

No, it won’t be on cassette. That’s just the medium, where this is about the idea. Back then it would be word of mouth, people who vaguely knew each other, a chaotic range of styles – and lots of stupid band names. Which is exactly what this is about.

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It’s here to prove that 2015 is just as good a time as 1981 to have this kind of malarkey. Even better, because it can now easily be distributed at no cost to the listener and minimal cost to the maker. Sevcom has earned over 32 thousand free downloads on Bandcamp. By selling some things we can make others free.

More than that – it’s possible to update and refresh problems that might occur with misspellings and wrong information. Something that was very challenging back when it was photocopies and tapes.

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Version 1.1 is now up at https://severedheads.bandcamp.com/

Kurt Vonnegut explained the death of education long ago.

Back in 1952, Kurt Vonnegut wrote a novel called Player Piano. Back some time in the 70’s I read a copy. Now I get to live it.

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If it weren’t for the people, the god-damn people’ said Finnerty, ‘always getting tangled up in the machinery. If it weren’t for them, the world would be an engineer’s paradise.

I like lecturing. It’s by far the best thing about being a lecturer. I like to get at least one laugh out of the hall, to get them doing some odd thing like clenching and unclenching their fists to experience tension and release in plot design. It’s an effective and personal way to reach 100 people or more and get them switched on about the important learning points. The last few weeks I’ve delivered lectures for my main video class. Next week, it ‘flips’. I’ve been sampled.

In the novel, Vonnegut explains how every skill can be measured and transcribed. A pianist is captured onto a piano roll, the woodworker can be replaced by a robot arm that repeats their motions over and over again. When I first started teaching art we would show how to do things. Now that has been moved over to online courses. That means I talk about the whys and then they go online to see the hows. Actually because I insist on teaching how to do things I am required to work more face to face hours. That is, one hour of why equals three of how, and I either re-write my courses or take the extra load.

Next week, the whys will be in a 20 minute long recording. Not perfect, certainly plenty more for myself and the designers to sort out – but eventually the robo-Tom (or a more attractive replacement) will be available 24-7 to lecture to as many students as the university wants, and at a discount. The staff are only there to assess the results.

I met the person in charge of this. He manages a growing, opulent concern, flush with funds – at a time where other parts of the university are being scaled back. It’s clear to me that at some point I will jump over to what Vonnegut calls the ‘north of the river’ where the managers and engineers live, and I’m already well on the way. But it’s worrying me, because whenever I see somebody pleased with their disruption, I foresee the disruption that will come to them in turn, and meanwhile everything I have ever loved gets turned into sludge. Managers and Deans and Chancellors can be sampled and automated too.

The foreman had pointed out his best man – what was his name? – and, joking with the puzzled machinist, the three bright young men had hooked up the recording apparatus to the lathe controls. Hertz! That had been the machinist’s name – Rudy Hertz, an old-timer, who had been about ready to retire. Paul remembered the name now, and remembered the deference the old man had shown the bright young men.

And here, now, this little loop in the box before Paul, here was Rudy as Rudy had been to his machine that afternoon – Rudy, the turner-on of power, the setter of speeds, the controller of the cutting tool. This was the essence of Rudy as far as his machine was concerned, as far as the economy was concerned, as far as the war effort had been concerned. The tape was the essence distilled from the small, polite man with the big hands and black fingernails…

I have a computing problem, and I am stupid

I have the results of a survey. There are five questions, the replies are numbers between 1 and 7. So one response might be 11111, another 77777 and another 23361.

I need to find the closest response to an arbitrary number. So if I supply 44444, that might be 44445 or 41444. It might be 61777 for that matter.

Because I have to implement this in MaxMSP, I need to understand the process rather than an actual code snippet. MaxMSP can call up Javascript, but otherwise it’s done with ‘cables and boxes’ and is very slow.

I thank you for any suggestions.

