My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: software

OK, Giggle

Or the three-second Groundhog Day

Voice AI mini-nightmares are common enough to be generic, yet each can be a marvel when experienced firsthand. I was driving, using Google Maps to advise me where to go. (I say “advise” because Google Maps seems to think unprotected left turns are a breeze.) Then this happened:

While driving, I had an audiobook playing. At some point, the voice actor / narrator said someone giggled. That was the word: “giggle.” For whatever reason (can’t imagine why), the voice AI in the phone experienced this word as a trigger, paused the audiobook, and asked me what I wanted help with. The AI eventually got the clue that I hadn’t summoned it, and the phone returned to the audiobook. One great thing about this system is when the audiobook came back, it had backed up a bit. Except (yeah, you see this coming, ’cause you’re smarter than the AI) what happened was:

It had rewound, so to speak, to just prior to word “giggle” so the whole thing repeated: The AI thought it was a call to attention, asked how it could make my life easier, and then I waited. Then it got the hint and the audiobook started all over: giggle, prompt, silence, repeat.

giggle, prompt, silence, rewind
giggle, prompt, silence, rewind
giggle, prompt, silence, rewind
giggle, prompt, silence, rewind
giggle, prompt, silence, rewind
giggle, prompt, silence, rewind
giggle, prompt, silence …

Ok, maybe not that many times.

I kept thinking: maybe at some point it’ll rewind a little less far, and this won’t happen. Nope. So, I got, yeah, a tad frustrated. I took slow, deep breaths. I reflected on the glories of our age. I pondered Roko’s Basilisk. And then I said, angrily, “I can’t stand this.” And then Google Maps said it could help. Having misheard (miss-machine-listened-to, or is it machined-listen?) the word “stand,” it offered to reroute me to a dry cleaner that could deal with the “stain” I had mentioned.

At least when the audiobook started up again, somehow it had jumped past the giggle, so I was out of that three-second Groundhog Day. As for me, I’m still learning to laugh at the situation.

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Current Favorites: Synth, Cello, Code

Heavy rotation, lightly annotated

A weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. I hope to write more about some of these in the future, but didn’t want to delay sharing them.

▰ Jostijn Ligtvoet’s “Twilight and Fire” combines live cello with synthesizer accompaniment, the blinking lights matching his four strings drone for drone.

▰ I caught Chiho Oka’s set during the recent No Bounds Festival event (a livestream), hosted by algorave figure Alex McLean, and several of the pieces she performed then are on her forthcoming album, Manipulating Automated Manipulated Automation. The record isn’t due out until February 28, but four tracks are already streaming, and they evidence the combination of rigor, humor, and pathos she brings to her work.

▰ Omri Cohen’s Meditation Spores is deep-synthesis ambient, brimming with digital artifice, and vibrant in its doleful melodic lines and tonal processing.

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Buddha Machine Variations No. 39 (Hazumi Chord)

A series of focused experiments

A little test run of the new Hazumi sequencer, running on VCV Rack, the free modular synth emulator. Hazumi, the grid on the far left, is from the Voxglitch family of modules, created by Bret Truchan. The audio is the initial loop of sound from “Ma,” the first piece of music heard on the very first Buddha Machine (this is from a digital file, not from the physical device). It’s heard here in three pitches, rendered in Adobe Audition: the original, then up four semitones, and then up one additional semitone. The original is also running through Glitch Shifter, a module from Unfiltered Audio, the company of Joshua Dickinson, Michael Hetrick, Ryan McGee, and Benn Cooper. Hetrick spoke to my Sounds of Brands course last year. The additional noise comes courtesy of two sources: the fan of my laptop, and the wind from a chimney, the latter due to the storm (an “atmospheric river”) currently assaulting San Francisco.

More at and Video originally posted at There’s also a video playlist of the Buddha Machine Variations.

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How Instruō Went Virtual

The story of how the Glasgow-based hardware company ported its synthesizer modules to VCV Rack software

Just as December 2020 was coming to a close, and the year’s surprises, both good and horrible, were seemingly behind us, a new surprise — quite the former — popped up for modular-synthesizer enthusiasts. The hardware manufacturer Instruō, based in Glasgow, Scotland, announced that it was making almost all of its modules available in software form, 17 total, and better yet: entirely for free. The modules run on the free VCV Rack software platform, which is available for macOS, Windows, and Linux. (Visit Instruo at, and VCV Rack at

The response was immediately enthusiastic. At, writer Peter Kirn said, “It’s got just enough of the sorts of tools that let you get adventurous with sound design, while remaining accessible and balanced.” The website praised the originals for their “beauty, depth and innovation,” and pondered whether the free versions would disincentivize hardware sales (its verdict: “I don’t think so”). Discussion boards quickly started chiming in, paying particular attention to the Instruō hardware modules that weren’t ported over, including Arbhar and Lúbadh.