Adrian Belew Flux:FX

{sponsored post} Just a reminder that I am entirely open to bribery large or small, in kind or in rude, I will take it and devote my entire mental apparatus to your ends for at least ten minutes. {sponsored post}

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Flux:FX is a multi effects rack with sequencer and touch control that runs on a late model iPad. There are plenty of sites that will give you a comprehensive, balanced appraisal. This is not one of them. You can read the manual and see the inside of a purple washing machine here: http://flux.noii.se/

There is also an app Flux:Music which is more Eno-esque, with sound and visual snippets, Flux:FX is focussed on making and storing your own effect chains. There has been some attempt to cross breed them visually, but not in intent, and that would be my main call here: breed ‘em up.

I am a simple man, and I started with two main questions. Firstly, I looked all through the app and no Adrian Belew included, which seemed a relief because only so many beds in this house.

The second question is, how good is this at fucking things up? The pinnacle of fucking things up is likely the Ensoniq DP4. It has all kinds of stupid ways to connect FX that cause utterly horrible borborygmus. Flux has many more effects than that workhorse and you can line five of them in a row. They’re mostly the ones that you would expect – chorus, filter, fuzz – with a very generous range of control. A few of them have a style that is outside the expected – the Resonant Drone is the effect you get when you use a delay and set it so it’s just about to howl, and you get a nice static flanging – did a lot of that with my old EH Memory Man and it’s always a good test. The Ring Mod is pleasing, although most of the action is down the bottom left of the touch pad. Octave Shift does some cute things when you feed it a complex signal. The Binaural Delay is not really what you hoped it would be. Generally the sound is that of high end guitar pedals, like the Electro Harmonix ones, and if you have an iPad and interface then you would go for this over the pedals.

There are comparable things in dedicated hardware – like this. But they don’t have the big screen and the sequencing. The latter has discrete frames which you can interpolate, kind of like an analogue step sequencer. You can also use these individual steps as quick settings, again something we did with analogue sequencers back when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

In terms of fucking things up, there’s a lot of mangling that can be done with the sequencer in full frenzy, and generally the effects all do what you hope they would do – e.g. sequencing the delay time on a digital delay trashes the sounds and the analogue delay bends them. All good there. What it doesn’t have is feedback from later modules back to earlier ones, which let’s face it is A Very Bad Idea But Lots Of Fun. I would like to (for example) apply the nice filters inside a delay loop.

The other thing that needs a mention is the interface, which is elegant, although crammed with things to do. The animation (the purple washer) is something I was glad to turn off and would actually like to go away. If I was on stage, I would want most of it to go away, and you can touch plus signs to make only one panel be seen at a time, or switch to a Performance View. It still verges on the ‘hang on I need to get my glasses’ when in this simplest mode.

Maybe when I spend more time with it, I’ll get the muscle memory to know where I’m tapping. This of course is part of iPads in general – really powerful software for little money – the touch screen as a very flexible interface, but also a slippery slide of featureless glass that gives very little back to your fingers. It does have MIDI and you can add a controller. I should mention it does that inter-app sound/MIDI thing – I tend to use my pad as just one physical device so I just accept this as a plus.

All up this seems to me A Good Thing And Very Worthy but again I look in the box for Mr. Belew. He is not here, not only physically but in touches of individuality that I am not seeing in the patches and the process. In marrying the Flux Music and FX titles I’d not bother with the visuals and instead bring in the chances and the unexpected that we are told are essential. Some way to feed things back in a chaotic system. The word mangling is used – OK, show me the mangle.

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Summary:

  • Good shit, reminds me of EH pedals.
  • Yay sequencer, messes it up.
  • Needs a lot more Belew.
  • Where are my glasses?

But is it authentic?

  • Is it as authentic as your work cubicle with the motivational poster of HANG IN THERE BABY?
  • Is it as authentic as a Final Notice for Payment on the power bill?
  • Is it as authentic as another ten pack of Chicken Flavour Ramen on special at Woolworths that has to last the whole week?
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  • Is it as authentic as the people on social media who LIKED the pictures of your birthday cake for one?
  • Is it as authentic as the heroin deaths in the small country towns?
  • Is it as authentic as first noticing and covering up your old man smell?
  • Is it as authentic as Googling for medical symptoms because that lump still won’t go away?
  • Is it as authentic as being the town bike at yet another high school?
  • Is it as authentic as the phlegmatic lies of a politician on talk back radio?
  • Is it as authentic as paying the Asian girl to wear your dead wife’s dress?
  • Is it as authentic as endless months in an immigration facility?

Because as much as I might like it, I wouldn’t want something that wasn’t authentic.

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What my pet turtle taught me about life.

When The Atlantic suggested I write an overly long rambling and egotistical whine about my experience of life, I was momentarily worried that maybe I didn’t really have a story to tell, that other voices were more important and had more to offer. But then I remembered that I hung around with the right circle of people and had written a few vague articles online about this and that – besides, maybe I do have something to say that hadn’t been said thousands of times in puff pieces in newspapers and magazines stretching back through decades, centuries even. I could get over my false hesitation and try out some spurious humility. Grow myself in public.

I bet you don’t know what it’s like to be a middle aged white male with a well paying academic job that’s pretty much based around your hobbies and interests. If you do then surely I can come up with some petty reason for being a unique snowflake. I might even discover some vague and mysterious spectrum disorder that no one has heard of before, but think they might have it too, so they project their self pity onto me. Scientists have been working on this for some time, but so far the news has been scanty and disappointing seeing as I haven’t asked anyone about it.

My childhood looked normal from the outside. If you had been me at the time you would have seen it for what it really was – completely normal. I had a pet turtle die once. I found it belly up behind the heater in the dining room. That was a trauma that put me in a very dark place until I got another turtle. It died too but by that time I had discovered than I was a teen and it was time to really be a teen, in each and every way actualising this part of my life to the point of using italics.

Later I would look back and think, ‘Oh My God!’ about some of the teen things I did! But that’s nothing compared to my experience as a young adult. Sometimes under the influence of alcohol or drugs I would wonder about the universe, how it related to us poor ants crawling across the surface of the blue sphere we call home. Did it feel sorry for us? I had trouble with the alcohol and drugs, sometimes they seemed too good, too easy and I was troubled to think I might end up an addict but I didn’t.

The words are beginning to flow easier now I’ve revealed something about myself – I’ve been typing for at least ten minutes without pause, letting it all out and sharing my true inner feelings with you, the people that read The Atlantic. I’m older now, and a lot wiser. I see things more clearly. I’ve almost become the character that Morgan Freeman plays in films. Whereas one time in my life it was all win and push, push and win, these days I have a nuanced view of life, giving and sharing. Oh good that’s 500 words so I can wrap up soon.

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This is the bit where I give you some of that wisdom I’ve been banking throughout my extraordinary life. One day you will die and before that time you really must do all the things that you said you would do. Be nice to people because they will like you and maybe you too can get to share your ideas on TED or some listicle. Live outside the usual but not so far that you actually have to risk things. Don’t waddle when you could run. Eat your greens, be green, but not in business because there are wolves who eat greens too!

Bless you!

Atlantic Guest Writer #8190

Some other 70’s shit we could bring back

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I used to bite the heads off first.

Casual racism for a start.

Yeah. The 70’s. Analogue. Vinyl. Wood panelling. Coming back like a bout of gastric reflux. It’s no longer just a timid retreat from the future, it’s now a complete and shameless rout of any progress at all.

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This is Mother Goose. They were from New Zealand. I seem to recall that the Bee was the drummer.

Laugh all you like at the feeble futurism of the 80’s, the techno tribalism of the 90’s – it at least aspired to a cyberpunk future of purple translucent plastic and some pseudo Japanese fonts. It was butt ugly but at least it gave it a go. It punched back.

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Everyone has given up. They’re cell phoning it in. Even the terrorism is a throwback, actually it’s lamer because you could at least imagine the fake Maoists had some point somewhere, whereas the fake Caliphate is just in it for the chicks and ransom.