I reached out to Instruō founder Jason Lim to learn more about the process and decision-making. Why weren’t those few modules included? How did the company manage what must have been a considerable undertaking? Why had they opted to make them free, since VCV Rack has introduce “premium” (aka paid) modules from a range of developers? As many of the original Instruō modules are analog or analog hybrids, what was the experience of porting them to the purely digital domain? How did the company approach the differences between the hands-on, knobs’n’sliders originals and the software versions? Lim graciously agreed to be interviewed via email, and below is the discussion, along with visual examples of both the original modules and their virtual offspring, as well as the process involved in bridging the gap.

The Instruō modules in hardware (above) and VCV Rack software (below)

Marc Weidenbaum: How did this project come to be, making the hardware modules available in digital form on Rack? Were you or anyone else at Instruō using VCV Rack before initiating the process of porting the modules to it?

Jason Lim: There were a few factors that led to this project, but it was very much a case of very fortunate timing. The planets aligned, so to speak, and allowed for this to become a reality. For a bit of background, I quite regularly have internship placements ongoing here at Instruō. Some positions have been coordinated as more formal partnerships with various educational institutions. In many cases meetings are more personal, friend of friend introductions and the like. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have Instruō develop so rapidly. At first it was me alone in the spare bedroom. Since those days I’ve been able to grow the team quite quickly with a really creative group.

I am Glasgow-based, and there are a number of very good universities and colleges here. My friend and collaborator, Dr Sebastian Lexer (co-dev of the Arbhar and Aithēr modules with myself), teaches at Glasgow University in their Sonic Arts department. He splits his time between education and working at Instruō. He gave recommendation to me for a couple of Master’s students last year who were approaching their final years of study. Their program requires an industry work placement in which they would work on, document, and develop a project within the field of music technology. This was of course all put in place pre-COVID and their start dates were planned for mid-June 2020. As the time approached, we had to rather quickly shift gears and figure out a new project that would be better suited for remote working.

I’ve followed VCV as a platform since its release, with great interest. What Andrew Belt has brought to the community is huge! It’s the sort of thing you’d read in forums as speculation and pipe dreams. It’s an immense undertaking and I think he’s built something truly groundbreaking. I occasionally teach a synthesis/sound design course here in Glasgow at subSine | Academy of Electronic Music ( (This is my friend’s music school, and we operate from the same premises in the Southside of Glasgow.) Several years ago I developed a curriculum for a 10-week course, which I have taught there semi regularly. I have since reformatted it as a shortened weekend-long intensive workshop. Modular synths are the primary tool I use, but it is a broader look at synthesis in general. Working from the modular building blocks really helps build a strong foundational knowledge.

Read more »

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A Moment of Venn

Sight and sound meet in Nathan Ho's elegant web app Venn 7

The graphic displayed immediately below is, as we all know, a Venn diagram. Yes, yes, you’ve seen enough of these, either at work or in memes, but do give this one a moment, and see how it develops. In Venn terms, recognize first that it is referred to as a “3-Venn diagram,” each of its individual circles being a Venn:

Venn diagrams are named for John Venn, the British mathematician who developed them. Venn lived from 1834 to 1923. Venn diagrams often have two, three, or four circles, but they don’t end there. This next image, via Nathan Ho (as are all the images in this post), is a 5-Venn diagram, displayed in all its Spirographic glory:

When you witness the 5-Venn in contrast with the 3-Venn, you might think, “Oh, I see. So … what comes next?” Here we level up to the 7-Venn diagram, also via Ho. It’s … a little more complex, right?

The above 7-Venn diagram is credited to mathematician Branko Grünbaum. It’s “the first simple symmetric 7-Venn diagram,” per Ho, and dates from 1992. (Grünbaum died in 2018 at age 88, same round number as Venn.) The single digits in the outermost appendages are keys to decoding which of the 7 Venns comprise each of the interior intersections: “14” is the intersection of 1 and 4; “1457” the intersection of 1, 4, 5, and 7; and so on.

When we look at Grünbaum’s incredible image, we might think: starfish, or amoeba, or nebula, or I missed the latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery. But when Ho looks at it, what apparently came to mind was: 7 Venns = 7 notes. Actually, it was Ho’s friend, Nathan Turczan. Turczan pointed out to Ho “that the curves of a 7-fold Venn diagram can be mapped to a diatonic scale.” Ho went with that, making a web app that let’s you play chords by clicking overlapping regions, resulting in this beauty, which resembles a piece of op art:

Here, for example, is what it looks like when three notes constituting a simple chord are played, as identified by a shade depicting three overlapping Venns out of the total seven:

Nathan Ho’s web app is called, simply, Venn 7. It’s super cool. Check it out at Click the arrows on the interface to experience different sounds (and colors), and the “?” to learn more about Ho’s development of the idea (that’s the document from which the above images are selected). There’s a lot more to Ho’s Venn 7 than initially meets the eye and ear, in particular decisions he made to uses Shepard tones (those illusions of sound moving constantly up or down) for each layer of the diagrams.

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