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I bet at this exact moment you measuring this thing for your man cave.

Actually the real 70’s were pretty innovative. Almost every music style you care about came out of the 70’s. The films were fucking excellent. People even went to see Australian films. The 2010’s have produced nothing vaguely worth remembering 40 years later unless you think Social Media start ups are anything more than pyramid schemes.

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I had one these fucking things as a small child. No one ever bought one for themselves, they were always inflicted.

I don’t know if we’re ready for all the shit that goes with it – the “silent majority”, the poofter bashing, masons and moustaches, The Me Generation, stagflation, Pol Pot and snake plants?

YOU THERE, seriously considering buying a Walkman. Are you really ready for THIS?

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Yamaha FS1r : This was bullshit now it’s good.

Pre-amble - the fates are strange, the fates are tempestuous. As soon as I wrote this article I was presented with a FS1r for a considerably lesser price. I thought to myself “is this a cosmic trick? A calling out of my hubris?” Then I thought “who gives a fuck?” and scored. Let me say on first contact this is still not the holy grail that it purports to be. More here.

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$4000USD. This is a healthy hearty heap of bullshit. A single rack synthesiser, launched 1998 into oblivion by Yamaha and thus rare – the collectors crawl all over it like picnic ants and bid like it’s a Hurst skull. Does it create the voice of the siren? Does Bog and all His angels descend when you turn it on?

Let’s put it this way – when the electric piano patch is a stand out, along with a metallic Santa laugh – no. It’s yet another bloatfish – all diagrams, no meat.

What you get is an 8-operator FM synthesiser, which is cool for all those people (zero) that found 6 operators far too easy to manage. Alongside these are 8 noise sources fed through formant filters. When you arrange those in the right way you get vocal forms – a e i o u. The manual is particularly unhelpful about how all this fits together but the general plan appears to be to stack the formants on top of your FM to get consonants, breath, rosin – that sort of thing. You can sequence the formants to create speech but only by hacking the pre-set ‘formant sequences’.

It sounds vaguely interesting if the machine cost 1/10th of the asking price. But at over $4000 why don’t we look behind the curtain? Why did this rack appear so unexpectedly in 1998? As always the case, the technology did not spring from the primeval soup, instead being an adaptation of another, far less glamorous device.

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The PLG series was Yamaha’s big idea for the late 90’s, a series of cards that allowed the owner to expand their keyboard with different synthesis systems. The PLG100-DX is a DX7 on a card, the PLG100-AN is a An1x virtual analogue and here is the PLG100-SG which, like a hipster rock band, you probably didn’t know about. It sings, with many different voices, although only in Japanese, using exactly same formant sequencing system as on the FS1r.

You might have the inkling of something come to your mind – yes, that’s right. This is the first Vocaloid virtual singer, performed in hardware. It becomes clear that Yamaha developed the FS1r as a gesture towards ‘professional’ music production, but in the long run found a much more lucrative income from virtual girls in scanty clothing.

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Now, if you’d like something a bit like the FS1r, you need a PLG100-SG, a PLG150-DX and any Yamaha rack that can house both at once – the MU128 is pretty cheap. The most expensive bit is the DX board, but I reckon all up about $800 max. I’m well aware that the FS1r does more than combine these two sound sources, but you know what? For $3200 discount you can live with it.

But actually, I don’t need to to do any of that. Because now I understand something about the Korg Radias. When I first started playing with this I found it offers ‘formant motion’ which seemed a weird thing when sampling would be a more obvious choice. You speak a vocal phrase into the microphone and the Radias converts it into phonemes, which can be saved and then used to drive the vocoder. Of course it makes sense once you remember that Korg was once part of Yamaha, probably had a few drinks one day and broke into the cupboard where the dev kit for the old FS1r was stashed. Formant motion is an extension of formant sequencing, but performed in real time.

If Vocaloid is the main evolutionary pathway from the SG card, then the Radias includes the alternative universe where it attempted to become a viable professional tool. But that is another story.